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StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Preview

publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
developer: Blizzard Entertainment
genre: Strategy

PIV 2.6Ghz, 1GB RAM, 12GB HDD, 128MB video card
ESRB rating: T

release date: Jul 27, 10
» All About StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty on ActionTrip

Spring has sprung (in some places) (In a lot of places actually - Vader), the kids are almost out of school (who thought this annual 3 months parole was a good idea for a bunch of lunatics anyway?) and The StarCraft II multiplayer Beta is opening up to more of the great unwashed (i.e, Me). The sequel to the arguably most popular real-time strategy game, StarCraft has been a in the making for a long time, but we can finally get a partial, multiplayer only, look at if the wait has been worth it.

From what we have witnessed so far, the answer is an absolute "yes." After all, we are talking Blizzard here, the company that typifies the 'We release when it's done and no sooner' philosophy. It's also safe to say that they do not want to mar the reputation of what has been the most professionally competitively played RTS in the world by releasing a substandard follow up. We all know releasing a sequel to a great game is always a double-edged sword, although the folks at Blizzard are trying to do the impossible by updating the main game play without changing things too much. Let me tell you my impressions so far.

First of all, the graphical update is obvious right off the bat, just after logging into the game. The player is present with a large planet on the right hand side of the screen as large Terran space ships sweep in and around the planet. Yes, it's simple but visually pleasing and helps hype the excitement of what's to come. Granted, StarCraft II is just two months away from commercial release but even in the final Beta stages where not all the interface whistles and bells have been released, it's a marked improvement from the decade old first game. Menus are smooth, easy to read and have a ton of setup options to ensure that just about any PC will be able to run it (That's good to know - Vader). Provided you are not still using a box from the late 90's that is (Ah crap! - Vader). For those of you who remain on the bleeding edge of technology, you will be able to turn all the settings up and enjoy a graphical feast for the eyes.

Once you are in the game you currently can only access the multiplayer features for finding friends, seeing who is online and getting into a match with other humans (or Zerg or Protoss if you want to pretend.), update your profile, check out the most current news or review recorded matches. It IS a Multiplayer beta after all. It's not clear at this point how much more will be made available before the Beta ends but I like what I have seen so far. The interface is smooth, well laid out and the colors are visually pleasing to the eye. Achievements, grouping, player rankings and other social media like features are included to so you can keep in touch with your contacts and always are ready when someone strikes up a game.

More than just bragging rights, the ranking system will help ensure that fledging players do not get gobbled up by the hardcore robot like players, like so much raw meat in front of rabid dogs. Nothing is more depressing than to get psyched about a new game and upon your first head to head match, you find yourself destroyed in under a minute and your passion withers like a hot house flower in a blast freezer. If you have ever watched any of the Korean professional matches played out, you have some idea of the trepidation people can experience when they first set foot into the multiplayer match up arena. The ranking system is hoping to allow players on equal footings to meet and contest in a fair way.

Luckily I had a friend that got into the Beta a few days before I did so I had someone I could try the first couple of matches out with that I knew was not become the victim of a predator looking for an easy meal. Setting up the match was fairly easy and once I was in the lobby I added my buddy to my friends list. This will allow me to keep tabs of him while he is online and invite him to future matches. I can also track his progress for achievements and see his ranking. Its nice yard sticks to see how you measure up and also goad you to try to pull ahead of him if I can. If you have noticed that Blizzard has learned a thing or two from their experience with WoW, give yourself a gold star. The social aspect was claimed to add so much more to the gaming experience (even in single-player mode) that I was skeptical about those claims at first, when they were made by other companies years ago. Now I'm completely in love with the idea. Single-player games are nice, but I do like to stay in touch and have the opportunity to get into games with my friends when the chance arises. This is just another example of how much a slave I have become to constant connection to the cloud (Indeed - Vader.).

The usual process of team selection, adding allies and enemies (human or AI) and then map selection took place and there were few surprises here. With the exception of the ability to automatically download a map from the server you may not already have on your system so you can get into the game and not worry about finding and installing files. The old saying of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' liberally applies here.

Once my first game started I found I was playing the Terrans. While at first that reassured me, as I thought I may not have to go through the usual learning curve (had to put that thought on hold for a few minutes). The visuals where such an improvement from the old game I spent way too much time looking at the SCV's, the command center and surrounding terrain, exploring the new animations, color palettes and little graphical flourishes. I soon realized I was a sitting duck with no resources being gathered and building being constructed so I tried to get to work. I started by cranking out more SCV's to gather resources, and then took stock of the overall map, a small 2 vs 2 affair, to try to get an idea of where the first attacks would come from. Finding the two most likely choke points took enough time that I was able to get some minerals built up and a Barracks.

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Burning Up

So far it seems Blizzard is determined to deliver what appears to be an exciting strategy experience, one with plenty of depth and a wide variety of challenges (note: this strictly refers to the multiplayer portion).

Well, if we had to point out anything, then I guess there are a few bugs here and there that need to be polished, but from what we’ve seen, Blizzard is constantly working to remove as many of these issues as they can (mind you, we’ve seen nothing that could potentially ruin the experience).

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