The Magic is in the StarCraft
August 10, 2007 – When it was released in 1998, the original StarCraft for PC was widely regarded as one of the best real-time strategy games. Amidst rumors and speculation, hardcore StarCraft fans have waiting nine long years for official word of a sequel to Blizzard’s award-winning sci-fi title. That announcement finally came earlier this year. As more details slowly trickle forth, it increasingly appears that StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty is poised to offer the faithful masses a follow-up that’s truly out of this world.
StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty is already several years into development and, though much is being done to improve on the original design, Blizzard intends to stick closer to its roots instead of bringing the series over into newer territory found in recent WarCraft titles. As such, the core gameplay looks to be very close to the original StarCraft, but players can expect a slew of updates in almost every other area of the game. Though significantly overhauled, the Protoss, Zerg, and Terrans will be returning as playable races. This time Blizzard plans to further distinguish the races from one another by adding new units, new exciting gameplay mechanics unique to each race, and new abilities for some of the classic units that will be returning.
The story will pick up where things left off at the end of the Brood War expansion pack, which is set approximately four years after the original. Each campaign will follow a widely different course, and Blizzard has confirmed several major characters such as Jim Raynor, Protoss dark templar Zeratul, and the Zerg-infested Sarah Kerrigan will be making a return. Extensive effort is being put into making the single player experience far more immersive this time around. Players will be given greater control over which missions they choose, what planets they wish to visit, and how they wish to progress the story, among other things. There will be greater opportunities, through interactive menus and other additions worked into the campaigns, for players to delve into details about the StarCraft universe and story.
Details on the Zerg and Protoss campaigns have yet to be revealed, but Blizzard recently unveiled aspects of the Terran campaign during a demonstration at BlizzCon 07. The Terran story will follow the exploits of Raynor, who has fallen on hard times since the Brood War. Now with a bit of a drinking problem, Raynor leads a mercenary life as head of a group of freedom fighters on the battle cruiser Hyperion. In the original StarCraft, the story progressed mainly through text and character portraits. This time around in the Terran storyline players will spend time in-between missions on the 3D deck and other areas of the Hyperion where they can interact with other characters and manage their fleet. Engaging in conversation with various characters opens a dialogue tree, allowing you to select your own questions and responses. It will be up to the player to determine whether they choose to plow through the main story or take the time to get deeply involved into a variety of sub-plots. A major component of the Terran campaign will revolve around trying to acquire money to outfit your battle fleet. Players will also be given the power to choose when and how they wish to purchase units and upgrades.
From what we’ve seen so far, the game’s graphics, both on the ground and in-between missions, have received a major update. The environments and units both look impressive, yet retain the familiar feel of the original. The all-new custom 3D graphics engine will allow huge armies, including the new larger units, to pile into explosive combat on-screen. Unlike previous Blizzard games, StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty will have no limit to the number of units that can be selected at once, and emphasis is being placed on this feature. It’s expected that immense battles involving up to 300 units will be possible. As in the original StarCraft, control of the units will again be fairly autonomous and react appropriately when approached by the enemy. Terrain will play a significant part in battles, as positional bonuses will be given to ground-based troops for attacking from high ground. Specific units will also have combat advantages that counter rival units of different races. Even the strongest units will have weaknesses and part of the strategy will involving finding ways to exploit this to your advantage.
Some units from the original are being removed in StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, but the ones they are being replaced with more than make up for the loss. Only a handful of the unit changes and new abilities have been announced at this point. On the Terran side, new reaper infantry units have jump packs and the ability to place explosive charges on the ground designed for use against buildings. The Viking, a new tactical fighter, fires twin missiles against airborne enemies but also has the awesome ability to morph into a ground unit as well to provide a tactical advantage. The largest addition to the Terran army is the new Thor assault vehicle, which is so large it must be assembled directly on the battlefield. Essentially a huge giant walking robot, the Thor is slow but armed-to-the teeth.
Little has been said about Zerg units, but the Protoss will also be packing some new heat. Replacing the previous Protoss Dragoons are the Immortals, similar-looking units which erect a near impenetrable energy shield when being attacked by heavy arms fire. This unit can withstand heavy blasts with little damage, but has trouble against small arms fire. The new Collossus are enormous spider-like walkers that can easily travel between various terrain heights and decimate weaker foes with heavy lasers. Other new units include Stalkers that can teleport a short distance, Phoenixes, flying units that can overcharge their weapons to send a barrage at opponents, Warp Rays that feature a heavy laser that increases its damage dealt the longer it fires, and the Mothership, a giant hovering behemoth that has three devastating special abilities to unleash on foes.
So far, StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty is shaping up to be an excellent sequel although it may likely still be some time before more concrete details are announced. With so much still under wraps, one can only guess what new surprises are in store as development continues. Blizzard officials indicated they will not be releasing the game until they are ready. They are prepared to spend as much time and resources necessary for the game. Here’s hoping that’s sooner rather than later.