My god, I wish I had an extra 10 hours a week. Who the fuck dictates there be only 24/7? Fuck em.
Today is the eve of Starcraft 2 bieng launched into the wilderness and the awaiting arms of the frothing masses of fanboys the world over. I have played the multiplayer beta for the past few months, and I can tell you right now, I am unimpressed. Mabye it’s because I’m harder to please nowadays (my wife can attest to that!), but I would like to think that I’m a bit more world wise than I was 12 years ago when the origional Starcraft came to market. For some of you, Starcraft 2 coming out tonite means X-mas comes early this year. For the rest of us, It’s 10 years to late.
OK, with an opening like that I’m bound to get some hate mail. Bring it. All….3 of you who read my blog.
Anyways, I’ve played the Starcraft 2 multiplayer beta along with some friends during May, and I must say that the multiplayer is not holding my interest. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be buying the game day 1, but from the looks of things it will be because I want to see the progression of the story, not so much of the RTS action everyone else loves. Why is that? I’ll tell you. Keep in mind that I am talking strictly from a multiplayer standpoint.
Starcraft 2 feels essentially like Starcraft 1. You can take that in a good and bad way. Starcraft, at it’s time, was revolutionary. It took a fledgling genre (which blizzard already had a hand in creating), and pushed the bar so high that it would not be surpassed for years. Imitators flocked to create dozens of Starcraft clones, but none touched the quality or popularity that Starcraft had. This was in 1998. I loved Starcraft. I played it for hours and hours with friends, both in lans and online. It’s a classic game I will always have in my collection, if only for nostalgia’s sake.
It’s 12 years later. What worked then doesn’t necessarily means it works now. Why? Because the genre has progressed since then. New games have taken up the mantle to bring RTS entertainment to the masses. The C&C franchise remains fairly strong, despite EA’s efforts to kill it with the disapointment of C&C 4. Relic has entered into the buisness and produced the Dawn of War and Company of Heroes franchises, both of which are exceptional. Chris Taylor has re-entered the fray with his Supreme Commander series. If you want a more indie vibe, you got Sins of the Solar Empire. Great games all, because they take the RTS genre, pick a specific portion of it, and fill in that niche completely.
When you play a Supcom game, you expect, and recieve, large scale combat. Massive scale. The entire game revolves around this. Units are simple to manage. Upgrades are simple to impliment. You don’t micro manage your forces, you manage your army from a high level, using your forces like a blunt club. Your constantly attacking and being attacked simultaniously, with your attention split between multiple things. Combat is simple and requres no imput on your part, just let your forces go and leave them to their own devices while you focus on a dozen other things. The zoom feature is brilliant, allowing you to zoom out to see the entire map at once to get a overall picture, then zooming back down to the spot you want to focus on in the moment seamlessly. The game is designed to take a lot of the micromanagement out of picture. Now, if your into this kind of thing, Supcom delivers in spades. It’s not without faults, and there can be some definite balance issues, but overall the game is solid.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have the Dawn of War series, now at Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising. Where in Supcom you direct forces like how you would direct a mallet, DoW2 is like wielding a surgical scalpel. You generally control no more than 5 or so units at a time, Maybe 8 max. Each faction has a lot of identity and personality to it (except tyranids). The action is focused on intense small scale combat. Terrain, cover, infantry surpression, all these things matter. You are heavily invested in each of your units. It’s less about planning for the future and dealing with the fight right now. All of your units need to be micromanaged while in combat, as almost all units have special abilities to be used. The combat is intense, visceral and in your face. It’s as close to twitch gaming as RTS genre dares to emulate from it’s FPS cousins. Again, it has it’s faults, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty combat, it works very well.
In the middle(ish) of the spectrum, you have Sins of the Solar Empire. While leaning in on the large, macro scale, there are moments where you need to micromanage intense space battles between large fleets of ships. The difference between someone just issuing an attack move order and someone using special abilities, focus firing specific targets, building a robust fleet, etc, make massive differences. What makes this work for Sins is that the game’s pace is slow enough to allow you to move between managing your empire and managing a fleet currently in combat. Additionally, space battles between large fleets is just awesome to watch.
Now the question is, what does Starcraft 2 bring to the table that makes me want to play it? Just telling me “It’s Starcraft 2! It’s gonna be awesome because it’s made by Blizzard!” doesn’t do it for me in the long run. It makes me take that initial look, because I enjoyed the origional so much and have this boyish faith in Blizzard’s development team, but riding on the coattails of prior success doesn’t hold water for long. I want to know what Starcraft 2 has that makes me want to play it, recommend it to my friends, post videos about it and whatnot.
From what I’ve played of the beta, I’ve yet to find that spark. It has the same charm as it’s predicessor, but it’s not as revolutionary and “new” as it was back then. I’m not saying it’s bad, but I am saying it feels pretty bland. It’s like playing a game that’s confused as to what it wants to be. You have the makings of large scale battles, but they almost never happens because all anyone wants to do is rush rush rush and try to get the game over in 5 minutes and go to the next one. When you do get into a large battle, when you get to use your race’s units, tech and whatever to it’s fullest, the tools you have are lacking. You can’t see the whole map at once, unless you want to squint at the minimap. You can easily have a hundred or so units, but having continuous units pumping out is a chore and takes attention away from more meaningfull stuff, like fighting. Your units almost all have special abilities, different modes, or something, that makes launching a combined force more difficult than what it needs to be.
The game plays best at the small scale, intense 10 minute window that the pros play at and the rest of the userbase wants to emulate. But here, there are small problems. Terrain at this stage in the game is almost a non issue. Units at this stage don’t really have any tactical depth yet. For all intense and purposes it’s too simplistic and shallow. Top it off your constantly going back and forth from fighting and building up your base. For more of the tactical elements to come into play, you need to wait until the game progresses further down the line, and then you start running into the problems I mentioned earlier.
In short, the game feels too macro when you want to micro, too micro when you want to macro. It’s like it doesn’t know what it wants to do. Now, part of the game is knowing when to do which when, but when both are done fairly clunky in comparison to the competition, it makes the gameplay is pretty jarring. Combine that with the gameplay itself doesn’t feel like it really evolved over the years. It really feels like it’s Starcraft 1 but with a fresh coat of paint. It’s oversimplifieng it but I honestly expected more from such a long development time.
Now, like I said, the multiplayer is by no means bad. What I am saying is that it feels like I’m playing the same game from 12 years ago, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.