First Looks// Starcraft II - Closed Beta

Posted 16 Mar 2010 17:32 by
There are many challengers to the RTS throne, but one thing that every fan of the genre will agree on is that the original StarCraft is up there with the very best of them. If you don't agree, then, well... you are wrong.

With its evenly matched multiplayer gameplay, engrossing single-player storyline and well designed races, StarCraft was instantly loved by gamers the world over when it was released. So much so, in fact, that it is still being played regularly to this day, 12 years after it's 1998 release.

Thankfully, after years of delays and excuses, StarCraft's much anticipated sequel, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, has finally gone into the closed beta stage.

Somewhere during my first match, between having my base overrun by Zerglings and watching the attack force I had sent to my first opponent being torn apart, I realised I should probably share my opinions on the game with you guys.

The very first thing to talk about is the new look BattleNet system. When you log into the game you seamlessly log into BattleNet at the same time. The interface looks great, everything is simple to understand and it's all easily accessible. One of the most important things you can access from this view is your player profile. Anything you could want to know about your account is here, from achievements (which were disabled at this stage of beta) to match history and even your win/loss statistics.

Selecting a previous match from the history will present you with the final overview of that match. You will be shown a bunch of interesting details, such as your average resource collection rate, unit production and even an overview of your build order.

This is all very useful information for the future, allowing you to determine exactly how and why you lost or won a match. Hopefully, using this information, you can then refine your tactics for a more successful battle next time. You can even see what your opponent did during the game; helping you figure out what worked so well for them and why your troops were cut to ribbons while theirs just stood there... laughing.

If looking back over statistics isn't your style and you still want to learn how you were defeated, the new BattleNet even has you covered there. Every match and campaign is now recorded by default. These match recordings can be called up at any point, allowing you to play the entire match back in the game's engine.

I found these playbacks extremely useful; they are made even better by how easy it is to share the replays of your matches online. There is already a growing community sharing their playbacks, even though StarCraft II is only in closed beta.

Of course these are all secondary to the primary use of BattleNet - a matchmaking system, and finding a match really couldn't be simpler. All you have to do is click the multiplayer button on the top left of the page. From here you have a few options open to you.

The game has a very effective 'quick match' system, allowing you to simply choose the mode (1v1, 2v2, FFA), the race and then click 'Find Match'. After a few preliminary placement matches, you will be placed in a league with other players, based on the skill you've shown.

It's these leagues that form the core of the matchmaking system. The leagues are split into several divisions that help make sure you are only pitted against players of similar skill. You will get a ranking within your division and winning ranked matches will move you up the ranking. Win enough and you can even move up the ladder into a higher division.

The other current game option, besides quick match, is the custom game, which exists for you to get some practice in against the AI or other players without worrying about your ranking. These games can also have custom rules if you wish.

I advise anyone who gets into the beta to play a few hours' worth of custom matches against the game's AI. While only the Very Easy AI is available at the moment, you will really need the practice to get to grips with the new units and abilities, even if you're a seasoned StarCraft player.

The overall gameplay is great. Not much has changed from the first iteration, with the key to the game still being in your resource management. Get the right balance between gathering and production and you will do well. Get it wrong and you will find yourself being overrun before you can get a decent defence in place.
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