Aug 17, 2010

Not a review: Starcraft II

Starcraft II Wings of Liberty

With Starcraft II: The Wings of Liberty being the popular behemoth all semi-popular behemoths would aspire to become and with this humblest of blogs being rather lackluster in its coverage of mainstream gaming, I really wouldn't suggest expecting this particular post to tell you whether you have to buy Starcraft II or not. I am, after all, far from the greatest admirer of real-time-strategy games you'll find online. And I'm not particularly good at them either.

Anyway. Thing is, I managed to rather easily finish the single-player campaign of the game, what with having opted for the medium difficulty setting, played a bit with the tutorials and custom maps, and can say that, yes, this is quite an impressive game indeed. But, really, you can read elsewhere about just how gorgeous, polished, perfectly balanced, well-designed, deep and enjoyable the thing is, as the internet seems to be filled with reviews praising the game and screaming about the subtlety with which it teaches you to be competent in multiplayer or the impressive variety of its mission. I wont argue with them. In fact I quite agree.

Starcraft II Jim Raynor

I really can't identify with this guy. Yes, despite the slightly similar beard. He's never heard of the Alabama Song.

I even agree with the more than a handful of people that find its storytelling -no matter how impressively presented- and characters deeply lacking. I simply don't feel I need to discuss such matters. They've been done to death. What I wanted to touch upon instead, is that, despite it being brilliant in so many ways and mightily addictive, Starcraft II failed to impress on quite a few levels, beside the storytelling one.

For starters the core gameplay feels incredibly archaic. I mean, I am quite aware of the fact that the original Starcraft was considered a masterpiece, but that was over a decade ago and certain game do, in fact, age. I do expect a modern RTS to at least allow my units to take cover and flank the enemy. I also want to actually think while playing and not keep trying to develop extra fingers, which seems to be SC II's main objective.

Starcraft 2

Click them, click them to DEATH!

Added to that and quite frankly shockingly the A.I. of the units is, at times, and bluntly put atrocious. Marines tend to get lost, SCVs stand and get murdered or simply do the wrong thing at the wrong time, making the amount of required micromanagement border on the unacceptable. Really, SC II does sometimes feel like a mouse-precision exercise, disguised as an action game, disguised as a strategy game featuring a banal yet captivating plot. Not particularly satisfying that.

As for the promised strategic element, well, it's quite laughable and not even close to the standards Medieval Total War set ages ago, which -once again- came as a disappointment. All strategic options, actually all two of them, barely matter and are there only to provide you with an incentive to spend some more quality time between missions and gawk at the exquisite and impressively detailed environments. Maybe even click a thing or two.

Oh, and I would have thought that rush techniques were so passé...

Related @ Gnome's Lair:


  1. I've found the improvements more "visible" than you, however. Pathfinding, in particular, is much better than before. I'm guessing you have not played the original Strarcraft in a long time. Units still get "lost" sometimes, but compared with SC I they seem to be using google maps now.

    Then, there's the smart-targetting thing. Typical example: a bunch of sieged tanks attacked by a bunch of Hidralisks. On SC I the tanks tended to
    "shoot all to the same target" and wasted too many shots. On SC II they "pick targets" better.

    The "auto-triggered" behaviours also help. Put an SCV near a damaged structure, and he will start repairing by itself, unless told otherwise.

    Oh and now design minerals and gas as a rally point, and workers arriving there will stall harvesting. That was my hugest grip from SC I.

    But yes, I would not call it "artificial intelligence". It's more like "artificial insticts". See enemy? Shoot. Fired by enemy and can't see it? > flee.

    It actually makes some sense from the point of view of competitions; the human playing takes all the merit; you can't say "the machine has helped him too much" if the units are so stupid.

  2. Egads! In three years I have not seen a negative review from gnomeslair.. I am frankly, well, not so shocked. I think pleased is the right word.

    I think a comment I made about SC2 on Twitter several weeks ago went like this:

    SC2 < SC < C&C < Dune 2

    There just isn't any value added, in my opinion, by the gameplay in SC and SC2. I was playing Dune 2 the other day for the first time in ten years, and I was shocked at how well designed the game was - I easily completed the first mission, but the computer destroyed me on the second mission - not because of great AI, but because of great level design.

    And thank you for not harping on the narrative/characters in SC2 - I mean, since when has Blizzard *ever* made a game with strong characters or a story? :)

  3. There's no excuse for the AI. I've seen some units simply stop fighting as if the enemy units were no longer there. So much for the legendary testing and quality at Blizzard.

    I think, though, that Blizzard was in tough spot for the basic design because of its existing fans. Don't expect Diablo 3 to stray from its predecessors either. The reason these games were so popular is that they were extremely easy to pick up and play. For all its demands for extra hands, SC2 is pretty easy to pick up.

    I think the problem is being too literal with design. Last week I talked with game dev friends about Doom and modern FPS. One had even met with
    iD devs to talk about Doom 3 should be. The point is that Doom 4 won't be another Call of Duty and can't munge old style GPS with the new without losing its identity and the things that made it great. But they should be willing to innovate those things that made it great--surprise, hordes of different enemies, the use of sound to create apprehension, shoot and Dodge tactics. It shouldn't lose these things but shouldn't implement them the same way as before. I think Blizzard was too literal in what made the original fun.

  4. @ kikito: I really don't think we disagree. It's just that it was obvious to me that the game's mechanics would be better than the original's, but this frankly wont cut it. I was definitely underwhelmed. Oh, and I do see the point about the competitive bit of things, but I just can't care enough for e-sports of any sort. Cheers!

    @ Chris: You know we agree, don't you? Oh and regarding them reviews, I do try to avoid reviewing the games I don't really like. Tend to prefer to suggest stuff I've enjoyed. Think that might just change though.

    @ guttertalk: Well said wise friend. Well said. Don't think I could add anything.

  5. Seems like most RTSes lately have been clicking exercises. Has been a disappointing crop. It must be an evil plot to create a generation of 6-fingered children that can use 4 Apple iDevices at a time.

  6. Yes, yes, that's it dear Jraptor! Apple has been behind this all the time. I knew and felt it, but just wasn't sure yet.