Several long years have elapsed since Blizzard announced the development of a sequel to its award-winning sci-fi strategy StarCraft. While the studio has endured some criticism for the delays the project has suffered, it's fair to say that the wait has only fuelled the fires of anticipation. Beta testing for StarCraft II is finally under way, and although early impressions suggest a familiar offering, they also promise one that's worth the wait.
StarCraft II takes place during the 26th century in the far reaches of the Milky Way galaxy. Like the original, the game centres on three races - human exiles known as the Terrans, the insectoid Zerg, and the psionically-blessed Protoss. The follow-up is divided into three instalments, one dedicated to each species, with the first segment Wings Of Liberty shining the spotlight on the Terrans. Picking up four years after the events of StarCraft: Brood War, the opening chapter finds insurgent leader Jim Raynor leading a force of mercenaries following a failed campaign against the tyrannical Terran Dominion.
Putting in several hours against the computer is definitely recommended before diving into a game head-first, as matches between budding tacticians and veterans tend to last a matter of minutes. Effective resource management is the name of the game, and this can be the difference between your side being overrun, or snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat. After you have selected a stage from the 14 available and chosen which of the three races you wish to control, the game gets under way. Voice chat is supported, allowing you and your companion to deliberate over the finer points of strategy and resource allocation.
Those who are unfamiliar with the original may find the learning curve somewhat steep. There's a lot to take on board, from the nuances of each unit to the implications of various terrain types. However, it seems fair to say that the developer's intention is to create a true sequel - a game that incorporates superior aesthetics and a wealth of additional features, without straying too far from its forebear's roots. In this regard, StarCraft II is shaping up to be a fanboy's dream.
Aside from the new matchmaking mechanics and an impressive graphical facelift, Blizzard has overhauled the record function, allowing players to view replays of previous campaigns and learn from their mistakes. The final game also promises to include a more sophisticated editing system for creating user-generated maps and mods, as well as the option to purchase premium maps via Battle.net.
If beta impressions prove one thing, it's that the game's lengthy gestation period has not been squandered. StarCraft II has the feel of a natural successor with no small measure of enhancements. The wait is almost over now and the final product looks certain to be a real fan-pleaser.
StarCraft II: Wings Of Liberty is released for PC later this year.