I've been playing the Starcraft II beta for a couple of days now. On the off chance you actually want to hear what I think about it, read on, reader, read on.
Before I get started, let me establish what I am. Or, rather, what I am not. I am not a "hardcore" Starcraft fan. Sorry. I loved Starcraft, yes, but I loved it in 1998. I played it then, I finished it, I got on with my life. So if you want somebody who goes toe-to-toe with Koreans, who can agonise over the minutest details of this sequel, from build times to scroll speeds to how this is going to affect your next competitive match, sorry. I'm not your man.
If you're a casual observer, though - as I imagine the vast majority of you are - then you'll probably be in the same boat as me; loved Starcraft back in the day, and are simply curious to see just what's changed (or hasn't changed) over the past 12 years. That, I can help you with.
(Since this is neither a preview or a review, I'm just going to give you all my thoughts at once)
The Water Still Beads - My goodness this game is polished. I mean, I know this is Blizzard, and I know it's been 12 years in the making, but still. From menu screen to interface to terrain to the behaviour and animation of the units, this game is dripping with incidental detail. You want to see what Blizzard mean when they say "it's done when it's done", you boot this game up and compare the trimmings with any other game you've ever played, you'll see what they're talking about.
12 Years? - It's unfair to say this game has actually been 12 years in the making. It hasn't. Blizzard has, in case you missed it, been busy making other stuff during that time. Still, when you play a game that comes so long after its sequel, you expect at least some things to be different. To have evolved. But no, at least in terms of the multiplayer game, aside from some new units and the fancy trimmings, at a fundamental level this is essentially Starcraft HD. How you feel about that depends on whether you wanted a change or not; personally, I'd have liked to see Blizzard be a little more adventurous (though, to be fair, they may be saving that for the singleplayer game).
Listen To It Purr - My PC is what you'd call "slightly above average" (DualCore 3.0ghz, 4GB, GTS 250 1ghz). It's not a $US3000 rig. And yet I can play the game on its highest detail settings at a smooth and consistent framerate, regardless of the size of the map or the number of units on screen. If you're running an average rig, then, or even a below-average rig, slide the settings down a little and you'll be well looked after.
So Far, So Good - For a beta, things sure are running smoothly. As somebody who doesn't play World of Warcraft, Blizzard's Battle.net system was a new experience for me, but over two solid days of play I'm yet to run into any problems whatsoever, whether in terms of dropped connections, lag or trouble finding a game.
If It Ain't Broke - While I wish Blizzard had made some more sweeping changes to the game, Starcraft's second-most treasured asset - it's universe - already feels stronger and more confident. The developers have successfully tread the fine line between preserving old favourites and making necessary tweaks, leaving us with Protoss that are a little more Predator, Zerg that are a little more repulsive and Terrans that have, smartly, been shifted a little in tone, from Southern hillbillies to Wild West pioneers (complete with Deadwood-esque soundtrack). You'll especially love the Terran's new mech, above, whose inspiration is a little more foreign than the rest of their units.
So, yeah, that's what I've come across over the past two days, from being the 167th person connected to the game until now, when there's an average of around 2500 people online at once. If you've been lucky enough to get on the StarCraft II beta, let us know your early impressions in the comments below.