StarCraft 2 feels like StarCraft. You are still mining minerals and gathering vespene gas with SCVs, Probes, and Drones. Despite it being extraordinarily similar, StarCraft 2 still feels like a new game. The biggest change is in the campaign. In StarCraft (and its expansion Brood War), Blizzard released all three sides of the campaign in one game. This time, we only get the Terran side of things, as Jim Raynor and his Raynor’s Raiders fight against the dictator Arcturus Mengsk and the Queen of Blades.
The decision to release only one-third of the campaign does not mean that Blizzard has skimped on the single player experience. There are 25 missions (26 if you can find the secret mission) that take you all over the galaxy and gradually introduce you to a variety of new units, and reunite you with mainstays from the first game. The campaign itself has elements of a role-playing game as you can level up units and abilities that suit your playing style, leading to a unique campaign experience on a second (or even a third) play through.
Improving from the original StarCraft, you no longer interact with disembodied heads that are reading from a heads up display and going through rehearsed dialogue. Instead, Blizzard has fleshed out the world of StarCraft by allowing you to watch newscasts by Danny Vermillion (a newscaster based off of Will Ferrel’s Anchorman), hire mercenaries, and even play a coin-operated arcade game based on an old Blizzard game (they put a game in your game so you could game while you game). Despite this being a sequel, Blizzard does not rest on its laurels assuming that you have an encyclopedic knowledge of the original StarCraft; it includes plenty of opportunity to catch up, but a passing knowledge of the original campaign will allow you to catch a lot more of the references.
Despite the vast improvement of the single player experience, the real appeal of StarCraft 2 is the multiplayer game. Whether “2 Gate opening” and “Speedling Rush” are part of your vernacular or mindless gibberish, the multiplayer options are still accessible to you.
Blizzard has implemented a series of challenges that teach you how to utilize the three armies to their fullest potential, how to micromanage your units, and how to use many of the newer units. Essentially, these challenges function as a multiplayer tutorial. Once you have cut your teeth playing against a remarkably intelligent computer opponent and decide that you are ready to play against humans, Blizzard provides 50 free practice games that ease you into the human versus human experience and segue into your 5 placement matches. StarCraft 2 multiplayer features a ladder system that ensures you are playing against similarly skilled opponents; as you get better, so will your competition.
There is far more to consider in multiplayer than in its predecessor, as everything is incredibly balanced. Each army feels unique and requires different strategies. The new addition to multiplayer is the importance of the high ground, which allows you to pick off enemy units while they cannot see you. Along with this come ground units that are able to jump over terrain that would be otherwise impassable to ordinary ground units. For example, there may be nothing more frustrating than seeing a group of Reapers jump up and take out all of your SCVs/Probes/Drones. (Did I mention that StarCraft 2 features rocket packs? Everything is better with rocket packs).
From a technical perspective, this game is gorgeous. If you have a system that can run it on Ultra you will not be disappointed. If your system lacks the uber high-end capabilities, the game still looks good, but you will be envious of your friend who gets to run it with HD graphics on Ultra. Unfortunately, StarCraft 2 exhibits Blizzard’s disgust with dual video cards, so you may have to disable SLI or Crossfire in order to get the best performance, but it is a small price to pay for a game as solid as this. One of my favorite effects is the animation that happens when biological units get disintegrated by a Battlecruiser’s lasers.
Overall, StarCraft 2 is way more than just a graphical improvement over the original. It shows that these past 12 years Blizzard was working on how to create a game that was worthy of wearing the StarCraft brand. StarCraft 2 is a finely-tuned game no matter your preference of either single player or multiplayer. RTS fans had been waiting for a sequel to one of the most iconic games of the 1990s—and Blizzard delivered.