Simply put, Starcraft 2 is the best Real Time Strategy game Ive ever played. It sets the bar for the entire RTS genre and easily surpasses its peers in nearly every respect. There are other great RTS games, and saying that Starcraft 2 is better than them isnt my way of trying to diminish their greatness. Im just saying that as good as they are, this game has set the bar higher.
What games am I talking about here? The elite competition for Starcraft 2 in the RTS genre comes from the following games: Company of Heroes, Supreme Commander, Sins of a Solar Empire, Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War II, Warcraft 3, Age of Empires 3, and Command & Conquer Red Alert 3. Thats basically it. Below these games there is another class of very good RTS games which include World in Conflict, LOTR: BFME, Halo Wars, as well as other C&C games and older or more obscure titles like Rise of Nations. Each of these games has its nuances and unique qualities which makes them worth buying and worth playing. Depending on your taste, a game like Starcraft set in the future out in space may not appeal to you as much as something like Age of Empires. But its all window dressing for the core play mechanics. And even if you strip away the sci-fi the setting, the amazing graphics, the story, the layers and layers of production polish and all of battle.net, Starcraft 2 still eclipses all other games in the RTS genre simply based on the quality, depth, and balance of its gameplay.
Which hasnt changed much in over 12 years. Thats not to say that Blizzard didnt tweak anything with Starcraft 2 compared to its predecessor, but the resulting game is very similar to the original at first glance. Only if you played the original quite a fair bit will you notice how many changes and updates Blizzard has made to the formula, while maintaining the same overall look and feel. The game is easier to play, first and foremost, and you dont have to be some 300apm hotkey hotshot to enjoy the game and even play competitively. Using hotkeys and shortcuts will certainly speed up your play, but it isnt nearly as necessary as it was with the original game.
The graphics are probably the first thing most people will notice. This is one of the finest looking PC games to come along in quite some time. The cutscenes and in-game dialogue look positively phenomenal, right up there with Uncharted 2 as the very best I have ever seen. The gameplay itself is a technological marvel, as you can have hundreds upon hundreds of units on the screen all with rockets and lasers ablaze without suffering from the dreaded slowdown - and the whole thing looks amazing. There are some really nice looking RTS games out there too, but Blizzard has just outdone themselves with the combination of quality and performance you get in Starcraft 2. My system isnt nearly state of the art (core2 duo @ 3.2ghz 2GB RAM and a 512mb 3750 ati card) and it runs the game at a rock solid 30fps+ with all settings on HIGH, no matter what kind of crazy shit is happening on screen. Its incredible.
The main complaints that I have about the game are rather minimal. First and foremost, I suck at it. The game is hard simply by nature of the fact that A) RTS games are hard and B) Starcraft 2 is one of the deepest and most complex RTS games. But, I suck at chess, and many other games that are truly great but where extremely high level play is unattainable for all but the most passionately committed. I once posted an article from another blog called Insomnia about game complexity and depth, and the writer made an interesting observation:
It is indeed even possible to measure the absolute complexity of a game (and therefore its depth, and therefore the degree of skillful play that it allows) by simply measuring the maximum distance between the best and worst possible players. In our coin toss game that distance is zero. The best and worst possible players are forced to play exactly the same way (press the button; make a random guess), so that it is impossible for us to even distinguish them. In the most complex games yet made, Civilization, say, or Marvel vs. Capcom, or Supreme Commander, that distance is so great that the best player always towers above the worst like an invincible, untouchable god.
The lesson here is that you can enjoy a great, extremely deep and complex game like Chess or Starcraft 2 without ever becoming very good at it. Dont be discouraged by the complexity of the game - embrace it. You will become a better gamer because of it. Consider it a challenge and your incremental improvements will be very rewarding. The key is to always play someone - either a human opponent or a bot or an AI - who is slightly better than you. This is how you get better. If you play weaker opponents you will rarely have to correct your play to beat them, and making small corrections and improvements in each game results in wholesale changes over time. Battle.net, Blizzard's online service, has a full slew of matchmaking features which pit you against opponents at or slightly above your skill level. The system works perfectly as far as I can tell, and if you dont feel up for playing people its always a blast to play against the AI either by yourself or coop with a friend.
The single player campaign lasts 15-20 hours and is produced with a quality that has never before been seen in the RTS genre. I was initially concerned that Starcraft 2 would not ship with a Zerg and Protoss campaign, with Blizzard instead opting to make those DLC - werent we getting shorted? The answer is a resounding no. The Terran campaing is longer than the campaigns of all 3 races from the original game combined. Plus there are special challenge missions, secret missions, hallucinatory crytal meth missions (seriously), and more achievements than I have ever seen in any game before in my enitre life. The amount of single player content outside of battle.net is staggering and easily worth $60 alone.
I know a lot of the people who read this blog dont play RTS games and probably dont care about Starcraft 2 or PC gaming in general, and while I respect those people and their gaming choices, I almost feel bad for them because they are really missing out one of the best games of the year - if not all time. You just have to be up for the challenge (and your PC does also). Blizzard has created a masterpiece in Starcraft 2, its a game where everything just comes together - the technology, the story, the online features - to create something truly special that only happens a few times in a generation. While no game is perfect, Starcraft 2 is epic on a scale few games have ever reached.