Friday, May 21, 2010

Starcraft II Beta Boogaloo

I blame Facebook for everything.

The kind folks at Blizzard decided some weeks back that they'd be handing out beta keys for Starcraft II on their Facebook page. This meant that at predetermined times, they'd post an image with about 20 keys on it, and everyone following would scramble to type one in correctly before anyone else did. Hundreds, if not thousands of people were jamming keys into a little text bar with every image posted. And for about two weeks I was one of them.

Then I came to my freaking senses and preordered the game at Gamestop, which is the sane way to get in on the beta. (Was? Still is, I think.)

So I run home and I register my beta key, and I start downloading the beta with Blizzard's patented P2P downloading service. What, you thought peer-to-peer was only used by disgusting criminals trying to steal money from Justin Bieber? Well, so does Comcast, which meant it took me about twenty hours to actually download the damn game (including patches).

You are now familiar with the first day of my beta experience.

Now, we have two computers in my household. My personal computer is used for writing, web browsing, email, and playing... older games. It's a fairly ancient... oh wow, I just realized my computer is over ten years old. Granted, I think I've replaced every component in the thing excepting the motherboard, but still. Damn. Anyway, on a lark I try installing Starcraft II on this machine, which can theoretically play the game. And this, as it turns out, is factually accurate. But it plays the game - I'm sorry, it plays the title screen at about one frame per second, and I wanted something more. Something playable.

The second computer is my wife's computer, which is considerably newer and understands terms like "dual-core processing". I install the game on her computer (by copying the install files from my computer - no thank you P2P), and up comes the title screen, giving me a beautiful view of a starship orbiting a planet. "Sweet!" says I, and I make a profile and log in.

And I wait.

The main menu screen comes up. I click on the button to find a game to play.

And I wait.

The game selection screen comes up. I pick out what kind of game I want to play, and the game lets me know that it needs to download some maps. And it downloads about 6% of the first map, has a grand mal seizure and crashes.

You are now familiar with the first two weeks of my beta experience.

I'm still not 100% sure on why I couldn't download any of the maps for this game, nor do I intend to detail the dark and bloody pacts I made to overcome this difficulty. Suffice it to say that after a lot of crash reports, disappointment and shady downloads, I finally got a working set of maps and signed into my first game.

Which played at one frame per second. Before crashing.

My consolation for all of this mess is that my wife seems quite pleased with the 2GB RAM upgrade she got out of it.

The Actual Game

The Starcraft II beta is multiplayer-only, which is understandable, but still a shame, since I was always been more enamored with the single-player storyline in the original game. Still, no sense spoiling the plot before the real game's up for sale, I suppose.

There are still three races that are playable: Terran (humans), Zerg (bug aliens), and Protoss (psychic lizard aliens). The armies have changed enough from the first game that you have to relearn the units, but their basic play styles remain about the same.

I've played ten multiplayer games so far, and have been stomped in every game where my opponent didn't have network problems. The beta testers are a hardened, dangerous lot who've perfected rush tactics to an insane degree. Zerg rushes, Marine rushes, spider-robot-thing rushes, they're all here and perfectly deadly. I'm looking forward to getting killed by some of the larger units eventually, but that will probably have to wait for the full game.

On the positive side, the graphics are gorgeous, the maps are fun to play, and there's a nice social networking setup to help you find regular opponents and friends from real life. The single-player campaign looks to be long and involved, and there should be two more campaigns coming out later as add-ons, which means lots of tasty sci-fi story in between bouts of machine gunning the hell out of vile alien lifeforms.

And in the end, it's Starcraft II. You'll buy it or you won't, and your mind was probably made up years ago. But if you do buy it, make sure you know where to find RAM in a hurry.


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