World of Starcraft
World of Starcraft--World Exclusive Hands-On Preview Impressions First Look
To put it mildly, the human brain cannot possibly fathom and the English language cannot possibly express how amazingly incredible the next massively multiplayer game from Blizzard is going to be. First screens and details!
It's time to drop out of school, quit your job, divorce your spouse, disown your children, cancel your gym membership, upgrade your PC, and clear out your schedule for World of Starcraft. Hot on the heels of the unprecedented success of its first massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Blizzard Entertainment is taking its other best-known real-time strategy brand and doing it up proper. We've only caught a glimpse of a work-in-progress version of World of Starcraft so details are scarce at this time, but we're already prepared to lay all our credibility and all your trust in us on the line by predicting that this will surely end up being GameSpot's 2007 Game of the Year when it finally comes out, assuming it doesn't get delayed. After all, when you take World of Warcraft; replace the "Warcraft" with "Starcraft;" fix a whole bunch of World of Warcraft's problems; introduce a whole new set of mechanics and gameplay features; and throw in stim packs, psionic storms, and devourers, you obviously have a completely different and even better game.
World of Starcraft has a lot to live up to, regardless of whether you're primarily a fan of World of Warcraft or of Starcraft, the 1998 real-time strategy classic. Much like World of Warcraft took all that was great about the Warcraft series and turned it into a massively multiplayer game, in turn, you can expect for World of Starcraft to build on the fiction and characters featured in Starcraft, the Brood War expansion pack, and other spin-offs. Specifically, you can look forward to choosing from four (not three) completely different playable races: the rough-and-ready Terrans, the voracious Zerg, and the enigmatic Protoss. Blizzard's being coy about the fourth race, but Starcraft fans might be quick to assume it's the Xel'Naga, a precursor race central to the series' back story. Whether that turns out to be the case remains to be seen. For now, we only have basic details on the first three races, which Starcraft fans as well as MMO players should find incredibly appealing.
The most important decision you'll make when diving into the game for the first time is your choice of race. Depending on that decision, you might have a couple of additional choices. For example, Terran characters may be male or female and may begin their lives as recent graduates of either the mobile infantry or fleet academy--choices that will determine their career paths for later. So, rather than force you to choose from a large number of races and classes, World of Starcraft will let you dive right in even more quickly. To continue the Terran example, mobile-infantry characters will later be able to choose from a variety of combat specializations: whether you opt to become a highly versatile and stealthy ghost, a direct and brutal firebat, a tenacious marine, or a life-saving medic, you'll have to be part of the mobile infantry first and complete the necessary training and missions.
Alternatively, fleet academy characters will be far less powerful in direct combat, but will have vehicular expertise. Want to ride a vulture hoverbike, operate a goliath walker, fly a wraith fighter, commandeer a dropship, or even command a gigantic battlecruiser? Then the fleet academy is for you. The beauty of this system is that you'll be able to get your feet wet with World of Starcraft's gameplay before you commit to a specialized profession. As for the professions, they're just what a Starcraft player would hope for. Imagine running and gunning with your fellow Marines on a war-torn futuristic landscape, while high up in the stratosphere, a battlecruiser with a full complement of fleet-academy veterans provides orbital bombardment support.
As you might suspect, the Zerg operate on a totally different principle than the Terrans. Unlike the Terrans, all Zerg start out as larvae that hatch into Zerglings, capable of little more than running, biting, and clawing. But we all know that the Zerg have much more in their fiendish arsenals. How, then, does a player grow from a pathetic Zergling into, say, an imposing ultralisk or a terrifying hydralisk? By means of a unique karmic system represented by "Swarm" points--essentially an experience-rewards system that seems derived from the PVP "honor" system in World of Warcraft. Zerglings that contribute well for the Swarm (the Zerg's collective consciousness) will all still eventually die in servitude--it's just a matter of time before one of the little guys gets squashed under a siege-tank tread or something. But their spirits may then be reborn as stronger, more-powerful, rarer Zerg forces. Those tougher units may still be killed, so only by sustaining your good standing within the Swarm will you be able to continue to live life as the Zerg's mightiest combatants. Yet, your identity will still be preserved from one Zerg unit to the next, since your underlying stats and level will carry over...preventing you from feeling like you're losing progress by dying. Given all this, playing as the Zerg should be a completely different, much more competitive, action-oriented experience than what you're accustomed to seeing in a massively multiplayer game. As in the strategy game, Zerg players will be able to overwhelm their opponents through sheer numbers and raw, savage tactics.
And then there's the Protoss. Protoss players will get to make a binary choice much like Terran players (although, we're not sure if there will be female Protoss in the game), opting to become either zealots or templars. Zealots are the Protoss' vanguard, responsible for direct combat both on foot and using vehicles. Templars are the Protoss' strategists and magicians, capable of support casting, special reconnaissance, and much more. So whereas Terrans will have a stricter weapons-versus-vehicles decision to make, the two Protoss military branches are less rigid. For example, zealots will later be able to pilot heavily armored scouts or carriers, whereas templars may train to become powerful high templars or may even gain control of time-shifting arbiter spacecraft. Blizzard is even toying with the idea of letting two high-templar players merge to form an archon, a highly destructive, energy-based being. One player will control the archon's psyche and the other will control its reflexes, essentially forcing the two to collaborate. Also, in keeping with the idea that the Protoss are an extremely hardy race, these characters will be the hardest to kill...as well as the hardest to bring back to life. The toughest Protoss that fall in battle will return encased in mighty dragoon walkers, but all the rest may suffer a pretty big penalty when coming back to life. So, much like in the strategy game, the Protoss will in many ways be the most advanced, most complicated of the World of Starcraft races.
By introducing four completely different playable factions and spanning the gameplay across not just a few continents but an entire solar system, Blizzard will ensure that World of Starcraft is a much, much bigger game than any it's ever produced. What's more, the company intends to address many of the specific issues that have plagued World of Warcraft up till this point, especially those relating to the extremely high demand for the game. For example, rather than having to sit around twiddling your thumbs, waiting in a queue to get onto your preferred server, Blizzard will be treating its fans to a fully integrated game of classic Starcraft, built right into the queuing system. Imagine playing one of the greatest real-time strategy games of all time while waiting your turn to play one of the greatest massively multiplayer online role-playing games of all time! World of Starcraft promises to revitalize interest in the original RTS classic for a whole new generation.
What's more, the World of Starcraft application will be available as a free download--no having to scour your local shopping mall for a $50 box. Monthly fees will apply, but Blizzard is hoping to offer players some sort of free trial. Further, an in-game, ad-supported version of the game will be available to players at a reduced price. What types of real-world products still exist in the far-flung future? You'll have to wait to play the game to find out! And for those marathon stretches you'll doubtlessly end up spending with the game, Blizzard's got you covered with a full-on integration with its newly-announced BurgerCraft franchise. By typing /burger at any point in the game, you'll gain access to a highly integrated menu, allowing you to special-order fast food, delivered straight to your home. Since Blizzard's got your account data, charges will be transparently applied, seamlessly integrating the fast-food-buying experience straight into the game.
The gameplay itself will also build on some of the lessons learned from World of Warcraft. For example, by replacing randomly dropped equipment and items ("loot") with standard-issue uniforms and weaponry on the Terran and Protoss sides, and natural armor and weapons on the Zerg side, World of Starcraft will carefully avoid all those annoying issues with item balance, questionable loot tables in high-level instances, and so on. It'll put all players on a level playing field. Low-level questing will also be eliminated in favor of even more epic-scale "instance" runs, letting literally hundreds of players band together to stomp through countless Starcraft-themed adventures. Why stand around shooting Kakarus out of the sky when you could be fighting your way through an infested Terran compound, cleansing it of a Zerg infestation...or defending it against the Terran invaders, for that matter?
There's still a lot of work left to be done on World of Starcraft, which is slated to release sometime next year in Korea. A North American translation should follow shortly thereafter, and Blizzard promises that other territories won't need to wait too much longer for their own localized version of the game. However, we can assure you that the days are going to be long, tedious, and painful leading up to whenever the time comes. World of Starcraft is everything we ever wanted World of Warcraft to be, and more.
Posted Apr 1, 2006 12:01 am PT