“Starcraft II” is up and coming: How best to get your game on this summer

“Hell, it’s about time!” This is the vocal response you get when ordering a marine to move or attack in Blizzard’s newest game, “Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty.” And he’s right; it is about time.  

The original Starcraft was released in 1998, with an expansion, “Brood War,” arriving later that year. These games made record sales in their time and since, totaling nearly 10 million copies sold by 2007. But despite its massive popularity, a full-fledged sequel has never materialized. Until now.

Like the previous entries in the series, “Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” is a Real-Time Strategy game. In “Starcraft II,” you take control of an army from one of three factions: the human Terrans, the techno-alien Protoss or the insectlike Zerg. Each faction has unique buildings and units, which allow the player the use of different strategies for building an army. You then use this army to attack, and hopefully crush, your opponent.

The early version of the game available now is a beta test of the multiplayer component over Blizzard’s matchmaking service www.battle.net. In the beta, you can battle against other human players, or practice playing the game against a computer opponent.

However, the only difficulty option for the computer opponent at this time is Very Easy (which poses a challenge on par with melting butter in a toaster oven), so Blizzard is clearly encouraging beta participants to spend their time online in matches against other human players. Let me be very clear here: Though the graphics are running in a new, pretty 3D engine, this game is very much like the previous “Starcraft.” The basics of building your base economy up by harvesting resources, that’s the same. The maximum unit count is the same. Many of the units are the same, or similar to previous incarnations. Players of the first game will feel right at home in terms of the structure of a match.

Where the game differs is in the particulars.  For example, resources are harvested in multiples of 5, not 8. This may not sound like a big deal, but I for one had a much easier time keeping track of, and predicting, my mineral flow from just this one change.  

Also, familiar units have some new — and welcome — upgrades. Terran Marines now get to research a shield upgrade that increases their HP. “Starcraft II” seems like the sum of a million such minor tweaks, and the results in this beta make for intense action.

Due out this summer, “Starcraft II” is poised for a triumphant return.

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