by Ryan Phillip Hardesty
previewed on PC
Entering the Ring...
When I first logged onto Battle.net the foremost thing I noticed was the professionalism of it all. The interface is sleek and easy to navigate. The community and update portals are front-and-center, showcasing a massive appreciation for player feedback. There are a handful of tabs designed to show where you’re at in the rankings as well as displaying your stats and the replay videos of your last matches.
At the front page in the upper left-hand corner are two tabs: multiplayer and single-player with single-player being faded and unclickable. Not knowing where else to begin, I clicked on multiplayer and found myself whisked away to a screen saying I had 5 practice matches awaiting me. These are, in essence, unranked games determined to give you an idea of what to do. It’s Starcraft-2-Multiplayer-for-Dummies. Hesitant and virtually clueless, I instead went to create a custom game against the computer before going head-to-toe with an actual human. For now, and rather unfortunately, the AI levels are reduced to only ‘very easy’, and when Blizzard says ‘very easy’, they mean it. In my first match I went with the Terrans, Earth’s exiled space marines, and I was attacked only once by two enemy units.
And that’s really the only AI challenge the developers want you to handle. The computer’s brainpower is limited for a reason. It’s basically Blizzard’s way of saying ‘come on, sport, get out there and face some real people’.
...And Facing the Faceless
So I did. After toying around with the Terrans’ tech tree and various units and buildings I entered my first multiplayer match, a massive charge of tension running through my body as I wondered who exactly I was facing and how good they were. Turns out they were damn good (or I was horrible – probably the latter) as I was smoked within seven minutes. The game plays fast. Very fast. The default setting for speed is ‘faster’, the highest setting possible, turning the game into a furious display of simultaneous demands, of build-orders, tech research, intelligence gathering, economic fiddling and troop management. After taking in my quick defeat I wondered if all the games would wind up like that – a dizzying slaughter of embarrassing proportions – but thankfully they weren’t. I lost my second match, won the third and fourth, and lost the fifth.
And that assortment of wins and losses is, as I would learn, a good representation of the competition out there. There are some terrible players who fiddle around doing nothing while there are others who will wipe you from the map. The unknown and seemingly arbitrary skills of opponents are taxing but will also make every match a race to the death. You don’t know who it is so you might as well play like they’re the reigning Starcraft champion of the world. It’s a hell of a mindset to play in and one that delivers the tactical and strategic decision-making most RTS gamers drool over.
Even more daunting is the fact that once you get a faction’s gameplay down, whether it’s the Protoss, Terran or Zerg, you still have two more to try out and master. And that’s not even including what you’re up against. Sure, you’re great as the Protoss, but who’s your opponent? The Zerg? Terrans? Protoss as well? How will you switch up your tactics once you find out? Your very survival is dependent on the answer. The possibilities add up to a total of 9 unique scenarios, and that’s just in 1v1 matches. Whew.