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Beyond StarCraft 3D – StarCraft 2 New Gameplay Concepts

Since its unveiling in May 2007, StarCraft 2 has been constantly either criticized or praised for the similarity to its masterpiece predecessor. Unlike the WarCraft and Diablo game series sequels, Blizzard’s StarCraft sequel is not radically different from StarCraft. At first glance, the Terran, Protoss and Zerg clash again, with only slightly modified arsenals and greatly enhanced graphics.

StarCraft vs StarCraft 2

But that’s not all. Every RTS game has key concepts that stretch beyond unit armor/damage statistics and eye candy – concepts like the Terran flying buildings, the neutral heroes of WarCraft 3 or the superweapons of Command & Conquer. Concepts that define battlefield priorities, the amount of base management required, and very often compromise the mechanics that drastically change the flow of multiplayer battles.

StarCraft 2 includes many such concepts, which significantly differentiate it from its predecessor:

1) Selection and Automation: Unlimited Selection and Multiple building selection

One of StarCraft’s key troop management considerations was the 12 unit per group limit. Just like any other Blizzard RTS game, and unlike almost any Westwood RTS game, players had to divide units into controllable groups not just based on priority and comfort, but the ease of unified control. Having 15 marines and 7 Vultures usually meant that the player will have to control 3 groups(12+3+7), an artificially imposed handicap which had no real meaning.

Unlimited Selection

StarCraft 2 changes all that. Players will be able to group units by control comfort, map location and unit roles – a drastic change which will affect the diversity and amount of engaged units.

Multiple building selection is a somewhat controversial concept which greatly streamlines production management across multiple buildings. This common control method, which already exists in WarCraft 3, has been criticized for easing production control beyond measure, thus eliminating a facet of skill superiority in matches. MBS liberates more time with which players can focus on controlling the battle, and removes another artificial hassle from the gameplay. Confirmed early on and not changed since, this feature will make it to the Gold version.
StarCraft 2 includes many new automation features, such as smart casting and auto-mining – we have covered them extensively several months ago.

2) Defenses: Terran Supply Depots, Protoss mobile Phase Cannons and the creeping Zerg base defenses

Every race in StarCraft 2 has received significant and original improvements to their defensive structures. The Terran have effectively acquired the first and only StarCraft equivalent of a gate. Despite always having the ability to block and unblock vital ground by lifting buildings off the ground and repositioning them, the size and nature of the new Supply Depots provide an unparalleled static defense flexibility for the Terran players.

Terran Supply Depot

The Protoss mobile Phase Cannons are a great way to ensure that every part of one’s base is covered by defenses – if they’re not there at present, they’ll be moved where they’re needed within a few seconds – but perhaps more importantly, they create a great economic advantage for the Protoss. While every other race possesses its own advantages in terms of “offensive towering”, the Protoss have become the only race to be able to recycle its defenses. Static defenses often become obsolete, especially when placed in expansions or offensive outposts, and this feature allows them to be used and reused throughout the game.

Protoss no longer see the Cannons as a waste of resources (even though current build information suggests otherwise) – they can be redeployed to new expansions, be used in a new offensive, or be sent to aid an ally in need.

Similarly, the newly introduced mobile Zerg defenses are a somewhat less aggressive implementation of this idea. While the mobile Protoss Cannons are able to move around even outside pylon range, Zerg defenses, like almost all other Zerg structures, require creep to be built or to move around on. Of course, as noted earlier by Karune – in Zerg Vs Zerg match-ups, offensive towering is extremely effective due to the Queen’s support.

3) Terrain: High-yield minerals, Terrain destructibility, High-Low Ground

One of the first things to be noticed during StarCraft 2’s initial unveiling were the Yellow Crystals. These were later confirmed to be high-yield minerals – a strategy changing concept, which has served Westwood well in its C&C RTS series of games.

Yellow ?

The tactical implications of having super-valuable expansions in a macro-oriented RTS game, such as StarCraft, are vast. In 2vs2 battles, an economic advantage is very often all players need to gain a significant advantage over the other team.

Destructible terrain, despite adding an additional tactical twist to any battlefield, will likely become little more than an early game consideration. Blocked choke-points, well isolated expansions and unreachable cliffs will alter players’ priorties, often benefiting the player who correctly times the destruction of these obstacles.

Not unlike StarCraft, StarCraft 2 also has multiple levels of terrain height, but this time the Protoss and Terran are equipped with units specifically designed to hop between the different height levels. Colossi, Reapers and Stalkers have all been designed to take advantage of higher ground in battle. The ability to move between heights provides these units with a significant advantage over melee units, and greatly increases the survival chances they have in multi-tiered maps.

Hi-Low Ground

4) StarCraft 2 Production twists – Reactor Add-on and the Warp Gate

One of the most overlooked features at this point is the Terran’s Reactor add-on. As described in a recent Q&A, the Reactor allows a building to build two units at once, effectively doubling its production rate. This is a radical change in production, a crushing advantage for a race that has quite an arsenal of specialized units – as long as the player forfeits the Terran heavy-hitters.

Heavy Hitting Terrans

The Reactor add-on can be attached to the production buildings that needs the doubled rate, and detached from production facilities which need to produce Tech-Lab dependant units.

The Protoss Warp Gate, on the other hand, grants the player the ability to summon units directly into expansions and allied bases. A team of Protoss players can provide each other with reinforcements in real time, an especially significant advantage on Island maps and siege situations.

Bear in mind that we have ignored the major implications of introducing such gameplay-changing units as the Zerg Queen and the new Terran Ghost on purpose, to put on emphasis on global aspects that affect production, control, base layout and economy. These concepts are far more likely to survive the many StarCraft 2 builds which have radically altered unit abilities time after time.

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