Hands on: StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty

We get hands on with the single player campaign of Blizzard’s epic StarCraft 2 real-time strategy game

Unit upgrades and purchases

Blizzard is heavily promoting Wings of Liberty as a rich and enticing single-player experience. We were told that instead of functioning merely as a multiplayer training ground, the story alone would be reason enough to invest some gameplay hours. As such, in between missions you’ll have the chance to relax for a few minutes.

An interactive adventure-style set is laid out — in a similar visual style to LucasArts’ adventure games — with most taking place on the bridge of the battleship Hyperion (although you will get the chance to relax in a bar in Mar Sara and other locations). Items scattered throughout the sets like televisions will provide news on events unfolding around the galaxy. As well as gaining some insight into the events leading up to the current situation, the real value of the set comes in the form of upgrades that can be applied to your in-game units.

The between-game sequence on the Hyperion allows players to visit the Bridge, Cantina, Lab and Armory. From the Armory you’re able to select per-unit upgrades — we saw buffs that gave medics the ability to heal a group of targets simultaneously and the ubiquitous stim-packs for marines, as well as building upgrades like built-in turrets for bunkers. You can’t apply all of these at once, though — you’ll be restricted by the amount of credits you own, doled out for completing missions and bonus objectives. These upgrades are definitely single-player-only — the inclusion of an upgrade to make medics heal twice as fast, for example, would skew the balance of multiplayer games immensely.

The Cantina allows the hiring of mercenary forces that are superior to regular Terran infantry.

Heading along to the Lab, players can view more wide-spread upgrades. Because of their overpowering nature — health boosts for all units in your command, for example — these aren’t unlocked by the almighty dollar, but instead through the acquisition of rare items in-game. Finding a dozen Zerg chrysalis pods over a few missions, for example, might grant a damage upgrade to all Terran ground units.

In the Cantina the most novel bonuses are available. If you’ve got the spare cash, you can hire mercenaries: unique units with extra abilities over regular in-game units. The Kel’Morian Mercenaries, for example, are marines with added damage and health. These units are activated through the construction of the all-new Mercenary Camp structure when in-game.

These buffs and boosts will offer a new slant to gameplay for players who have already cut their teeth on the original game. When playing, we found the boosts to be overpowered, but Blizzard is still doing plenty of balancing and tweaking. We think that if you’re playing on a hard difficulty setting, picking your upgrades wisely could be the difference between victory and defeat.

There are also unique units in the single player campaign. Firebats make a welcome return, but we had the opportunity to play around with Marauder heavy armoured infantry, Reaper flying units and had a sneak peek at the Perdition flame turret.

Economic efficiency

Gathering resources is central to the StarCraft experience, with each race going about things slightly differently. A small but game-changing adjustment to this formula comes in the form of temporary production boosts, allowing players to increase the speed at which resources are harvested.

The Terrans have an experimental SCV called the Mule, which harvests larger amounts of minerals at a faster rate, but only last for a short period of time before expiring. They can only be called down from orbital command, though — so players have to balance between summoning Mules and operating the orbital command’s Comsat Scan ability (you’ll remember that from the original game).

The progress of in-game events can be tracked through news reports and stories of sector-wide battles.

The Zerg go about things in a more... organic matter. With hatcheries spawning regular larvae that can be mutated into different units, a special ability of the Queen dramatically increases the spawning rate — allowing huge armies of Zerglings and more powerful units to be created in a short period of time. We love this because it fits in well with the Zerg’s sheer-force-in-numbers ethos.

Of course, the Protoss are the most technologically advanced race. By building an Obelisk, which also grants other, as-yet-unknown abilities, Protoss players will be able to temporarily speed up the harvesting abilities of all probes, noticeably increasing the speed at which minerals and Vespene gas rolls into their coffers.

Anything else?

That’s pretty much it. It's got all the simplicity and charm of the original StarCraft and Brood War games, with a brand new storyline and a few subtle changes that add a bit of extra pizzazz. From our short hours of gameplay we came away very impressed by the level of detail and execution of the single player campaign. It felt every bit as inviting and full of lore and back-story as the original series did, so we’re very keen to get our hands on a copy of the final game and play through the campaign.

[For more screenshots, check out our slideshow gallery of the single-player campaign.]

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