Nukezilla Review: Starcraft 2: Wings Of Liberty (Multiplayer) (PC)
The multiplayer experience offered by Starcraft 2 is underpinned at every stage by Battle.net 2.0. The system has two main functions: it is both a matchmaking tool and a social network that ties players together across all of Blizzard’s current franchises.
Upon first registering with Battle.net, the player creates a unique Starcraft 2 character. Only one character can be created per purchase of the game which has the immediate effect of ending the phenomenon of smurfing. For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to experienced players creating new accounts to trick rookies in to playing against them.
The ranking and matchmaking side of the equation is a little more complicated. Ranked competition begins with a series of five placement matches, games against players of varying skill to assess the player’s abilities. The results determine the player’s league, from the lowly bronze to the silver, gold, platinum and diamond leagues. Each league comprises countless divisions, groups of 100 players ranked directly against each other. Rather than show the player’s overall standing, this system gives each player a less specific idea of their skill level. It’s a touch controversial, the more obsessive players want to know exactly how they compare to everyone else. Personally, I can live without knowing how many millions of players are better at the game than I am.
Battle.net 2.0 accomplishes the goals it has set for itself with ease and grace. I found myself pitted against some very evenly matched opponents, allowing me to gradually learn new strategies and improve my skills. Although one or two matches have been marred by lag, the vast majority have been completely lag free. If you want to play serious, evenly matched competitive games against strangers, Battle.net 2.0 will serve you well.
Custom games against friends are also possible, with optional AI enemies or allies, though it’s worth noting that they can’t be played against a friend in another region. Regions broadly correspond to continents so as a European, I won’t be able to play against friends in the USA. Though I appreciate the speedy performance of Battle.net, I find the region locking incredibly frustrating. Blizzard have made noises in the past about opening up non-ranked play across regions at some unspecified date but nothing has been confirmed. It’s an issue who’s importance will vary wildly across players. If you were only going to play against someone who lives down the street, ignore it. If you have a large group of foreign friends then it could be worth thinking about.
The matches themselves have been joyously frantic excercises in guess work, strategy and micromanagement. Sometimes the killing blow comes early in the game, an all or nothing frontal assault by basic units that overwhlems an unprepared enemy. Other matches can get to the point where each player is probing the others defenses, waiting for a moment of weakness and responding with a closely managed surgical strike.
I always feel as if I’m improving, developing more sophisticated strategies and recognising moments of genius displayed by my opponents. The knowledge that I’m not being matched against unassailable foes is incredibly reassuring. If I’m defeated, it isn’t a cause for rage or frustration. I just have to think about what they did and a counter strategy will present itself.
As far as the balance between the strengths of the Terran, Protoss and Zerg factions is concerned, everything seems fine. Perhaps high-level players will have figured out minor exploits but down in the gold league, I’m beating and being beaten by every race. It’s worth pointing out that the Terran faction available in multiplayer are quite different to the Terrans in the single player campaign. Several units including the Goliath, Vulture and Medic that many Starcraft veterans will remember have been removed. Blizzard claim that it’s a measure to even out the abilities of each faction but I’m a little more skeptical. Maybe it’s the conspiracy theorist in me but I suspect we’ll see many units re-introduced to the multiplayer once the two planned expansions to Starcraft 2 are released.
Blizzard have managed to create an environment that’s both fiercely competitive and strangely welcoming. Long before a player enters a ranked match they have the chance to play practice matches against other rookies or try out the game’s challenge mode to work on specific skill sets. Once they step on to the ranking ladder, they’ll get the chance to compete at their own level. My only concern is that the range of skill levels will stop expanding soon and eventually contract, leaving the same impenetrable community of obsessive players that plagues so many multiplayer games.
If you have the slightest interest in playing Starcraft 2 competitively, I would urge you to play through your placement matches and spend some time in ranked games. Battle.net 2.0 isn’t a perfect system, but it’s by far the most elegant I’ve experienced to date. As a result, Starcraft 2.0 is the first real-time strategy game I’ve played competitively and frankly, it’s become an addiction.
Disclaimer: This game was reviewed on a PC with a 2.5ghz dual-core processor, 2gb of RAM, 512mb Nvidia 8800GT graphics card and a 2MB internet connection.