StarCraft II has the ability to disrupt space and time. It is a portal if you will, to an age long since past. After giddily pointing and clicking my way through the first few missions, I couldn't help but think that I was playing a game very similar to its predecessor, 12 years on. I understand that your average sequel introduces incremental improvements to successful gameplay formulas, but your average sequel is also usually pumped out within 2-3 years of the release of the preceding installment. Over a decade's worth of innovations have been introduced to the RTS genre, some even by Blizzard themselves, yet StarCraft II seems to have (at least so far) stoicly adhered to the formula that set the PC gaming world ablaze in the late nineties. What is different however, is how the story is told. It feels a lot like Wing Commander III, with the player initiating discussion with the supporting cast by clicking on characters and items during intermissions. While you don't have much input into these interactions, they do serve to give context to the action. Truth be told, I'm playing for these expository sequences. It is RTS narrative done right.
There are some other subtle improvements. The Zerg now look truly fearsome. When you destory a Zerg structure it lurches forth from beneath the surface and bellows in agony. In its final throes, bleeding to death, Zerglings emerge from the massive corpse and rush your forces. More death, more viscera. It is so perfectly brutal. I also love how the single player tech tree can be permanently truncated. Players can now upgrade certain units and structures via the Armory with currency earned during missions, for the entirety of the campaign. Meaning that you can now focus your efforts on building a large army, as opposed to a limited force with some helpful abilities. StarCraft II also has its own achievement point system. Unfortunately it isn't linked to your Games for Windows - Live / Xbox Live Gamertag, but it has ensured that I have replayed some missions at a higher difficulty level to earn more precious (and ultimately useless) points.
StarCraft II is more of the same, but when the same is so compelling, who am I to criticize? With the restrained improvements to the visuals, gripping story mechanics and time-tested gameplay; I feel like I am 14 again. Except of course, without the constant ridicule and awkwardness with the ladies (pronounced laydez) that plagued me (much like the Zerg) during adolescence. Solidarity my nerdy brothers!
No takers on the StarCraft II Guest Passes yet. They are still on offer for any interested and able parties.
What are you all playing this weekend?