GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (LIN) - UPDATE: Read the full review here.
The StarCraft 2 Beta phase has officially closed and the release is just a week away, July 27, 2010. The sequel to arguably the most successful real-time strategy in history was announced more than three years ago and I can say it's easily the most anticipated game of the year for me and many others. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say, it's likely I will be playing StarCraft 2 five years from now and I can explain why. Before the beta was released, there were still gamers devoted to the original game which was released back in 1998.
So how do I know five years from now I'll still be playing? Part of it has to do with Blizzard's planned release schedule. Starting with the main title due next week, "StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty", there are three releases planned right now.
Each release focuses the singleplayer portion of the game on one of the game's three playable multiplayer races and will likely add new multiplayer units. "Wings of Liberty focuses on the Terran race." Blizzard plans additional releases for the game's other races, "Heart of the Swarm" for Zerg and "Legacy of the Void" for Protoss.
Traditionally, Blizzard has been known to release games and expansions when they're done. I recall for their mega-popular "World of Warcraft" expansions were expected to be released close to annually. The game launched in 2004. The first expansion "The Burning Crusade" was released in 2007, the second "Wrath of the Lich King" in 2008 and now the third "Cataclysm" is currently in its beta phase in 2010. That's not exactly an annual release schedule, with three expansion packs over a six-year period.
Now, Blizzard could fast-track the production of the sequels, but I see them taking the time to do things right. StarCraft 2 was announced more than three years ago and was in production even before that. I'm hoping for a 1-year window but realize production could hit two years for each game, maybe even more. Add to that, the competitive nature of playing a new game and I'll be invested for at least a year after the final release. Two(for "Heart of the Swarm" development) plus two(for "Legacy of the Void" development) plus one(at a minimum, for my desire to play what has so far been a fantastic ride) equals five years of playing.
The other part of my rationale for playing StarCraft 2 for so long is the affinity I have for Blizzard games. Any game Blizzard releases is a must-buy for me. The amount of polish they've historically put into games is astonishing. In fact, as I played through the beta these last five months, I've noticed the dedication firsthand. In the updates and modifications to both the game and the Battle.net interface people use to play the game, they want to do right by their fans.
Look at the recent announcement that they took a lashing for: Real ID commenting in the forums . Long story short, Blizzard wanted to have people use their real names when commenting online in Blizzard forums. The community responded with vitriol. The backlash was swift and sustained. There were a staggering 2,500 pages and 50,000 posts in an amazingly short time . Just a few days later, Blizzard backtracked and modified their policy, their president and CEO specifically saying , "We've been constantly monitoring the feedback you've given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we've decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums."
In addition to the way Blizzard has responded to fans, it's also gone to extreme lengths to make the game balanced and competitive. There were 17 patches in the beta with major balance changes and tweaks along the way. Units were nerfed, others were buffed and some had abilities completely changed.
Blizzard has taken a number of hits on some of the features that will not be available on release on the new Battle.net, including LAN play, the naming system, chatrooms and the lack of cross-region play (meaning, people who have a U.S. copy of the game would not be able to play with people locked to the Europe and Asia regions). They've addressed those concerns as well, chatrooms are coming in a patch shortly after release. Blizzard is also looking in to cross-region play, so that could be an option for gamers with friends/opponents overseas. As to LAN play, StarCraft 2 will still require a constant connection to Battle.net for multiplayer, which means LAN is out. There will be an offline mode at release though for singleplayer gaming.
None of those issues are deal-breakers for me, even LAN play. I'm actually attending a StarCraft 2 LAN a week after its release. We'll all be connected to the