Thursday, October 20, 2011

Course Laid In

Sometimes I really think Blizzard should consider changing their name to Glacial Entertainment.  They’re monolithic – pervasive and powerful, but terribly slow, and their dominance is being melted away by the changing gamer climate.  Yes, I’m actually just bitter that Diablo 3 still isn’t out, and more to the point, that a year after release we still haven’t seen the next campaign for Starcraft 2.  It’s just a campaign!  Not a whole new game!  I’m still irritated that the game didn’t ship with 3 campaigns to begin with, that I’m going to have to pay extra to get the missing campaigns, and that the one I want the most (Protoss) is being done last, which means by the time Blizzard finally drags the Protoss campaign into the light of day several years from now the already retrograde design of Starcraft 2 is going to seem utterly Neolithic next to the RTSs of the day.

Ok, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system it’s time to get to what I really wanted to talk about – Starcraft 2.  I still play it on occasion, despite its creaking antiquity (graphically it’s modern, gameplay-wise it feels about 10 years old), and one of those occasions was this past Tuesday when a friend and I played a couple of co-op multiplayer matches while waiting for the Titan Quest group to form up (it never did).

The first match was my friend (playing Terran) and myself (playing Protoss) against two medium A.I.s. (Protoss and Zerg).  Ooh, mediums, how scary, right?  I said I played the game, I never said I was good at it.  We were on a map where both players on a team start on the same plateau with a single ramp leading up, so my friend focused on defenses (which Terrans are better at anyway) while I focused on building up troops.  The first coordinated enemy attack wiped out most of my troops and most of my friend’s defenses.  Oops.  Still, we rebuilt, and the second wave of attacks broke upon the bastion of our defenses like a squirt gun fired at a brick wall.  I moved my troops down to an expansion, and started to get established.  Then the A.I.s attacked our main base again, and without my troops they broke through and started trashing my friend’s base.  I sent my troops north while building a huge pile of photon cannons to defend my expansion.  I saved my friend’s base, and left my troops there while he rebuilt.  So of course the A.I. attacked my expansion, and cut through my turrets like they weren’t even there, forcing me to send my troops down to the base to save it.  I saved the buildings, but lost all my workers and had to rebuild.  Thankfully my friend’s base was rebuilt and I was churning out troops for a second army and sending them to guard the entrance to our main bases.  Long story short (too late!) I spent most of the game getting almost, but not entirely, crushed by the tag-teaming A.I. until my friend built up a fleet of Battlecruisers and wiped them off the map in an unending hail of laser fire.

The second match went much the same, except the tag-teaming A.I. didn’t merely almost crush me, they spectacularly crushed me with multiple waves of Marauders (both A.I.s were Terrans) that I simply couldn’t hold out against.  The first wave of Marauders destroyed about 80% of my defenses, but was repelled.  The second wave of Marauders that came 15 seconds later started tearing my base apart.  My friend sent reinforcements, a handful of Marines, who got torn apart by the Marauders but at least distracted them long enough for me to build some more troops and finish them off.  A minute or two after that, a massed wave of troops from both A.I.s swept into my base and wiped me out.  My friend and I both figured it was over at that point, but wanted to see how badly it would end.  However, with the easy meat Protoss wiped out, the A.I. didn’t seem to know what to do.  They’d probe my friend’s defenses, take a few losses and . . . run away.  Over and over.  If they’d pushed like they did against me, they would have won, but they didn’t commit.  So my friend built up a fleet of Battlecruisers and wiped them off the map.

The events of our matches left me with a few thoughts.  Do Battlecruisers have any weaknesses?  They sure don’t seem to.  Once my friend had enough of them (5+ seems to do the trick) they were literally unstoppable.  I know that the Protoss equivalent, the Carrier, takes more resources to bring to full power and is extremely vulnerable to direct attack.  The Carrier is a great unit, and I like it, but it seems more balanced than the Battlecruiser.  Is there some weakness the ship has that the A.I. just doesn’t know to exploit?

The other thing was that Starcraft 2 doesn’t seem to be very supportive of the “combined arms” concept of army composition.  It almost always seems like you’re better off picking a single decent unit and spamming as many of them as you possibly can.  You run the risk of building a swarm of troops that can only attack ground targets and then encountering an enemy that has a huge air force, but in general it seems to work better.  Of course, if you can build a swarm of units that can attack anything (like the Battlecruiser) you’re pretty much set.

I still like Starcraft 2, it can be plenty of fun.  But in this day and age the throwback nature of its gameplay continues to be a letdown.  I mean, grouped units still move in dis-organized clumps where you easily end up with fragile artillery style units in the front and all your melee units in the back.  Other than SC2, I haven’t played an RTS in years that didn’t put your troops into a sensible formation when you move them as a group.  Come on now, really?

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