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StarCraft II Single Player Hands-On

There really are only so many things you can do with a “mission” in any game: be it an RPG, an adventure game or an RTS. The latter genre is almost infamous for unimaginative missions and it’s only fun to “Destroy Zerg Base” so many times. Blizzard is trying to change all this with StarCraft II with more individually designed missions and a dedicated Story Mode instead of a linear story like its predecessor. Dustin Browder, lead designer for StarCraft II, told us “each one of these missions should hopefully feel like its own unique mini-game experience, not just another base battle.”

We were invited over to Blizzard HQ last month (again) to try out the single player mode of StarCraft II, and we have gathered everything you could possibly want to know about the game in this preview. Don’t forget to read all our coverage, from this preview to our interviews, as well as checking out the new screenshots and the gameplay video footage and all the StarCraft II news.New Type of Missions

First thing is first, the single player mode will no longer be used as a mere tutorial for multiplayer, but a gameplay experience in its own right. It will be “very different [from] the multiplayer experience, that really gives you a chance to try out some new mechanics and play a crazy little mini-game each time you sit down to play a mission,” Browder told us.

Examples include traditional collection missions, but with the twist of a race with the Zerg for the same item, or resource gathering in an environment where lava can kill any unit by touch and will drench the mineral patch in irregular intervals.

From the new map mechanics, I liked the this one best. It kept me on my toes, looking out for my workers as the lava tide changed, as well as trying to keep Zerg from attacking me from other directions. It felt a little bit more like a challenge than most single player missions in the original StarCraft.

Another interesting mechanic was a map we were not able to play; a map that uses the daytime cycle as part of its mechanic.  Zerg will only attack at night in this map, making it almost like a horror-map.

Heroes won’t be such a big part of the story any more either. In the original game, only two missions did not feature a hero unit. Blizzard obviously took this idea to a whole new level in WarCraft III, but has taken a big step backwards for StarCraft II. While it’s cool to control a hero, it’s less cool to have to protect him/her like a prized possession. “If you have got to hide Raynor in the back of your base it’s not cool,” said Metzen and we can only agree.

A couple of maps will still feature hero characters, but they will be designed to be more classical “adventure” type games such as the installation missions from the original game. In that case the hero is needed to complete the mission. Metzen also mentioned possibly allowing a gimmick to let the hero “take a knee” instead of blowing up, therefore forcing you “to get a Medic there to get him back on his feet.”

To substitute that feeling of really “cool” units on in battle there are instead very tough Mercenaries you can hire from the Cantina. They are like regular units, but tougher and meaner, as well as being able to do special abilities regular units can’t. They show up in the mission, but if they die it doesn’t matter, and they will be available for next mission anyway. You don’t gain anything by keeping them alive, except possible Achievements Blizzard has yet to unveil. They take part in an armed conflict, and people die. That simple.

There are about 30 missions in total, of which 19-20 are the “critical path” according to Browder, “but that will also grow or shrink as we get closer to shipping and make more decisions.”  Both the total number of missions and the critical missions might change in number, depending on the mechanics, or if they think of new ones the team just has to get in.

Sometimes the player will have to decide the outcome of an event, like saving one of two characters, but the majority of missions are missions you can go back to play later if you’d rather complete a few other ones first. The mission giver might sound like it’s an emergency, but he, she or it will be waiting for you, just like WoW quest givers.

One nice new feature is an autosave feature for single player. Just in case you forget to save yourself, there is now an additional line of defence against any sudden power losses.
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The New Story Mode

The missions are not as heavily immersed in story as the WarCraft III ones, a deliberate change made by Blizzard. Chris Metzen, the Loremaster of Blizzard told us the team “identified retty early that we wanted the feel [of the game] different.” He elaborated saying Blizzard wanted “the mission objectives and the amount of story happening to feel distinctly different from WarCraft III.” That’s why the team built the Story Mode, to try and “pull a lot of character interactions out of the map experience and put them in their own space, so that the game would have a bit of own sense of self: its own vibe.” Metzen told us he wanted it to be “a little bit more retro than WarCraft III, which felt a lot more like an RPG.”

The new Story Mode is essentially a point-and-click game that, for Wings of Liberty primarily, takes place on Hyperion. You play as Jim Raynor himself, walking around on the Hyperion; the Bridge, Armory, Lab and Cantina. Each has their own NPCs you can interact with, and features you can use to customise your fight against the Terran Dominion and the Zerg.

The Hyperion is Arcturus Mengsk’s former flagship Battlecruiser. Jim Raynor and his “Raynor’s Raiders” took command over it when it became clear Arcturus was just really a power-hungry madman. The ship still features ornamental wolves (the animal of Mengsk’s crest) around the Bridge. This type of lore information is scattered over the ship, but falls in line of “voluntary content”. If you don’t care, it’s all just ornamental wolves on the table, or random posters on the walls.

The good part of this is that you have more options in this new dynamic between missions in comparison with the static Mission Briefing Room in the original StarCraft. It’s about choices and interaction. You can go straight to the next mission map and skip the Hyperion content, or you can explore your surroundings, and you learn more lore about the current situation in the storyline. Voluntary content for the lore enthusiast.

To interact with the environment, simply click objects that light up when you mousover. To move from room to room, simply click the “Exit” sign, and choose your destination in a drop-down menu.


Your little army of Raiders will need to purchase upgrades, which means you’ll need to visit the Armoury. Even if you are mostly interested in lore or just playing through the game, this is one of the places you will visit the most.

Chief Engineer Swann is there to talk to you, but the actual upgrades are made at the computer console near him. Through a panel interface, you can choose different areas of tech upgrade purchases for infantry, vehicles, starships, buildings and other things you can only find in single player. Upgrades can be things like area of effect heal from all your Medics, an automated turret on top of your Bunkers or sometimes even buying new units or buildings, like the automated Perdition Turret flamethrower tower.

When you click an upgrade you get more information about it, including price and how it looks in mission mode. More upgrades become available as you finish maps and progress through the story.

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The Bridge

All strategic decisions about missions take place on the Bridge of Hyperion. The main feature of the bridge is the Star Map. The big pool-table-like thing in the middle of the room. This is the console for choosing missions. The Star Map was previously also meant as an “Encyclopedia Galactica”, with lore information on planets and other things, but has since been change to a more slim mission-picking machine.

“Between the Armoury and [the Bridge], this is the heart and soul of our story mode environment,” according to Browder. Here you can find your close friend Captain Matt Horner, who runs the day-to-day business for you on Hyperion. His character has been described as someone who tries to keep Raynor on the straight line, and is very loyal. We also often find the new character Tychus Findlay here, an old military buddy of Raynor with more cynical outlook. He’s the marine getting welded up in the intro cinematic.

To pick the types of missions you want to play, or if you want to play them all, the Star Map is where you need to be looking.  It’ll also help you choose missions.  As new missions have bigger and better rewards, older missions might seem less attractive in comparison, but there is always something there for the “completionist”.  Even an old misison might unlock some units like the Firebat, or add a small portion of money to the pool of credits. Only three or four missions are actually completely exclusive to this rule. [The picture to the left is the old bridge, for comparison.]

By the window of the Hyperion Bridge, one of the consoles is the Battle Report console where you can choose to replay old missions for fun or for chasing Achievements. These will not affect “your” story campaign or give more rewards, they are only there for accessibility.


The Cantina is a lot more story-heavy than the other areas on Hyperion. This is the chill-out spot for the crew, and you can hear what the crew has to say about your choices, as well as watching how the Dominion broadcast propaganda in response to what you have been up to in the missions.

You can actually click all these notes pinned to the bulletin board, and it zooms in allowing you to read and view what’s in there. Sometimes Jim Raynor or Tychus Findlay will start talking when you click one of these paper clips or photographs.

Every time a mission is done more things are accessible on this buttetin board.  Spending extra time exploring the Hyperion each time you complete a mission can show you content you’d otherwise miss. For example, double clicking Jim Raynor will make him say a random quote, just like many other Blizzard games. The next time you are in the Cantina, there is a new set of quotes, instead of the old set.

There was actually some controversy over the voice of the characters in the game, as Blizzard set out to change the original voice actor of Jim Raynor, Robert Clotworthy, to a voice the team felt was more in line with the original vision, before StarCraft I. IncGamers’ StarCraft and Blizzard community channels reacted, and Blizzard showed it was a caring developer, by bringing Clotworthy back. Now you can hear a large selection of quotes by him in the game.

One funny detail about the Cantina is Jimmy’s jukebox that has been tied to the main entertainment hub in the ceiling. He brings it with him wherever he goes, and you can click on it to play his favourite western music. We can also see the first “Easter Egg” of StarCraft II in the top left shot. Look at the arcade game, it’s the Lost Vikings, Blizzard’s classic console adventure game!

On a table, to the far left of the screen, sits Mr. Graven Hills. This is the man you must talk with to hire Mercenaries for your next missions.

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A young scientist by the name Stetman will give you the down-low on items you might have picked up in missions. The Xeno Research Project console will show how far he is at using alien technology and DNA to improve the equipment of Raynor’s Raiders. These upgrades are added in addition to the tech upgrades you get from the Armoury.

Dustin Browder said “the way research is working is kind of like a quest log.” However, don’t get too fond of the idea, since he also said Blizzard is “not very happy with this interface right now.” He feels it’s too easy to miss some of the bonus items, basically failing the quest. “So this whole screen is going to change. We are going to throw out this whole UI, we are going to change the mechanics for this completely so it really feels more like research.”

Dustin really wants the mechanic to be more “fun” than just giving +1 attack. That’s a great upgrade, but not very innovative. “We want to have some more fun things in here like I don’t know: PSI disruptors. Maybe some of the more crazy technology you have seen in our previous games. Or hey! Crazy technology no-one has seen before put into this space making it a lot more interesting.”

Multiplayer and

Blizzard is preparing a lot of replayability for StarCraft II, and the majority of multiplayer was done before the team even started working on single player. 500 hours is Blizzard’s goal  time spent playing the game, and for that you need a fun multiplayer mode. You can read our full multiplayer preview here, and multiplayer interviews as well, from last trip to Blizzard, in June.

Even in single player mode you can chat with your friends on as well as on WoW as they will be interconnected. We believe WoW will later be moved over wholly or partially to You can already merge your WoW account with the account (although, our IncGamer’s WoW channel report players having problems logging on after doing this). You also need to be connected to to officially record any Achievements.

Just like in multiplayer, single player games can record a preview, but it was also possible in the build we tested to record actual video footage of the game.  Browder said he didn’t think Blizzard was planning to support that. “I know that we do it to capture some videos like our briefing video with video controls,” he explained.

And that’s not the only change, with bad news for fans of LAN mode: It’s well and truly gone. “At the end of the day, piracy really historically has not been that big of deal for us,” Rob Pardo explained to us. “And that’s really not why it was done either,” Browder continued, “the really big reason for looking at this is we’re trying to create an integrated experience.” Ultimately everything will be on, why go anywhere else?

The game will only allow you to be offline when playing single player, but you will still have to have a account, and be online when you install the game.

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Already when WoW got Achievements, Blizzard said all their newer games would implement the system; having a Blizzard-wide system for achievements, regardless of which game it came from. Therefore, we were not very surprised to see single player achievements in the user interface.

There were about three to five achievements to each mission, but Browder said “it might be a little bit much but we are still looking at the details on how we want to implement that.”

At the moment, they are pretty standard achievements. One for finishing the given mission, and additional ones for secondary objectives, as well as some really hard ones. For example, one map is full of Protoss Photon Cannons that you have to get past, and you have to clear the map on Hard difficulty without destroying any of them. Over all, the design seems pretty good, and it will probably be popular enough and interesting enough for players to “finish them all”.

Background Story

Chris Metzen had a long talk with us about many of the aspects of the game’s story. Most of the questions he ended up dodging as answers have not yet been revealed (expecting announcements later this week from BlizzCon), but we got quite a lot of information anyway from the “God of Geeks” himself.

In the last three or four years, there has been a new influx of novels, comics and mangas for StarCraft and Metzen revealed the team really have “been building the game’s story for so long that things like the Dark Templar trilogy or all the things you see in the manga really have just kind of organically spun out of what we were building anyway.” You will find a myriad of small references throughout the game to things like names of space stations, characters and events relating to the other mediums, because they were made from single player story ideas. If you’re not that bothered on the other hand, it won’t distract or take anything away from the actual gameplay.  It’s just little attentions to details that fans will find exciting.

The actual story takes place four years after StarCraft: Brood War, and Zerg just went quiet. Jim Raynor has continued to rebel against Arcturus Mengsk’s Terran Dominion, but propaganda in media and Mengsk’s military power has made it hard. Jimmy has let himself go a bit, drinking a lot, feeling quite blue not only because of the situation, but also from guild concerning Sarah Kerrigan; leaving her to the Zerg.

We have heard that the Xel’Naga are coming, but are they here to save or destroy? Metzen revealed Zerg/Protoss/Human hybrids of different sorts as well as the “simple” artefacts found in the first few missions will play a large role in the overarching story line, even if we won’t see the full effect of that in the Wings of Liberty campaign.

Zerg is evolving, there’s internal struggle for the Protoss to accept their “Dark” brethren, and plenty of inter-Terran conflict ahead.

Again, don’t forget to check out our massive  interview, the new screenshots, the gameplay video footage and all the StarCraft II news.


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