First released in 1998, StarCraft is one of the most memorable real-time strategy franchises in video game history. In a typical game, players control one of three races: the human Terrans, the technologically-advanced Protoss, or the rabid swarm of the Zerg. They amass resources to build structures, research developments, and build up an army of soldiers to crush the opposing player. It's a game of economics and conquering.
StarCraft has become a huge sensation, particularly for professional gaming culture. This is because the gameplay is so demanding. Players have to multitask between maximizing the micro play of their units, while also continuing to amass more units. Despite this (or in light of this) arguably, some of the most amazingly impressive professional plays of all time were in StarCraft games.
Over almost two decades, a plethora of changes have graced our favorite RTS. With its sequel and handful of expansions, many players actually debate as to whether StarCraft has changed for the better or the worse. Read on for some of the many ways the game has improved, as well as popular criticisms of its changes, particularly between StarCraft I and II.
15 Better: Cohesive Ranked System
It was StarCraft II that introduced me to the fun of video games with competitive national rankings. Ranked games are an integral subject for the StarCraft community. With this system, players are mainly matched up with each other if they are within the same range of skill, and it has only improved with each update. Meanwhile, the first StarCraft had a primitive and practically unusable ladder system that just can't compare.
In SC2, players engage in placement matches to determine their where they are within several leagues, each with their own divisions. In the current ranking system, players can place between Bronze and Diamond, or aim higher to be a Master or a Grandmaster. They do this through a series of player versus player matches and amassing ladder points through wins.
14 Worse: Nostalgia Factor
One of the biggest advantages of playing StarCraft over its sequel is its (possibly excessive) nostalgia factor. It's hard to deny that StarCraft: Brood War was a hell of a lot of fun for many of the old and young alike. While many RTS games of similar gameplay were a fantasy theme, StarCraft had a science-fiction setting, allowing players the opportunity to command spaceships and control alien races.
But why doesn't SC2 incur the same level of nostalgia? It's likely that it's because it's a sequel. It may also be because it's still fairly new. But with its many added improvements and facets, it's also so much more complicated (which will be explained further on). StarCraft II just isn't the memorable classic that its predecessor was.
13 Better: Great Custom Games
While some players miss the freedom of unregulated custom maps in the older days of StarCraft, I'm deeply enthralled by the variety of minigames available to SC2 players. There were times when I stopped playing actual SC2 games altogether, and devoted my time solely to my favorite custom games. There are even custom games created by Blizzard for the sake of improving one's skill in real ranked matches.
With a deeply comprehensive map editor, one had a huge array of customization for creating an expanse of high-paced minigames or beloved oldies using units not available in real matches. To name a few of my favorites over the years, players could enjoy games of vastly different types: like Mafia, Squadron Tower Defense, Airstrike, or Raynor Kart. Even when I'm tired of StarCraft, I can't get tired of its many fun-filled options in the Arcade.
12 Worse: Expansion Handling
Blizzard may have really mishandled the way they divided the StarCraft II expansions. The first StarCraft had a story campaign that split into three episodes in chronological order, but each from a different race's point of view. The expansion, StarCraft: Brood War, followed suit with its own three episodes continuing from where the first campaign left off.
On the opposite end, each expansion for StarCraft II is the entirety of each race's campaign. The first SC2, Wings of Liberty was a beautiful gift for Terran players. But Zerg players had to wait three years for their campaign in Heart of the Swarm, and then Protoss mains (like myself) had to wait another two and a half years on top of that for Legacy of the Void. So much time had passed, that it was difficult to scrounge up the motivation to pay for another full game.
11 Better: Efficient Control Of Units
The original StarCraft allowed the player to select a maximum of twelve units to control at once. This was not only frustrating, but made gameplay a lot more difficult. StarCraft 2 improves on this, no longer having players need to worry about the maximum. It even allows for players to control multiple buildings at a time, something that wasn't possible before.
Another facet of controlling your army in StarCraft is the use of control groups. Originally, after the player has selected their units, they could save this selection with a hotkey as a control group. In SC2, the amount of control groups increased, and a (much-needed) small icon is visible for each of these hotkeys indicating the contents of each control group.
10 Worse: Sound And Art Design
StarCraft keeps to its sci-fi theme with the sound effects and art for its various vehicles, weaponry, and alien clicks and growls. All of his comes in themes, as the indications for successful construction or training, as well as the user interface, was aesthetically tailored to which individual race the player has selected.
I've found that many loyalists to StarCraft: Brood War were critical of SC2's sound effects and unit design (though, this sounds heavily nostalgia-based to me). And players like the darker and more unified color palette, and the representational sprite art. Indeed, while playing StarCraft, there is a huge deluge of different alerts, explosions, and the screams of your army as they die. And SC2 tends to overdo it on this front.
9 Better: Improved Speech
StarCraft boasted a couple dozen voice actors, mainly for in-game units, but a few for campaign mission briefings and instructions. Meanwhile, StarCraft II had over sixty talents to voice the litany of characters, alerts, etc. both in-game and in cutscenes.
It isn't just quantity, but the voices fin SC2 were higher quality as well. This isn't only because of higher microphone quality as technology improves, but also performance. Players bid farewell to unclear (and sometimes racist) voice clips, and now had even more tailored to each unit. Though, some argue that they've lost some personality and soul due to these changes.
8 Worse: Convoluted Lore
One of the most beloved things about StarCraft was its story and lore. The connection between the three races seemed like realistic intergalactic relations during wartime. There wasn't even full cooperation among the races with each other, which led to intriguing conflict and dynamic plot twists.
Admittedly, as the lore expands after the original StarCraft, it gets more confusing. Players had to adapt to alien points of view and their different futuristic cultures, which was fun at first. But eventually, it lost the appeal of the unknown. As more details fill the plotholes, there became more to pick at. Worst of all, with the higher mass of lines voiced, though there are many great dictations, there were also more lines in the script that felt cliche and uninspired.
7 Better: Customization
Before, all the player could do before a match was pick their race and color. But StarCraft II gives its players a more unique experience for every account. It offers a huge achievement system to try to complete, and also allows the player to display their favorite achievements on their profile. Some achievements reward players with decals for their units. Others can provide icons for their account, which constantly appears next to their username.
Even the campaign allows for customization. In between story missions, players can modify and upgrade units between missions. They can also decide between different mercenary organizations to be available for hire in-game.
6 Worse: Focus On Workers
The economic macro aspect of StarCraft is one of the biggest factors in deciding a match. Players build dozens of worker units to gather minerals and gas as the resources used for the production of everything. With this in mind, it's a good strategy to destroy your opponent's workers, in order to drastically slow the production of their units and halt the advancement of their civilization.
StarCraft II extravagantly increases the importance of workers, as well as increases the myriad of ways to go about this worker harass. There are so many ways that it ends up being fairly easy to use cheese (use cheap tactics) to win games this way. The competitive play ends up placing an excessive focus on this. Blizzard seems to love this aspect, but honestly, it gets extremely tedious to constantly rebuild the workers, as well as find ways to defend your worker line, while also having a huge need to even out the worker kills. Wasn't I aiming to play a game about building and controlling an army?
5 Better: Thrilling Cutscenes
Despite my gripes with the script, a lot about the cutscenes in StarCraft II tend to be pretty amazing. In previous installments, it wasn't always clear what was going on or what units were being represented. The Zerglings were enormous, and Mutalisks were surprisingly small. The dialogue was sparse, to say the least, and the characters weren't well characterized.
Meanwhile, SC2 had many (MANY!) more cutscenes. Each one, filled with personality and many more aesthetic additions than before. In most of the cutscenes, you watch beautiful CGI portray battles being fought, mutations completing, and Protoss rallying under their Hierarch.
4 Worse: Accessibility
The first StarCraft was accessible to a wider audience. Sure, there were some weaknesses in its interface. But even with the poor internet connections and weak graphics cards of that era, just about anyone could play. LAN parties, in particular, were an intense amount of fun that may never return.
There was admittedly a higher skill ceiling for StarCraft: Brood War than SC2. Positioning was more important, and the game was less focused on massing all of your units into one pile (death ball) and sending them to the same place. Rather there were more simultaneous battles going on across the map. And really, SC2 made it really complicated for new players with most units having their own abilities to memorize hotkeys for. How can new (or even experienced) Protoss players be expected to remember to Chrono Boost their production every time?
3 Better: More Options
This one's tricky, because it also falls in line with the previous entry. StarCract II simply has more to offer by sheer quantity. Not only does the game have more features like multiplayer replays, an updated chat client, and rankings/achievements, etc., but this extends in-game as well, as it has a myriad of new units and abilities to tinker around with.
In the first StarCraft, many match-ups are fairly similar. In all probability, a Zerg player will eventually build Hydralisks and Mutalisks if they want to win. In this way, many games end up being the same. But in SC2, the sheer number of different options raise the uniqueness of each match. Every race has multiple different ways of being played. It's no longer a matter of when the opponent builds such-and-such, but rather scoping out the enemy's base and figuring out what strategy they are using.
2 Worse: Balancing Issues
In continuation, the motley assembly of unit options ends up making the game difficult to balance. There are many graphs that show the win-rate is highly affected by patches or when expansions come out. In some years, Terran had a fairly notable advantage in their match-ups, in other years it was the Zerg.
On the other side of the road, the first StarCraft was significantly more steady in its delicate balance. This may be because of its relative simplicity, but it was criticized less for such imbalances (though it was still there). SC2 has so many different options, and some really hit-or-miss build paths that only work in highly specific circumstances. While StarCraft: Brood War was more heavily micro-intensive, SC2 is a lot more about picking the units that counter the enemy.
1 Better: Sleek And Pretty
Frankly, this is SC2's biggest advantage over its prequel. The user interface and launcher were heavily updated, the character portraits were clearer, and the terrain is beautifully rendered. After doing away with sprites, StarCraft II cements itself into its role of giving a high thrill sci-fi war experience.
The most important thing to note are the buildings and units. Although some criticize the design aspects overall, Blizzard was at least able to make the choices they made pretty. Every detail (even gameplay aspects) are represented fully by the visuals. You can easily tell Zerglings have evolved with Metabolic Boost because they grow little wings on their backs. On its recommended settings, it's hard to complain while you're distracted by the sinking supply depots or the shiny pylons.