StarCraft 2 Battle.net Beta Preview

22 Feb 2010  by   Paul Younger
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We’re continuing to explore Blizzard’s latest creation StarCraft II by looking at the Battle.net service, which is now an integral part of the game. If you want to know more about the game, gameplay, backstory and such, see our StarCraft II Beta Preview or visit StarCraft: IncGamers. IncGamers’ Tomas Hernandez has also made a video of all the Battle.net menus, to have a look around.

Battle.net began back in 1997 and was touted as a near revolutionary multiplayer game lobby for Diablo I, which has since evolved into something a lot more interesting. The WarCraft III version of Battle.net made numerous improvements over the original Diablo version, but with SCII it’s a gigantic leap! Both in terms of the web as well as the in-game interface, Battle.net is something completely new.

Instead of being an option in the in-game “multiplayer” menu,  Battle.net is now compulsory even when playing against the AI in the beta. However, it will be possible to play against AI offline when the game is released, just as Single Player mode will be available.

The connectivity is something Blizzard has taken very seriously and it plans are to make the new Battle.net into a super-complex Instant Messenger (IM) system. Players of all (modern) Blizzard games will be able to chat in-game with each other using text or voice, provided they accept each other as “Real ID” friends.

The new Real ID friend status is initiated by adding someone with their registered e-mail rather than screen-name. This has to be confirmed on the receiving end, and then the two friends are free to chat away. You should only do this with close friends, since this will display your real name to them.

Blizzard feels this is such an important feature that the old chat channels of Battle.net are now gone. The IM-like system is meant to replace it. The IM interface even lets you set your status such as “away” and “busy” and there is a greyed out “Social” button in the interface that might indicate more features will arrive in a patch or two.

The main way you communicate with people on Battle.net is through your screen-name, however. Any player can use any nickname, regardless of its popularity as you pick an “identifier” as well. My nickname is “Leord.scwire” for instance. The identifier has no function other than to make your nickname unique, and it can be just about anything you want as long as it doesn’t contravene Blizzard’s naming policies. You can have a group of friends and use the same identifier, or you can let it be something completely random.

Also displayed are Achievements (although they are currently disabled in the beta) and you’ll also find stats for a lot of other things, such as the race you have been most successful with, recent matches and much more.{PAGE TITLE=StarCraft 2 Battle.net Beta Preview}

Perhaps most important in the new software, however, is the new, precise match-making system. Battle.net is designed to quickly learn what skill level you are on and match you against opponents that will give you around a 50% win/loss ratio. If you have more wins, you’ll rapidly face harder opponents until it evens out, and the same goes for losses.

The matchmaking system is surprisingly quick and accessible –  simply click the “Multiplayer” button (Single Player greyed out in beta), select what type of game you want to play (1v1, 2v2 etc), pick your preferred race and find a game. Within a few seconds a match is found and the game starts to load.

Players can also create a custom game, allowing for friends to play against each other, but these games do not count in any ladder rankings or your personal win/loss scores. In the future, this will also be where fan-made mods will be started, letting players choose games like Defence of the Ancients or Tower Defence.

There is also a new league and ladder system on Battle.net. Rather than viewing your global player (seeing “rank 1,526,256 in the world” is a bit depressing), players are split into Copper, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum leagues. In each of the leagues, players are sorted into different groups of a number of hundred ranks. When you are reaching the top of your group, you can progress to a higher level league.

This may not sound so exciting, since you’re not measured by everyone else at once, but it’s actually a very smart system. It still measures your relative skill to the rest of the world and every one rank you gain is a measurable achievement.

To try out new tactics or learn a new race’s units, serious ladder players can play public games to do this without affecting ladder rank. They will still be matched against similarly skilful players.

This is all just in the early beta stages, and more features will be added. Among other things, we’ll see map and modmaking added and Blizzard has already prepared StarCraft II and Battle.net for this by giving modders access to snippets of the interface, much like it did with WoW.

Looking in the installation folder of the game, a “Mods” folder contains three sub-folders named “Core.SC2Mod”, “Liberty.SC2Mod” and “LibertyMulti.SC2Mod”. This is obviously partly to make it easy to change interface and functionality for the two upcoming expansions, but also likely to let modders make their whole new StarCraft II experience, if they would wish it.

Unfortunately, there are also drawbacks with the beta. We hope many of these will be handled before launch.

One popular complaint concerns the fact that as soon as a character is made on the net, it’s not possible to change the name or the identifier. This was briefly mentioned in our latest podcast and could potentially be something Blizzard will charge money for changing as a “microtransaction”. The developer has mentioned microtransactions before, saying Battle.net will work similar to  WoW, with players having to pay to have their name changed. We have asked Blizzard on its plans for this, so stay tuned for more info.

The major concern, however, is the divide between European and North American players (and all regions, in fact). All older versions of Battle.net allowed for intercontinental gameplay, but not now. The community over at StarCraft: IncGamers has now been divided between American/Australian/Canadian members and Europeans. We strongly dislike this divide, and hope it’s just one of those technical aspects of the beta that will be fixed before launch.

All in all, it’s still in very early closed beta, and many changes will likely be made pre-release. Even so, it’s quite impressive, and the only serious naysayer we’ve encountered so far is our resident StarCraft II-skeptic Paul.

We are producing a veritable stream (live stream, in fact) of StarCraft 2 news, commentated gameplay videos and tactical guides through the StarCraft 2 Beta Centre, so don’t miss StarCraft: IncGamers for a lot more content!

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