The Heart of the Swarm multiplayer beta has been going strong for a while now but you knew Blizzard wasn’t showing you everything in that beta. During our press trip to their offices they revealed some of the incredible new additions to the all-conquering strategy title.
Probably the biggest news coming out of Versailles last week is that Blizzard is now allowing you to jump in and take over while watching a replay. So if you are watching PandaTank destroying yet another meek competitor and you and your friend think you can do better you can jump in at any time and continue a new instance of the game like it really should have been done.
There are caveats to this; if you are watching a 4 player game and you and a friend jump in the two other players will simply just stop doing anything. The AI won’t take over and they will just sit their until you destroy them.
Blizzard are expecting this to be used for training purposes but I personally think it would be more awesome to be used for competitions. We set up a game where both players have a fair sized air army and nothing on the ground and then we see who is the best at finishing the game. No Zerg rushes; should you build a ground army and attack or overwhelm via the air? The opportunities are endless really.
Another fantastic use of this feature is in tournaments when the unexpected happens like Internet crashes or power outages. You can then simply get everyone back in and restart from your own replay… genius.
Blizzard have also added clans and groups to Startcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm. The difference between the two is slight but meaningful. You can only be part of one Clan and you will receive that clan’s tag on your name while you can be part of as many groups as you like. So you will obviously join the Lazygamer.net group when it’s created and then any other groups that you see fit while keeping your clan affiliation. It’s a nice way to play with people who have the same interests as you and also a great way to play with locals.
But what about LAN man?
Easily the most requested feature locally is the ability to LAN StarCraft 2 and unfortunately that isn’t coming back… but it’s not all bad news. They have announced a new feature in Heart of the Swarm called “near to me”, where if you are in an Internet cafe (local LAN), university or corporate building and others are playing Starcraft 2 you will see a new menu item listing players near to you.
You will all still need an Internet connection to Battle.net and while the details were sketchy it sounds like it will not help people with a terrible Internet connection as traffic still needs to route via their server.
However for major tournaments Blizzard is investigating the possibility of commissioning local servers for that LAN tournament. Costs and details were not to be seen but the idea that we could have a local Starcraft 2 server at rAge this year is something we will be nagging Megarom about.
The last major redesign in multiplayer mode is the increase AI ability. This is normally a claim that every developer for every game makes when a new title is released… it’s easy saying you made the AI smarter as it’s virtually impossible to measure. So we’ll ignore that part but what they have done that can be measured is that you can now lead your AI partner in a MP game.
You can tell your partner to build mainly air, ground or caster units and then instruct them when to launch an attack and to where. This changes the game entirely and opens up the ability to have co-op competitions where your partner is an AI player and the tournament is all about how you micromanage your forces as well as macromanage theirs.
Another option the developers mentioned is that you could both hide your bases and then simply play AI vs AI.
And to end it all off they have added some extra visuals to the game
- Larger decals outside your base
- New skins for core units, limited to 2 per race
- Avatars now show border colours for leagues, numbers for XP
- Rag doll physics…
Wait! That shouldn’t be a bullet point as it’s pretty awesome. Added to Heart of the Swarm is a full rag doll physics system for battles. Watching some marines being thrown across the map with explosions and tanks exploding all which way is quite incredible to watch and really adds in some excitement into the game.
Professionals can turn this feature off if they are worried about frame rate but it can stay on for observers making the watching of SC2 more exciting. I asked the producer why the need to add in something that no one asked for and the answer is pretty simple; it looks great and they want to improve the product in all ways and not just by way of community submission.
Most of these upgrades will be rolled back to Wings of Liberty with patch 2.0 that will roll out before Heart of the Swarm hits retail – but not everything new will appear in WoL. The XP system for one is purely Heart of the Swarm.
And that’s the end of that, I think… let me know if you have any specific questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.