Gets More Social With Blizzard’s Launch of StarCraft II

StarCraft IIAfter over a decade of waiting, real-time strategy fans have finally gotten their hands on the anticipated StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty from Blizzard Entertainment. As good as the real-time strategy game is turning out to be, however, it’s the new life being breathed into Blizzard’s network that has caught our eye. Back in May, Blizzard announced that Starcraft was to have Facebook integration, coupled with any number of social features for the network. So how did the promises hold up?

For those unfamiliar with, it was a system founded when the company released Diablo 13 years ago. Until recently, however, it has just served as a collection of multiplayer games, and not so much a social network. Since February, Blizzard has been talking about making major overhauls to turning the site into a game-oriented social network.

With StarCraft II’s release, the second major game (World of Warcraft being the first) is now added to the mix, and while not all promised mechanics are implemented yet, the existing ones are working well.

BroadcastThe first and most notable social parameter is the “always-connected experience.” This has been dubbed the Real ID system, in which players can connect with real friends in any Blizzard game, on any server, allowing them to interact and chat with one another. This social element added to World of Warcraft about a month ago, but it wasn’t until now that some of its possibilities have come to shine.

One of the most basic of all social networking elements is also present. Though it is called “Broadcasting” here, it is essentially status updates. Any player’s friend in the Real ID system will be able to see these broadcasts. Moreover, players can quickly and easily add real friends to this list, by simply connecting to Facebook. Unfortunately, this is the current extent of Facebook integration and users cannot yet post their in-game accomplishments. According to the StarCraft II community site, accomplishments are something that they are still looking to implement.

Beyond Real ID friends, users can also add people to their network as in-game friends. Through this feature, they can form parties which will allow them to remain connected — with voice chat — throughout whatever StarCraft II modes they may be playing: single player or multiplayer.

PlacementOf course, it wouldn’t be StarCraft without the multiplayer, so the game obviously has synchronous matches both with or against other players. What is different in the sequel, is that it’s a lot easier for users to get into multiplayer without getting stomped into the ground. Beyond clearly visible competitive divisions (leagues) to participate in, the game actually puts you through placement matches to determine where you should start.

Once the player is placed, they begin hacking away at another common social element: the leaderboard. StarCraft II also comes with a boat load of achievements. As was noted with the unimplemented Facebook integration, these are not yet sharable, but players can apparently view them in one another’s profiles.

Unlike the of yesteryear that merely showed win and loss records, this profile consists of play history, achievements, avatar portraits (special ones can also be unlocked, earned, and displayed), as well as a “Showcase” where the user can put their top achievements on display.

StarCraft AchievementsIt’s also worth noting that players can apparently record and replay matches they play online. True, this is nothing terribly new, but with the expected, full, Facebook integration, it could become an interesting, sharable element.

Overall, the social mechanics for and StarCraft II are a wonderful addition, and serve as an excellent enhancement to an already good game. Granted, many of these features existed in the previous StarCraft, but have certainly since been improved. Moreover, with the coming Facebook integration and the continuing evolution of the Real ID system, you can bet that a new era of mainstream gaming is here.