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Starcraft II

Blizzard want an even bigger money hat...

Ah, outrage. There's a caste of outspoken gamers who have the ability to treat the slightest deviation from exactly what they want as if gaming itself had just been outlawed.

So it was when Blizzard suddenly revealed they are carving Starcraft II into three distinct parts, to be released when they're ready. "They're money-grabbing asshats!" shouted internet angries. "Er, aren't they just announcing the expansion packs before the game's release rather than after it? What's so bad about that?" said the rationals. Except they didn't say it, because they'd have been word-murdered if they did.

It was certainly a shock move and on paper it does look like Blizzard are simply withholding two singleplayer campaigns in the name of yet more spondoolies. They claim otherwise - it's apparently so they can build a massive and elaborate solo offering out of a game that many had dismissed as being only aimed at the RTS multiplayer hardcore. The facts, though, are these: the initial release of Starcraft II will have all three races available for multiplayer, but features just one campaign, for the human Terrans, called Wings of Liberty. A Zerg-centric follow-up will likely be called Heart of the Swarm and the Protoss-starring pack Legacy of the Void.

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Blizzard being Blizzard, no time frame has been given for any of this and Starcraft being StarCraft, clearly they intend for II to hang around, so that Protoss pack could be years off. We don't have a Wings of Liberty release date yet, but the recent Blizzcon footage looked so polished that it can't be far off now - and hopefully splitting the game into three means the first can arrive sooner.

"We're aiming to push the boundaries of storytelling and character development in RTS games through the unique single-player campaign design of Starcraft II," claim Blizzard, and honestly, that's reason enough to treat this as a good thing. Singleplayer has long been the falling-down of RTS games, as in-engine cutscenes and talking head exposition rarely helps storytelling. C&C keeps its head above water with high camp, Total War has the meta-map, but involving narrative is in short supply.

They're also talking about unique locations and units for solo play, to ensure it's not just a bunch of linked skirmishes. Each campaign should total up to 30 missions, and each pack will introduce new multiplayer content. If Blizzard are trying to re-establish the RTS as one for the lone man as well as the online warrior, there's much to be happy about.

The multiplayer community is also happy. Along with the trilogy announcement, Blizzcon 08 brought a ton of SCII footage and live matches showing that Wings of Liberty contains a complete multiplayer game that'll be a worthy sequel to Starcraft. It looks furiously fast, hugely tactical and not as outlandishly cartoonish as some had feared. The differences between factions are profound and the AI seems hugely improved over the first game.

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Inevitably some folk started screaming about imbalances and the like, but generally the Blizzcon showings won everyone over. Just as well - if Blizzard had pulled the tri-game surprise and shown disheartening footage, it'd have been flaming pitchfork time.

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