The multiplayer beta for Blizzard's upcoming RTS has been getting all the attention lately, but today we can share a rare substantive look at the story-based campaign. The three missions that Blizzard recently made available to the press showcase several of the ideas that drive the design of the single-player side of the game. Don't miss the videos embedded in the story and the high-res screenshots in the media gallery below.

Stealing Gas For Fun And Profit

Gabriel Tosh – the Jamaican-accented fellow with the dreadlocks and the voodoo necklace seen in the video below – has a job for Raynor's Raiders. He's found a planet with reserves of Terrazine gas, for which he is willing to pay handsomely. The trick is that a splinter group of Protoss, the Tal'Darim, regard the shrines built around the geysers as sacred and will do everything in their power to keep the Terrans away.

Tosh isn't interested in divulging his reasons, but revolution is an expensive business, so Raynor is in no position to turn down a chance to make a fat profit. His home base, the battlecruiser Hyperion, makes its way to the Terrazine planet.

As the mission opens, I take control of a reasonably well-formed base awaiting orders. A barracks, factory, and mercenary compound are set to start pumping out troops, and a small army and complement of SCVs are ready for action. Tosh informs me that the Protoss will be attempting to seal the geysers, at which point they will become permanently unusable for our purposes. Also, once we start harvesting the first Terrazine node, the Tal'Darim declare their intentions to come hard at any SCVs that dare defile their sacred shrines.

This setup draws players out of the traditional single-player RTS mentality of turtling within a well-defended base until you have enough units to steamroll the opposition. Players have no choice but to aggressively seek out gas nodes to harvest while sending hit squads of their own to stop the enemy probes from locking the shrines down. You still need to defend your base (an unopposed warp ray makes quick work of any buildings), but managing multiple fronts is a necessity. With the way this mission forces players to pay attention to timing, take control of disparate zones of the map, and defend the home front, it has more in common with a good multiplayer match than a traditional single-player RTS mission.

Ultimately, the ubiquitous Terran "bio ball" of marines, medics, and marauders proves too much for the mixed forces of stalkers, scouts, and warp rays that the Tal'Darim send after us. A huge air raid on my base takes me by surprise at one point, but the quick hire of three mercenary companies (who are expensive upgraded versions of regular units who build instantly) carries the day. It's a struggle, but finding an undefended back door into the Protoss base in the middle of the map significantly reduces the incoming assaults and gave my forces enough breathing room to get the job done. The gas is ours!

The sense of accomplishment is fleeting, however, as the post-mission briefing informs me that I missed two achievements – preventing the death of any SCVs, and not allowing the Protoss to seal a single node – and two of the three research opportunities on the map. I'll be coming back, that's for sure.


Intermission: Making It Rain

The good news is that my basic victory unlocks the goliath for use in later missions and fills my bank account with 120,000 credits. Wandering through the four rooms of the Hyperion, I chat with the crew and investigate a host of interactive objects, like a fixed-viewpoint adventure game. A few tens of thousands of credits go into hiring a newly available company of goliath mercenaries. I throw significantly more money into the armory. My medics are now outfitted with better equipment that increases their healing powers while reducing the energy cost for their abilities, and firebats get bonus armor and a larger spread for their flamethrowers. Things are looking up.

Poking my head into the laboratory, I find out that, holy crap, Adjutants (the weird bio-mechanical ladies who run command centers) are creepy as hell. Their arms trail off at mid-forearm, and their lidless stare is just human enough to be gross. More pertinently, inspection of a captured Protoss crystal reveals that it appears to be making Newton cry by growing and giving off energy despite being suspended in a vacuum. Likewise, a Zerg tissue sample is somehow both dead and regenerating with no apparent source of sustenance.

The lab presents a gameplay hook of its own in addition to dropping story hints like Galileo dropped the orange. The one piece of Protoss research I picked up while liberating the Terrazine gas pushes me up to the next tier along that research path. Collecting Zerg DNA advances a parallel track, but that's for a later date. On the Protoss side, I'm faced with a choice: Gain a five percent bonus to attack speed every time I upgrade weapons in a mission (sweet!), or tack on five percent more hit points with every armor upgrade (nice!). I'm feeling awesome and aggressive, so attack speed it is. The hit point upgrade is permanently locked after I pass it up, but dead foes do no damage, so no worries.

Back on the bridge, I find out that Tosh is a Specter. Ghosts are bad enough, but this class of psychic spec-ops soldiers is a new level of wrong. Rumors hint at Terrazine gas being a key component in the creation of Specters, and they're even more mentally unstable than their troubled forebears. Surely this won't come back to bite us in the rear later on in the story; a renegade Specter wouldn't be so rash as to try and create more of his twisted kind on his own, right? Kerrigan turned out okay, so I should be good.

Raynor grits his teeth and gets on with it. There's a Xel'Naga temple that might hold the key to a power that can oppose Emperor Mengsk and his brutal regime, and Raynor's not the kind to let a bit of doubt about the future scare him into inaction. The Hyperion jumps, and I take control of an abandoned mining camp that happens to have a super-strength mining laser powerful enough to penetrate the temple's shielding.