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News Relaunch Preview

by Adam Biessener on Feb 10, 2010 at 08:10 AM

Blizzard has released the first images and details of what players can expect from when StarCraft II comes out in a canned "interview" video with project director Greg Canessa. The company has been touting the upcoming relaunch for ages, and this video finally puts a good-looking walk behind the endless talk.

The images of's new interface are slick and attractive; this is obviously going to benefit from the immaculate polish that Blizzard puts on every product it ships. Many of the new features mimic what is already available on existing services like Steam. Cross-game achievements, a unified friends list that allows in- and out-of-game chatting, and more. Canessa points to nebulous game-specific additions that make unique, but no details have been given aside from a higher level of support for mods and custom gametypes. Integrated voice chat is nice, as opposed to the per-game implementation on other services, but hardly a revolution in PC gaming. Last I checked, the Ventrilo client was still free.

One big addition for StarCraft II is team-based matchmaking that works much like World of Warcraft's arena teams, where you have a set roster on your team, and the service matches you against other teams of similar skill level. The largest impact on the community and the integrity of the matchmaking, though, will doubtless be the presumed prevention of "smurfing," or making a fresh account in order to be matched against newbies for easy wins. StarCraft II (and presumably other Blizzard games, including WoW) will also contribute toward a global achievement/unlock system, allowing players to accumulate special badges and vanity items to show off their leetness.

I'm excited about the idea of an overarching framework that lets me easily find my friends, chat with them, and that tracks my progress across multiple games. I'm logged into my Steam client all the time, and the new isn't going to change that. Blizzard was obviously never going to get on the Steam train – why give Valve a cut of their sales when they're guaranteed to sell millions anyway? – and in that sense I'm glad that Blizzard games are going to be tied into a comparable system. Barring anything unexpected and awesome hidden up the company's sleeve, though, this is just going to be yet another client sitting in my systray. As much as I love Blizzard games (and that's a lot, believe me), it's going to take something special to get me and all my friends and the existing groups we have set up through Steam to move away from that service as our primary destination.