While StarCraft had interested me for years, I avoided picking it up until the 3rd expansion of StarCraft II, Legacy of the Void. The game looked awesome, but I was a little intimidated by real-time strategy and all those super fast-acting pro-gamers. When I did finally give it a try, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t nearly as rough as I had imagined all those years. In fact, I had such a blast playing it that I didn’t realize my laptop was burning a hole in my leg. Gaming injuries aside, here are some tips to get real-time strategy noobs started with less frustration.
Take Advantage of TrainingStarCraft II is a flexible game. There are several different game modes, which are Campaign (playing through the story solo), Cooperative (playing online with a partner against the AI), Multiplayer (player vs. player) or Archon Mode (like multiplayer but 2 vs. 2.) I prefer starting with Campaign mode, but Multiplayer can work as well. These modes are great introductions because they have training sessions. Multiplayer starts with explanations of each battle unit and building, as well as its relevant upgrades. The beginning multiplayer matches are against the computer and are extremely easy. After a few of these they start getting harder, until you are ready to either repeat training or move on to actual matches. Campaign mode eases you into the different functions and strategy concepts more slowly, with the option of repeating missions on harder and harder difficulties.
Commit To One RaceStarCraft has three different races available for play. If starting the game on Multiplayer, the choice is mostly just a matter of preference. Each race does function a little differently and uses different hot keys, but as long as you stick with the same one most of the time you won’t get too confused. If you start with Campaign mode on Legacy of the Void, you will be playing as the Protoss. The first Campaign, Wings of Liberty, is played as the Terrans, and the second, Heart of the Swarm, is played as the Zerg. If you will be bouncing back and forth between Campaign and other modes, it makes sense to stick with the Protoss since you will be learning it already.
Learn a Few HotkeysIf you ever watch the pros playing StarCraft, you will see them using their keyboards a lot. Commanding your underlings this way is called using hotkeys. These can be configured in settings and will allow you to make commands much more quickly. My suggestion is to start with one or two and learn more as you go. Many of them are intuitive, since the unit you are commanding will use a hotkey with the same letter. Pushing the “A” key before clicking to direct troops, for example, will instruct them to attack. Another useful way to hotkey is to create your own. Hitting “Command” and then a number (0-9) will form the selected group into a unit which can take commands collectively. This is very useful when sending battle units to separate areas. I also always hotkey a building drone or two, so I can easily hit one button to select my drone and set it to buildingstructures or making improvements. By holding down the shift key when giving builders commands, you can queue up multiple building projects without waiting around for each to be completed.
Look at Losing as a Learning ExperienceWhen first starting out in Multiplayer you will lose - probably a lot. While some players may find this frustrating, it is how you learn and improve. This is especially true if you learn the game on Multiplayer instead of Campaign. Pay attention to what you do and what your opponents do, particularly when they are beating you. The good news is that the game has a pretty good ladder system, which pits newer players against each other instead of against crazy awesome pros. You will probably get trounced at times, but it most likely won’t be a complete slaughter fest every time you set foot on the battlefield. If you find yourself having too difficult of a time try out the Campaign for a while or watch some Youtube videos of other people playing. This should improve your strategy.
Be Flexible in Your StrategiesIf you are new to real-time strategy, you will probably have to rewire your thinking a bit. The game is about strategy more than it is about character progression or sick combos. If you are getting stuck on a mission and it just seems way too hard, there is probably a strategy trick you haven’t thought of. Changing up the way you go about a mission or a match will usually be much more effective than trying to power through doing the same thing over and over again. Watching other people play, once again, can teach you a lot.
Even if you’re new to real-time strategy, I hope you will give StarCraft II a stab. It really is a fantastically-designed game, with a lot of fun to be had by pros and newbies alike. If, like me, you find yourself sucked into the game, the core game and expansions can all be had for under $60 on PC or Mac.