Blog 648: Wings o’ Fliberty

Starcraft II was supposed to be three “games”. Not a game and two expansion packs, three “games”. With the third “game” finally pretending like it’s possibly actually on the horizon, I got the hankering to go back and replay the two other bits.

I barely had SC2 installed on this new computer when I remembered all the reasons it makes me angry.

(What was the time distance between Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne? One year? And a bit? SC2‘s time-lags aren’t even funny.)

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

I was kind of looking forward to playing SC2 on maximum settings. I was only ever on low-medium with it on my last computer, subjected to smushy textures when zoomed in slowdowns when the action got too think; and now having a powerhouse that can even deal with Crysis quite happily I figured I was in for a revolution.

Nope, it looks basically the same. Does Tychus have slightly more distinct stubble in the cinematics? Maybe. Have I got far enough through the campaign for CPU-ending numbers of units to be unloaded? Not yet. (Heart of the Swarm‘s monstrous death-balls of Zerg should be a proper riot this time around, though.)

Before all of that, though, you have to actually launch the game and… by ‘eck, Starcraft II‘s treatment of offline play is quite simply abysmal.

Unfortunately quite a few good lines are ruined by the sloooow drawwwwwllllllling deliverrrrry.

Unfortunately quite a few good lines are ruined by the sloooow drawwwwwllllllling deliverrrrry.

With the latest patch, the game no longer starts when you start it, instead treating you to the Battle.Net launcher. While this has the good grace to close itself when you actually start the game, instead of being happy that it has no internet access it shows up a generic error message in its central news pane. Not very professional? The notification in the top-right says “offline”, so at least some bit of the system knows the score.

Then it treats you to an endless loading-bar window of “Connecting to Streaming Server…” Sorry, SC2, I’m offline and you already know it so there is nothing to connect to. Pressing cancel to put that out of its misery leaves you with an ominous empty desktop, as if you’ve stopped the game loading, but after a few seconds of waiting the screen will finally go black. A very reassuring onboarding experience, to be sure. You’re very lucky I have thick skin, Blizzard, or I might have written a rampage on your forums by now.

(What do you mean, I’m blogging an angry rampage more than four years after the fact? Shut up, this is my corner of the internet and I’ll cry if I want to!)

It's not an error, it's a perfectly valid application state. You couldn't just put up some default artwork for offline mode?

It’s not an error, it’s a perfectly valid application state. You couldn’t just put up some default artwork for offline mode?

Then the game itself treats you to a login screen. Having user profiles is one thing; having to tie them to online accounts to play singleplayer offline is quite another. You can’t even start the game at this point without having logged in while online at least once — and even if you accept that, yes, you are now offline and are okay with that, it gives you dire warnings about needing to go online every so often or it’ll close its doors (I thought it was once every thirty days but it became SC2 Starter Edition to me after barely seven).

Finally, for good measure, it disables achievements. This in itself wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but for the fact that even the most hated Steam can manage achievements offline and then synch them up later (if ever).

Apparently, the vaunted online account can’t possibly have any cheated content on it or else the very fabric of eSports will come tumbling down — and the only way to guarantee this is to lock down any account progress that happened outside the circle of trust. They couldn’t, I don’t know, apply anti-cheat measures if you ever do sign on with dodgy content? Or they could just not care about the few bogus portraits that come from achievement points? Separate fun solo achievements from Serious Business competitive eSports achievements? Hmm.

You are in offline mode YOU MONSTER.

You are in offline mode YOU MONSTER.

To make matters even worse, of course, it rubs your face in it. Every post-mission scoreboard includes a good quarter-screen’s worth of greyed-out look at all these achievements you could have had! Excuse me, SC2, I already have all of these when I gave in and played online the first time around, stop being such a dick about it. It’s almost infantile.

(Yes, the fact that I get this worked up about it is also infantile. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and I did pay money for this so I only have myself to blame for validating their behaviour. Indeed, I should be glad they even let me play offline at all…)

I didn't lose a single unit to the stone guardians on Normal, and I didn't cheat either! Cut me some slack, Blizz...

I didn’t lose a single unit to the stone guardians on Normal, and I didn’t cheat either! Cut me some slack, Blizz…

It’s annoying because all that always-online posturing puts me in a bad frame of mind. Playing SC2, when you get down to it, is actually quite fun — at least, the campaign is, to me. But apparently the money is in competitive eSports play and always being online is their way to embed tracking and all the rest of it; it seems that having paid a solid price for a singleplayer campaign just isn’t enough anymore.

It’s not that I’m against the online stuff existing, or even being 50% of the package that I am willing to ignore almost completely. But rather than there being a simple “singleplayer” or “multiplayer” choice in the main menu, that safely hives off the different parts, they’ve grown together into something altogether uglier — and you can tell it’s deliberate. They don’t want me to play offline. They offer the ability as a sop and then unload all the low blows within their power to cajole me into their vision of the future.

Here is the reason why I didn't lose any units: I assembled a massive ball of death that took those statues down in nothing flag. Pure l33t-sk1llz, dawg.

Here is the reason why I didn’t lose any units: I assembled a massive ball of death that took those statues down in nothing flag. Pure l33t-sk1llz, dawg.

Let me have my fun, Blizzard. The fact that I’m a sad loner with no friends who’d rather play alone and disconnected is my problem, not yours. You could give me offline achievements; the fact that you won’t just turns my ambivalence to real distaste.

Having said that, of course, I will be buying Legacy of the Void because I love dem Protoss somethin’ fierce, and I want narrative closure (for better or for worse). After that? Hopefully the internet will have melted down from hackers by the next time and we’ll be back to nice, clean, self-contained, easily-archived, always-offline DRM-free games.

I can dream, right?

(Well, I can do a little bit more than dream — my game will be self-contained always-offline and DRM-free. Got to stand up for something.)

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