StarCraft Universe [official site], the free multiplayer RPG that has been built as a StarCraft II mod, is finally due to come out next month, after an eventful 5-year development. On top of that, the open beta is now live and can be played through the StarCraft II Arcade right now. You can even play with its free Starter Edition.
It's been a strange ride for this not-quite-MMO, including legal scares, name changes and a Kickstarter. What's all the fuss about? Come here and I'll tell you.
Cast your mind back to the wintry beginning of 2011. Skyrim is getting teased, "gamification" is becoming a sickening buzzword, and everyone is still in love with both Minecraft and Portal. Amid the noise a modder comes out of the shadows and creates something using StarCraft II which he very bravely calls "World of StarCraft". Within 24 hours, Blizzard, the dread god, wakes from its slumber. A legal whirlwind starts up. Cease and desist orders fly, phone calls are made, rival developers get involved. It is a damned mess.
And then, as the tempest subsides, a weird creation slinks out of the dust - a mod called StarCraft Universe which will be made by the original modder, using StarCraft II (and which looks a lot like an MMORPG but is not really an MMORPG). It will exist, all parties have agreed, independently but under the watchful eye of Blizzard. The game will allow a handful of people in each instance, and offer WoW-like raids, character classes, skills, vehicles, and weapons across a 20-planet alternate universe in which the Protoss are on the verge of extinction. The release date? Who can tell.
WE CAN, THAT'S WHO. Because we live in the golden-hued future of 2016, where everyone is murdering one another. StarCraft Universe is coming out next month.
The modding team has grown since the game's inception and are now known as Upheaval Arts. And despite having gone through one successful Kickstarter in 2013, they have just launched another fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. But this time it is only for "post-release support", they say. The launch will go ahead whether they raise $80,000 or $8.
"This Indiegogo campaign provides people an opportunity to back us who were unable to during our initial funding, and will help us support it after release. Yes! That's right! The game will launch whether this campaign is successful or not in a month."
The game itself features 8 hero classes - 4 Terran and 4 Protoss - from Medic to Firebat, Zealot to High Templar. You can drive vehicles and engage in ship-on-ship combat and the dedication to creating an MMO-like experience is such that you'll be able to craft gear, buy goodies from vendors, store stuff in banks, duel folks in PvP, adopt pets, accept quests from creepy dudes you don't know, and team up for "epic raid bosses". And, as promised all those years ago, the whole thing will be free.
For now, you can try a little in four open beta maps. For players on the US regions, these links will launch StarCraft Universe's maps directly. Folks in other regions will need to search for them.
SC Universe: Prologue 1 (Singleplayer Basic Tutorial)
SC Universe: Prologue 2 (Multiplayer Basic Raid)
SC Universe: Prologue 3 (Singleplayer Ship Tutorial)
SC Universe: Beyond Koprulu (Multiplayer limited Open Beta)
It's an odd beast and I'm not sure how the world will react to it. Have you been looking forward to this since its messy conception? Or did you forget it even existed? Get out there and play some of it, and tell me what you think, quick! Before Pip gets here and plays it all first.