Starbow, a fan-made expansion for StarCraft: Brood War built with the StarCraft 2 engine, first made waves early in 2014. Amid fan complaints that about StarCraft 2‘s design, Starbow trumpeted itself as the next evolution to StarCraft—combining the strategic depth of the original with the updated graphics of the sequel.
After well over a year of development, Starbow finally released patch 1.0 this week, marking the end of their feature development. But after a year of rigorous testing with pro players and fans alike, the expansion finally gives fans the follow-up on the original StarCraft that they always wanted.
The key to Starbow, per lead developer Carl Joakim Isaksen, is the combination of strategic elements from Brood War with the engine mechanics of StarCraft 2, such as unlimited unit selection.
The expansion adds quite a lot of units, buildings, and abilities to the game, and in many cases changes the functionality of already-existing units. But it also adds in elements that were lost in the transition to StarCraft 2, such as high ground advantage and economy.
But the most crucial gameplay change is how combat works overall. StarCraft 2 has long been criticized for “deathball” mechanics, where a player can simply mass his army into one solid mobile ball of damage, then overrun his opponent. In the original StarCraft, armies often had to play games of attrition, both because damage output was less, and because controlling massive armies took up much more time with limited unit selection.
Starbow’s developers gave it elements from the old days that made StarCraft so popular in the first place. As the game’s description reads: “Armies feel more spread out, and fights can happen over much larger space.”
Additionally, Isaksen and crew decided that unit micro would be just as critical for players as managing their massive armies. Each race has units with powerful but complicated micro abilities that require absolute precision for maximum results. As battles became more stretched out, the developers found that players were be able to use these powerful abilities much more strategically.
For those interested in trying out the game, it’s free-to-play thanks to StarCraft 2‘s Arcade Mode. Players can simply download the free version of StarCraft 2, then navigate to the Arcade and search for “Starbow.”
Isaksen is hoping that this 1.0 release will bring more players to the game. “We won’t make any big changes in the future,” he says, “So players can start to learn the timings and meta game without having to worry about things changing. We’ll still balance patch and fix bugs when needed, of course.”
He’s also hoping that the game takes off on a more competitive level, and currently runs weekly “Monday Night Starbow” tournaments.
Regardless of your familiarity with StarCraft, Starbow is definitely something worth checking out for the competitive-minded. Not only does it feature the best of two of the top esports of their time, but it’s available right now, absolutely free.