The Blizzard model has generally been to take a successful product, apply a Games Workshop IP to it, and release basically the same game with a new coat of paint and a high level of polish, one that will run on anything including your household toaster (although in fairness to toasters, the newer models are beastly machines). It worked for the Warcraft RTS series (Warhammer Fantasy Battle + Dune), worked for StarCraft (Warhammer 40k + C&C), and it works for WoW (Mr. T + My Little $25 Pony Online).
But what happens when you apply the Blizzard business model to a Blizzard game and play it really, really safe? You get StarCraft 2, a highly polished port of SC1 that leaves you feeling bored and burned out halfway through your first game. When you can build a base and pull off a rush with your eyes closed using the same strategy and hotkeys you used in 1998, you’re game just MIGHT be a little too similar to its predecessor. Which is not to say that SC2 is a bad game on its own, its not, and if you never played SC1 you will have a blast here. But there is a wide gap between advancing a product slowly (WC1 to WC2 or WC3 for instance) and simply straight rehashing it, and SC2 is very much a rehash.
Perhaps most jarring is the fact that even with new units and new tweaks to the maps, it all still plays out exactly the same. Not just high level “pump out workers, build a base/units, zerg to win” stuff that can be said about most RTS games, but also right down to how to configure your base, what units to mix, and when to upgrade to what. It’s all the same, and as you follow the same pattern you literally get the same results with basically zero variation. Nothing feels new here, nothing jumps out and screams “game-changer”. There are no flying/navy units like in WC2, or hero units like in WC3, or the advantages of destructible terrain and advanced line-of-sight like in Company of Heroes. It’s just 1998 all over again, only with better (but nothing special) graphics.
And the disappointment with SC2 leaves me a little worried for Diablo 3, because even in the preview videos we have seen it truly does look like D2 with again slightly better graphics. Now what could save D3 is that ‘more of the same’ often works in a single-player game. Right now on the Wii I’m playing Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, which might as well be a collection of missing levels from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn on the GameCube, but it’s still very enjoyable because when FE:RD ended, I was still looking for more. No matter how much you liked D2, the content was limited and eventually you reached the end and the game was over. You could play it again, but not in the same way you could play another match of SC, and this alone might be the saving difference for D3 compared to SC2.
This also makes you wonder about the next Blizzard MMO. Rumor has it it’s going to be a new (GamesWorkshop) IP, but will it follow SC2 and (presumably) D3 in terms of gameplay rehashing? Let’s hope not, otherwise that’s a lot of wasted polish.