Starcraft is widely acknowledged as one of the best real-time strategy games (RTS) of all time. So when Blizzard announced a sequel, there was a lot to live up to, and amazingly enough, Starcraft 2 succeeded.
By keeping what made the original great, taking advantage of improved technology, and making gameplay additions and changes that largely work, Starcraft 2 built on its predecessor’s legacy to become a classic in its own right. And in November 2017, Starcraft 2 became even better when it went free-to-play.
In this review:
So a sequel to a classic, considered one of the best strategy games for Mac, now free, I’m guessing you’re hooked by now. And that leads us to our big question: Can your Mac run it?
Even though it’s eight years old, RTS games are known for having some hefty system requirements; there can be a lot going on at one time. So we tested Starcraft 2 on 6 different Macs to give you a good idea of where your Mac will stand.
As in any RTS, you spend much of your time gathering resources and building and upgrading your base and your army before going out to accomplish the goal of your particular mission. One of the strong points of the original was its engaging story told in short cutscenes, and that continues in the sequel with even more detail and interactivity.
If you’ve already gotten the impression that Starcraft 2 is a pretty great game, you’d be correct. Despite some objections to Blizzard’s original pricing structure and complaints about the lack of LAN multiplayer, Starcraft 2 was a huge hit when it came out.
Critics gave it an 88/100 Metascore:
And that was before Starcraft 2 became a free-to-play game, including the single- player human campaign, skirmish mode, and multiplayer modes. Strategy games such as Civilization 6 or Total War: Three Kingdoms are arguably just as good, or even better, but these are $60 games.
Echoing my feelings exactly, Destructoid said:
Somehow, Blizzard has managed to make Starcraft 2 feel instantly familiar, while still keeping the entire game feeling fresh and new. The single-player is ridiculously fun, the multiplayer is as addictive as hell, and virtually every new mechanic Blizzard has introduced has helped to improve the game.
Assuming you haven’t already stopped reading and gone to play, read on to see what our tests revealed about the MacOS version of the game.
It’s always better to meet the minimum system requirements, just to be safe, but in this case, that shouldn’t be an issue…
These are the official StarCraft 2 system requirements:
- OS 10.11
- Processor Intel Core 2 Duo
- Memory 4GB RAM
- Video Memory 1GB Video RAM
- Hard Drive 30GB of Hard Drive space
It’s unfortunate that Blizzard doesn’t specify the minimum required integrated graphics card, but comparing these with Intel’s solutions, we can conclude you need at least an Intel HD Graphics 4000.
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The Test: Can you run Starcraft 2 on Mac?
StarCraft 2 is a game that needs to be played fast. An average or mediocre performance will break this game and that makes these tests particularly important.
To see how StarCraft 2 performs on Mac, we performed tests on these 6 machines:
- iMac 27-Inch (5K, Late 2014): 3.5 GHz Intel Core i5, 16 GB RAM, AMD Radeon R9 M290X (2GB)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016): 2.0 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel Iris Graphics 540 (1.5GB)
- Mac Mini (Late 2014): 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel Iris 5100 (1.5GB)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2013): 2.4 GHz Intel Core i5, 4 GB RAM, Intel Iris 5100 (1.5GB)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2012): 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M (1GB)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2012): 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 400 (0.5GB)
Notice the 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro just barely meets the minimum system requirements.
Keep in mind that the purpose of these Performance Reviews is to show you how games run on popular Macs, the ones most users have, ranging from the high-end models to the older but still popular MacBook Pros and Mac Minis.
All in all, these are the categories we cover:
- High-end Macs
- Recent entry-level Macs
- Older Macs
And even if your exact Mac wasn’t tested, you can always use one of these models (the one that resembles yours the most) and estimate the performance levels you can expect while playing this game.
Using Count It, our in-house FPS counter, we tested all machines while playing an AI Versus match for about 5 minutes using the following settings:
- 1280×800 or equivalent resolution
- Graphics Quality: Medium
- V-Sync and Anti-Aliasing: Off
- OpenGL 2.1 render API
Metal VS OpenGL renderer
A game that properly supports Apple’s Metal graphics API should destroy the same game using the older OpenGL graphics API in terms of performance. In this case, though, Metal support is officially in Beta and clearly not quite ready for prime time.
On the 2016 MBP, tests using the Metal render are slightly better than using OpenGL. On the iMac, results are nearly identical. But on our 2013 MBP, the Metal render displays awful glitches and artifacts. This is why all our final tests use OpenGL. Metal could be faster, but Blizzard’s implementation is not stable enough right now.
And for the record, Medium settings and 1280×800 resolution may seem low but it’s the best compromise when testing both high-end and low-end models.
In spite of not being able to use the Metal render, StarCraft 2 is a well-optimized game with good frame rates all-around. Blizzard’s experience supporting MacOS is clear.
Here you can see how our test machines performed in Frames per Second (FPS):
As a reminder, this is how we describe the different levels of performance:
- Below 20 FPS: Unplayable: Laggy gameplay, full of stutters and slowdowns.
- 20-30 FPS: Borderline: Can be OK in slow-paced games. Still, not optimal.
- 30-45 FPS: Playable: Acceptable for most (most gaming consoles do this).
- 45-60 FPS: Smooth: Fluid gameplay, with no perceivable stutters.
- 60+ FPS: Very Smooth: For hardcore and professional players, a luxury for most.
We usually aim for 30 FPS, because 30 FPS is enough to guarantee a smooth and fluid experience.
Can my Mac run Starcraft 2?
Needless to say, a high-end Mac will be able to run this game without a sweat. Our 2014 iMac can run the game at Very Smooth 115.9 FPS. Clearly, the question isn’t, Can my Mac run it?, but, How high can I bump the settings while keeping a fluid experience?
On the maximum settings, the game still runs at a Very Smooth 62.9 FPS. The visual improvement going from Medium to Maximum settings is slight but remember that the biggest differences are better physics (which, alas, can only be seen during actual gameplay below):
Can you play it in 4K?
This is where things get interesting. Usually, going from Medium to Maximum settings is nice, but if the resolution of the game remains the same, the improvements won’t impress anyone.
If you want crisp, detailed and downright badass graphics, you’ll have to bump up the game’s resolution, and today, the holy grail of high-end gaming is 4K (or 2160p).
Running at 4096×2304 resolution and Max settings (slightly higher than 4K), our 2014 iMac runs at Borderline 26.4 FPS. But at the same resolution and Medium settings, the game runs at Playable 40.1 FPS. That right there would be the sweet spot for most.
If you have a high-end Mac that does 100 or more FPS on medium settings and resolution, I would give 4K gaming a try 😉
Can you play Starcraft 2 on a MacBook Pro?
A new 13-inch MBP can cost a lot of money, but the fact it only features integrated graphics explains why they’ll never be gaming beasts…
That said, most recent integrated graphics can get the job done, provided you’re playing a well-optimized game that isn’t particularly demanding. Turns out StarCraft 2 is a well-optimized game and runs at Very Smooth 70.1 FPS.
We usually test games on higher settings to compare performance levels but Starcraft 2 will limit certain graphics options if it decides your Mac is not powerful enough.
But what if you have an older Mac?
Both our Mac Mini and 2013 13-inch MBP run at Playable, 36.5 FPS and 33.8 FPS respectively. Both good results that should ensure decent performance levels for a fast-game such as SC2. Our 2012 15-inch MBP, with its dedicated graphics card, runs of course much faster at a Smooth 57.7 FPS.
But results on the 2012 13-inch MBP are somewhat inconclusive and surprising. The game runs at a technically unplayable 19.3 FPS. Much lower than our 2013 13-inch MBP which should only be slightly faster.
Perhaps the Intel HD 4000 Graphics is particularly not suited for this game…
You can always play the game at minimum settings and have a much more fluid experience. That said, in this case, Minimum settings are noticeably uglier…
On Minimum settings, our 2012 13-inch MBP runs the game at Playable 33.58 FPS.
PS: These are our favorite accessories for playing/testing games on Mac!
|Game||★ Best Mouse||Best Controller||Best eGPU|
|Why we love it?||The G502 is Logitech's most accurate gaming mouse yet. Plus, it has a plethora of buttons and a killer design.||The official PS4 controller just works on Mac. It's wireless, it's precise, it has an excellent grip and it's durable.||The Razer Core X turns your MacBook or Mac Mini into a killer gaming machine by adding external graphics support.|
326 Amazon reviews
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|Price||From $56||From $39.99||From $299.99|
Starcraft 2 is available for download from all the major digital stores including Steam and Humble Bundle:
Starcraft 2 Mac review
Starcraft 2 is the sequel to one of the best real-time strategy games (RTS), if not best video games in general, of all time. We were disappointed its Metal version was still in beta, but Starcraft 2 remains an excellent Mac port that runs great on most Macs from 2012 onwards, including MacBooks and Mac Minis.
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