Starcraft is widely acknowledged as one of the best real-time strategy games (RTS), if not best video games in general, of all time. So when Blizzard announced a sequel, there was a lot to live up to. Amazingly enough, Starcraft 2 (SC2) 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.

A science fiction RTS featuring three races, Human, Zerg and Protoss, SC2 takes place four years after the original. In November 2017 SC2 went free-to-play, including the single- player human campaign, skirmish mode and multiplayer modes.

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.

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 you 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 for Mac on 6 different Macs to give you a good idea of where your Mac will stand.

First things first, is the game any good?

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 fee structure and complaints about the lack of LAN multiplayer, Starcraft 2 was a huge hit when it came out.

Critics gave SC2 Wings of Liberty a 93/100 Metascore, while 3,166 Metacritic fans give it an 8.2/10:

Metascore

User Reviews

Echoing my feelings exactly, Destructoid says:

Somehow, Blizzard has managed to make StarCraft II 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.

PC Gamer tends to agree:

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty includes a lengthy and compelling single-player campaign, alongside some of the best multiplayer and co-op functionality I’ve seen. It offers a kind of baffling but welcome nostalgia. It looks, sounds, plays and feels like a game you may have loved from over ten years ago – the original StarCraft.

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.

The test

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 different Mac models, we have tested the game on these 6 different 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:

  • 1280x800 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 1280x800 resolution may seem low but it’s the best compromise when testing both high-end and low-end models.

The Results

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):

StarCraft 2 results

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.

Do you have a high-end Mac?

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 image below shows a slight improvement in graphics going from Medium to Maximum settings but remember that the biggest differences are improved 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 4096x2304 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 😉

Takeaway: You won’t have access to the Maximum settings but you can still slightly increase both settings and resolution to drastically improve the game’s looks while keeping good performance (with 40+ FPS).

Do you have a recent entry-level Mac?

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.

Takeaway: You won’t have access to the Maximum settings but you can still slightly increase both settings and resolution to drastically improve the game’s looks while keeping good performance (with 40+ FPS).

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 Borderline (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.

Takeaway: Most older Macs (from 2012 onwards) should handle this game on Medium settings just fine. And if for some reason yours doesn’t, playing the game on Minimum settings should be enough to provide a good experience. But that only applies if you’re willing to give up on nice looking graphics…

Still unsure?

Remember, you can always run the free Unigine Heaven Benchmark using the Basic Preset and compare your results with ours:

StarCraft 2 VS Heaven benchmark results

If your machine had a better/worst Heaven score, expect a higher/lower FPS score.

The correlation between in-game performance and a standard benchmark is far from perfect, but it can still be a good comparison point.

Keep in mind that this is an estimate and far from exact. If your estimated FPS are too close to 30 FPS, don’t risk it.

Always check those system requirements

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 minimum 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.

Final thoughts

We were a little bummed to see that the Metal render of the game is still buggy and unreliable. Knowing how promising Metal is, and how much it can improve a game’s performance, we can’t help but wonder how great StarCraft 2 can be once it properly supports it.

That said, this is a very good Mac port, even if you have to use the OpenGL 2.1 render. The game runs great on most Macs from 2012 on and looks very good on Medium settings.

Runs great on most Macs from 2012 onwards.

It’s fast enough to allow you to increase resolution and settings on newer machines.

Looks great on Medium settings.

Metal render is still buggy.

Demand level: Low

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