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How to play Starcraft II for free

Blizzard's real-time strategy classic is now free to play. Here's how to get started.

You'll need a (free) account to play Starcraft II for free.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

As promised a couple weeks back, Blizzard's classic, beloved real-time strategy game Starcraft II is now free to play.

Ready to get started? Here are a few things you should know, followed by instructions on registering for and downloading the game.

What you can play

The free-to-play option includes the complete Wings of Liberty single-player story campaign (which, incidentally, earned a 9.5 rating from GameSpot when it debuted in 2010).

You also get access to all multiplayer units in the Unranked Multiplayer and Custom game modes. You can access the Ranked Multiplayer ladder by completing 10 "First Wins of the Day" in Unranked Multiplayer or Versus AI modes.

Meanwhile, you can play co-op mode, with free co-op commanders up to level 5 -- and that includes Terran commander combo Mira Han and Matt Horner, who are debuting today as part of the free-to-play launch.

Finally, if you already own Wings of Liberty, you can get a free digital copy of the expansion pack Heart of the Swarm -- though have only until Dec. 8 to obtain that.

How you can play

Starcraft II is available for both Windows and Mac, but before you can get it, you'll need a Blizzard account. If you already have one, great.

If not, you can sign up for one after downloading the installer, which you do by clicking Play Free Now on the Starcraft II home page. (Curiously, when I did that a little earlier today, I was directed to a page where I had to create an account prior to downloading the installer. But now it seems that requirement has been lifted, as clicking that button immediately downloads the software.)

You can sign up for via your Facebook account or a more traditional email/password setup. You will be asked for email verification, though strictly speaking it's not mandatory.

The first time you sign into, you'll need to create a BattleTag -- basically your online alias. From there the client will complete the Starcraft II installation.

Don't be surprised if you have a little difficulty getting connected at first, or if the software produces a few strange error messages -- both of which happened to me along the way. Because this is the first day of free-to-play, site traffic is sure to be heavy.