It’s been over a decade long wait, but Starcraft finally has the sequel it deserves in one of Blizzard’s most polished games ever. Starcraft 2 has been split up into a trilogy of three games, the first being “Wings of Liberty,” which focuses on the story of Jim Raynor, his revolution against Arcturus Mengsk, and the fate of Kerrigan and the Zerg Swarm.
There’s a lot going on in the story itself, such as old friends returning and new friends emerging, but nothing ever feels too overcrowded and everyone serves their purpose. The story does a good job of both setting up the next to entries in the trilogy, as well as closing the book on Raynor’s personal story. The campaign itself features 29 missions, each different than the last for several reasons. First, each mission has its own specific objective that amounts to more than just “build an army for 15 minute, then destroy everything in sight.” Second, most missions will grant you access to a specific unit, such as a firebat or banshee, and the objective will focus on mass extermination of infantry or stealth mechanics. You’ll still need backup and a gameplan, as if you mass produce one unit and meat anti-infantry or detectors, you’re out of luck.
In between missions, you’ll be able to roam through Raynor’s ship, the Hyperion, similar to the Normandy in Mass Effect. You can converse with fellow characters, watch news reels based on past missions you’ve completed, even play an old school shooter ala Geometery Wars in Project Gotham Racing. But not everything on the Hyperion is trivial. You’ll learn credits from doing the missions, which are usable on mercenaries, super units deployable in battle, as well as unit and building upgrades. Zerg and Protoss artifacts found within the missions grant you access to further research upgrades.
Sufficed to say, there’s a lot of thought and planning that went into the game’s campaign and it really shines through in what I think is the best part of the entire game. While the decision to split the story up in three different entries was controversial, it’s clear now where the extra development time went. The campaign simply oozes with polish and detail.
Of course all of this wouldn’t matter if the gameplay didn’t hold up after all these years. Boy, does it ever hold up well. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Blizzard decided to perfect a really, really good wheel; they came close. Make no mistake about it, there’s nothing new in terms of gameplay in comparison to the original. This is still all about the rock-paper-scissors type countering against your opponent. It’s all about micro and macro management, actions per minute, and keeping up a good aggressive plan of attack. It’s not going to win any awards of innovation, but it doesn’t need to because it works. The mix of old and new units blend seamlessly together in a way that makes up for what it lacks in comparison to modern day RTS games. I’ll take unit abilities over strategic placement any day. While I understand this may not be the cup of tea for some, Starcraft 2 just seems a lot more fun than the other RTS I’ve played recently. That’s pretty impressive for a game based on mechanics from the 1990s.
But not everything is the same as it was back then. Battle.net has been fully upgraded and we’re given one of the best matchmaking systems I’ve seen to date. After your placement rankings, you’ll be grouped up into a division, i.e. Bronze, Silver, Gold, etc. As you continue to play over Battle.net, matchmaking continues to learn your skill and finds more and more evenly matched games, leading to a much more accessible and enjoyable multiplayer experience in comparison to the original outing. We’re given plenty of modern amenities as well. Ladder rankings, replays, and achievements have all made the journey here, not to mention the hundreds of custom maps online with the map editor.
The one issue I have with the multiplayer deals with the metagame: rushing. It’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. While yes, the game is much more accessible than it had been, the rushing is still a major let down for me. I like being able to get out my big troops and have carriers, thors, colossi, and motherships duke it out. Sadly, it seems that I only get that in a 3v3 or 4v4 match, as 2v2 matches usually last about 15 minutes and a 1v1 match half of that. I hear that the higher brackets don’t have this issue as much, but I’m not at those brackets. The only option I have is practice and get better. Thankfully, I can, whether it is on Battle.net, or against the vastly improved and now quite intelligent AI, which gets harder and downright impossible as you ramp up the difficulty. There’s also the challenge missions the game features too, pitting you in various scenarios that require pre-planning countering units. They play out in a Total War type fashion: no gathering, just units, place them, and go.
I’d be remissed if I didn’t talk about the upgrades Starcraft received in the audio/visual department. Starcraft isn’t going to push any PC rigs to their limits ala Crysis, but that’s just not Blizzard’s philosophy. Instead, you’ll have a very good looking game that runs exceptionally smoothly, which is pretty impressive considering the amount of units on screen at times. But what really stands out is the game’s soundtrack, which I begun to favor eventually instead of my iTunes playlist. It’s really moody and engrossing, fitting the missions perfectly and adding one final layer of polish to complete the perfect package. Aside from one peculiar casting decision, the voice acting is spot on. The returning cast hasn’t missed a beat and the new cast fits in perfectly.
The bottom line is this: everything works and works really well. There’s nothing new here, aside from new units of course, but what separate’s Starcraft 2 from other games on the market is that everything it does, it does really well. Really, really well. The most telling thing about Wings of Liberty is how accessible it is to newcomers to the franchise. The campaign eases you in nicely and has a perfectly tuned difficulty. Easy missions feel easy, difficult missions feel difficult, but nothing feels over tuned or under tuned. The campaign feels more than just a game, it’s a living breathing world that sucks you in and grabs hold tight. Despite the issues I have with multiplayer, I keep coming back for more. Even completionists can find heaven here with the achievements and challenge modes. Case in point, there’s a lot to do and there’s a lot for everyone to enjoy.