About damn time.
The year was 1999 when I first played the original StarCraft in Seoul, South Korea. Even then, it was an unforgiving wormhole of skill-testament and overwhelming Zerglings. Regardless, the series became a large aspect to my gaming habits and stuck with me ever since. I loved the lore, balance, and particularly Zerg-rushing opponents to the ground. Now it's 2010, and after an 11-year time span, a beloved classic gets its sequel, and it rocks.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Platform: PC, MAC
Story/Presentation: Four years following the events of Brood War, WoL brings us back to James Raynor still fighting to overthrow Arcturus Mengsk of the Terran Dominion, a harsh government he helped establish in the first game. A supposed freedom-fighter, Raynor spends most of his days drinking and mulling over the loss of Kerrigan, his former lover and now-major antagonist. Later, he encounters an old friend by the name of Tychus Findley, who was recently released from prison. Tychus offers a proposition concerning raiding ancient artifacts for a profit, and with Raynor's ragtag group of rebels needing money to help their cause, he accepts. Little would he know that the artifacts he obtains would serve a dire purpose as the story unfolds to greater proportions, what with prophecies, hybrids, and Kerrigan.
Right off the bat, you can pretty much tell that the game's production costs are ridiculously high. From the intro, it's proven once again that Blizzard is a necromancer when it comes to CG-cutscenes. Alongside are in-game locales that pay heavy attention to detail in every nook and cranny. This is particularly interesting as you explore your hub, where you can interact with different characters and objects. It's nice to actually interact with these characters rather than watching them converse through mission briefings in SC1. The presentation value is apparent even in the installation process as it feeds you a recap of the original game's story, easing newcomers in. Troglodytes who merely dismiss WoL as 1/3 of a game should be smote. The campaign packs 29 missions (around the same number as the original), and while it focuses only on the Terran, it gives Blizzard an opportunity to flesh out StarCraft's lore through each race and build a foundation for a potentially epic trilogy. While WoL may not be the most original tale, it's certainly compelling should you choose to get into it. I should warn, there's a fair amount of cheesy writing. Not only that, but the new BattleNet has been re-designed for intuitive use, emphasizing social interaction through cross-game chat and integrating Facebook as well. While it may be a hassle, it's seamless enough to get around and terrific if you love the social aspect of games.
Gameplay: In its core, SC2 is a traditional RTS. You begin with a main base and harvesters and saturate accordingly. Other than an obvious new faceplate, the game takes the tight formula established in SC1, perfects it with noticeable balance tweaks, and adds new units to play with, new maps, new Battle.net, ladders, and a revamped, meaty single-player. Enough to warrant a sequel. Single-player specifically, the level design demands to be noted first. There's actually a very nice variety in the 29 missions available as each one has its own twist that differentiates itself from the others. One mission requires you to harvest a certain amount of minerals while boiling lava rises and falls periodically, forcing you to move your base constantly. Another mission contains a day-night cycle in which you must destroy infested structures by day and fall back to defend by night. Literally every mission goes out of its way to throw a new challenge at you. Choice-mechanics between characters will dictate how certain missions play out. And when you're not doing missions, you're interacting with your crew mates. Optional as it may be, it's great for me considering my love for StarCraft lore. Catching up on other characters' back-stories and simply seeing what's what is personally enjoyable. Hell, there's even a top-down scrolling mini-game that's sure to incite some pleasant nostalgia. You could say the campaign is partly a point-and-click adventure. Alongside all that are numerous upgrades for your units and buildings. Each mission pays a handsome amount which can be used to buy new abilities at the Armory. Zerg and Protoss artifacts can be recovered through most missions. As a result, you are rewarded with research points that can be spent on even more upgrades like increasing Bunker life and Refineries that automatically harvest gas. On top of the campaign are challenges that help newbies learn the ropes. Even when you're not plowing through the campaign, there's a lot to do.
Multiplayer keeps many of the fundamentals of SC1. There are still three races to choose, a lot of the old units return, and macro and micro are keys to winning games. Along with some balance tweaking, a plethora of new units and buildings have been added to the fray, and they shake up the strategy quite a bit. Banelings can explode on impact and are effective against turtling players. Warp Gate technology allows Protoss players to warp units near any Pylon. Additions like these make the game feel refreshing and worth the substantial upgrade. Like BW, the basis emphasizes heavy multitasking, and a large portion involves controlling the flow of information and knowing which units counter what. Online is still demanding and competitive as ever, but luckily for newcomers, SC2 is a lot more welcoming. The game offers fifty optional practice matches and five placement matches. Based on your performance in those placement matches, you will be placed in one of five leagues and one of many divisions. Players in the same division will have roughly the same skill level as you. This ideally minimizes spontaneous annihilations. Especially if you're new, online can still get brutal, and you can easily get overwhelmed. Learning from your mistakes is crucial, and it's rewarding to see your progress as your rank goes up. When you play your matches, SC2 records everything from replays to build orders. Players who seriously want to improve their game will enjoy this feature.
Bnet 2.0 is a major feature in SC2's multiplayer, and it's a mixed bag, really. It's convenient as a social aspect as cross-game chat helps when trying to organize games, and it's pretty neat to be able to talk in the middle of a cutscene. Though I have no use for it, Facebook integration makes adding friends even more convenient. If you're not into the social aspect of Bnet 2.0, it's an annoyance. I'm disappointed of region-locking as I, along with many others, have buddies across the globe that play StarCraft, and it's a shame that I can't play them. Also, custom maps aren't very well organized. Long do I miss the days when I can find unpopular mods that were just as fun without Bnet's restrictions. I can only hope they fix that in a later patch. Included with SC2 is a level editor with a STEEP learning curve. It took me an hour just to figure out how to make units move. It's definitely the most non-user-friendly aspect of the game. Nonetheless, it's incredibly powerful and should result in interesting creations from the aspiring mod community. There's already a DotA clone ready, and it's awesome.
Visuals/Sound: SC2 is not exactly graphics-intensive, but it's still relatively good-looking. There's a considerable amount of detail in the different units and locales, and the art is quite splendid for a space-themed RTS. Animations are fluid and voice-acting is spot-on. However, what stands out most is not the sound effects, but the soundtrack. Some tracks are particularly catchy, some are dark and distorted, and others are just flat-out epic. Big props to the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra for their work.
Verdict: If you're even remotely into strategy games, SC2 is an absolute no-brainer. Whereas its core is not like more progressive RTS games like CoH or DoW2, it's still a competent RTS and a fun one at that. Veterans will be satisfied enough for competitive play while newbies have more than enough tools to help get settled in. The game stays with its roots and adds a whole lot of new tricks to keep the formula fresh and worth playing. The campaign lasts a good 17 hours, leagues and challenges make the online experience more streamlined, the level editor is incredibly powerful, and there are many new units, custom maps, and strategies at your disposal. Thanks to our long history, my love for SC2 is absolute. The pure adrenaline of out-maneuvering your opponent is intoxicating. The game runs on a wide range of PCs, so as long as you have a decent dual-core processor and a sufficient amount of video memory, you should be good to go. In conclusion, what's really relevant is that SC2 has arrived after nearly a decade, and it's finally ready for purchase. Now, SPAWN MORE OVERLORDS.
- Compelling story
- Variety in level design
- Mostly well-balanced
- Plenty of new units and structures
- Powerful level editor
- Social aspect of Bnet 2.0
- Awesome soundtrack
- Bnet 2.0 can be restrictive
- Custom maps are unorganized
- Some cheesy writing
Overall Grade: A