StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Review
StarCraft ascended beyond the realm of video games and became a worldwide phenomenon. Hell, it's even considered a national sport in South Korea. Needless to say, fans have been anticipating the follow-up for quite some time now. Their patience has paid off in a big way. Even though it’s releasing twelve years after the original game first hit PCs, StarCraft II shows that the developers haven’t missed a beat in that time.
Like Nintendo or Bungie, Blizzard is one of those companies that know when not to mess with a proven formula. While their games do improve in places, get some added features here and there and never feel dated upon release, they always follow the basic gameplay and feel of their predecessors. We saw this with Warcraft III, Diablo II, and now we’re seeing it in their latest game, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. From start to finish, this game wears its legacy on its sleeve, in terms of overall feel to atmosphere and mission structure. While the core mechanics are the same as the first game, it’s still an absolute blast and one of the best RTS games to hit in a good, long while.
The story follows Jim Raynor four years after the events of the original StarCraft’s Brood Wars expansion. Raynor is leading his group of rebels against the dictator that he inadvertently helped bring to power in the first game, while gaining the support of colonists and civilians in ways that the dictator, Megnsk, is unable to. His heart still hurts for Sarah Kerrigan, the one-time Ghost soldier turned Zerg Queen of Blades, but he continues with his personal mission against Megnsk. However, the Zerg threat has returned, causing Raynor and his rebels to shift their focus.
The story is a lot more focused than the first StarCraft, with the storyline unfolding through cutscenes between missions and conversations that you have with your comrades in the central hub. There are some loose ends in the story that do not become rectified by the end of the campaign and some plot points that will have gamers scratching their heads, but as there are two expansions planned for the game, these story elements can be addressed in the future.
Aside from giving you an opportunity to get a better background of the story, the central hub also allows you to spend cash earned in missions and buy persistent upgrades for your units, hire mercenaries, and gain better technology. These hubs also give you some freedom in how you choose to progress. You’ll be given a choice of several different missions, each with their own financial and research rewards, which opens up your campaign options a bit and keeps it from being a standard linear affair.
The gameplay feels a lot like the original StarCraft, but there are some subtle changes that hardcore fans of the series will appreciate. The pace of the game has been sped up, with unit production and movement speed happening much quicker. This adds more intensity to the battlefield and requires more agile multitasking than before. The single-player campaign fosters this idea, with fast-moving missions that require you to think on your feet both defensively and offensively. StarCraft II also throws in a challenge mode where you can hone your skills, which is a great asset for newcomers looking to cut their teeth and learn some new skills.
One of the main beefs that fans of the original will likely have with the sequel is that it only offers a Terran campaign, whereas StarCraft allowed players to go through a Terran, Zerg, and Protoss storyline. However, to call StarCraft II lacking in content would be a huge mistake. The Terran campaign is pretty long, offering up 29 missions, an engaging story, and plenty of diversity in mission structure.
The secondary flaw that players have taken issue with is very much a valid problem; the game lacks LAN support. Multiplayer is strictly online, which can be problematic for players looking to set up their own tournaments as they did with the first StarCraft, or simply have a LAN party with friends.
The changes made to Battle.net might help soften this blow. The system is more intuitive than ever before, with matchmaking capabilities and a streamlined interface that rivals other dominant platforms. The game boasts a friend and achievement-system similar to Xbox LIVE, and you can even find Facebook friends that have the game through a quick search. Additionally, online play is very solid without much lag, and allows you to play as all three races (Terran, Zerg, Protoss).
StarCraft II looks fantastic, and ranks as some of the best environments and character models you’ll find in the RTS genre, and the scalable customization options allow it to run admirably on any number of configurations. The cut-scenes and central hub look great, rendered with the in-game engine and sporting some fantastic details. The art design that Blizzard has made their namesake on is brilliantly presented, and backed by excellent voice-overs and scores.
The core game is very much unchanged from the original game, with the overall unit balance and gameplay elements carrying over directly from the formula established twelve years ago, but that is hardly something to complain about. By building off the foundations and bolstering the series with memorable missions, an incredible story, and awe-inspiring visuals, Blizzard has assured StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty's status as one of the best RTS games ever created.