Twelve years is a long time to wait for a sequel in the world of video games. Expectations build, and players expect a game of epic proportions.
The big question is: Does Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty deliver?
Unlike many of it’s real-time strategy (RTS) counterparts, Starcraft had an interesting and enjoyable story. While the universe compares closely with that of the Warhammer 40,000 games, there is enough uniqueness to give it a flavor of it’s own. The original Starcraft game and the Brood Wars expansion told the story of the three main races: the Terran, Zerg, and Protoss. In Starcraft II, you play as the Terran faction. (There are plans for two expansions that will tell the story of the Zerg and Protoss to be released in the future.)
The story continues four years after the end of the Brood Wars expansion, and you play from the perspective of the troubled hero Jim Raynor. Through the course of the game you meet characters from the past as well as new additions. Unlike the original linear story of Starcraft, you now have choices about what missions you wish to take on and often you must make difficult decisions on who to help or attack. This is a very welcome change to the series, and I hope that the decisions made in Wings of Liberty carry over to the sequels.
As one would come to expect from any game made by Blizzard, the voice acting and cutscenes add depth to the characters and story. The humor interspersed throughout the game also provides a welcome respite from the often serious and grim situations faced by the characters involved, which makes them feel even more multi-dimensional. By the end of the game, you will be ready for the expansions to see what happens next!
Simply put, the core gameplay has not changed at all. If you have played Starcraft or any other RTS from the same era, you will have no problem grasping what you need to do in Starcraft II. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a simple system that’s intuitive and works well after all these years.
There are, however, some subtle changes that do impact the game. In an effort to reduce the reliance on micromanagement and actions per minute (APM), you can now have much larger groups and groups-within-groups to more precisely control your troops and use their individual skills. The AI for mineral gatherer units like the SCV are also improved, and they’ll automatically disperse among the minerals to provide a good saturation. Using the shift key to queue up multiple movements or even building construction is also very helpful. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it should give you a rough idea of the small yet meaningful changes made to the game.
In the single-player campaign, there are some rather significant changes for gameplay. You earn credits for missions which allow you buy permanent upgrades for troops instead of having to research them in-mission. For example, you can upgrade marines with stimpacks and they’ll always have that ability in mission without having to go to a tech lab to research it. In addition, you get Zerg and Protoss research points for doing various objectives which allow you go up a tech tree and get improvements you could not get otherwise, such as the ability to have a command center produce two SCVs simultaneously. It’s a very cool system, but it’s unfortunate it could not be applied to multi-player in some regard.
Also, for those of you who enjoy achievements and the like, there are plenty of those to be earned as well. I’m generally a fan as it often adds a lot of replay value, especially when there is incentive to earn them in the form cool rewards. In Starcraft II, you earn portraits to use based on some achievements. There is even a “showcase” where you can show off your favorite achievements.
Quite frankly, I am awful at multiplayer in Starcraft II. While the nature of my PC gaming setup is part of the problem, I am well aware of my shortcomings in this aspect of the game. That said, I recognize that Starcraft’s immense popularity (especially in places like South Korea) is primarily because of multi-player action. Unfortunately, I’m far from qualified to really judge this extensively. If you’re a SC multiplayer veteran, I’m sure you’ll want to go elsewhere to read in more depth the kind of changes made to this aspect of the game.
I will, however, throw out the caveat for new players that the single-player campaign will do very, very little to get you prepared for multi-player action. You will definitely want to do the “practice league” matches to get a handle on the multi-player aspects of the game. Also keep in mind that all upgrades and units available in the campaign are not available in multi-player. You aren’t going crazy if you can’t figure out how to construct a Firebat or Wraith, for example.
Since this is the first review for this column, I want to take a second to explain what I plan on doing for ratings. I don’t want to get bogged down in semantics of 3.5 star vs 4 star or 8.6 instead of 9.1 or anything like that. So, what I really want to do is let the rest of the review speak for itself and let you decide if sounds like a game you want to play.
Personally, having just finished the single-player campaign last night, I have thoroughly enjoyed the game. Perhaps I will make some changes to my PC gaming setup and practice more to become better at multi-player, but even if I don’t, this game was well worth my time and money.
As always, feel free to contact me here or on Twitter @clnolen if you have any questions! Thank you for hanging out with me in The Player’s Club this week!