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Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

Starcraft: almost anyone who has ever touched a real-time strategy game knows exactly what series I’m talking about. Arguably Blizzard’s most successful title (if you exclude the millions World of Warcraft brings the devils monthly) amongst the widest audience globally. The three races: Terran, Protoss and Zerg, have become as commonplace as the king, queen, bishop, and rook in the minds of today’s competitive strategic players. Enthusiasts from all over the world still, to this day, dedicate hours of practice to honing their ‘clicks per second’ and personal strategies in a game that is graphically aged, and older than most pre-teen children. This level of consumer dedication can only mean that Blizzard has succeeded in creating a series that fans are willing to devote themselves to – a product of compelling storytelling, ever evolving tactics, and infuriatingly challenging gameplay at higher levels. It’s with this same evolution in mind that the long awaited Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is finally released, and just as Blizzard Entertainment promised, it is in every way a sterling successor to the widely popular classic that was released back in 1998.

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“It’s safe to go right ahead and say: Starcraft II is amazing”It’s safe to go right ahead and say: Starcraft II is amazing. It is in every way what a game – designed to be played for years to come – should look and feel like, and will appeal to newcomers and fans alike regardless of any minor irritations (which are few in number). Starcraft II welcomes you in shortly after the climax of the original. Sarah Kerrigan, queen of the Zerg swarm and former lover of Jim Raynor has been defeated and is in hiding, rebuilding her vast armies. Raynor uses this precious gift of time to continue rebelling against the corruption within the Terran military, particularly, hunting the man who left Kerrigan to be infested. The Protoss prophet Zeratul has used his time to master the art of appearing randomly and bringing vague tidings of doom while his people continue to shoot menacing laser beams at anything that even remotely resembles a bug. With every race accounted for, we’re given direct control of Jim Raynor’s rebel army in Starcraft II’s first of a three part campaign, each featuring a different playable race. This does unfortunately mean we’ll have to persevere for however long Blizzard deems appropriate before we’re able to play as the other two races (excluding the small handful of Protoss missions tacked onto Raynor’s story).

The missions available to Raynor’s loyal crew are offered in a movable hub format, with each of the unique rooms aboard the rebel ship housing either unit upgrades, mercenary contracts, or missions to undertake, (with character interactions present in each) making exploring the ship just as vital and enjoyable as playing on the battlefield. When the time does come to choose between which missions to tackle first, the reward amount, research progress on the two other races (yielding new unit availabilities) and the employer you’ll be building a relationship with are all listed, giving even the smaller choices in the game some strategic levity.

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Once you’re down on the ground, mission types and objectives vary greatly, giving the campaign the spice it needs to stay challenging and engaging regardless of the difficulty you’ve chosen. Whether you need to build a base, defend a base, move through a map with a set number of units, collect units as you go, or outrun an extremely powerful enemy all depends on Blizzard’s sinister ploy to keep the player guessing, and they are very successful in doing so. Pursuing all of the campaign’s side-stories and upgrades makes the final showdown a whole lot easier, and achieving the 100% complete status isn’t too far off the beaten path, meaning that those of us who don’t have hours to dedicate to Raynor’s cause won’t lose out on the smaller perks, which was a nice touch. The campaign itself is lengthy but not daunting, and the storytelling will certainly be just as popular and renowned as its predecessor. My only gripes with the whole ordeal were the research upgrades that once chosen, could not be undone to experiment with door number two.

The online component of Starcraft II is where the real richness lies, however. That isn’t to say that the campaign is in any way lacking, but there’s simply nothing that compares to the excitement of pitting your skills against a living, breathing opponent. Be warned: most of the strategies and the leisure time you had doing the missions will be absent when playing online. Veteran players and those just being introduced to Starcraft’s vicious multiplayer learn hard and fast that speed and precision are your only friends on Blizzard’s online service. The ever-growing learning cap is thanks to the newly introduced ranking system: promoting players to more appropriate matches based on their skill level, and re-evaluating it’s placement decisions based on your losses and wins within a certain skill bracket. This keeps matches from getting too frustrating, and there are a bevy of fun and interesting strategies to take on and tinker with once you become comfortable with a race and your personal play style. Team games, custom games, ranked ladder matches and more await you. Like so many others that have fallen victim to its charm, once you start studying replay videos, honing your skills, and embracing the heart-pumping ride of playing one versus one match ups, you really wont need anything other than Starcraft to occupy your time – at least until Blizzard’s first expansion hits the virtual shelves.

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Depending on what kind of machine you have at your disposal, Starcraft II will either look fantastic, or breath taking. It’s not always prudent to focus heavily on the board that one’s pieces play on, but the Starcraft universe has traveled the gap from background pleasantries to stunningly crisp visuals. The battlegrounds (though mostly charred and ravaged) have a well-defined sense of clarity and space, leaving room for unit movement without sacrificing any of the impressively detailed landscapes. Unit models and portraits are equally as impressive, with unique attack animations, changes to models based on in-game upgrades, and in some cases, varying models for the same type of unit. Tag this to the personalized unit decals offered by Blizzard for rank progression, and each player has a large repertoire of customization options available to them for each and every match. In summary, Blizzard skipped none of the fixings when it came time to pay attention to detail, and to ensure that each unit and battleground felt characterized and unique.

Working alongside a terrific soundtrack, some very cool voice acting, and a custom map building tool, the parts of Starcraft II that make it an enjoyable and addictive ride leave little to be desired. If you’re looking to replace the original Starcraft: Brood War or Warcraft III: Frozen Throne with a modern take on Blizzard’s RTS engine, then look no further. The strategic angle will keep most players recycling their ideas to adapt to new challenges, the customization tools will appeal to the artsy types, and the skill required to pull off a solo victory will scare off the campers who are used to sniping people from the corner in their favorite shooter. There’s something for everyone here – fans and veterans need no convincing, and with a generally modest system requirements list, those of you asking yourself why you’ve never heard of Starcraft until now need to stop reading, and go buy the game.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2008.

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