Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty
Starcraft: almost anyone who has ever touched a real-time strategy game knows exactly what series Iím talking about. Arguably Blizzardís 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 todayís competitive strategic players. Enthusiasts from all over the world still, to this day, dedicate hours of practice to honing their Ďclicks per secondí 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 Ė a product of compelling storytelling, ever evolving tactics, and infuriatingly challenging gameplay at higher levels. Itís 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.
“Itís safe to go right ahead and say: Starcraft II is amazing”Itís 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, weíre given direct control of Jim Raynorís rebel army in Starcraft IIís first of a three part campaign, each featuring a different playable race. This does unfortunately mean weíll have to persevere for however long Blizzard deems appropriate before weíre able to play as the other two races (excluding the small handful of Protoss missions tacked onto Raynorís story).
The missions available to Raynorís 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 youíll be building a relationship with are all listed, giving even the smaller choices in the game some strategic levity.
Once youíre 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 youíve 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 Blizzardís sinister ploy to keep the player guessing, and they are very successful in doing so. Pursuing all of the campaignís side-stories and upgrades makes the final showdown a whole lot easier, and achieving the 100% complete status isnít too far off the beaten path, meaning that those of us who donít have hours to dedicate to Raynorís cause wonít 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 isnít to say that the campaign is in any way lacking, but thereís 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 Starcraftís vicious multiplayer learn hard and fast that speed and precision are your only friends on Blizzardís 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 itís 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 Blizzardís first expansion hits the virtual shelves.
Depending on what kind of machine you have at your disposal, Starcraft II will either look fantastic, or breath taking. Itís not always prudent to focus heavily on the board that oneís 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 youíre looking to replace the original Starcraft: Brood War or Warcraft III: Frozen Throne with a modern take on Blizzardís 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. Thereís something for everyone here - fans and veterans need no convincing, and with a generally modest system requirements list, those of you asking yourself why youíve never heard of Starcraft until now need to stop reading, and go buy the game.
Nine out of ten
- Interesting campaign with plenty of easter eggs
- Endlessly evolving online component
- Modest system requirements
- Campaign focuses on one of three races only