StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
When the original StarCraft came out in March of 1999, it had already suffered months of criticism for being ‘WarCraft in space’ and lacking 3D terrains and units like Total Annihilation had introduced less than a year before. The early reviews were not terrible but they were not as high as Blizzard games usually scored either. There you had it, Blizzard released its first 8/10 game ever. It wasn’t until a few months later, when the Brood War expansion went retail and the original had already become a worldwide bestseller and a favorite of the general public that many of the big gaming magazines saw the error of their ways. StarCraft had a cheesy story but excelled in balance, gameplay and multiplayer.
Now, 12 years and 11 million copies sold later, Blizzard was once again being criticized on their next installment in the series before it even hit the shelves. The critics now have it much more easy to spew their acid remarks on the quite anonymous internet and you read things like ‘It’s StarCraft I with updated graphics’, ‘The updated graphics suck’, ‘The campaign mode is just an appetizer to keep the millions of Korean fans happy’, ‘Splitting the campaign up in three parts is just to make more money’, ‘There isn’t enough content’. The list goes on and is usually closed with ‘Where is my LAN play?’. Luckily Fragland is here to give you an honest and only slightly biased opinion.
Before you read on, it is only fair to warm you people that I have been an avid fan of StarCraft since day one and I played it for years after the release. To me this is not a bad thing as a reviewer because I installed the game with high expectations combined with a large dose of skepticism. Those of you who don’t know the original story, pay some attention during that installation because in five minutes, you get up to speed with the StarCraft story.
This brings us to complaint number one. The story of StarCraft 2 is superficial and cheesy. I’ll grant that one to the haters. The story itself isn’t what you might call a narrative gem, far from even. You are Jim Raynor and once upon a time, you were the savior of humanity together with Arcturus Mengsk. When Mengsk, who later became emperor, left your girlfriend Kerrigan to die on a Zerg infested planet, you broke all ties with him. After defeating the Zerg, with a mutated Kerrigan at the head of their army, Jim retreats to the outer rims of the planets controlled by the Dominion forces of emperor Mengsk. Now, many years later, the Zerg are back. Your friend Tychus Findlay is released from prison and together you embark on a journey to battle both the Zerg and the corrupted forces of your arch enemy Mengsk. Oh yeah, there are still some Protoss energy aliens around too and all of the factions seem quite keen on ancient artefacts.
Ok it isn’t a Da Vinci Code or Hitchcock plot, but has Blizzard — or most other companies for that matter –, ever really released a game with a deep plot and driven character development? At best, there have been five to ten titles around in the past decade that are worth mentioning. Instead the story is kept simple and easy so players can relate much easier to the base emotions like love, hate, anger and heartache. It never really bothered me and this is one of the few games where I never skipped dialogues that I hadn’t heard before. The only thing that is upsetting here is the fact that the story isn’t told in CGI movies or narrated pieces. Instead, you get these in-game engine conversations of thirty seconds tops that feel quite bland three quarters of the times. Ok, the animations are incredibly impressive for an RTS engine but something feels off. If I wanted to point and click to experience a story, I would go play some more Monkey Island.
On to a second point of criticism where Blizzard is accused of just making a rehashed and updated money cow to milk. Now, why on earth would you drastically change a formula of a game that you haven’t touched in a decade yet it still sells copies even when pirated ones can get online too. The multiplayer section of the original was already near perfect and was and is one of the best balanced RTS games of all time. Blizzard built on that foundation to make a multiplayer game that is even more accessible so it would appeal to all kinds of gamers, not only the pros.
As for the campaign, just play through the original again and then play the Wing of Liberty campaign. You will be amazed at how different they are. While the original was a story-driven linear campaign with a lot of base building, the new and refreshed one is a bit less linear and there are many different types of missions. There are only a number of different ways to play an RTS mission and I think all of them got incorporated. This goes from base building over escorting and defending to retrieving, and missions where your base is being built for you. It has been a while since I finished a singleplayer campaign but I never thought of quitting this one. Ok the Command & Conquer series usually have a better story but I’d take my dose of StarCraft any day.
It is correct that the game looks a lot like the old one but saying that the updated graphics are already aged and surpassed by other games is just wrong. Any strategy game that has a predecessor looks alike and Wings of Liberty looks like the super hot young niece of that forty-year-old MILF we all know. She kind of looks the same but you still want to bang the younger version if opportunity presents itself. The level of detail in this engine is insane and the design and art style are done in such a fashion that their appeal will last for a decade. Knowing how long Blizzard supports its games, people are still going to be playing the game in 2025.
The same thing goes for the music and sound effects. Everything is really familiar but the recycled sounds are now available in 5.1 surround and the new ones are quite good. The music is of the epic genre mixed with some country from the jukebox. The only point of criticism here is the voice acting. Some voices are quite irritating and seem to have been done by lesser voice actors but luckily, the main characters all sound great.
Is there enough material to defend spreading the release into three different episodes? Well, naturally, I haven’t played the other two episodes yet but this one does not taste like a light version of what you’d expect. There is plenty to do and to experience and if you are an achievement whore, you will even add a few dozen hours of gameplay to the experience.
Before I fully direct my attention to the multiplayer there are still a few things to say about the campaign. When I said that it was not as linear as the one of its predecessor that doesn’t mean you get an insane amount of freedom or a morality system like you find in some modern RPG’s. Your troops’ morale is not influenced by your decisions so they will always fight as hard as ever. You also still need to follow missions, only the side missions are optional. What does it mean then? Well, Blizzard made three choices.
First, you can choose the order of some missions. Usually there are two or three missions available and you choose the one you want. Then, after completing a mission, you get cash that you can use to upgrade everything in the game or hire mercenaries. During those missions, there are also Zerg and Protoss research points to be found on the map. These can be used in the lab for another kind of research on either the Protoss or the Zerg tree. Here you need to make a permanent choice between two options every time you get a certain amount of points. Choose the one that best fits your playing style. A third thing implemented is some story choices linked to a missions that actually come down to ‘who do you back up’. They mostly influence the side stories or what kind of comparable unit you will unlock.
We already did a hands-on preview of the multiplayer beta, I myself played it from day one, and I can guarantee that anyone who likes RTS games will have a blast with this. Simply put, StarCraft 2: WoL delivers so many awesome and tense matches that this option on itself already validates the game as a must-buy.
And when you spend your money on this game, you actually get two games because the multiplayer division at Blizzard made a game that feels a lot different to the one reviewed above. Obviously, you also get to play Zerg and Protoss so there is that. But don’t expect to be ready to own some opponents with Terran once you finished the campaign because you might just be missing your favorite unit. No more Firebats or Vultures, gone are the Wraiths and bunker turrets.
All of this cutting of units is done to balance the game and they succeeded very well. None of the races feel overpowered or are a guaranteed win on certain maps. But because all the races are so different you are likely to encounter situations where your opponent will have the advantage jut because of his race. The key to success is getting to know the maps. Then figure out what to avoid against all races on those maps.
Add the fact that Blizzard still supports the original StarCraft, the great tools for custom maps and mods and combine this with a huge community and you have yourself a winner in the multiplayer department. Seriously, this could be the next big e-sports game so get practicing if you want to make some money. A big point of criticism is the lack of LAN play so if you want to play against your friends you need an internet connection and a copy for each player.
So what is the verdict on the game then? Well, Blizzard improved a near perfect game on almost all fronts and in my eyes delivered something that is a lot more than just a quick refresh to make loads of cash on the back of us poor gamers. Granted, the story is quite cheesy at times but that’s the way I prefer most of my Sci-Fi stories. It kept me entertained enough between sessions of Zerg ass-kicking. Besides, the opponents are so easy to dislike you get into the story anyway. In addition, about every mission is just great to play with the exception of one or two that got a bit of a drag.
And even if you don’t like the campaign, the multiplayer part of Wings of Liberty is so addictive, diverse and awesome that it grants this game the right of existence amongst the best of games regardless of what else they ship with it in the box. I would still tell all of you to buy the game if there was no campaign and it came wrapped in a dead cat.