It’s been a long time coming.StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is here, and in similar fashion, my review of it has finally arrived. It’s tough to completely take in just everything Wings of Liberty offers in a day or a week, and treated as such, we have a review that has been almost a month in the making.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is easily one of the most anticipated sequels of our generation. StarCraft's appeal has spanned over an entire decade since its release in March 1998 and went on to become one of the highest grossing PC games of all-time. South Koreans practically put the game's box art on their flag, holding annual competitions for professional players sponsored like athletes. Will the sequel live up to the hype?
This, that, and the single-player
Pulling my loyalty away from Warcraft III and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne would be like some movie coming along not named Predator and winning my affection as the greatest action movie ever filmed. Having now had a chance to entrench myself in Wings of Liberty, I can easily say that the single-player campaign is epic like only Blizzard knows how to make, with a stellar plot and stunning cutscenes leading way into my greatest real-time strategy experience of all-time.
Players unfamiliar with the StarCraft story won't be left in the dark, as it manages to call back upon previous events throughout the course of the original title. The long and the short of this space opera is that there are three races vying for survival: the Terrans, human exiles from Earth with massive firepower; the Protoss, a species with surgical psionic powers and stunning technological capabilities; and the Zerg, a race of insectoid aliens capable of breeding massive swarms that have been consuming entire planets and are feared to take over life as you know it.
Players assume the role of the Terrans, lead by series antagonist Jim Raynor, who now heads a group dubbed Raynor’s Raiders. Your role is essentially that of mercenary, a hired hand to complete missions for cash. Also essential to furthering the development of your organization are Zerg and Protoss research points, which players gain by completing bonus objectives during campaign missions. The cash and points can later be used to upgrade your firepower and defenses, as well as research new units and structures.
The storyline is completely non-linear and presents itself as a series of individually selectable missions, some of which are made available to you depending upon which pathes you choose to embark on at branching scenarios as the story unfolds. This style makes it perfect for players short on attention spans or time, allowing for a convenient drop in, drop out style of play.
Mid-mission point-and-click style settings pay homage to action titles of old, allowing players to interact with characters and items in the environments to learn more about the cause at hand. These interludes are broken into four aptly named locations each with their own unique purposes: the Armory, the Bridge, the Cantina, and Laboratory.
Instead of strapping players in for a ride of cutscenes sandwiched between long-winded missions, the interactivity makes you to feel like you're truly the brain's behind the operation, allowing you to take in everything on your own at the pace you see fit. You never feel too committed to the title because missions aren't hours long, and as a player, are left with a very distinct feel due to this approach, wholly relatable to of that Raynor's mercenary mentality.True Life: I'm Addicted to StarCraft Multiplayer
I’d say a good 75% of the people who install this game will forget that the single-player campaign even exists once they’ve played their first 4v4. I will also go so far as to say that about 90% of the people playing it will say type "$#@%" in their first 10 minutes. You can safely assume what that says when roughly translated from the chat sensor.
Wing's of Liberty's multiplayer is an entirely separate and removed entity from what you will grow accustomed to from playing the campaign. You will essentially have to unlearn most of what you've been taught throughout the course of the single-player missions, with units and structures having completely different purposes and abilities. Gamer’s familiar with the original may also feel disoriented with the inclusion of new units and removal of others to help improve balancing issues.
Regardless of my forewarning, it may initially seem daunting, but it is an infinitely satisfying task to master one race, let alone all three. They each have their pros and cons and are each beneficial to multiple strategies. The Zerg are the perfect rush race, where as I've found the Protoss to be the most beneficial with defense and air. I'm torn with the general purpose of the Terran, who I have always mixed between ground and air. It seems to be a well-rounded strategy to complement a well-rounded race.
Amassing armies of 50+ and sending them to their slaughter against odds of hundreds more, I was truly amazed at just how streamlined unit control was and how smooth battles transpired. No matter how massive an army you’re throwing into the meat grinder, there were little to no problems with unit collisions or blockages and I have yet to experience slowdown due to the incredible number of on-screen units.
Communication is essential to any battle and the game now supports voice chat, a welcome addition to fingers often too busy hitting hotkeys to type in enemy whereabouts.
The one tall order with multiplayer is finding teammates that aren’t drowing in the gene pool. I usually can't play more than a game or two before I get fed up with humanity and close the client. One weak link in the chain breaks all hope of adding another notch on your belt, a belt I often at times would rather take off and strangle my teammates with. You will witness some stupid people doing stupid things, so it is best to only play with your friends or party up with your teammates after the rare occasion you find some that actually have a pulse.
Frustrations aside, multiplayer is as simple to learn as chess, but I don't need Bobby Fisher to tell you it can and will take years to master. That is unless you are South Korean, of which there is a lobe of your brain reserved for 1v1s. It’s an incredibly exciting experience playing on Battle.net—spare me your stupid mom jokes—because it’s essentially never the same game twice. I am left with a sense of accomplishment win or lose, walking away like I have just played a board game instead of shooting terrorists mindlessly in the face, a feeling I haven't gained from a game in a long, long time.Problems and concerns
Many of the initial complaints regarding StarCraft 2 were in response to the lack of access to a full Zerg or Protoss campaign bundled into the game, which isn't necessarily true without giving away any spoilers. With 29 story missions—which Blizzard stated has taken players anywhere between 15-25 hours to complete—9 challenge levels, over an hour of cutscenes, 50+ multiplayer maps, a map editor, and what is sure to be a community working feverishly on expanding the custom offerings, anyone left wanting more for their $60 is a selfish mongoloid setting back an incredibly diverse, profound experience with their whining.
Already slated for future releases are the Zerg add-on Heart of the Swarm and the Protoss add-on Legacy of the Void. It could potentially be argued that Blizzard is merely trying to cash in on the StarCraft name and spread its sequel's worth out over a longterm time period, but how could that argument be defended after such a complete package has been presented to the consumer? They have an extensive track record of rewarding their loyal fans with with add-ons rivaling full releases, so we're in good hands. Blizzard ultimately cares about its production values, and in the end, would rather give each race the individual care and cinematic quality they deserve.
The louder outcry was in regards to Blizzard removing LAN support from a game whose popularity had been built upon networked competitions. This was at a time when the internet was far from its prime, however, but it does take away a little mystique to a title raised fathered by Ethernet. Albeit with the prevalence of high-speed internet and my consequent access to it, this was far from a concern of mine.
In LAN’s absence, a vastly revamped Blizzard.net service has been implemented, which was unveiled in conjunction with StarCraft 2’s release. Users are now matched with players of comparable skill levels, as a new competitive ladder system maintains your rank amongst the community. If you ask me, this is what's more important.
There’s a reason StarCraft's appeal spanned over a decade and why StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty will span a decade more. The game is masterful beyond its years, standing a testament to Blizzard’s consistent and overwhelming excellence in the execution of all of their titles, a feat that would leave Bret Hart proud.
The single-player is as grandiose, compelling, and fulfilling a story as one could ever come to hope for being a hesitant consumer dishing out $60 for a dying breed of worthy and redeemable PC/Mac titles. Wings of Libertyis the gaming equivalent of a Christopher Nolan film, with superb voice acting, a tremendous score, and a story that somehow manages to rival the title’s production value melding together to create an all encompassing aesthetic that is not only bar-raising, but breathtaking.
The multiplayer, albeit viciously unrelenting for the casual, unsuspecting gamer, is an ultimately rewarding experience. The dynamic of the three races and the problems certain maps pose for expansion and attacks make for an infinitely diverse battlefield and a war that you will be waging for years (and decades) to come.
For those of you assuming I’m just a biased StarCraft fan and that this praise is opinionated at best should take note that I never even touched the original. Back in 1998, I was too busy oogling at Half-Life and Fallout 2 to even realize StarCraft existed. I was skeptical myself about this game and all it had to offer to a person who commonly doesn't enjoy science fiction. Then, after winning my first hour and a half battle, volleying back and forth for mineral contention as the tides of battle shifted in my favor, and leaving the game with a smile on my face, I had found my answer.