The real question with Starcraft II however, is not how much spit and polish went into its armor, but how capable the machinery is underneath. The original Starcraft was a bar-setting game, carefully balancing three distinct sides in a no-holds barred battle for supremacy. Both the storyline and the gameplay were superb, but the real winning hand was a "spawn" ability, where one owner could "spawn" up to 7 multiplayer-only copies of the game on a network for some furious fun with friends. It didn't matter if your friends didn't own it, you could spawn a copy and let the war commence.
Starcraft was the reason Blizzard became the company it is today. Up until then, Blizzard had always taken second fiddle in the RTS market, but Starcraft pushed them too the top. Now, over a decade later, Blizzards crown jewel is back for another round with the first in a trilogy of sequels (that will make sense).
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty
Developer: Blizzard Studios
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Platform: PC (Reviewed)
Price on Amazon: $59.99
Similar Games: Starcraft, Warcraft III
Demo Available: Yes
Several years after the Brood Wars, the Koprulu sector is quiet. The distant and alien Protoss, their homeworld lost to the Zerg, have retreated to the Dark Templar world of Shakuras and have made little if any contact with humanity. Arcturus Mengsk, first Emperor of the Terran Dominion, commands dozens of worlds with an iron fist just as bad as the confederacy he worked to destroy. Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, ruler of the Zerg and arguably the dominant military force in the sector, has retreated to Char and has gone silent. And in a backwater bar on Mar Sara, an angry and betrayed rebel commander who once served both the Dominion and Arcturus Mengsk runs into an old friend...
If that sounds like a mouthful, that's because it is, yet it's barely scratching the surface. If you're new to the Starcraft world, a handy history video will catch the highlights for you while you install the game, but you'd best look up a plot wiki online for the first title, because like all Blizzard games, the lore runs deep.
Starcraft II is very much like its predecessor. The
standard RTS controls are here. Click to select units. Click to order units. Click to kill units. Click to build new--you get the idea. Blizzard has never been one to fix something that isn't broken, only add to it if we've tried it. Automatic abilities are also here, allowing you to trust some of your units to do the smart thing rather then stand around like lumps under combat. You're finally able to select as many units as you want (not just the ridiculous 12 at a time the last title saddled you with). Overall, the controls are solid, with only a few quibbles. The first is that Blizzard is stubborn as anything about putting the control console anywhere but the bottom of the screen, and it dominates a quarter of the entire monitor in this position. The viewing angle always has been super close in Blizzard games, and it feels chaffing that my massive 24" screen is almost a quarter consumed by an interface bar. The same bit of information would take up a lot less space on the side, but Blizzard will be Blizzard.
The camera often just feels too close to the action as well. I constantly find myself pulling my head back during big battles to see more of the action at once. I realize that the game looks pretty, but after being spoiled by games like Supreme Commander and Command and Conquer 3 where I can see my entire base on my huge monitor at once, I can't help but feel cramped when I play Starcraft II.
My final quibble is Blizzard refusing to learn from its competitors and staying with an outdated idea. In Starcraft, almost every unit has at least one hotkey ability. In the original game, each units hotkey was a different (and often unrelated) key. So while the burrow command may have been B, an explosion attack may be P for some reason. Starcraft II is...exactly the same. Just because other games have a set series of hotkeys for each ability means nothing to Blizzard, who would rather that you memorize different hotkeys for every unit in the game.
Gameplay in Singleplayer
Starcraft II's solo campaign is the main draw of the game for me. It's not just the beautiful cinematics, nor the epic story, nor the good music. No, the real gem of the single solitary campaign (Zerg and Protoss campaigns are coming as later expansions) is it's depth. The campaign is huge (29 missions) with character interactions, branching paths, and even a tech tree/upgrade system that allows you to customize your forces as you make your way through the campaign.
Then there are the missions themselves. These are no ordinary RTS missions. Oh no. Blizzard spent time making these and it shows. You'll use a giant laser to cut through a wall, balancing it between targeting enemy forces and mining out your objective. You'll mine minerals and combat foes in unstable lava fields were lava eradicates everything on the low ground at periodic intervals. You'll face advancing walls of flame, massive space stations, rob a moving train...this game goes all out. Trust me, that's the tip of the iceberg. Starcraft II's campaign is fun. If this is the level of polish we can expect from the Zerg and Protoss campaigns, I'm in!
Gameplay in Multiplayer
The multiplayer gameplay in Starcraft II is the most perfect example ever of what I said earlier about Blizzard: If its isn't broken, don't fix it. Only add to it if we've tried it. I'm not going to lie, Starcraft II's gameplay is almost identical to the original Starcraft, which to me came as a disappointment. There are a few new units and a few changed units, but overall the game itself is very similar. Crud, a mod team with a few months to spare could have turned the original Starcraft into this pretty easily. Outside of interface tweaks, a few new options, and the leveling of a few units to be more "rock-paper-scissors" there is very little difference between the two titles in units or play style.
This grates with me in another manner, because to be solidly honest the RTS genre has evolved quite a bit since the days of the first Starcraft. Where are new innovations such as armor facing? Where is the concept of cover? The only new idea in Starcraft II is the one Blizzard has brought along, forested areas that block line of sight. Outside of that, Starcraft II shows very little of the evolution many other RTS games have made over the years, and in many ways feels old.
With it come all of the old styles of play, although thankfully hackers aren't among them. Blizzards always on DRM is annoying, but at least it keeps the hackers off of your back and keeps your save backed up.
Graphics and Sound
Blizzard, plain and simple,. just know how to make a game pretty. Starcraft II looks great, from the wandering the ship moments between missions, to the cutscenes to the game itself, every single pixel looks like its been hand polished to a gleaming shine. Movement is fluid, the colors are bright and vibrant (no brown abundance) and the lighting is great!
With one exception. Blizzard still seems to have a few bugs to work out with their lighting code. While most of the time the game worked great, when it first launched the between mission portions were plagued with lighting issues that slowed the game to a crawl, prompting the game to constantly remind me to lower my settings. The rest of the game ran great, but certain scenes with lots of lighting seem to, with certain cards, have a lot of problems. Blizzards patches seem to have mostly fixed this, but it still occurs in some scenes, and with the advent of their latest patch I've actually had the game crash completely, again due to a graphics issue. My verdict? They'll fix it eventually, no sense missing out.
The sound is fairly solid, particularly the Terran themes, which pretty much scream "Cowboys in SPAAAACE!" There's a large helping of classic rock tunes as well as some new "Starcraft inspired" tunes like "A Zerg, A Shotgun and You" that you'll hear purely as a bonus. Content is not for lacking here.
YES. You'll like it.
Starcraft II is a worthy successor and a highly polished game, even if it barely attempts to reach further then its predecessor. The campaign is incredible (and the best part), the multiplayer is fierce, and its rare to see a more balanced RTS hit the market.
- Great Campaign from start to finish
- Almost perfect balance
- Some nice modern changes to the classic Starcraft experience.
- Too little evolution makes it feel as if it were from 10 years ago
- Graphical glitches with some cards
- Buying it does, unfortunately, support Kotick and his toadies