Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty Review

by Gamer
8 minutes read

Starcraft is back and it’s as better as it was ten years. It’s a fun, technically solid game with great music and solid visuals. There’s a decent 20 hours of solid gameplay in the single-player alone – pretty much all of it enjoyable – and there’s probably enough hours of fun in the multiplayer to last you, oh, let’s say 12 years.

There are two ways of looking at the story of Starcraft 2. A minority will ignore it wholesale, focusing on the multiplayer matches and on getting as good as possible on a tactical level. Another minority will only actually play the new real time strategy title in order to get to the cutscenes and to the character development, in order to see how Jim Raynor deals with his demons and whether the Queen of Blades, formerly the red haired Terran Ghost Sarah Kerrigan, still has any humanity left deep inside her soul. The first game managed to create some strong characters even if it painted with a very broad brush and a lot of people still care and want answers. Most gamers will take the story as it is, marveling at the way Blizzard managed to get various interesting elements from a variety of sources and welt them together in a coherent universe.

As the game starts Jim Raynor is still fighting the Terran Dominion when an old friend show up and the Zerg start coming out of their holes and assault settlements. The main forces of the Terrans pull back to the core worlds as, like in the first game, only militia and rebels are left to fight the rapidly evolving aliens. Zeratul makes a quick appearance and sets up a plot which, in predictable manner, will only be fully explained once Heart of the Swarm, the game built around the Zerg, and the Protoss narrative are launched, presumably in about two years. The feeling one gets is that something is missing, even if the single player is as long as it was in the original and the universe and supporting cast are better developed.

In some ways the gameplay of Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty is as old school as possible. If you own Starcraft 1, it will all be very, very familiar. The rules haven’t changed, and many of the units haven’t really changed either. There are resources, two of them as in the original, that need to be gathered with the classic MCV units. There are buildings that need to be erected in order to get production capabilities, support military population and research upgrades for the units. There are military units, each with advantages and clear witnesses, that need to be assembled into a coherent force in order to defeat Protoss and Zerg forces. There are support troops that can enhance the abilities of the strike forces. Superior, balanced firepower has a tendency of winning the day. There are few surprises here and anyone who played a strategy title in the last ten years probably has an good idea what to do with Starcraft 2 from the minute the game is launched.

The three core races play very similarly to their original counterparts, with many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Each race has had some core weakness shored up – the Terrans have more viable early-game strength, the Zerg have been given some late-game surprise-you’re-boned tools and early game resilience, and the Protoss have been given a bit more mobility. In practice, though, they all have roughly the same strengths and weaknesses as they did before: Terrans are awesome at range, but get on top of them, and they fold quickly; Zerg trade quantity for quality; Protoss trade quality for quantitiy. None of this has really changed, and after you’ve adjusted to the new unit balances, the game will feel eerily familiar.

Blizzard throws in some twists but they are mostly on the periphery of the experience. The hub area of the Hyperion battlecruiser, looking much better than it did in the original game, contains four areas that have characters the player can talk to, objects that have a small backstory and two new ways to research upgrades for the forces the player controls. In the Armory area a Scottish sounding engineer who could just as well be named Scotty or be a dwarf allows the player to use money gained from missions to buy new abilities for both units and buildings, enabling a small amount of customization of a force that makes each campaign play through more unique to the player. In the Laboratory area research points obtained during missions for either the Protoss and the Zerg allow more powerful upgrades to be applied. It creates a rather weird situation where the way the Terrans developed is handled in three different areas of the game requiring changing quite a few screens to get everything done.

In addition to research and story related talk the various Hyperion areas allow the player to hire mercenaries, which are slightly upgraded forces that can be called down once a timer runs down, and to see his results in previous missions and even replay them. It’s all pretty and engaging but it does not alter the experience of playing the real time strategy element of Starcraft II, where quite a few missions are pretty much remakes of missions from the original game with small twists thrown in.

The single player element is complement by a Challenges system, with Blizzard saying that it is designed to prepare those who are focused on the single player missions for the way other gamer play online. The good things about the system is that it allows players to experience all the three sides and that it teaches them to think fast, adapt their strategy and micro manage their forces in the heat of battle. It’s unlikely that the Challenges will turn a single player focused gamer into a multiplayer fanatic but their inclusion, complete with achievements and replayability element, means that there’s more to enjoy in the single player section of Starcraft 2 than he narrative.

Starcraft 2 looks good but some players might be disappointed by how the perspectives work. The colors are impressive, bright and powerful even on the most desolate of planets. Even the Zerg units look like there are fun to create and use, despite their obvious evil nature. The game needs quite a bit of power to run everything on the highest settings but there’s definite beauty in the Starcraft II.

Blizzard is also very careful with the handling of details. The Terrans might be a bit too macho for some but every unit portrait is beautifully created and animated, every movement is fluid and natural. The designs of the buildings are pretty similar to those in the original strategy title but there are flourishes and add ons that really feel like a coherent universe.

One problem is the size of the user interface. It’s much too big for modern games, obscuring too much of the map, especially the areas to the center and the right that show the possible orders and the unit name and characteristics. The level of zoom is also a bit weird. I understand that Blizzard wants to keep the player close to action and so limits the level of outward zoom but I would have expected to be able to go lower, closer to the troops to see how Zerg and Protoss fall under the mighty weapons of the Terrans.

The music is, with the exception of the credit sequence music, very good. The music for the Terrans has always been my favorite – a wandering mix of musical genres, going from rock to country to mild bluegrass influences to orchestral and then back around, somehow always smooth and natural. It’s a great soundtrack to mine and massacre to, especially between the fights themselves.

The multiplayer is basically what was available during phase 2 of the beta test and is a fairly balanced initial offering. It should have something for everyone ranging from 1v1 ladder play all the way to comp stomps and custom games. It remains to be seen if the meta-game will continue to evolve in a major way prior to the expansions, but I’m hopeful that new maps and more players will lead to some interesting builds and strategies in the short-term.

While the game itself is incredibly polished, both on and offline, 2.0 is still very much a work-in-progress. There are some issues that remain–lack of chat rooms, custom map publishing limitations–but Blizzard is hopefully working to solve these in due time.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty isn’t perfect, but it’s damn close. The campaign is engrossing and varied, while the multiplayer component will be played for years to come. The upcoming expansions will help refresh the game when they are finally released and should bring major changes to the competitive scene. 2.0 stands out as the game’s low-point, but should only annoy the die-hards. For most players, it functions well enough and allows them to get in and play some games. And as their track record shows, Blizzard tends to support its games for an extremely long time.

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