Very few times will I ever get to write a review about a game that was so fundamental in turning me into a gamer, but here we are, twelve years after the release of Starcraft and we are just now are getting our hands on the sequel. For this review I knew I had to hold this game to higher standard of quality than almost every other game I have reviewed because this is the sequel to one of the greatest games ever made. To not look it over with a fine-tooth comb would be doing the reader a vast and unforgivable injustice. OK maybe it’s not THAT big of a deal but you get the point.
First up let me just point out that this is Starcraft, Blizzard has not reworked what made the series great, instead they’ve built upon it, combining new features with a lot of creativity and originality. So if you’re coming off years of Company of Heroes and Dawn of War this isn’t your new fix and frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way. Starcraft is a resource and base building RTS, to turn it into a squad based RTS would have killed the Starcraft soul, so no, I don’t consider the lack of cover or formations a negative; if I wanted that in my Starcraft I would play Dawn of War and call it Starcraft.
Now when I finally started playing the game I went straight to the story mode, I was one of the few people who still knew and cared what happened in Starcraft, I still get teary eyed when I think that Fenix was killed, TWICE! The story is told through a combination of in mission chatter, in-engine cut scenes, full out cinematics, and of course the between mission point and click content. While I fully enjoyed the storyline, some of the dialog was a little on the weak side but this isn’t to say that it detracted from the overall presentation of the plot, it merely irritated me a few times throughout my adventure. The cinematics are just incredible as they always are with Blizzard games, and I was rather impressed with both the scope and level of quality of the in-engine cut scenes.
The most interesting addition to the single player is the in-between mission content. It’s here as you move about your ship, the Hyperion that you can interact with other major characters and learn about how your actions are affecting the rest of the galaxy through humorous news reports. It’s also on the ship where you are able to do research unlocking new abilities for your missions and upgrading your current units. It’s a rather effective way to tell plot points and get to know the other characters on a more intimate level. The whole thing feels like the diet version of the Mass Effect conversation system. For an RTS that is renowned for its multiplayer and not its story, this is a huge plus in its favor.
As I stated above you can upgrade and research new abilities and units as you see fit on your ship, it’s a part of the more open ended style in which the single player is handled. You choose which missions you want to do in which order, which can have a direct influence on what units are unlocked and in some cases you must choose between two different characters. This is without mentioning the cornucopia of optional side quests available in every mission.
This leads me to the actual missions and story, without giving too much away, a few years have passed since the end of The Brood War, Kerrigan has been chilling on the Zerg home planet of Charr, Zeratul’s been doing some searching in other galaxies, and Jim Raynor has been trying to take down the current evil government. The story follows Jim as he tries to make a real push against The Dominion, (the evil government) this means in addition to take attacking the them he needs to take jobs to gather money to build his army.
The mission variety is easily one of Starcraft 2’s strongest qualities, no mission is a simple build a base and kill the enemy, they range from stopping high valued trains, to out running a wall of fire, to sneaking through a high level facility with a single unit. Every mission lets you see and play with the strengths of a different unit as well as learn how to play an RTS on a more complex level.
It’s this variety and level of openness with your choices in units and characters that will have you itching to replay the whole thing as soon as you finish the game the first time.
Before I move onto the new and improved Battle.Net and the multiplayer I would be a fool not to mention the challenges, these are mini missions that are tailor made to help newer players learn and master the many dynamics of competitive multiplayer. This is a huge boon to anyone who wants to harness their skills and win more games than they lose.
Multiplayer is probably the biggest part of the game that has stuck to its roots, but it’s for the best. That’s not to say that things haven’t be added, a host of new units and improved gameplay mechanics such as better pathing and resource gathering have taken the frustration away from the more archaic UI of the first game. Unlike Warcraft 3 that focused on hero units, Starcraft 2 instead brings the different spells and abilities to almost every unit. Your positioning is now extremely important, a unit or group of units placed in a higher position will do more damage and a number of units can now traverse these new heights, like the stalker with the blink ability or the human reaper with their jet pack. This new environmental aspect adds a new dynamic when entering a fight or committing a rush since you have to consider every angle.
The new and improved Battle.Net is the other major highlight of Starcraft 2’s release. Its fresher design and host of social networking and community features allows you and friends to keep up to date with each other’s conquests. Your profile will also contain a huge amount statistical data for every match, including win to loss ratio, your build order with times to the second and detailed point spreads for every aspect of the game. There are also a plethora of achievements that- inspire you to try a host of mini goals throughout your Starcraft career as well as a gallery of portraits to unlock as you rack up the wins.
Even with all that there is still more to mention, the matchmaking system is both effective at keeping games fair while also being rather addicting. After you complete your five placement matches you are placed in a league, currently there are six leagues in all, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, and Pro. You will find yourself compelled to keep playing just one more match as you slowly rise through the ranks of a league in the hopes of making it to the next one up.
Custom games are a little hit and miss right now, the map editor is an amazing piece of software and in the years to come I am sure we’ll see some amazing things come from it, but I am not a huge fan of how expansive the list is. When playing Warcraft 3 you only see the games currently waiting for players, in Starcraft 2 there are always games being hosted which makes looking for new custom games a bit of a pain.
I am also disappointed by the utter lack of clan support, Battle Net has had it for so long and now to not have it and chat rooms makes the community seem a little more separated which seems to conflict with that they were aiming for.
I am however completely enthralled with the game, I have been waiting a lifetime for this title and after burning through the single player last week I am just about to reach the Platinum league. The best way I can sum up this entire review is to say this, if you have a somewhat decent PC or Mac, buy it, if you don’t, get a computer that can play it, and if your waiting for a motion controller version of this on the consoles, well your head is in the clouds so keep dreaming.
Review copy provided by publisher.