StarCraft 2 Second Opinion GamingSurvival Review
By - Tom M.
After over a decade of waiting, Blizzard has finally given us the sequel to Starcraft - perhaps the most popular RTS of all time. In classic Blizzard fashion, they took as much time as they wanted in crafting this game, and the polish definitely shows. They've expanded every facet of the game, and modernized the franchise the world fell in love with.
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty has its story completely focused on the Terran side of the ongoing conflict. While there was controversy regarding the decision to split the tale into a trilogy, I think it was the right decision. Dedicating a full game's worth of missions for each race (in this case the Terrans) has allowed Blizzard to give each story proper justice. A major issue I had with the original Starcraft was the speed in which characters were introduced and/or removed. Major characters aside, there wasn't enough time to form any proper emotional attachment. Blizzard has incorporated lessons learned from Warcraft III and even Mass Effect to remedy this.
The biggest improvement on exposition is you're free to move about 4 major sections in the Hyperion - the battle cruiser that protagonist Jim Raynor commandeered from Arcturus Mengsk, the tyrannical leader of the Terran Dominion. This allows you to interact more closely with characters that join your cause as the story progresses. As you complete missions, you can choose to chat and get their take on what just unfolded. More often than not, it gives you insight into their motivations for joining you and ultimately rounds what could have been very flat characters. There are also moments where you must make a one-time choice on which character to side with, and these moments would ultimately be trivial without the strengthening of character development.
A significant change from the original Starcraft is that mission structure is no longer linear. You can choose from a handful of missions at any given time, so you can tackle them in an order you see fit. As mentioned earlier, there are moments when you must make vital choices on characters to side with. This too affects your potential mission structure, as you can't play all 26 in a single playthrough. Blizzard has done a fantastic job in making single-player feel fresh. While most missions boil down to killing the opposing side in some fashion, it's exciting enough to make you almost forget you're playing an RTS. For example, one mission's goal is to mine a certain amount of resources while avoiding lava flows, and if you're up to the challenge, a bonus goal to kill a massive beast. Each mission also has its share of achievements a la Steam or Xbox Live, so those wanting to get 100% on this game will be busy for a long while.
RPG elements have been added into the single player as well. On the completion of a mission, you earn cold hard cash as well as Zerg/Protoss research points. The former is used to either hire mercenaries (in the form of extremely powerful units you can summon in), or upgrades to your existing army such as a faster Medic heal or Firebat damage increase. The latter is used to for other unique perks, such as gun-mounted Turrets or permanent damage increase for ground units. The upgrades you choose will ultimately form the way in which you choose to tackle missions. It gives each player the opportunity to utilize their unique preference of destruction.
While Blizzard clearly spent an extraordinary amount of time nailing the single player experience, they did not falter in delivering one of the most solid online experiences yet. With the launch of Battle.net 2.0, Blizzard has fundamentally changed how their online games will function. Your name is permanently tied to your copy of Starcraft 2, similar to Steam. This means players stats will be very persistent as they can't run off to make another user name with clean stats. In turn, this helps create accurate match-making which means you won't be "smurfed" nearly as often. Also new is a party chat function, which is a must have these days. The matchmaking system used isn't much different from what was used in WC III, which isn't to say it's bad. On the contrary, I loved how ladders are divided into arranged and random teams. Not only that, it shows your overall record in each mode, along with your pre-arranged teams record. For those wishing to play on a competitive level, these sorts of discrepancies are god-sends. In terms of performance, I've come across almost zero lag and no dropped games. After some of the spotty conditions from the beta, I'm glad to see they've ironed out the kinks. You'd be hard pressed to find a more solid system than what Blizzard has delivered. My only true complaint is the removal of chat rooms, but they have promised to bring them back. However, I can't review a promise.
A common complaint levied against the game is that it wasn't different enough from SC1 - that it was the same game but with a shiny new coat. A reductive argument like that hardly warrants debate, but I'll do my best to describe the silliness of it. A good analogy to make is that SC2 is to SC1, as Street Fighter 4 is to Street Fighter 2. On the surface, they play very similarly. However as you start to dig into the nuances of each game, you come to realize how significant a minor change affects the game. Viable strategies from SC1 will simply no longer work, not to mention most of the units are completely different or changed so radically they serve a different purpose. Once you reach this level of understanding, the design of the game comes clear. Blizzard could not simply radically change how the game operates - it would cease to be StarCraft at that point (not to mention the absurdly huge fan-base expects a certain feel of play). What they did was completely change the battlefield. New units means new strategies which means everything in the meta-game changes. Build orders change, unit counters change, battle formations change, etc. If you did not spend a significant amount of time with SC1, it's hard to appreciate the vast amount of change and subsequent rebalance.
Blizzard has also expanded on streamlining the interface and control tweaks to the game. The ability to have more than 12 units in a control group is so unbelievably welcome, as your armies will frequently reach beyond that point. They've also added what is called "shift-clicking" (hold shift+right click) which adds another layer of control options. It comes into play more than what can be named here, but the best example is that you can queue up to 6 commands on a unit. Imagine the time you can save by telling a worker to queue up 6 buildings! It seems minor but by streamlining the macro level of the game, it lets you focus on the micro during heated battles.
For those not familiar with how StarCraft is played, you might find yourself overwhelmed and getting completely trashed online. Blizzard wisely added a challenge mode for those still learning the ropes. Without being very overt that it's essentially a giant tutorial, it tasks you to complete goals such as preventing a zerg rush within 10 minutes or so. What this does is give you the necessary practice in common scenarios you'll encounter online. If you complete the entire mode, you'll have a good set of tools at your disposal to use online. And trust me, it is very necessary!
Blizzard has yet again outdone themselves - StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty lives up to its predecessor in every way. The single-player was overhauled from top to bottom, bringing in much needed dynamism and greatly improved story-telling. The multiplayer sets the standard on how matchmaking for PC games should be done, with exhaustive stat tracking built on a super-solid online framework. The lack on chatrooms on Battle.net hurts a bit, but the rest of the game shines so brightly I hardly miss them. I will be playing this game for years. That's the strongest endorsement I can give.
- Engrossing narrative
- Varied mission structure
- Beautiful visuals
- Extremely streamlined controls
- Top-notch multiplayer
- Lack of Battle.net chatrooms