Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty (PC) Review

Starcraft, released during March of 1998, was a phenomenon when it hit store shelves. With a concept that expanded on the Warcraft II formula, Starcraft launched the original Orcs and Humans classic into space. With added factions, sophisticated graphics, and online capabilities using Blizzard’s own Battle.Net, Starcraft is a game that has withstood the test of time. Now, in 2010, Blizzard has released a follow up to its best-selling title, and it is proving to be just as exciting an event as the first one – if not more exciting. With an improved graphics engine, expanded unit types and beautiful cinematics this is a PC title that will surely prove to be the sensation of the season.

Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty (SC2) picks up four years after the events of Brood War (for those who aren’t embroiled in the universe of Starcraft, Brood War was an expansion released to great critical and commercial acclaim which developed the original story substantially.) In SC2, the player takes control of Jim Raynor. After being painted as a terrorist, Raynor is fighting to regain his honor and take down the corrupt government that he helped put into power. All the while Kerrigan, former ‘Ghost’ unit with the Terran army, is now queen of the Zerg race and is steadily expanding her forces into Terran space, killing millions of people and dominating worlds once considered safe.

How Blizzard tells the story is simply stunning. The key elements are told through beautiful cinematics, which could stand-alone as a movie in their own right. The cinematics, coupled with the in-game visuals and short dialog between characters, crafts a solid and well told plot that keeps the player invested in playing more of the game. The twists in the story are predictable at times, but SC2 never makes any attempts to climb Mount Literature and remains more entertaining because of it.

The arc of the story is also an interesting, if not slightly controversial move, by Blizzard. Wings of Liberty is the first part of a trilogy which will complete the entire story. Two more expansion packs will tell the other sides of the narrative, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void.  This allows Blizzard to expand how the game plays out, allowing players to go back to their home-base and interact with the characters from the story in a point and click manner. Clicking on a character will play a short video and elaborate the story. This is optional, but it allows more thorough character development, providing them with emotions, motivations, and backstory. Players overlooking this subtle but integral aspect would be doing themselves a disservice.

Besides story line, the home-base allows you to select the missions you would like to pursue. There are 26 missions in total but not all of them need to be finished to beat the game. Some can be skipped – if the ending is the only reason you are playing – but every mission will give you credits that can be spent on the ship for such things as upgrades to units and mercenary factions. This really enhances the depth to which players can immerse themselves. The ability to do missions in any order allows players to upgrade units and attempt missions when ready. The more upgrades to equipment, the easer the final battle will be. Even though the game keeps pressing forward, it can be very useful to step back and try and complete everything – in the long run, it makes the game easier.

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The gameplay is consistent with what you would expect from a Starcraft/Warcraft style game. Basically, it is real-time strategy, refined. It is an easy game to pick up and play, but to really master it you will need to spend hours exploring the nuances. The single player mode presents players with a range of units, but not all of these will be available in the multiplayer. For this reason the two modes stand alone.

SC2’s single player campaign is definitely long, but well worth it. With 26 missions steadily unwrapping the story, this title is meant to involve players for hours – yet each mission has its own style and objective. Grinding repetition, a common pratfall with many RTS games, is thankfully missing. With missions ranging from a taking out a train to mining for minerals on a lava planet, there is plenty to keep players attention as they go through the story.

Fortunately, or unfortunately – depending who you ask – gameplay does not steer too far from the tried and true formula. Players build a base, then, with units and resources, complete objectives. If you are familiar with previous Starcraft or Warcraft engines, you will feel right at home here. SC2 is a solid real-time strategy game that takes all the lessons it has learned and hones them brilliantly.

With the new game comes a much improved Battle.Net to complement it. With a solid set of features familiar to XBOX LIVE users and gamers on the PlayStation Network, the new service is a robust infrastructure and is a joy to play on. All the features are top notch – including Facebook integration and cross game chat – displaying the online-gaming expertise of the Blizzard team.

The online was a strong addition with the original StarCraft and this is still the case with SC2. The online portion of the game is vastly different then the single player campaign. Everything must be done on the battlefield very quickly. For new players, it can often be a dizzying experience to witness how quickly battles begin and end. Fear not, Blizzard has newbies in mind. Placement-matches ensure you are paired with people of a similar skill level, and the ability to climb the skill ladder is a rewarding component.

Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty is a superb testament to the skill and craftsmanship at Blizzard Entertainment. The story of the game is masterfully told with an excellent voice cast and great visuals, and the gameplay does not disappoint. Whether you are new to the real-time strategy genre or a veteran of it, there is an abundance of game within this package which should keep you well entertained until the next title hits stores. This is a must buy for most gamers, and those new to the franchise will discover what converts have been enamored with since 1998: intuitive design, engrossing story, and satisfying fun.