Released in March 1998, StarCraft was a phenomenon when it hit store shelves. With a concept that expanded on the Warcraft II formula, StarCraft took the original Orcs and Humans classic into space. With the addition of factions, sophisticated graphics, and online capabilities via Blizzard’s own Battle.Net, Starcraft is a game that has stood the test of time. Now, in 2010, Blizzard has released a sequel to its best-selling title that proves to be just as exciting as the first-if, not more so. With an improved graphics engine, expanded unit types, and beautiful cinematics, this PC title is sure 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 unfamiliar with the StarCraft universe, Brood War was a critically and commercially acclaimed expansion that expanded upon the original story). In StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, players take control of Jim Raynor. After being portrayed as a terrorist, Raynor fights to regain his honour and overthrow the corrupt government he helped bring to power. Meanwhile, Kerrigan, the former “Ghost” unit of 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 StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty never makes any attempts to climb Mount Literature and remains more entertaining because of it.
“Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty’s single-player campaign is definitely long, but well worth 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.
In addition to the story, the home base allows you to choose the missions you want to pursue. There are 26 missions in total, but not all of them need to be completed to beat the game. Some can be skipped – if the ending is the only reason you are playing – but each mission will give you credits that can be spent on the ship for things like unit upgrades and mercenary factions, which really adds to the depth in which players can immerse themselves.
The ability to do missions in any order allows players to upgrade units and attempt missions when they are ready. The more equipment you upgrade, the easier the final battle will be. Even though the game keeps pushing you forward, it can be very useful to step back and try to complete everything – it makes the game easier in the long run.
“Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty is a superb testament to the skill and craftsmanship at Blizzard Entertainment.”
The gameplay is 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 number of units, but not all of these will be available in multiplayer. For this reason, the two modes stand alone.
StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty‘s single-player campaign is definitely long, but well worth it. With 26 missions that steadily unfold the story, this title is designed to keep players engaged for hours – yet each mission has its own style and objective. Grinding repetition, a common pitfall of many RTS games, is thankfully absent. With missions ranging from taking out a train to mining minerals on a lava planet, there is plenty to keep players’ attention as they progress through the story.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on who you ask, the gameplay does not stray too far from the tried and true formula. Players build a base, then use units and resources to complete objectives. If you are familiar with the previous Starcraft or Warcraft engines, you will feel right at home here. StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty is a solid RTS that takes all the lessons learned and refines them brilliantly.
Along 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 PlayStation Network gamers, the new service is a robust infrastructure and a joy to play on. All of the features are top-notch – including Facebook integration and cross-game chat – and showcase the Blizzard team’s expertise in online gaming.
Online was a strong addition to the original StarCraft, and this is still the case with StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty. The online portion of the game is very different from the single player campaign. Everything has to be done very quickly on the battlefield. 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 that 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 an outstanding testament to the skill and craftsmanship of Blizzard Entertainment. The game’s story is masterfully told with an excellent voice cast and great visuals, and the gameplay does not disappoint. Whether you are new to the RTS genre or a veteran, there is a wealth of gameplay in this package that should keep you entertained until the next title arrives. This is a must-buy for most players, and those new to the franchise will discover what converts have loved since 1998: intuitive design, compelling story, and satisfying fun.