StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Review

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To say we’ve been patiently waiting for StarCraft II is an understatement. We may have been guilty of re-watching some old TV show box sets, cleaning the garage we thought we’d never get to or even watching spiders spin their webs to pass the time for this release. In brief, this was a long and highly anticipated title for us. Shorty after the games announcement mid 2007, we put in our pre-order. That pre-order receipt is now over three years old and the thermal print is completely unreadable. Fortunately, this information is kept in the system and we were able to finally hold the game in our hands shortly after 12:00AM on July 27, 2010. It’s hard to believe 12 years have passed since the first game. Anyways, the million dollar question: was it worth the wait? We think so!

After you’ve installed the game, downloaded the updates and created your battle.net account online, you can finally get started. StarCraft II may seem relatively the same. The story and game play follow the same three races: Terran, Protoss and Zerg. It’s still your typical mineral gathering, upgrading and amassing an army real-time strategy game. However, there are two noticeable changes right off the bat. One being the campaign game play and the other involves expansions.

Let’s begin with the expansions. Wait, expansions already? Yes. The Wings of Liberty campaign follows the Terrans. Players will have to wait for a second and third release to play the Protoss and Zerg campaigns. So, not only did you have to dish out an extra $10 (above the norm) for a PC title, you’ll have to pay more for the other stories. We can only hope that the price tags will be lower, but we’re not holding our breaths.

Jim Raynor has seen better days, but we still love him.

Jim Raynor has seen better days, but we still love him.

Since the stories will be split across three games, one might expect Wings of Liberty campaign to be limited. This is actually not the case. The campaign has a satisfying length to it (26 missions), especially when playing on harder difficulties. The campaign begins four years after StarCraft: Broodwar. The Terran story follows a rugged Jim Raynor who is currently waging a war against the Terran Dominion, led by Emperor Arcturus Mengsk. After an early battle against the Dominion, Raynor is met by an old friend, Tychus Findlay. Tychus pitches him an idea about collecting artifacts for the Moebius Foundation. In return, they will pay, helping him in his battle against the Dominion. After collecting the first artifact, they were rattled to see the Zerg attacking one of the stations as they were leaving the planet. This is really where the main story begins. Raynor will continue to help the Moebius Foundation, as well as other side quests and characters as the story progresses. Blizzard does a great job of breaking up the game play. There is a nice balance of raid, escort, attack and defense missions. There are also a few optional missions and instances where decisions must be made to lead the story. To go along with the role-playing styled decision making, you can also gain credits after each mission that can be used to buy upgrades or mercenaries for hire. The upgrades can be used to improve units and structures. The mercenaries have improved stats and can be deployed instantly in battle for a fee. These units work perfectly in a pinch.

At the start of each mission, there is a new unit that is made available. These units play a key role in the mission, additionally teaching you it’s value when it’s time for multiplayer. Unfortunately, it seems like this is the only unit you should build for the mission, especially earlier in the campaign. There are also more tech research opportunities during the missions. Typically as optional objectives, you can collect Zerg and Protoss items to help upgrade your structures and tech. These items can be turned in after each mission. You will need to collect more items to unlock further tiers of upgrades. Each Zerg and Protoss tier has two upgrade options. You can only choose one, locking the other. Blizzard has also added an achievement system. Missions can be replayed to collect all of the achievements for those who want to fully complete the game. All of this combined creates a entertaining and customizable campaign.

Thor, a new unit...and company.

Thor, a new unit...and company.

As mentioned earlier, the game play should feel very much the same to veterans. However, you will find many welcomed improvements. Gathering units can be set to automatically mine from their production building with a right click. Certain units with casting abilities (ie: healers) will be set to autocast by default saving time. Multiple unit production structures of the same type can be grouped for mass production across all buildings. Each race has plenty of new units with new abilities, notably units which can traverse uneven terrain. Many of the old units have new abilities as well. There are a great deal of strategy options with each race which certainly gives the game lasting appeal.

The game play is straight forward for newcomers, but it will definitely be hard to master. There are handful of tutorials to get you started, but they do not cover every last detail. Macro-management skills and high actions per minute (APM) are a must to be successful. You can cue up to 10 task for a unit by holding the shift key.. Cuing a few tasks for gathers early is a perfect way to save time and prep for a potential rush. Hot keys and shortcuts will also be your best friends. Though nothing new in the RTS genre, units can be grouped and mapped to number keys. This is great for categorizing and quickly selecting units. Local and multi-player games can be recorded to review. You can see your APM, mineral/unit graphs and most importantly, video of the opponent’s strategy so you can improve your skills.

Oh, so that's why they call them the Swarm.

Oh, so that's why they call them the Swarm.

The graphics have been designed to run well on a wide range of PC and Mac systems. Players with a 5 year old rig will find they are still able to play on lower settings. However, modern computers will be rewarded with exceptional graphics. However, the game play graphics are not anything jaw dropping. Sure, there has been more time put into the maps, units, buildings, and physics but, it still feels a little dated. This may be due to the long development. However, game and CG rendered scenes look amazing throughout the campaign. This is definitely what we’ve come to expect from Blizzard.

Something you definitely don’t want to overlook is the music, sound and voicing. The music has a very similar sound to the original game. The score really sets the mood during the campaign. Turn it up! There is also a jukebox which can be found in the bar (earlier in the game) and on your ships cantina. There is a great selection of music that meshes well with the characters and story. Unit acknowledgments have been beefed up. While you will inevitable mute them, you will find find there are plenty to go around. Some of them are rather funny, notably Terran’s SCVs and Thors. The voice acting, while cheesy at times, is very well executed. A few of the side characters will feel very cliche to the sci-fi genre and fans, but overall, the voicing is very strong.

Multiplayer

After you’ve completed the campaign, it’s time to head to dive into the multiplayer portion of the game. Bilzzard’s online service, Battle.net, has been vastly improved from 12 years ago. It it intuitive and very polished as far as the interface is concerned. If you’re new to the game, we suggest trying the Practice League. Here you can play un-ranked games run at a slower pace on custom maps to get a feel for multiplayer. Newcomers should also check out the additional information (some of which loads in a web page) and tech trees in the help area. Unfortunately, it seems like Blizzard hasn’t completely finished creating everything, as some content is coming soon or grayed out.

Battle.net interface.  Tychus, where is your cigar?

Battle.net interface. Tychus, where is your cigar?

Once you’re your ready to start playing competitively, you will find an automated league and ladder system. Again, be sure to practice a bit before starting placement play. When you do begin placement play, you will automatically be assigned a league and division based on the results. This ensures you’re playing against opponents of a similar skill level. So far this system seems to work fairly well in our experience. Once you do get started, your statistics will be tracked.

One piece that we’re really frustrated with in multiplayer is the lack of local area network (LAN) play. You must be connected to the internet and Battle.net to play. Gone are the days where you could spawn copies and play locally with your friends. If you have no or a slow internet connection, you can still play offline against the computer. Where is the fun in that?

In conclusion, it seems as though Blizzard made a safe play with StarCraft II. It’s not a completely game changing for the RTS genre. Like we mentioned earlier, much of the original game play has remained in tact. However, there have been some welcomed improvements, especially in campaign play. Many upgrades and customizations have been added to make the game more enjoyable. There are plenty of new units and abilities for all races.. There have also been many minor tweaks, like the ability to lower Terran supply depots, that will excite the veteran players. There are a few shortcomings though. The game does cost an extra $10 above the norm for a PC game. Why, because Blizzard knew it would still sell. You can also expect to pay full price for the two slated expansions. The graphics aren’t revolutionary and the voicing can be a bit cheesy or cliche at times. Finally, we feel that the biggest let down was the lack of LAN play. However, StarCraft II is still one of the best in the genre, if not the best. And being a Blizzard title, it’s very balanced, designed entirely well and completely worth your investment. We expect this game to survive strong for another decade…or more.

Overall Score: 8.75/10