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August 27, 2010

Review: Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty

Posted by on Aug 27, 2010
Starcraft II

When Blizzard set out to make Starcraft II, they ran into an tiny little bit of a problem. You see, the previous iteration of this game was so well received that it became the national sport of an entire country, and Blizzard ran the risk of not living up to the standards that they themselves had set.

The  brilliant minds at Blizzard huddled around their campfires (pylons), feverishly rubbing their hands (claws?) together for warmth (psychic power) and inspiration, when they settled upon something of sheer brilliance: why change something that’s not broken.

As a result, just about a month ago, Blizzard released Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, which contains the first of three single player campaign installments, and the online multiplayer features, and I can attest that it is exactly the same as the first game.

Okay, maybe not quite…  It isn’t fair to say that Starcraft II is the same as Starcraft I – each race has more units, there are more maps, more powerful map features, it looks shiny (makes my computer cry), and has a pretty awesome multiplayer system. However, Blizzard didn’t change any of the core things that made Starcraft great. There are still three races, you still collect vespene and minerals to build things, and  people playing online still always seem to be cheating because they beat you so badly. They didn’t add in any of the overblown ‘hero’ concept from Warcraft III, they didn’t change anything. Its still the same game to play, just better. Details after the jump.

It’s clear that they put a lot of effort into the single player campaign in Starcraft 2 – it’s almost like watching a movie at times (in terms of engrossing storyline, not in terms of Final Fantasy). The story line is well developed, and manages to follow on from Starcraft 1 in a way that doesn’t feel forced. I won’t go into details so as not to spoil it for anyone, but I think it’s well done. If I had to take issue with the single player storyline, it would be that it ends somewhat abruptly due to its nature as only the first part of a three part story, but I can live with it given how well it is put together.

Of course, Blizzards bread and butter for years has been their multiplayer games (quite literally their bread and butter in the case of World of Warcraft). I’m pretty sure that Battle.Net was instantaneously the best multiplayer game network when it was released in 1998, and it remains an excellent system. There are now achievements (read: shiny things that you can collect that make you feel good about yourself), and a very well put together ladder system. I remember back when I played Warcraft III that the ladder matches were some ethereal object off in the distance, something I kept hearing about and seeing glimpses of, and which I never really understood. Well now everyone is in the ladder system, ranked within the Bronze, Silver, Gold, Diamond, and Platinum divisions (those last two might be reversed – I’m certainly not good enough to know). Each team you form with friends is assigned its own division, so your rank is independent across all of the teams you play on. All in all it’s pretty awesome, and makes you want to keep playing to get better.

All of the above notwithstanding, I do have one pet peeve with Starcraft II, and it goes back to my point above. Blizzard released a very well put together game, with excellent game play, well organized multiplayer, and nothing innovative. When I started playing the single player campaign, I was excited. As I progressed through, the storyline was engaging, and it was fun when I got a new unit, but I found myself wondering if there was anything different from Starcraft 1…. And there never was.

It’s a good game, but somehow I ended up being a little bit disappointed. I expect Blizzard to not only surpass my expectations, but to nuke them into oblivion. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.