StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Review
It’s difficult to honestly review a game like Starcraft 2. On the one hand, Blizzard Entertainment has a long history of really solid game design, peaking with (of course) Starcraft, and it would be a disservice to myself as a journalist and you as readers to act as though this were an opportunity to get my licks in simply for kicks.
On the other hand, the desire to stir the ant pile with a stick and enrage the Blizzard fanboys is tempting.
Journalistic integrity, however, wins out in in this case. For those not old or lucky enough to have experienced the dark days before the release of Starcraft, the average Real Time Strategy game consisted of two (sometimes three) opposing sides that had roughly the same unit and tech trees between them. There might have been some superficial differences, such as unit color, specific unit abilities, etc, but all games were played the same way: Whoever built the strongest units in the fastest time won.
Starcraft changed that. Blizzard took the RTS dynamic and decided to make a game that was, at its heart, an RTS, but altered the framework to suit its artistic style. Three distinctly different races allowed for more customization of play - and the fact that all three races HAD to be played differently forced gamers (as well as game designers) to take a moment to stop and consider the genre as a whole. Since then, most RTS games have attempted to capitalize on this success by doing what game companies do best: emulation of successful ideas.
Click image to view screenshots.
Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty has done a lot of things right. Gameplay is as exciting and nerve-wracking as the original Starcraft ever was, and graphically, it’s polished to a point of near brilliance. The single-player story, coupled with Blizzard’s always amazingly detailed cinematics, might make this one of the best sequels ever made (it will be a long time before something de-thrones Thief II). The ability to order upgrades based on money earned from missions, researching unique upgrades based on technology and research found during bonus goals on said missions, and choosing those missions in a non-linear path offers choices to the players which are so often forgotten in a story-driven game. The Starcraft 2 Map Editor might be one of the most powerful and best developed map editors ever released, allowing players to create custom maps, cutscenes and even cinematics. In fact, it’s difficult to say anything bad about Starcraft 2.
I say, difficult - not impossible.
Multiplayer has always been one of the biggest draws for Starcraft - so much so that, before the release of SC2, the map-building and multiplayer-playing Starcraft community was still fairly strong, even 10 years later. To combat the frustration of playing against mismatched ability, Blizzard created a tier system, allowing players of differing abilities to, theoretically, play against players who match their skill level. I say theoretically because it doesn’t really work - at least, it hasn’t worked for me yet, and all games played in this manner have only gone down two different ways.
One - I wind up matched up against some 12-year-old kid who has little-to-no idea what he’s doing, and I attempt to help him out by explaining what strategies I used to crush him, and counter strategies to counter me. I’m by no means a nice guy, but making one player better by helping him learn helps the entire gaming community.
Two - I am savagely and mercilessly destroyed by Space-Koreans, who’ve done nothing in the last 10 years except exist in a zero-gravity environment and play Starcraft. My pleas for the sweet release of death fall on deaf ears as they destroy my SCVs, one by one, and I come to about an hour later, huddled over, weeping in the shower, clutching my shoes, trying to remember why I even bother with Battle.net.
Perhaps that’s a bit over-dramatic, but the feeling is still there. If you’re playing against one of these Starcraft-fueled ultra nerds, you might as well just surrender because you won’t win. Oh, you say you’re how good? No, you still won’t win because, in South Korea, it’s a national pastime. It spans across three different channels dedicated to professional gaming, and the best of the best are paid more than $200,000 (U.S. currency) a year just to REMAIN GOOD AT STARCRAFT.
If PVP isn’t your game, teaming up with your friends to stomp a computer can be fun - at least, for your friends. Understand, you will be hate-fucked by the AI players every time (the relative ‘you’ ... meaning, really, ‘me’). It will not matter what map you’re playing; it will not matter how many teammates you have; the computer knows exactly where you are, and it will send a custom-made strike team to capitalize on exactly what you failed to defend against. If you managed to cover all your bases, it will just send a massive attack against you and overwhelm you with impossible numbers, while your friends build on, completely unaware of the presence of an AI that will tolerate them harassing its bases, so long as you still exist.
On the bright side, once the AI comes into your base and flogs you with the pathetic remains of your expectations to remain a viable player for at least 10 minutes, it will turn its fell and hoary eye on your friends who (hopefully) took your immediate destruction as warning and are prepared to offer the AI a real challenge. And the best part? You can remain in the game, and see all the fun you COULD be having if you were only a little better than an artificial intelligence which was designed to do one thing - play Starcraft.
Many of the classic units that appear in the Wings of Liberty single-player campaign - Firebats, Medics, Wraiths, Vultures, etc. - were removed from the multiplayer aspect of the game, ostensibly for balance purposes. I can understand that, but wouldn’t it serve the community better to simply add or beef up Zerg and Protoss units in order to balance the game out, rather than removing gameplay features?
But even the dark underbelly of multiplayer has some gems that deserve attention: The Battle.net component has been completely remodeled, allowing for a more Steam-esque integration of the game. The ability to transfer resources between players is an awesome feature, and allowing shared control over certain units makes the drudgery of failure, at least, sting a little less.
Overall, Starcraft 2 is an extremely solid piece of software. Even its “weak” multiplayer doesn’t fail to entertain, and the single-player campaign, while not groundbreaking, is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. With two expansions on the way, and a promise from Blizzard that each expansion will differ from Wings of Liberty significantly, Starcraft 2 was well worth 12 years of waiting.