StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Review

Evaluating StarCraft II on a completely objective basis is not an easy task. This is a sequel over a decade in the making, a follow-up to a game so storied in the annals of real-time strategy history that you can still walk into a store selling PC games and find a copy of it on the shelf. It's hard to not look at StarCraft II as a reunion with a good friend from your past, with all of those memories forming the majority of your impression of that person today. It's obvious that Blizzard was well aware of all of this because at its core StarCraft II is not that much different from StarCraft. There are a number of evolutionary changes in StarCraft II, but when you get right down to it, it's still Terran vs. Protoss vs. Zerg in fast-paced, real-time strategy battles.

Terran base under attack

As in the original, StarCraft II includes both a single player campaign and a multiplayer mode. Unlike StarCraft, though, StarCraft II only includes a Terran campaign. The emphasis this time around is more on story than it is on gradually introducing you to the three factions and their units in order to prepare you for the multiplayer game. The campaign's story follows the rebel Terran leader Jim Raynor as he leads the struggle against the oppressive Terran regime, while also frequently bumping up against a new Zerg incursion into Terran space followed closely by the reemergence of the Protoss. The campaign has been restructured so that the story is told not just through cutscene cinematics, but through interactions aboard Raynor's battlecruiser that serves as the hub for the campaign. The battlecruiser is divided into different sections, bridge, lab, armory, and a cantina, and while each of these areas serves a primary role, they are also populated with different characters and interactive items. Click on a person and you could get anything from a short response to a full cutscene conversation, and what you get will change each time you return to the ship from a mission. Those who just want to play through the campaign can pretty much skip most of these interactions, but those who do take the time to go through them all will be rewarded with a much richer experience in terms of story. StarCraft II has a far richer storyline than you'll find in most games, let alone in an RTS, and most gamers will appreciate how it adds to their enjoyment of the game. The story stands on its own so don't worry if you missed out on the original game, but on the other hand, if you are familiar with StarCraft and Brood War, you'll appreciate that there is continuity in the fiction of the series.

As mentioned previously, the four rooms of the battlecruiser server other purposes beyond story and atmosphere. The bridge is where you select your next mission. StarCraft II's campaign has parallel mission threads and gives you the option of which mission that you want to take on next. In addition, there are some points at which you'll be forced to make a decision that will drive which mission is available next and cause a branch in the storyline. For example, do you help the Protoss eradicate a Zerg infestation on a planet at the cost of the lives of the human colonists living there, or do you try to evacuate the colonists while fighting off the Protoss and their eradication effort? When you do select a mission, you'll find that there's more variety to the missions in StarCraft II than there are in your usual RTS game or even in the first StarCraft game. You'll still see some of the familiar mission archetypes here escort, base defense, etc. but Blizzard has done a great job of adding a lot of variety to the basic formula. For example, surging lava may periodically flow the low ground or rampaging Zerg may make it too dangerous for your forces to venture out of the base at night. These changes may seem simple, but they all make you adjust your strategy to fit the current situation and keep the missions from devolving into a repetition of the same exercise mission in and mission out.

StarCraft II introduces an achievement system for the campaign, as well. Each mission includes three achievements which can be earned by completing side missions, accomplishing the objectives within a certain time, and the like, providing incentive to replay the missions to collect them all. And it's not just a matter of personal pride your achievement score is displayed with your profile on, Blizzard's online game network, so the more points that you score the more cred you'll have with your friends and rivals. The downside to this is that StarCraft II is effectively an online game even when you play it in single player mode if you're not connected to the Internet and logged into when playing you won't be able to earn any achievements.