The day after Starcraft 2 was released, I was sitting at my computer playing the single player missions when suddenly a buddy of mine told me he’d just beaten the game. I’m talking the entire 20 plus hour campaign, and it hadn’t even been 48 hours since the game’s midnight release. When I asked him why he rushed through it in such a short span of time, he said he hadn’t rushed; he just never stopped playing.
That single statement has resonated with me ever since, because the truth is, if you don’t want to stop playing Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, you don’t have to. It’s completely packed full with enough mouse clicking content to keep any real time strategy fan occupied for months, possibly even years. If you’re not a fan of the genre, maybe it’s time to become one, because this game is worth your time and money. To find out why, hit the jump.
To a lot of people, Starcraft is not simply a game. In Korea it’s a national sport with super star players who get paid tons of money to compete in elite tournaments that garner millions of viewers. To other people, it represents the pinnacle of RTS gaming that hasn’t seen its equal in the decade since its release. Then there are those who look past the game and delve into the lore, reading the countless novels, comics, and online fan fiction that help to flesh out its universe.
With such a huge worldwide fan base, it completely makes sense that Blizzard’s first order of business when designing the sequel was to keep things as familiar as possible. This design philosophy is immediately evident the first time the game boots up. If you’ve ever played a single mission or multiplayer match from the original game, you’ll feel right at home. That’s because the core gameplay mechanics haven’t changed one bit in over a decade.
There are still three races to choose from (Zerg, Terran, and Protoss) and you still have to construct a base, collect resources, train units, and send them out to conquer your enemies or die trying. A lot of the most popular units from the original have returned as well, like siege tanks, hydralisks, and zealots. This is where the similarities to the old game stop and the real changes that help bring it into the 21st century start.
To begin, the single player experience is an entirely different beast from the first Starcraft. Instead of each race having its own short campaign, the Terran faction takes center stage here, with a 20 plus hour epic storyline that spans over 29 missions. To add to that, Blizzard has included a slew of RPG elements to help ensure every person’s play through is slightly different.
These new elements begin to take form about three missions into the campaign when the player is suddenly given full control of their single player experience. From this point forward, people can choose which missions they want to go on, what new units they want to add to their arsenal, and whether they want to upgrade those units in any way with the money earned from completing missions. Players can even use alien artifacts found during missions to research new technologies never before seen in the Starcraft universe.
The story of Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty revolves around Jim Raynor and his quest to take down the leader of the Terran Dominion, Arcturus Mengsk. Along the way he’ll team up with an old army buddy, Tychus Findlay, to find lost alien artifacts and confront the woman he loves and has sworn to kill, the Queen of Blades. There’s also this whole segment about a prophecy that foretells the end of the entire galaxy, but I don’t want to spoil anything.
What makes the story so incredible is the way Blizzard uses the in-game cinematics to immerse the player in the universe. In between missions, players can talk to other non-playable characters, and even watch news footage, to help fully flesh out the story. It’s in these segments where you really get to know all the characters to figure out what drives and motivates their actions. Fans of the lore will get a real kick out of this, as tons of popular characters from the first game and the extended universe, like Nova and Valerian Mengsk, make appearances throughout the campaign.
Speaking of appearances, the visuals in Starcraft 2 are absolutely gorgeous. Besides looking beautiful, the units themselves almost feel alive with the amount of detail Blizzard has put into the models. Every part of every unit moves and has a purpose, as if real engineers and biologists sat down and designed these things themselves.
The game doesn’t just look good during the missions, but in-between them as well. Blizzard actually created an entirely new graphics engine from scratch just for the in-game cinematics. The level of detail in characters’ faces is just incredible. If you own a good gaming rig, you should turn the settings up to ultra to really get the full experience.
Players can also now select the difficulty level for each individual mission. People new to the series should choose casual or normal, as that will really help to ease them into the thick of things. I highly recommend experienced players at least try the hard setting, otherwise they will find themselves bored with how easy the normal setting is.
While the single player campaign will last around 20 plus hours the first time through, the multiplayer is where the true heart of Starcraft 2 lies. This is where most people will spend the majority of their time, and where the game truly shines. Players can choose to participate in 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4 battles against other human players or against multiple skill levels of the in-game AI.
The back bone of all this mayhem is Battle.net 2.0. This is the new interface that connects players from all over the world, pairing them against one another to determine how good they really are. It then ranks them into one of five ladder leagues that reflect a person’s or a group’s skill. The more a player wins the higher up the ladder they move, possibly into newer leagues filled with better and tougher competition.
Eventually everyone will get placed exactly where they belong, which is the beauty of the system. It’s designed so a person is grouped at the proper skill level where they win about 50% of their games. When a player gets better at beating people who are considered to be at their same skill level, they eventually move up to face an even greater challenge. This works the same way for groups.
The multiplayer experience would be a complete failure if all three races weren’t properly balanced, but Blizzard seems to have this under control as well. It has taken thousands of hours of testing, with the assistance of tens of thousands of testers, but each race has been finely tuned to match them as closely as possible. Still, this doesn’t mean that the system doesn’t have some hiccups.
There are indeed early game and late game strategies which are very difficult to counter and protect against unless a player knows exactly what they are doing. These so called “cheese” strategies can be very aggravating. There are also a number of people who think that the Zerg are very underpowered, with a small number of units that are actually worthwhile on the battlefield.
Blizzard has assured everyone they are constantly monitoring online games to find problems with the races, and they will release future patches if necessary to better balance the game. For the most part though, Starcraft 2 does have a fairly balanced multiplayer experience, which will only get better with time.
I must warn newer players that jumping into the multiplayer arena is no laughing matter. This is a game where seconds count for everything. There is no such thing as casually waiting around for things to happen. Matches move at break neck speeds and players must constantly be able to not only manage their bases but also large multi-tiered armies at the same time.
If you want to ease yourself into the experience, Blizzard has included a collection of nine challenges to help players learn the skills required to play online. These range from teaching what the proper unit counters are to how to manage a base that’s being constantly assaulted by the enemy. Completing all these challenges is a good first step to being better prepared for the hell storm that awaits new players online.
It might have taken Blizzard over a decade to come out with the sequel to the best selling RTS of all time, but it’s finally here and it’s spectacular. With a 20+ hour epic single player campaign, the new Battle.net 2.0 online match making ladder system and an array of single player challenges, there is truly something here for everyone. Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty has the makings of a game people will be playing a decade from now. Hopefully it won’t take Blizzard that long to come out with the sequel.
Everything about this game screams polish. The graphics are incredibly detailed, the in-game cinematics almost look like CGI, and the actual CGI scenes look like they could be in a Hollywood blockbuster.
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Instead of making any significant changes to the tried and true gameplay formula that’s worked for over a decade, Blizzard instead went with incremental improvements to help bring the game into the 21st century.
Starcraft 2 might honestly have the best soundtrack of the entire year. Not only is the orchestrated score as moving as it is epic, but I bet there isn’t a person out there who hasn’t taken the time to listen to every song on the jukebox.
Are you kidding me? This is a game people are still going to be playing competitively online ten years from now, long after they’ve beaten the huge 29 mission single player campaign.
Blizzard has a major hit on their hands with Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty and it’s easy to tell that over a decade of blood, sweat, and tears have been poured into making it. People will probably still be singing its praises years from now.