Starcraft II

In March of 1998, Starcraft invaded PC’s and turned the Real-Time Strategy genre on it’s ear.  Overcoming the ‘Orcs in space’ naysayers, the game captivated campaign players with a rich, engaging story, and launched a multiplayer community that has survived longer than most others, elevating to near religion in South Korea.  Then, after an equally highly praised expansion, Brood War, Starcraft cloaked, like one of it’s Ghost operatives, into the abyss of Blizzard’s “When it’s done” announcement cycle.  PC fans have waited for the Starcraft sequel, almost as long as Duke fans have been waiting on Duke Nukem Forever.  Is 12 years too long to wait for a game?  Is it too long to for the game to be relevant?  Has Starcraft added any of the many, many innovations that it’s successors, in the Real-Time Strategy genre, have brought to the table?  Is this just more of the same with a shiny new wrapper?  I know we turtled up, on getting this review to you, but if you are still interested in the answer to any of those questions, read on!

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The Story

The events of the game take place four years after the conclusion of the Brood War expansion storyline.  Kerrigan was pushed into seclusion, Jim Raynor retreated to the depths of space, and Arcturis Mengsk was left in control of Dominion forces, spinning his political PR yarn that only Jim Raynor seemed to see through.  At the game’s opening, we see Raynor contracted by an old friend to help dig up some Protoss artifacts, bringing Raynor out of an unofficial retirement.  With Raynor making waves, it isn’t long before he and Mengsk clash, nor is it long before we see that Raynor isn’t the only one coming out of hiding.  Early on, Raynor learns that Kerrigan, The Queen of Blades, has mobilized her Zerg, but for what purpose?  With all of the old players back on the playing field, the story takes off with a bang, and keeps you locked in for the remainder of the game.  Remember, this time around, we will experience Starcraft in trilogy format, so this first release is only the Terran, or human, campaign in the three part story.  Twelve years of graphical innovation are immediately apparent in the game’s cutscenes.  The cinematics are breathtaking, the character depth is amazing, and each mission briefing gives the player a “You want me to do WHAT?!?!” sensation, with really unique and captivating missions.  In addition, a small but noticeable immersion factor can be accounted for in seeing Raynor, or the other main characters, viewing the battlefront via the ship’s screens in the bridge, adding to the illusion that the player is calling the shots not via mouse and keyboard, but via live video feed in the space marine pajamas of Jim Raynor.  New to this iteration of Starcraft, are branching storylines of the game–every player experiences the same overarching storyline, but within it, certain choices can be made that alter the path of the main characters.  In a few of the missions, you will be faced with a choice to make, creating a branching path in the story, with different missions for each choice, and sometimes, different units unlocked with that choice.  The story has taken everything fantastic about the firs game, and cranked it up to 11.

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The Gameplay

If you have picked up Starcraft, or any RTS, before, than the games basic mechanics will be immediately similar to you.  Resource gathering, via Vespene Gas and Minerals, has not changed much.  However, it is definitely only the ‘basic’ mechanics that have remained similar.  Blizzard has found a way to forgo traditional mission types, and manage to provide you with amazing objectives, that both remain familiar to RTS players, and at the same time, breathe new life into the genre, making each mission unique.    Along with the mission choices, an expanded research tree has been included, adding slight RPG elements to your units and buildings, as well as, allowing you to unlock unique perks and units, not available in the multiplayer.  In addition, completing certain mission tasks opens up options on a Zerg and Protoss technology tree, using their technology to amplify your own.  For example, and early option is the choice to gain Supply Depots instantly, via orbital drop, or the ability to net an extra 25% Vespene, per yield.  These customizations may sound insignificant, but they can lead to drastically different tactics, between players making dissimilar choices, and vary gameplay for concurrent playthroughs-some of the choices can bring very interesting results, during the endgame missions.  It bears repeating, it is amazing at how Blizzard has added so many new elements to a game that still feels like you are slipping on a comfortable, familiar pair of your favorite slippers.

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The Multiplayer

Multiplayer, in Starcraft II, is a pretty slippery slope.  Gamers are afforded the option to play five ranking matches, that will rank your skill level on a diamond/gold/silver/bronze scale, and place you in the appropriate league, to afford the best multiplayer experience.  That is not to say that a bronze player will have easy matches, the game retains it’s barrier for entry. The game does use Blizzard’s Real ID system, so your real name will be displayed, not just your Battle.Net 2.0 gamertag.  Bttle.Net has seen an amazing overhaul, full of features for multiplayer fans.  You can network, directly, with your Facebook friends, to add them directly to your BN friend’s list.  Tons of avatars are available to unlock by reaching certain goals in the multiplayer space, so many wins with a certain race, on a different difficulty, etc.  Battle.Net will also automatically patch your game, as soon as new patches are available, so the playing field stays level everytime Blizzard reaches under the hood and makes balance tweaks.  You can play straight one on one matches, take friends on in 2V2 or 4V4 matches, or attempt the same groups in co-op versus AI fashion.  Another new feature is the challenge mode.  Each race has a variety of Challenge missions that will teach you their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to use those features to counteract units from other races.  This gives you a pretty good foundation to take into the multiplayer matches, especially if you aren’t familiar with Starcraft, or it’s just been a while since you’ve skirmished.

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The Verdict

There is no sense dressing this up with fancy words or clever quips, Starcraft II is every bit of the game we waited so long for—and it is also so much more.  The game offers something for everyone.  An amazing thrill ride of a campaign that does the impossible by making you care about characters in a genre that can be as disposable as used kleenex.  Challenge modes that offer depth for both players looking for multiplayer tips, or single player fans that just want to delve deeper into the game’s lore and races.  Cap that with a rich and vibrant multiplayer community that offers a fantastic experience to every type of player – co-op and multiplayer alike.  Starcraft II is an amazingly polished, finely tuned machine that should be required playing for any PC gamer, RTS fan or not.  I personally, have a harder time getting into RTS games, and if you play one game in the genre, this is the one to get into.

[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]

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