Starcraft II Review

9.0 Overall Score
Graphics: 9/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Sound: 9/10

Stays true to the original | Top notch production values | generally works as intended

No option for LAN | Multiplayer can be brutal for new players

It takes a certain breed of gamer to find countless hours of enjoyment among seemingly mundane task such as gathering wood, mining gold and building fences. This same individual likely also revels over being directly responsible for the direction of a legion of workers, soldiers, scouts, and heroes. These minions all constantly need deliberate input, while the player is engaged in a virtual arms race with the AI or human opponents in a winner takes all format. With no quarter to be found in the guise of turn based combat, and the stark realization that without constant management and sound strategy this would come to a crashing halt and result in being overrun by a unwashed horde of heathens, this gamer is focused like no other. Quick thinking, lightning reflexes and solid planning are just the basic necessities to survive in this format. Sound like a delightful good time? If so, there is little doubt that you must be a RTS junkie.

In the realm of the RTS there are a number of franchises that are popular, from the Command and Conquer series, to Warcraft to Dawn of War. These all are great examples of the genre, but no single title has had the staying power of Blizzard Entertainment’s Starcraft. Released twelve years ago, Starcraft has continued selling new copies over that period, and is played both casually and competitively all across the world. To say that in some circles Starcraft has taken on a life of its own would be an understatement. That type of fanatical devotion makes it little surprise that gamers have been literally begging for a sequel for years. Well, after all of that seemingly endless waiting, teaser tidbits and media hype, that sequel has finally arrived.

Starcraft II follows closely behind its predecessor, reintroducing you to the universe four years after the original left off, in the shoes of Jim Raynor. From the moment you start playing Starcraft II, it is blatantly obvious that a great deal of time was invested into creating a compelling plotline that built off of the available lore and expanded on it exponentially. Though the game still focuses on the struggle between the Terran, the Zerg and Protoss, it is well fleshed out and much deeper than many would expect in a category of game where story is generally a complete afterthought. Playing through gives the opportunity to get a glimpse to where Blizzard plans to take the plot as a number of the dialogues remain to be resolved in the two sequels which are set to follow Wings of Liberty.

If there is one area of Starcraft II where I find myself content but somehow wishing for just a little more, it would be the in game graphics. Even with all the settings cranked up, it isn’t going to make anyone pass out from disbelief that this is actually a game. RTS have never been known for earth shattering visuals, but Dawn of War II and its sequel Chaos Rising did raise the bar previously, so a big release like Wings of Liberty does have high expectations. With that nitpick aside, I realize that from the outset Blizzard planned to develop this to play well on the average or even below average machine and they did a wonderful job balancing gameplay with graphical impact. The units are detailed and easily identifiable, the terrain looks generally pleasing and well rendered and certain effects look downright impressive. In game graphics are one thing, but cutscenes are another beast altogether. Blizzard has always been the king of these renderings and they really put the polish on for Starcraft II. The movie quality footage really serves to tie the plot points together and offer both a reward and brief respite from the wear and tear of battle for the player. These are melded so well into the total package that the overall impression you are left with is unanimously positive and you find playing through Starcraft II becomes an experience as much if not more than just a game.

Starcraft II as mentioned centers around Jim Raynor and Raynor’s Raiders. He operates from the Hyperion, a Behemoth-class battlecruiser which features a number of wings where various characters may be interacted with to progress the story or just to learn more about the crew. You are able to pick up missions to undertake or to engage in a video game within a game, The Lost Viking may be accessed aboard the Hyperion. You are also able to hire mercenaries while on board or just to take in the latest spin that Dominion news is pushing out to the masses.
Once you are ready to deploy, you may pick your mission of choice from the bridge. These missions should be familiar in feel to those who are Starcraft veterans and comfortable enough that those who aren’t will be up to speed shortly. Blizzard did not rewrite the book on real time strategy for this release, the staples of resource collection and offensive and defensive asset building are present and accounted for. Where other games of recent have been tinkering with elements of the RTS, a decision to build and enhance off the original formula was wisely adhered to.

Starcraft II reminds me of a number of other titles, and more than a couple of times similarities to Dawn of War II surfaced. I always enjoyed the brief discourse from Captain Angelos and the bit of story that accompanied it made it a bit more personal when deploying my Space Marines in the 40k universe. Blizzard takes that to the next level and really did a great job with the mission briefings, working to give the player a sense of urgency and a feeling of necessity when they set out. It is a far cry from where you were just told that you needed to take a piece of ground back from the green guys and you had no reason why, other than the fact that they were green and that couldn’t be a good thing. The feeling of purpose is a strong motivator in life and Starcraft recognizes that and builds from it. Another Dawn of War similarity was the inclusion of a number of RPG elements and upgrade paths, which again serves to give the player a tangible reward for his success. There are a number of way of ways to spend the credits and research points you earn in the missions available from the Hyperion Armory and Lab which help to prepare your forces for their next challenge.

Wings of Liberty brings the player in, gives him the tools he needs to be successful and rewards him with a sense of accomplishment as he progresses. The game steadily gives the player additional units to add to his arsenal and does an excellent job of mixing up mission objectives to keep them feeling fresh without any major deviations from traditional gameplay. I think a big part of the success of Starcraft II is the way the developers manage to keep you in a familiar surrounding all while introducing just enough gradual change to keep you vividly aware that it is a new game and on a larger, more epic scale.

As well as Blizzard has done constructing a single player experience that could easily stand alone as a testament to real time goodness, it would be almost criminal not to make at least a brief acknowledgement of the incredible attention to detail and excrutiating investment in balance that was invested into the multiplayer side of Starcraft II. Part of this balance was accomplished by the exclusion of a number of singleplayer units that did not fit the format. This may seem like a detriment initially, but was necessary and isn’t all that noticeable once you begin play. Starcraft has been played competitively for many years and this will become all to evident if you haven’t much experience and wander into a match online thinking you will snooze through it, only to find out that it is over before you barely have navigated the map once.

Picking up a game or two through the revamped is intuitive and though it may be a challenge, those who persevere will find a rewarding experience as they develop strategies and counters for various play styles. Knowing that it can be a hard transistion from a campaign setting to the hectic pace of multiplayer, Blizzard wisely included a scaleable offline mode where the player can skirmish agianst the AI at varying challenge levels. This isn’t a replacement for a human opponent, but it does a great job at basic preparation. The unfortunate part of that, is even with this training, many gamers will be turned off by the challenge of stepping into such a hostile environment and may never play enough online games for Blizzards matchmaker to place them where they would actually have a great time against equal level opponents.

I suppose while mentioning multiplayer I should include that the option for LAN play of any form has been excluded from Starcraft II. Though this isn’t something that I had personally viewed as a negative, it was a decision that has not played well among a number of gamers. Overall it should have very little effect on the majority of gamers and with the wealth of positives Wings of Liberty presents, it would seem to be a shame to miss out on a quality package over this single omission.

Without sounding like a broken record, (bad pun intended) Blizzard has done a similarly spectacular job overall with the sounds, music and voiceovers for Starcraft II. Much as in the first game, you will find yourself clicking the units to hear the comical and creative comments, often filled with references most people will recognize and often heavy with sarcasm or innuendo. The voice talent is just that, talented and varied, at one point approximately 60 voice actors were involved with the recording. In game effects are crisp and concise and units are easily identified by their sound. Weapons and actions feel as they have impact, no hollow bass or flat highs to be found here. The soundtrack has been assembed by the composer responsible for the first Starcraft and the continuity is a good thing, as fans of the original will feel right at home with the audio of Wings of Liberty.

It is really easy to understand why Blizzard has such a devout following of fans. Just when you start to associate them solely with the grind of World of Warcraft, they turn out another product so polished and featuring such an obvious unwavering attention to detail that you can’t help but to be impressed. Starcraft II doesn’t try to hide its classic heritage, instead it aggressively embraces it, stands up loudly and lets out a resounding gutteral snarl at the critics and naysayers who questioned the direction the series was taking, whether doing three releases would work or if the PC RTS market would justify the investment. Some of these challenges have been answered conclusively within days of the first launch, the rest will assuredly follow in time.

One other thing that is certain, Blizzard may be quirky with release dates, slow to turn out titles and hesistant to change but the end results are difficult to dispute. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty truly is one of the most well rounded and finely polished games to release in any genre, on any system. This is the complete package, sharp appearance, professional quality cinematics, fulfilling campaign, balanced multiplayer and great playability on a wide range of hardware. It may not be as flashy as some titles, or as innovative as others, but it combines all the right qualities to succeed almost flawlessly at what it sets out to accomplish, which is to deliver a real time strategy experience that keeps loyal Starcraft gamers at home and welcomes a new generation into Blizzards fold.


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One Comment on "Starcraft II Review"

  1. Venger February 17, 2013 at 8:31 PM - Reply

    Though an official release date hasn’t been divulged from the Blizzard Headquarters, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm has been announced and is available for pre-order. This expansion is focused on Kerrigan, Queen of Blades and promises numerous additions.

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