starcraft 2 protoss carrier.jpg

Review: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty – A desire to compete

Spending a decade doing anything is a very long time. May it be writing a book, getting a degree in school or developing a video game; you could do many different things during that duration. The nature of the real-time strategy genre and its heavy reliance on the fair balance of each unit is probably the reason for StarCraft II’s lengthy development. The perfection of each unseen number calculation is all done in respect to the multiplayer portion of the game. During the development of an RTS, values and attributes of units are constantly adjusted; different scenarios are proposed and the game is extensively tested. And since so much attention is given to multiplayer, the solitary portions of RTS games are usually slapped together halfheartedly.  StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty will impress with the amount of effort that went into creating an equally enjoying campaign. But if you lack a strong desire to learn the competitive aspects of StarCraft, it will be difficult to eliminate the feeling that you are only getting a taste of the whole experience.

Video tutorials available in the main menu will help with movement, building structures or collecting resources, but the application of these skills is most crucial. The campaign is the ideal place to learnthese controls and will also build upon them with more complex systems. Queuing up moves while holding the Shift key, which is great for deploying the Siege Tank; or loading Medivacs for quick transportation of units, are some of the important skills you will learn. The first half or so of the campaign isn’t particularly demanding, which grants the player perfect opportunity – if new to the series or genre – to make a conscious effort to employ keyboard shortcuts and experiment with different combinations of unit types.

The noticeable variety from mission to mission will feature similar objectives, but not one core concept is repeated. One mission required me to destroy colonies infested by the Zerg during the day, defending my base at night when the Zerg were most active. I had to make sure that I was properly equipped to quickly and effectively take out the Zerg infested units during the limited day cycle, but also have strong fortifications to protect my base which was responsible for replacing killed units. After finishing a mission and seeing the Achievements attached to it, they always seemed reasonably attainable, tempting you to restart and give the mission a second run through. The optional objectives can change the length or difficulty of each scenario, but obviously not required to progress. If you want the Credits or Research to permanently upgrade your units, it will be worth the effort to go out of your way to complete most of the objectives. Optional objectives will usually be somewhat similar, unlike the variety each mission presents to the player.

Between sessions of Marine making and Tank deploying, players will have access to the Hyperion (Jim Raynor’s ship) where mouse clicking is the means of interaction with objects or people. The interface is similar to that of a point and click adventure game, where things you can interact in the environment are obviously labelled when accessible. When you’re not watching the high quality rendered CGI cut scenes that sometimes makes the in game graphics underwhelming, the Hyperion is where the story is generally developed. Even though I did not play StarCraft before, it was fairly simple to pick up on the conflict triangle between the Terran, Protoss and Zerg. Jim Raynor’s good guy attitude sometimes conflicts with his character, as he often will say how he wants to grant freedom back to people, but will disregard the ramifications of selfish decisions related to his girlfriend – Sarah Kerrigan. The simplicity of the point and click interaction allows for a slight break from the demands of the hectic action, though the mediocre written dialogue and the flat jokes that come along with each character,  is ultimately disappointing. With a universe so rich with lore and potential to be increasingly interesting, the execution around this dirty, space cowboy aesthetic feels wasted.

The campaign is mostly about improving your skills or adding upon what you already know. StarCraft is so inherently competitive, that I could never help but think that the campaign acted as the introduction to the actual draw of the game, the multiplayer. This is where majority of the care went into; this is what kept StarCraft so popular many years after its initial release. If you have no interest in being at least slightly competitive and learning the intricacies of each unit, then StarCraft II will feel like a steak dinner without the steak.

I was not at all satisfied with just the campaign, but since the learning curve is so high, I was immediately intimidated as a new player. I searched for beginner’s guides on different websites, tried to take in as much information as I could with each of the specific Challenges, and played through all 50 games of the practice league. While I don’t consider myself to be anywhere near “decent”, I have a grasp on the importance of each building’s function and some of the unit counters. After picking a random race for 50 practice league games, I have settled with (despite being so obscure when first used) the Zerg race and its always disgusting insect like units. I have a general grasp of each race, yet I am still learning a lot with each game. And when I reach a point where I feel as if I have a firm understanding of the strength of each unit, a player will steamroll my team with a giant army of aerial Voidrays and Stalkers (which look a lot like sentries from Portal) a few minutes into the game.

Blizzard is aware of the skill gaps between novice and intermediate players, so Battle.net – Blizzard`s matchmaking interface – sophisticatedly takes players and groups them within leagues consisting of similar skill level. Of course, I was put into the Bronze league, the lowest rank, where most games were noticeably harder than those in the practice league. As I continue to play and Battle.net gathers a more accurate understanding of my skills, I will be grouped with players where the win-loss percentages will be split. As I grow and develop my skills (which probably won’t change very much) I could move up in the league ranks to face players in the more skilled ranks of Silver, Gold, Platinum, etc.

While Battle.net ensures for an optimal and fair game experience, what it does not address is the act of playing StarCraft II`s competitive mode occasionally. New players, who look to play alongside other games, will be in an awkward situation. The way I view it – if you have no intentions of playing the multiplayer, then you will not get the complete StarCraft experience. Without some dedication and patience to learn, your skills will not grow, therefore your progression will be static. For those willing to spend time and learn the systems, they will appreciate the littlest of features of each unit, and will enjoy this strategy game when the proper finesse and knowledge is acquired. The amount of time you have to spend learning the game to reach that stage of refinement is why I wouldn’t recommend StarCraft II to people not interested or willing to be competitive in the multiplayer. The competitive side of Blizzard’s strategy game is so essential to the complete experience, having interest in justthe campaign will not satisfy those afraid or indifferent about the core of the whole experience.

The variety and creativity of the single player missions will be entertaining for players both old and new, but only as an introduction into the actual significant aspect of StarCraft II, the competitive multiplayer. Unless there is an interest in the entire game Blizzard has spent a decade crafting, then you won’t get the full StarCraft experience. Wonky jokes, awkward writing and some weird story telling does not factor in when considering the variety from mission to mission, but it is still significant when evaluating the campaign as a whole. The purpose of creating a friendly but challenging learning environment for the player is a successful first step transitioning into the multiplayer. To recommend the game alone on its campaign is a difficult thing to do. This is where the audience for StarCraft II can be limited to those who have a strong affiliation with online gaming. When evaluated as a whole, the complete StarCraft II experience will be exactly what veterans have waited a decade for, while also exciting for those looking to be involved in one of the most refined real-time strategy games to date.