A Review: Starcraft II Wings of Liberty

Twelve years. Twelve years I have waited to get my hands on a sequel to Starcraft. Let me tell you how big Starcraft II is, if you don’t understand.  The original Starcraft changed the way games were accepted. The original build of Starcraft shown at E3 had such bad reception, often called Orcs in Space for the similarity it had to Warcraft, that Blizzard said it would rebuild the engine and game in two months. That is insane. But they did it. And it worked. Starcraft shipped with an intense three campaign long story mode as well as an online competitive multiplayer mode. While single-player certainly was mind-blowing(ZOMG multiple points of view, twists, and cinematics!!), the real deal was/is the multiplay. Not only was it immediately a great success with friends, nothing like battling in space for Koprulu sector dominance, it bred a whole new type of competitive video game. The title “Professional Video Game Player” became more common and tournaments were held for thousands of dollars with thousands of spectators watching whose strategy would stick through it all. That is how big Starcraft is, still played competitively today.

Starcraft II was always a hope/dream of all the players, but it wasn’t officially announced until 2007.  People got way excited and the South Koreans went crazy.  The sequel to one of the best games of all time(undeniable fact) was coming to us.  We would finally find out what happened after the Zerg swarm finished off three HUGE fleets Terran+Protoss forces.  What changes have been made to our beloved fighting units?  What time has passed?  How are our characters doing since we last left them off?  Well, the game came, and it is awesome.  Oh is it awesome.  The multiplayer is great.  They found their strengths in the original and weeded out the weaknesses.  There are a bit of people clinging to the original Starcraft for their competitive game scene, but I think they are just afraid of change.  Yes, Starcraft II gameplay is different.  But it isn’t bad.  I love the new engine, the new abilities, how the game is a bit more ‘forgiving’ with your actions, and it just looks so nice.  Nothing is nicer seeing my Hydralisks shoot spines at Cory’s charging Zealots, psi-blades fully extended, just waiting to start breaking out their scythe like claws.  Who wins that battle?  Who cares, it looks freaking beautiful.  It plays smoother as well.  No more sense of jerky unit movement or stale scenery.  The game is great.  The game lives up to the hype it caused.  There are large parts that are disappointing to me though.

My gripes on the game are mostly on core design decisions for the game that take away more than they add I believe.  I really wish they would be changed, but I doubt they will be.  Now, i’m not talking balance changes for different army units, those are coming later this month actually, but bigger changes that would take a re-release of the game probably.

My Gripes…

  • Split Game Campaign
    • Now, the first Starcraft had three campaigns included in it, one for each race.  Starcraft II originally had that planned but they scrapped that idea to make each campaign longer but split up across three separate games.  So Wings of Liberty is the Terran campaign, Heart of the Swarm as the Zerg campaign will come out later, and Legacy of the Void being the Protoss campaign will be released even later to complete the storyline for Starcraft II.  This enables them to get each campaign out one at a time giving us an episodic game rather than waiting longer for the entire thing, or so they say…  Now, this isn’t a huge deal in itself in my opinion.  But paired with these other gripes of mine, it becomes a much bigger problem.
  • Tutorialish Singleplayer
    • We cried foul over the release of separate games at first because we’d be paying for less singleplayer, but Blizzard assured us that Starcraft II Wings of Liberty would have a Terran campaign that spanned just as long as all three campaigns in the original Starcraft.  Ooooh, now this was sweet music to our ears.  A longer and more in depth Terran campaign means more story, more character development, more twists, and more cinematics!  And the same will go for the Zerg and Protoss campaigns coming to us later!  Well, this longer Terran campaign wasn’t all it was cracked up to be…Let me explain.  One thing I wasn’t expecting is that singleplayer has A LOT MORE units than multiplayer.  They kept a lot of the old units from Starcraft in singleplayer.  That is cool I think.  Firebats, wraiths, medics, and even vultures get to make an appearance.  Then there are new units that aren’t in multiplayer that show up singleplayer, predators, diamondbacks, automated refineries, and even ghostesque spectres.  So, a plethora of units in singleplayer is GOOD.  It makes singleplayer that more exciting since you can make even MORE strategies and combos.  But here is where that bonus ends.  A majority of the campaign’s levels are ‘tutorial levels’.  Tutorial levels are specially designed for the player to produce and learn how to use one specific unit.  That one specific unit will be the most effective way of beating that level, so you are a little bit forced to beat that level by building that unit and using strategies with that unit.  It makes the player feel a little tied down.  The player can’t decide what strategy they want to use since they almost HAVE to use the tutorial unit.  Tutorial levels aren’t bad, they are actually a little bit helpful, but when you boast about a campaign being just as long as the original game’s entire set of campaigns, the majority shouldn’t be tutorial levels(in any game’s campaign).  Since the majority is tutorial levels, it makes the entire storyline feel like a giant tutorial.  I was waiting for the tutorial release when I was free to use whatever units/strategies I wanted to and act like a real army commander.  But that feeling came much too late in the game, around 4 or 5 levels left, when it should come quite early or even in the middle at the latest.
  • The Total Cost vs Don’t Mess With My Multiplayer!
    • Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a full priced game.  A full single-player, even if too tutorialish, and a solid multiplayer, which is arguably the reason to buy Starcraft, is worth a full price.  Some games don’t even have a multiplayer and charge a full price, so Starcraft II, one of the BEST games of this year, is definitely worth $60.  Now, the next two games…will they be worth full price and do I we want them to be?  For them to be full price they each will have their own single-player, hopefully a little less tutorialish, AND their own multiplayer.  Their own multiplayer.  I don’t want them to have their own multiplayer.  I don’t want ANOTHER multiplayer when we are still playing and Blizzard is still balancing this one.  I’d much rather pay less for the next couple games and just receive a single-player addition, or even pay full price to keep this multiplayer the sole Starcraft II multiplayer.  I was never a big fan of the two multiplayers in the original Starcraft along with Broodwar.  Everyone just played the BW multiplayer almost and the old one got left in the dust.  I don’t want to keep paying for a new multiplayer and switch to different units and play styles when each game comes out.  But, we will see what the price scheme is for the next two games.  Blizzard says they won’t over charge us, so that makes me think it will actually be lower.  Still not to crazy about the different multiplayers though…

None of those gripes on their own is anything major, but I think they affect each other too much and it adds to a bigger problem when all are present.  Now we are having to deal with, and purchase, three different games each with their own multiplayer, that will split players, and, by the looks of it, each have a really tutorialish single-player campaign.  Starcraft II is a great game, but this problem just wasn’t a good design in my opinion.  It isn’t a deterrent from buying any Starcraft II game but it does cause some disappointment afterwards, and that is almost just as bad.