Reviewed: August 10, 2010
Released: July 27, 2010
Mac System Requirements:
Itís finally here. After 12 long years gamers all over the world are finally getting their first chance to play StarCraft II. Itís already become the biggest PC launch of the year with over 1.5 million copies sold in the first 48 hours. Has the hype surrounding this title been well deserved? The answer to that question will come in my review of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty for PC/Mac. Iíve had the last week or so to dig around in Blizzardís newest sequel and I must say Iím highly enjoying what could be the beginning of a whole new phenomenon, not to mention a resurgence in PC gaming.|
For those unsuspecting buyers youíll soon realize that StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is only part one of a title to be released in three parts. While this was a bit of controversy upon release, I think it was a wise decision. My reasoning for this is that Blizzard can better explain and show the Terran, Zerg and Protoss side of things in greater detail in separate releases instead of cramming it all into one huge multi-faction title right away.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty starts off four years after the events of the first StarCraft and follows the exploits of now ďterroristĒ Terran rebel Jim Raynor after he defects from the Dominion and their corrupt leader Mengsk. After a short while Raynor and his old friend Tychus are waist deep in Dominion and the reappearance of the Zerg and the former Ghost turned Queen of Blades.
If you are new to StarCraft then some of the references in this sequel will be lost on you. However if you read the quick start guide or listen to the install you can get caught up on the story. All of the main factions and some old enemies and friends are present so new players and old veterans will feel right at home with StarCraft II. Personally I played the original StarCraft as did so many of my fellow classmates in high school and despite my dislike of most RTS titles this is one of the few franchises that I personally enjoy, then and now.
Presentation wise, StarCraft II is not much different at its basics then the original StarCraft. The same resource managing, troop building and offensive and defensive maneuvers are still intact though with a few new added twist and surprises. Thrown into the mix are several support missions such as rescuing stranded colonists on a Zerg infested planet as well as assisting a hero in their missions. I will confess that some of these missions are thoroughly frustrating at times but in the end very rewarding and the variety helps to enhance the overall experience.
You start off your adventure in a western style bar on the planet of Mar Sara. Both the visuals and the music have a subtle western flavor about them, perhaps an insider nod to fans of the cult-classic series, Firefly. From here you conduct all of your business from setting up missions to chatting with Tychus and even playing with the jukebox. There is even a TV that shows a rather biased view of Raynorís freedom fighter efforts to the point of being comedic.
Once you decide to head out for battle you are presented with a video assessment of the upcoming mission narrated by whomever the mission is attached to, such as Tychus or Hanson. At the end of nearly every mission you are given a cutscene that advances the story, which is new for the franchise and works to great success, with the same effect of an RPG or adventure game.
These hubs are your source for doing everything in StarCraft II. Once you gain assess to the Hyperion, Raynorís flagship, you can access different areas that will allow you to hire mercs, and upgrade your troops and facilities. One of the cool things about choosing your upgrades is the fact that Blizzard took the time to imbed a video showing what each upgrade does. To do any type of upgrades you must have credits. You earn these by completing missions and completing bonus objectives within each mission.
Some missions offer more rewards than others like the Moebius Foundation missions where you must secure ancient artifacts for a nice chunk of profit. The bonus objectives, depending on the mission you choose, come with research perks such as +3 Zerg or Protoss Research. By choosing one over the other you shape your play style overall as the other choice is locked out.
Besides some of the old favorites, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty offers some new abilities for older units as well as a bunch of new ones for rookies and veteran players alike to experiment with. For instance, the Zerglings, can transition themselves into suicidal bombers of sorts and the Protoss Zealots can now sweep forward in short bursts thanks to the new Charge ability. The Terrans gain the Reaper class unit, which is critical for traversing the multi-tiered maps and their dual machine pistols can make short work of the Protossí nearly impenetrable shield on the Immortal class unit. There are some even cooler units, new to the series, but Iíll let you discover those for yourself.
One of my favorite aspects of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is that Blizzard crammed in at least 30 missions into this initial release. The missions, as I mentioned above, are your standard fare such as support and defensive but the real beauty is the each mission has surprises in store for the player. One of my favorites is a massive slow moving wave of fire across a planet that requires you to constantly keep your base of operation on the move and out of harms way. This one really keeps you on your toes.
One of the biggest improvements to the series comes in the form of the way the story is presented. Compared to the original these new fully detailed animated cutscenes put StarCraft II firmly into the league with some of todayís hottest story-driven titles. Now like many Blizzard creations their titles are designed to work on the largest possible number of systems. The little details in the environments and unit animations as well as the cutscenes are incredibly well done. The game looks decent on minimal settings but crank it up to Ultra on those systems out there that can support it and it really shines.
To complement the awesome visuals, StarCraft II has a voice cast that is second to none, with great performances despite several 80ís clichťs that work their way into the script. I also have to compliment on the score, which is truly a masterpiece in its self. You can find the soundtrack on iTunes if you didnít get the collectorís edition. The music on the jukebox is also rather zany but entertaining as well.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty not only features a really solid single player experience, but an even more impressive multiplayer. Designed on Blizzardís newly implemented Battle.Net players are now sorted on an automated league and ladder system. This system allows players to be evenly matched against other competitors roughly in the same skill bracket, so there is always a suitable challenge with minimal chance that you will get destroyed by the other players of advanced skill and ability.
To keep up with the deep competition that has undoubtedly spurred in the last week, Blizzard has incorporated several features such as tutorials and practice matches that will help you better understand how to use all the new units to their full potential as well as offering a more balanced experience. Once you are placed you can dig into 1v1 small battles or team up and go 4v4.
The one thing that players across the world have complained about is the omission of a LAN mode. Players are now required to be connected online to the Battle.Net servers to play with their friends. Itís also worth noting that the game is region coded so you cannot play online against opponents in other countries. While this may potentially hurt the Professional market in say Korea, it certainly hasnít stopped fans and new players from purchasing the biggest PC title in the last decade. Players can also go up against the AI and learn the ins and outs of the game.
If youíre interested in a little more fun, there is an arcade shooter imbedded in the single player campaign. Lost Viking, a very interesting top-down shooter is an enjoyable diversion from the rest of the adventure. I must confess that I spent way too much time on this arcade nostalgia. The standard release of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty hits stores and online for around $60 dollars and comes packaged with the core game and the map editor right out of the box, so expect a very active mod community to spring forth in the very near future.
After my experience with StarCraft II over the last week or so, I can easily say that the sequel was worth the wait. There is more than enough enjoyment to be had on the multiplayer and the potential long-term single player and mod scene. I myself have rediscovered a newfound joy in the RTS genre with the release of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty for PC and Mac.