StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (Review)

I don’t play competitive multiplayer games. I especially don’t play them online with random strangers eager to steamroll the “n00b.” I double-especially don’t play multiplayer Starcraft; a game that pits you against literal professionals in the business of, well, playing Starcraft. Though I’ve revisited the 12-year old original several times, it has always been to replay the campaign. Yes, I play Starcraft for the story and, originally, I intended to only play Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty for its story. What do you say about a game that completely changes who you are as a player?

Upon finishing the campaign, I couldn’t shake a slight twinge of disappointment with the plot. The Terran-specific entry in the Starcraft II Trilogy shakes things up for the series in a big way, ending on a note that completely derails — in a good way — the course of the plot set by the end of Brood War. Unfortunately, like too many games, the Wings of Liberty campaign suffers from often cringe-worthy, cliched dialogue and an underdeveloped third act that races towards its climax.

To be fair, that climax is as intense as any Blizzard has done in the past, but it leaves just a little too much plot up in the air for the upcoming Zerg and Protoss-centric expansions. Wings of Liberty feels more like a prologue than a first chapter.

However, that’s not to say the Wings of Liberty narrative is, by any stretch of the imagination, bad. The time that you have in-between missions to explore Jim Raynor’s flagship, the Hyperion, and talk with his crew and allies provides a more intimate view of the world and its people than we’ve ever seen in a Blizzard game prior to World of Warcraft. The writing may be weak but the plot is rich and detailed, and the campaign provides a close, personal look at the mythology that’s sure to please lore nerds, such as myself.

Regardless of it’s quality, I surprisingly found that the story isn’t what kept me up nights, playing the campaign, feeding that “one more mission…” addict mentality. For the first time in my personal history with the real-time strategy genre, I was fully invested in the actual act of playing the game.

It helps that literally every single one of the campaign’s 25+ missions offers something unique. Whether owed to one of the campaign’s many unique units (not included in multiplayer out of necessity to maintain the game’s finely-tuned balance) or objectives, you’re never doing exactly the same thing twice. Zombie attacks, a wall of fire and a train robbery are only a few examples of what you’ll encounter. When the campaign was finally over, I immediately wanted to start a new one, just to try tackling every one of these missions — each one its own unique mini-game — in new and challenging ways.

Unfortunately, after being assigned to review the game, there was no time for that. No, now it was time to jump into the deep end: multiplayer. I gritted my teeth and prepared for humiliation and frustration.

I spent the better part of a day practicing against the AI and getting my feet wet in for-real multiplayer. It wasn’t pretty. I suffered defeat after defeat after defeat; already, this felt like a terrifyingly familiar scenario.

That same night, I had a hard time sleeping. As I tossed and turned in my bed for at least an hour, I just kept thinking, “I could probably fit in another game and then try sleeping again.” All I wanted to do, all night, was keep playing a game at which I suck. For the first time, I was losing at Starcraft multiplayer, and loving every minute of it.

The singleplayer challenges, made to acclimate new players with necessary multiplayer concepts (such as how to counter specific units and how to use hotkeys), helped a little bit. But there’s only so much you can learn in scripted scenarios.

The matchmaking helps a lot. Matched against players who suck as much as I do — or just a little bit less — at least gives me a fighting chance. More than that, it gives me time to learn. Ahh, that’s what it is. Unlike in the original Starcraft, I’m actually learning how to play Starcraft II.

In fact, Blizzard has seemingly gone out of their way to make the RTS — a competitive genre just as impenetrable as the fighting game — accessible to anyone, even doofuses like me. Replays allow you to watch your matches and see exactly how your opponent churned out so many Reapers so fast; the post-battle score summary provides graphs, charts and even a side-by-side comparison of each player’s build order; the game gives you 50 “practice” matches when you first jump in, allowing you to play and experiment without affecting your permanent record. The many concepts that eluded me about old Starcraft have been demystified.

I don’t plan on stopping any time soon, either. With every match, I get a little bit better, a little bit faster. And the plethora of achievements and unlockable portraits and decals make for some nice incentive. Browsing some of those rewards early on in the game, I wondered how it was possible to win 5,000 matches with each race — how the game could possibly have that kind of longevity — but now I get it. I’m not saying I’ll get quite to that point, but I can say I’ll be playing Starcraft II for a long time to come. It was most definitely worth the 12-year wait.

Originally posted at Gaming Evolution

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