Review by Super Slash

"Starcraft is back, and is still just as fun and addictive as ever"

Starcraft is an RTS (Real-Time Strategy) game, which was originally developed by Blizzard for the PC in 1998. An expansion, known as Brood War, was released a few months later. There was also a port of the original and its expansion developed for the N64, known simply as Starcraft 64. It has become one of Blizzard's most popular franchises, and will likely always remain that way. It had a fairly good story that was worth following, awesome custom maps, and an overall addictive multiplayer. So, logically, a sequel would later be in the works. A few years after the release of Brood War, development on Starcraft 2 apparently began, but the game wasn't officially announced until 2007. Fast forward three years, and people finally get the chance to play the game in its full glory. But was it worth the long wait? That's for you to decide. We'll start off with the story. It's been four years since the end of the Brood War, and Kerrigan is nowhere to be seen (she *is* in the game, mind you). Jim Raynor has now essentially turned into a mercenary of sorts, and feels more like a cliched movie character at some points than the awesome guy we grew to love in the original. He is the most wanted man in the sector, hunted down by the Dominion fleet lead by Arcturus Mengsk. Due to the conflicts they've had with each other in the past, Raynor wants to get his revenge and thus sets out to stop the Dominion and drag Arcturus off of his throne. The thing is, the plot never really moves forward; unlike in the original, you basically get to choose which missions you want to do, and when. You get to choose between planets where these missions take place, but most of these missions add very little, if anything, to the plot itself. There are a total of 29 missions, including a secret one that must be unlocked by doing a certain thing in a certain mission. Now you get to explore the Hyperion, which is basically a hub for this game. You can click on various things, such as your crew members to speak to them, the Star Map, a TV which shows you a news broadcast, and more. There are four areas onboard the Hyperion that you can visit after each mission once you get on it: the cantina, bridge, armory, and laboratory. The cantina is where Tychus Findlay, one of Raynor's best friends, hangs out, as well as the place where you can view news broadcasts and change the music on Raynor's music box. You can also hire mercenaries for use in other missions using credits you've earned (more on that in a moment).

The bridge is where Matt Horner is located (whom is believed to be the commander you played as in the original Starcraft), as well as some other crew members, and the Star Map, which is where you choose which mission you want to take on. The armory is where you purchase upgrades for your units and certain structures, and more of them will become available as you progress through the game. The laboratory is where the typical scientist does his research on Zerg units and other things, such as Protoss artifacts. After each mission, you earn a certain amount of credits; you use these credits to hire mercenaries and purchase upgrades, which are essential. Mercenaries are built through the campaign-only structure, the Merc Compound; every mercenary is a beefed up version of an existing unit, and as a result, they're more expensive and you can only make two at once. After "buying" them in a mission, you have to wait a few minutes before you can get any more. Upgrades to units and structures include, but aren't limited to, extra damage, bonus attacks, attached weapons to certain structures, and more. The possibilities are amazing, and it's entirely up to you to decide which ones to purchase. You can tell that Blizzard really wanted to improve the gameplay of the campaign, and it shows. However, as I mentioned earlier, while the story is good, it moves far too slowly, and as a result, not much happens. It doesn't feel as immersive as the original's until the last few missions. In case you're wondering, units from Starcraft 1 have returned, but some of them are only available in the campaign, such as the Goliath and Science Vessel. In addition to that, there are some original campaign-only units, such as the Diamondback (which I think would've been a good addition to the multiplayer, but I digress).

And now for the multiplayer. To be perfectly honest, it's worse than it was in the original game. The core gameplay remains the same, and is even better than it was before, but the new Battle.net needs some work. You can no longer actually create your own room to play a match in. Instead, you have to choose from a list of maps to enter a room; the map listing is based on the popularity of the map, which is (I believe) based on how many people click on that map in an hour. Also, you can no longer host whatever map you want; instead, you have to go to the Galaxy Editor (a really powerful editor for this game, even more powerful than Warcraft 3's), publish the map you want to play, then go on Battle.net and find it. It's a huge pain and shouldn't be that complicated. This also means that if you downloaded another person's map from another site, you undeservingly get the credit for the map. It is also highly unlikely that your map will be noticed; due to the popularity of it being so low, it will be pushed so far down on the map list that you'll probably never have anyone join it unless you idle for hours. This just doesn't work out, and makes it where potentially awesome maps will unfortunately not be noticed for a long time, if ever, being overshadowed by other popular maps. With the bad comes the good, however: the friends system was done pretty well. When you create your character name (which you cannot change under normal circumstances), you are given a friend code of sorts. This code is shown in the lobby beside your character portrait. You are identified by your friends by this code, since names are no longer unique. Give them this code and they can add you, with only your character name/code being displayed.

However, you can also add someone as a Real ID friend, using the email their Starcraft 2 account is associated with. This means that their character code is not needed, and their real name will show up on your friends list with their character name beside it. You can invite your friends to a party, and a party chat will open up in the lobby by default. You can then invite them to a room to play a match if you wish. As far as I'm aware, there is no limit to the amount of friends you can have this time. Convenient enough, and a pretty good improvement from the original's friend system, where you could only have 25 friends at once on a given account and couldn't manually invite them to a room. Also, there are now achievements, which do add to the game for people that like them, but are not necessarily a measurement of skill. There are ones that are only obtained through certain difficulties in the campaign, and others that are earned by doing specific tasks in a ranked multiplayer match. The list goes on. Of course, you are awarded with achievement points for earning them, which are displayed in your Battle.net profile and by your portrait in the lobby. In addition to that, you can unlock the character portraits in much the same way, though most of them are unlocked by winning a certain amount of ranked matches with a certain race. These portraits are a really nice touch, and are cool to have, but are not at all easy to get (especially the really good ones, such as the Queen of Blades). Overall, Battle.net 2.0 is decent at some points and bad at others. I liked the original Battle.net better because of how simple it was.

And now for the gameplay mechanics. I'm no expert at stuff like this, so I'll just say that the game feels balanced enough. Each race has some new and returning units and structures, while some have been removed entirely but may or may not be added in the expansions. Zerg in particular seems really weak if you don't know how to use them, though; while they are still good, they're hard to use (probably the most difficult race to play as). Protoss is still as strong as they ever were. There are some neat quirks to each race; for example, with Terran, depending on the addon you give your Command Center, you can either have a turret attached to it attack other units that are at your base, or you can enable the ability to scan your opponent's base and call down MULEs. MULEs are basically an advanced SCV; that is, they gather resources faster than regular SCVs do, but only last a certain amount of time. Zerg can produce Queens from a Hatchery after getting a Spawning Pool; Queens can now attack, and have a couple really useful abilities. They can use Spawn Larvae on your hatcheries at the cost of energy, which gives you extra larvae after a few seconds. They can also use Creep Tumors, which expand the creep; those tumors can produce more tumors, essentially allowing you to spread the creep as much as you want. This may seem pointless, but every ground Zerg unit moves a lot faster on creep, so it's pretty useful and should be used as much as possible. Sunken Colonies and Spore Colonies have been replaced with Spine and Spore Crawlers, respectively; both of them can uproot and move to another spot on the creep, but they cannot attack while uprooted.

Protoss has the Chrono Boost ability available from the start on a Nexus, which can be used at the cost of energy. It increases the building time of the units for the structure you used it on, and can also be used to make upgrade time faster. It would take too long to mention the differences in each race from the first game, so I'll just say that overall, there are major balance changes due to the new units and abilities, and Blizzard really doesn't disappoint in this area. The game will probably continue to be patched to balance the game out even more, as well as removing any bugs the community may encounter. One thing I forgot to mention earlier is that you have to be signed onto Battle.net to do most things in the game; heck, to even play the game, you have to be online. After logging into your account at least once, you can play offline, but only the campaign. Everything else is unavailable. Overall, Starcraft 2 is definitely a worthy sequel to the original, and does not disappoint in most regards. If you like RTSes and/or liked the original Starcraft, don't pass this game up; it's worth the $60, I'd say.

Pros:

+ At its core, the game is still the Starcraft we all know and love
+ The friends system was implemented nicely
+ Achievements and portraits are neat extras that, while not really necessary, do add a bit of replay value to the game for those that care about them
+ The campaign, gameplay-wise, is much better this time around
+ Still as addictive as ever
+ With a recent patch, chat channels have been added

Cons:

- Battle.net 2.0 is sorely lacking in a few areas and could use improvement
- Due to the non-linear nature of the campaign, the story wasn't given much focus


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/26/10, Updated 02/07/11

Game Release: Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (US, 07/27/10)


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