"For only being one-third of a game, this is honestly outstanding."

And no, this is not some random joke. The game is very good, but cannot be considered beyond a scale of 3.33.../10. Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick literally gave a mission statement saying game design should not be about fun and that gaming fans should be exploited via brand loyalty. Makes sense, really, since World of Warcraft was a financial disaster and Activision-Blizzard is currently only worth 13.4 billion dollars according to Forbes. The company obviously needs to do stuff like split one game into three separate releases to recoup the losses.

To that end, Starcraft 2 was split into three separate installments even though it's all part of a collective whole. Corporate greed is all over the design in Wings of Liberty if you look close enough, which we'll get into in a second, but the biggest proof is how far apart the releases are. The entire engine is already built, as are presumably all the units -- remember, we were told there would be no hidden surprises in future releases and that everything was already finished, by the same people who think we the consumer exist to be exploited -- so what's the holdup? As of this writing, we still have no release date for Heart of the Swarm which should have been finished long ago, and at this rate we'll be lucky to see Legacy of the Void by 2016.

Characters and Plot

Jim Raynor is back, and despite how awesome he was in the original it does not compare to how awesome he is in Starcraft 2. He is the main character and you will follow him for the entire game, and the entire plot more or less amounts to "Save Kerrigan". Yes, the same queen b**** of the universe Kerrigan who wants to take the Zerg and annihilate everything. There's a lot of different characters in this game and tons of different things going on, but nothing is difficult to follow since everyone is basically a cardboard cutout. This turns a lot of people off, but cliche plots can be fine if done well.

Raynor comes with friends, and lots of them. His friends are all military personalities thrown into a character, but that's fine: you've got Tychus, the grizzled old veteran who was jailed in part thanks to Raynor and will totally not betray anyone in Starcraft 2; there's the token geeky scientists because military intelligence is an oxymoron, which is not my opinion but Blizzard has long since proven that it's theirs; the token dwarf guy good with machines because every single Blizzard game needs an homage to World of Warcraft somewhere in it; there's a spunky freedom-loving sidekick who is clearly never going to question the mission or his leader's motives; and rounding out the side characters is a lunatic named Gabriel Tosh.

Tosh is so awesome that he deserves his own paragraph, because a fleeting mention does not do this guy justice at all. Think of the most chill black dude you know, give him dreadlocks, marine muscles, some voodoo charms and a Haitian accent and you end up with Gabriel Tosh. But that's not all. Remember ghost units in the first Starcraft and how they basically became ghosts by going through a bunch of psychic warfare training? And some of their minds just shattered?

Yeah, those guys were wimps. Starcraft 2 has a unit called specters, and Tosh leads them. Spectres are basically ghosts, only somehow more nuts. Now imagine the guy who has to lead these dudes. The guy looks and acts like he's going to snap at any second and just wreck every single person on the Hyperion, yet at the same time he is the most chill guy on board. Nothing phases him, he can read minds and he more or less steals the show in Starcraft 2. He's directly involved in the 2 or 3 best scenes in the entire game, and he's the best character to talk to between missions. Just check out his character model for awhile and he's either playing with a knife, messing around with the Night Elf stripper (yeah, this actually happens) or blatantly not giving a crap about anyone else on board. At one point he gets accused of listening in on a private conversation, and he immediately shows up decloaked. He doesn't even deny the charges, he just shows up to start warning people not to f*** with him. And you shouldn't under any circumstances.

Starcraft 2's mission statement was redefining how a story is told in the real-time strategy (RTS), and it succeeds admirably here. In the original Starcraft, a bunch of portraits told you a story and gave you a mission before sending you on your way. Here, you get to explore a lot of different things and talk to a lot of different characters before going onto a map and there is no set order for you to play out the plot. Generally speaking each character will have a set story path and the only order you have to go in is on that character's path. So for example, you can do all of Tosh's missions before going deeply into Tychus's missions, and then you can bring the units you've acquired into missions where you really shouldn't have them. Typically an RTS will go in one order, but here you can do dumb stuff like bring siege tanks into a mission that tries to introduce vultures for the first time. It seems like a good idea, but honestly it isn't because the whole progression and flow winds up being off for the entire game if you do things that way.

There's other characters and mission stuff to get into, but delving there would be spoiler territory if you were in love with the first game so it's best to take the "play it for yourself and see" approach. It can be summed up in one word, though: crumbs. We are not getting the latter two-thirds of Starcraft 2 any time soon.

Gameplay

The meat and potatoes of any game, but especially an RTS. After the atrocity of Warcraft 3, it's nice to see that Blizzard still remembers how to design a proper RTS. Gone is the imbalanced hero system, RPG elements, random variance and all the other nonsense that made Warcraft 3 one of the five worst game ever made and easily the worst RTS ever. No, in Starcraft 2 if you win it's because you were the better player, not because you happened to have 1-3 hero units that were better than the other guy's 1-3 hero units. It's still unreal how a company currently worth 13.4 billion dollars apparently didn't play test Warcraft 3 at all, but I digress.

Any RTS needs to be split up between single player and multiplayer when discussing gameplay, so we'll discuss single player first. Even with all the filler in this game's single player that exists solely to stretch one game into three releases, it's quite fun. the basic idea is each new mission will introduce you to a unit, and then you get that unit for the rest of the game. In the event you've never played an RTS before in your entire life, the basic idea is that everything happens in real time. So you have little resource-gathering guys that gather your minerals, and then you spend it on buildings and units and do whatever the level tells you to do. It's easy to grasp, albeit it can be a challenge to get good at it. Thankfully this game is awash in various difficulty settings that allow a brand new person to the RTS genre to enjoy Starcraft 2 every bit as much as a veteran who will find brutal mode too easy.

It's a good concept, but it of course comes with the caveat of all the little things that exist solely to split Starcraft 2 up into three separate games. The big one is how since we don't get to play as Zerg or Protoss, we get research points that can be spent turning Terran units into quasi-Zerg and quasi-Protoss units. Because, you know, this is so much better than having a full game on release. There's also forced replayability if you're into achievements, which Starcraft 2 is loaded with in single player alone. And if you think single player's achievement whoring is bad, wait until you look at all the stuff they forced into multiplayer. People will go for it all, of course, because the modern gamer has been duped into thinking achievements replacing unlockables is a good thing. Other stuff exists that blatantly shows the corporate greed of this game, but if you actually plan on playing Starcraft 2 by this point of the review then you're a salesman's dream and beyond help anyway. There's also the issue of nearly every single player mission being a timed gimmick, but some people actually like that sort of thing.

Multiplayer is a mixed bag, honestly. It's good at the core, but a lot of stuff is blatantly missing which, of course, is a sign of how Starcraft 2 was split into three games for no reason. But let's cover the good things first. Most of the magic from the original game is in 2, and already people are putting mathematical analysis into every aspect of build orders and starter building placements. We've even got pro players already pulling off godtier tricks and traps, and some professional videos are among the best things to watch on the internet. Each race also has a lot of new things that they can do that keeps things different from how they played in the original Starcraft.

Well, kind of. In the original, Protoss dominated the low levels of play, Zerg dominated everything else and at the highest level Terrans were the race of choice. In that regard, we haven't seen much of a shift except with the Zerg. They were basically given a full overhaul to help compete with the Terrans, and have mostly succeeded. So now, we're left with... the Protoss dominating low levels of play, the Zerg dominating everything else and Terrans being the race of choice for the absolute upper echelon. But make no mistake here, the Zerg are insanely good in this version of the game and will probably only get better. The game is still mostly balanced, don't get me wrong, but it's not perfect. Protoss are still too expensive despite new mobility options, Zerg are still way too fast and the Terrans are still able to counter absolutely anything.

And all that comes into play before factoring in the things blatantly missing from multiplayer to sell the two future installments of Starcraft 2. If you think this is the full multiplayer package, you're begging. The Zerg and Protoss don't feel complete at all compared to the Terrans, because they aren't, and even with this the Terrans are blatantly missing several units. Even not considering the new units, unavailable to Terran multiplayer are old staples such as the firebat, wraith and vulture. Does anyone really think this intentional crippling wasn't intended as a big wet kiss to Bobby Kotick and the plan to split Starcraft 2 up into three games?

Graphics and Music

Good, although it could have been much better and the interface is among the worst I've seen. Remember the original Mass Effect and how terrible the menus all were? Starcraft 2, despite having technically good graphics, has a terrible menu interface and it honestly distracts from how good the in-game interface is. The one and only thing anyone needs to know about the new and improved in-game options is how you're more or less able to hotkey your entire army to one button. No more 12 unit maximums. And if you think that sounds good, it only gets better as you explore the other nifty new things they changed graphically.

The music is honestly a disappointment. In the original game, each race had their own score and it was fitting. But because this is Starcraft 2: First Edition of Three: Terrans, we really only get to explore the human side of things and we see almost nothing from the other two races at all.

Conclusion

I don't support piracy and never will, but games like Starcraft 2 make it impossible to feel sorry for companies that get bitten by it. Activision-Blizzard is worth 13.4 billion dollars, yet they blatantly withheld content from Starcraft 2 so they could turn a 60 dollar game into a 140 dollar (at least) game. Starcraft 2 is a good game, but you're far better off waiting for the inevitable Battle Chest in a few years rather than paying full price for a mere one-third of a game. Just find a friend that owns this, play it at his place and be done with it. Starcraft 2 in its current state is an unfinished product and not worth exploring.

I'll leave you with one final example. You know those Starcraft tournaments, like the ones in South Korea that do everything short of support the entire nation's economy? They're all done on lag-free LAN.

Guess where LAN is in Starcraft 2? No where to be found, of course. Do not buy Starcraft 2 and do not get suckered into paying full price for one-third of a game. It's not like this will end up being the final product, anyway.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 08/01/11, Updated 08/05/11

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


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