Starcraft 2 – Review



Title   Starcraft 2
Developer  Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher  Blizzard Entertainment
Platform  PC
Genre  Real Time Strategy
Release Date  27/07/2010

A lot has happened since the original Starcraft arrived, thus forming Blizzard’s holy trinity of current game worlds. But to think that the sequel to the much loved real time strategy game took over twelve years to arrive is simply astounding. Since 1998 (Starcraft’s year of release) there’s been a whole host of developments within the gaming world – the Dreamcast, for example, had its birth as well as later on its subsequent funeral, the Playstation 2 took the world by the jugular, Nintendo in the politest way possible crashed to rock bottom before being revitalised in a motion filled era and Microsoft entered the ring with the original Xbox and later on its successor the Xbox 360. In fact there has been so much going on since the original release that it warrants an article in its own right but this is, after all, a Starcraft II review.

Blizzard had the daunting task of creating a sequel to a game that was still an active member of the E-Sports circuit but it also had such a huge following of devoted players, and this some twelve years since its original release. The single player campaign was always going to come under scrutiny, for a series of Starcraft’s multiplayer prestige that only comes natural, and it’s probably one area that you can feel that they have put so much effort into it. The campaign starts in typical Blizzard fare with some rather excellent cinematics before launching you into some entry level missions. Perhaps the biggest praise you can give for the campaign is that the missions never really feel rehashed, and for a game of the RTS nature that’s some accomplishment.

There are missions which have enemies that only come out at night, but when they do they come out akin to a zombie horde; some planets have waves of lava that is constantly moving and even stealth makes an appearance. There’s just something about selecting your next mission and not having that dreaded feeling of “Oh, here we go again” but rather “Wonder what I’m up to this time… oh, awesome” that just hits the right spot and leaves you chomping at the bit for more.

Perhaps one of the nicest features of the campaign is the stages in between missions, which can only be described as being similar to walking around on the Normandy in Mass Effect 2. Sadly you don’t get to move around your locale (which is, primarily, your ship) instead you get areas akin to a theatre stage, it’s almost as if you’ve just walked into a room and stood in the corner watching as everyone else goes about their business. More surprising is that this feature doesn’t feel tacked on, and if anything it really adds to the whole single player experience.

On one hand it grants you the ability to do certain things that will change your campaign, ranging from the purchasing of mercenaries, upgrading your buildings and units through the armoury or perhaps specialising in some Protoss or Zerg research that you’ve managed to acquire. On the other hand you’ve got character interaction that helps fill in some gaps of the story, while also adding in some typical Blizzard humour, of which the local news reports can often be a source for some questionable journalistic skills and some even more dubious adverts, with the iPistol (think, iPod, but in gun form) being one of many that leaves a few eyebrows raised.

It’s this humour that crops up occasionally throughout the game, rarely does it leave you without a grin spread across your face and on one or two occasions resulting in a proper belly laugh. But not once does it ever feel like it’s out of place.  Added to the tried and tested RTS mix is decisions, which when presented gives you the opportunity to decide which way James Raynor takes action. On the whole I’d have liked to have seen more of them as, despite them working really well when one does appear, you just feel that the system could have been utilised considerably more.

It no way carries the depth of say Dragon Age or Mass Effect, and perhaps the RTS tag does restrict how much you can do in terms of freedom, but there is a really good system waiting to be utilised and, when you can do it, it feels really good; the decisions actually provoking thought and not just generating random mouse clicks to proceed. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t used as much as it probably could have been.

One stumbling block for extra decision moments was always going to be the length of the campaign, as there’s only ever so much extra you can put in without detracting from the story too much, thus resulting in a campaign that feels long and drawn out. Overall the length feels just about right and this is helped greatly by a difficulty system that is extremely fine-tuned. New players to the RTS genre will feel at home on the easiest setting while there’s a whole host of other options ranging from normal up to brutal, the latter of which is just mind blowingly hard, to the point where it almost cost my mouse its life on more than one occasion.

Even on the normal difficulty setting I played it through on, there were one or two missions that left me hitting the restart option (multiple times) or saving every two minutes; there’s a definite difficulty spike and, towards the three quarter mark, it shoots right up but it never really gets to the point where you feel you can’t complete it, you just need to learn from it first.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment with the single player side of things is that it does not feel like a series of extravagant tutorials preparing you for the multiplayer and, while there are moments where you get the feeling that it is teaching you some core concepts to take over into multiplayer, these are few and far between enough to hardly notice, and the single player is entirely its own beast make no mistake about that. Replay value is also offered in the form of missing achievements, of which Starcraft II comes packed, with a grand total of 4460 points on offer and, with achievements giving 10-15 points a pop, there’s more than enough on offer to satisfy even the most devout achievement addict. The story is a strong component to the overall single player formula but it is something that does suffer from the ‘then and now’ syndrome. The dilemma of how to bring a fresh batch of players up to speed while continuing the story enough so as not to be alienating long term fans of the series.

What Blizzard have done with the story is to not only keep it moving at a steady pace, but they’ve managed to bring that new blood up to speed with enough knowledge via a series of minor moments (discussions over a photograph for example) that it’s hardly noticeable to even the more seasoned Starcraft veteran and, if anything, it’ll just be seen as nostalgic reminders. Catering for everybody is without doubt quite a task, but they’ve managed to do a resounding job of it and when it’s finished although you are filled with a great sense of satisfaction; there’s also that part of you that craves more, as so many questions are left unanswered. Rest assured that this is narrative story telling at the pinnacle of RTS perfection, evolving far beyond that which arrived back in 1998.

Making the jump into multiplayer will be one of the hardest things many players do, the ‘hardcore’ aura surrounding the series more than enough to put new players off but Blizzard has done a good job in attempting to bridge the gap between fresh blood and someone who is able to hold their own.

Challenges are a single player mode which, as you’ve probably guessed, are a series of individual challenges but they’ve been created with the sole purpose of getting the player as multiplayer-ready as possible. From correct unit selection in combat and optimising build orders right up to the hardcore micro management skills required to compete online with great success. As well as the challenges, each player has up to fifty practice matches that they can take part in which, although having no bearing on your ranking, are a great way for new players to get stuck in. All without the fear of repercussions of being annihilated within a scant few minutes to some haggard Starcraft Veteran more than likely sat in an Internet Café in South Korea.

My experience with the practice missions was actually a rather pleasant one; every match I took part in (all of which started within a minute of looking for one, so no waiting around) was seemingly against either new players to the game or those just wanting to recap on their skills with the really good players heading straight for the ranked matches it seems.  While you’ll no doubt find some pros lurking in the practice modes, it’s nice as a new player to have a relatively safe environment to hone their skills.

Upon making the jump from practice into ranked matches, you soon find yourself located in a league with other like-skilled players and, once you’ve completed your placement matches, you find yourself located in a ladder based around your skill level, from where you can either move up (into higher ranked leagues) or down based on your online performances.

It’s all part of Blizzard’s plans of major accessibility, allowing as many people to play as possible without having to worry about gaping chasms of skill level and ability. You have your skill level and the matchmaking system does an excellent job at matching you against other players of similar skill.

One of the ‘Oh that’s nice’ features that the multiplayer offers is the ability to watch replays and even save them for later viewing. With the entire map visible and a plethora of stats available (such as build queues, economies, current army size / type – for both players too) this is a great way to hone your skills, find out where you went wrong and more importantly where your opponent went right.

The only downside to the multiplayer is that LAN play is a glaring omission and, while this is no doubt down to Blizzard wanting to have direct control over the multiplayer experience (via the new and improved Battle.net), it does leave the multiplayer side feeling a touch on the empty side.

Pros
  • Single player campaign that is just about perfect.
  • Extremely well told narrative story.
  • Multiplayer that is highly addictive and relatively newbie friendly.
  • Stunning Visuals and soundtrack.
  • Technical sides of things are brilliant, runs well even on really old machines.
Cons
  • It’s still just Starcraft. There’s no real innovation to the mix; it plays the same as in 1998 and, although not a major deal, it would have been nice to see a bit more of a shakeup.
  • No LAN support will be considered a heavy blow to the multiplayer community.
Summary

Starcraft II builds on the foundations of its predecessor and fans of the series will be left extremely happy with the end results, while new comers to the franchise will also find themselves right at home. A game that has so much polish lathered all over, visuals that are stunning for an RTS and a killer soundtrack makes up the final ingredients to what is simply a superb game.

Boasting a single player campaign that is not only engrossing while at the same extremely good fun, but also a multiplayer section that is one of the most polished and well supported around. Regardless of whether or not your allegiances lay between single or multi, there is something in Starcraft II for you.

It’s hard to think that many go on about the PC gaming world and how it's ‘dead’; Starcraft II is evidence that, when done right, PC gaming is anything but dead. A definite for game of the year contender, more so, its inclusion at the summit of the Top 40 all-formats charts, just a week after its release, is a testament to the strength of Blizzard's development team, especially when so many developers bleat on about so called piracy issues.

Blizzard’s first non Warcraft release for some years, and they’ve proved they are still one of the behemoths of the industry, after all, how many other developers would open the end credits with their very own in house rock band.


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8 Comments

  1. Whats your feeling on the ending?

    I personally got pissed off on how it ended and where this might take us.

  2. Lee says:

    i wish i had a rig up to spec to play this. I dont like the fact they split the game up into 3 basicly shag one out each year/whenever – thats very activision of them. I got watching the cinematics on youtube the other night they are awesome.

    a good review as always ben, just out of intrest how long is starcraft 2?

  3. Ben says:

    @Rawr – Ending left me a little dissapointed, mainly because it left that “noooooo I want more” taste in your mouth, be interesting to see what happens now though, might have to pick up some of the official novels to see if they shed some light.

    @Lee – It runs on some really old machines, I think there’s something you can download from Blizzard that tells you if you can run it or not. Had the pleasure of playing it on full Ultra settings and by god does it look nice in parts.

    Campaign was of decent length, took me five days of play time, with some decent time being given to it, there’s an achievement to finish the campaign in under eight hours, but I don’t think I came anywhere close, probably around 12+ which is fairly decent for an RTS, and I didn’t even complete every single mission (a total of 26 or 28 can’t recall off top of my head).

    I’m not to fussed about splitting it into three, to be honest if the next one has a campaign of equal or better length / quality than this one then I think that would justify it. The story arc is so huge that to tell it all in one game would either be detrimental to the story or take so long to complete people would get bored.

  4. Markatansky says:

    Yeah, at least this way people can take a break between the story missions release and get some decent multiplayer sessions in.

    I think I’m still very early on in the campaign.

  5. MarkuzR says:

    See now… had I not read this review, I’d still have known nothing about Starcraft or Starcraft II. Yeah ok, maybe that means I’m not a “real gamer” (that, and the fact I’m 90% bionic… well maybe 10%… ok, only if I’m wearing a watch) but it’s because I genuinely hadn’t paid much attention to Starcraft the first time around and when I heard that Starcraft II was coming out, and that it was from Blizzard, I assumed it was “just another MMO” and it didn’t raise any interest with me. Now that I know the multiplayer isn’t full on MMO, and that it also has a single player campaign… I likey!

    This is yet another game for “The List”, also known as “The Growing Pile On The Office Floor”… so thank you for introducing me to a new game series… and for not laughing at me for not knowing anything about it. Obviously I don’t know if you’re laughing or not, but I’m quietly confident :p

  6. Edward says:

    It’s a great review, and even though I have no interest in the series, I found myself engrossed and wanting to know more. So great job, Ben :D

  7. Anybody know if the leaked ending from Heart of The Swarm is for real ?

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