Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Impressions: Starcraft II

Since I am not a professional critic (yet), I don't feel right calling this an official review. Instead I will just give you my feelings on the subject at hand. Impressions be my articles devoted to these pseudo-reviews. They won't be full reviews, but I'll share my thoughts with you.

So, for my first Impressions piece...

It's safe to say that StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is one of the biggest launches of the year. Its predecessor was, and probably still is, played all across the globe by some of the most the diehard fans. But Blizzard's sequel delivers an experience that not only recalls the original, but improves upon the basic formula in such a way that it could single-handedly revive a struggling genre.

I want to divide my impressions into two parts. In the first I will address the single-player campaign. Afterwards, I'll discuss what is arguably the meat of the StarCraft II experience: the multiplayer.

In Wings of Liberty, which is the first part of a three-part saga, the drama unfolds around the character of Jim Raynor and the Terran faction. Raynor leads a group of rebel fighters resisting the powerful Terran Dominion and its tyrannical leader, Arcturus Mengsk. Players take command of Raynor as he steps up the fight against the Dominion in the wake of an invasion by the alien Zerg Swarm.

There's been a lot of complaining about Blizzard's money-grabbing scheme in dividing the StarCraft II experience into three parts, but by no means is Wings of Liberty an incomplete experience. The Terran-only campaign takes place chiefly on Raynor's ship, the Hyperion, and is loaded with content. It's non-linear and has Mass Effect-like choices with different consequences. And the choices extend to upgrades the player can purchase from their armory and laboratory, each with different effects.

The story is your standard military sci-fi story, courtesy of Blizzard. There's nothing original or special about it, really (and it bears an uncanny similarity to the plot of Mass Effect II), but Blizzard delivers it with such style and panache that you can't help but be drawn in. The voiceovers for all of the characters are done excellently and the return of some favorites from the first game is executed brilliantly.

Summarily, the single-player campaign that comes packaged with StarCraft II is one of the best singe-player RTS experiences ever. It's incredibly replayable and the missions offer plenty of variety and challenges. And when you finish, you can't help but rub your hands together and wonder when Heart of the Swarm will release.

Blizzard's past experience with the RTS genre really shows in StarCraft II's multiplayer. All three factions feel balanced and polished, offering a distinct challenge to the players. From the industrial, mechanical Terrans to the grossly biological yet intriguing Zerg and the highly-advanced, Jedi-like Protoss, the factions feel and play differently, but remain balanced in a way that none feel too overpowered (I'm looking at you Void Rays). There's a myriad of strategies players can employ, from the Terran bio-ball, Reaper harass, and the classic Zergling Rush.

This combined with Blizzard's new version of provides for an online multiplayer experience like none other. Their matchmaking and persistent leagues and divisions allows every victory to feel like an accomplishment, and even losses can be productive when diligent players study the replays. And though I haven't tried many custom games, the power of the Galaxy Editor leads me to believe that a StarCraft II version of DOTA is more than possible, and probably quite probable.

It took Blizzard twelve years to deliver this extremely polished product and it seems none of those years were wasted. StarCraft II is fated to take over the world just as it predecessor did 12 years ago. And I think, no one is upset about that.