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FTG Review: Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

Opening the Box


From the moment I opened the box I knew I was in for a treat. The collector’s edition came with more Terran-themed stuff than Jim Raynor’s bedroom. A comic book, a “making of” DVD, a HUGE art book, and more, all share the same feeling: Terran.

This game is about the Terrans. Blizzard’s choice to separate the game into three different releases may have irritated a portion of users, but once you get into the game you’ll see how important this consistent feeling is.

They don’t hold back and wait until the game is installed to start pulling you into their universe. During the install, you’ll hear the dulcet tones of a female computer narrating the events of Starcraft I and Brood War. You have no choice but to click “play” once the game is installed.

Gameplay

Make no mistake about it, this is Starcraft. You’re not going to find hundreds of crazy changes to the formula. It’s still a real-time strategy game. No one at Blizzard had the crazy idea to turn it into an FPS (like XCOM). The mechanics for the first game were solid, and Blizzard didn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel.

Some nice additions were added, though. Units form smart formations, so the medics and long range guys will fall to the back allowing your “tanks” to stay in front and absorb all the damage. High ground makes a difference by letting you see your enemy first, and if you’re on a cliff, they’ll have a hard time reaching your tanks with ground troops. Achievements will drive you on to keep replaying missions. There are hundreds of them by the way. Everything from the campaign, single-player, co-op, and multiplayer has dozens of achievements for everyone.

The game feels great and RTS pros and newcomers alike will be able learn the controls quickly. There is even a single player vs. AI mode that teaches you the game by giving you different challenges to master. You choose the difficulty before each campaign mission, so if you’re feeling it’s too easy or hard you can adjust accordingly.

The Campaign

If “Firefly” had an RTS cousin, it would be Starcraft II. If they had added shaky camera effects they could have slapped “Firefly” on the box. It’s a rich western, sci-fi world that feels gritty, and most importantly, real. “Sweet Home Alabama” plays on the radio while you’re off duty and you even get to rob some trains.

The story picks up a few years after the events of Brood war, the expansion to the first game, and follows Jim Raynor. I mentioned above that this game focuses only on the Terran, so it’s just one campaign for you to play. Since the campaign is about 25 hours long you shouldn’t feel like they skimmed on content only giving you one campaign. I can’t really say much without spoiling anything, but you’re in for one hell of a ride. The story is perfectly paced, and has climatic moments that will make you grab on to the edge of your desk.

You’re forced to make some decisions that will effect which missions you have access to. Based on your choices you will gain new units, research points to go towards improving your units, or have some enemy units not show up later in the game.

They break up the regular story pacing by having some “hero missions”, where you control only one unit and you have special abilities. Another good way they break up the game is giving you a series of Protoss missions (this was my favorite part of the game).

In between missions feels reminiscent of the old Wing Commander game. Your starship is your base of operations, and by interacting with characters you enter into a conversation cut scene. They don’t repeat themselves so don’t expect to get tired of talking to your teammates. Banter between characters on the ship is great, and they have top quality voice acting. You also upgrade tech and units, and hire mercenaries from the different parts of your ship.

While the games overtone is dark and serious, Blizzard always knows when to drop in some humor. There is a fully functional arcade machine in the cantina where you can play Lost Vikings, where you help get your spaceships home. The television in the cantina plays a quirky news station and there are breaks for commercials for things like the iPistol and Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftain, the World of Warcraft rock band. You’ll also hear units that sound like Arnold, and see a dancing hologram that looks oddly like a Night Elf.

The missions are designed to force you to use different tactics. You can’t just learn the game and keep playing the same way. You need to figure out each mission based on your objectives. One mission has you trying to work around lava, which rises and falls every few minutes like an ocean tide.

Read on for the wrap up and the glorious cascade of screenshots!

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