StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is a sci-fi RTS developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment, released in June, 2010. It’s a direct sequel to StarCraft and its expansion, Brood War released in 1998, also by Blizzard Entertainment. StarCraft II features the same three races as featured in the original, the Terran, the insectoid Zerg, and the wise and ancient Protoss.
Blizzard have confirmed two expansion packs for StarCraft II, both of which will feature a full campaign and new multiplayer units. The first of which, Heart of the Swarm, focuses on Kerrigan and the Zerg, and the second, Legacy of the Void, will conclude the StarCraft II story and focuses on the Protoss.
StarCraft II continues the story of Jim Raynor, four years after the events of the previous games. Arcturus Mengsk still controls the Terran Dominion, opposed by rebel groups, specifically Raynor’s Raiders. You play as Raynor as he attempts to overthrow Mengsk, in the same way as Raynor and Mengsk overthrew the Confederacy in the previous title.
However, following Raynor’s discovery of a Xel’Naga Artifact, Sarah Kerrigan, former love interest, leads the alien Zerg in an assault upon the Koprulu Sector. Kerrigan has been transformed into a half human, half Zerg hybrid and threatens to destroy the Terran Dominion in order to take revenge on Mengsk.
You play through the exploits of Raynor and his rag-tag band of followers as they attempt to combat the Zerg on one side, and the Dominion on the other. With the return of the Zerg threat, the Protoss once again come to the fore, Dark Templar Zeratul assisting Raynor’s attempts to fight the Zerg whilst appealing to spare Kerrigan’s life.
In the background, the shadowy Moebius Foundation are gathering Xel’Naga artifacts for some hidden purpose. Raynor must attempt to navigate these different motivations and forces, whilst attempting to save as many colonists as he can from the Zerg invasion.
While interesting for a player familiar with the first game and its expansion, the plot may be a little hard to get to grips with for a new player. With complex relationships between characters based on pre-existing feelings and events leaving new players feeling a little flustered. Contributing to the confusion is the plot structure, new characters are introduced at a fairly rapid pace in order to facilitate the branching mission structure. And this leaves a lot of the supporting cast feeling a little flat, frequently just waiting around until you play a mission relevant to them. Not to say that the campaign is badly designed, merely that the plot sometimes leaves characters standing around, and that it can feel like it doesn’t have a complete story arc. This may be thanks to the fact that, early in production, the full story arc was meant to be incorporated into StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, but was broken into three parts in order to flesh each part out fully.
As with all Blizzard games, StarCraft II is highly polished, you get the sense that a lot of time has been spent on defining the single and multiplayer games as very separate entities. The single player campaign is exciting, lots of big set-pieces and varying mechanics keep things interesting and fresh. One mission uses a day/night cycle as a mechanic while you wait for evac. Collecting resources and going on the offensive during the day, and retreating at sunset to hold out against the Zerg assault overnight. The campaign does, to a small extent, serve as a training ground for the multiplayer, but only insofar as the basic mechanics of a Real-Time Strategy are concerned. If you already know about collecting resources, training extra workers, and building more bases and production structures, you won’t learn much relevant to the multiplayer from the campaign. The quickest way to learn how to play against real-life opponents, is to jump right in.
And it’s this transition that is often the hardest part. Expect to spend quite some time in the lower leagues, especially bronze and silver, before you master the technical skills necessary to be competitive in StarCraft II.
But it’s entirely this sense of work which makes your progress in StarCraft II’s ladder quite so satisfying. I frequently catch myself playing StarCraft when I should be working, purely because winning a game gives you that same sense of achievement and accomplishment.
Like its predecessor, StarCraft II is a huge hit in the eSports scene, with tournaments taking place all over the world and streamed live online attracting tens of thousands of viewers. It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of StarCraft II, and one which Blizzard are very active in supporting. Just like any other sporting community, you start to develop your favourite players and teams, you get involved in the drama of the scene as well as the games, and you get to go home and replicate what you saw on the big screen.
Overall, StarCraft II is a great Real-Time Strategy, managing to recall the essence of what made the first game a success: All three races playing completely differently, fine-tuned balance and a vibrant competitive scene. It won’t change the way you see gaming, and it doesn’t pretend to have any grand point or purpose. It’s just a highly polished, refined RTS which looks set to become even better with the release of its first expansion pack in nearly six weeks.
The plot suffers from being only the first third of a fully developed story arc, and the mechanics are the same as every other RTS. But apart from those minor drawbacks, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is certainly one of the best RTS games I’ve played in years.
If you’re a fan of Blizzards other RTS series, Warcraft’s one, two or three, or are bored of Age of Empires, Age of Mythology or Command and Conquer, give StarCraft a try. If you’ve never played RTS before, then StarCraft is a good place to start, with all the best of traditional and contemporary RTS under one title, as well as a varied and robust online community.