So how do you go about writing a review on a game that has received so much commercial success and community attention without repeating what everyone else has already said? It’s tricky, but there are still people out there looking for a slightly alternative view on things…..and so that’s what I’ll try to bring in this review.
I think the main concern of gamers is that Starcraft II would simply recycle what the developers previously made over a decade ago, all be it with a few new shaders, models and shiny bits here and there. Let me make it very clear from the start; it’s not.
What sets this game apart from the swathe of other releases in this genre is undoubtedly the campaigns ability to not only immerse you in the story- but to really give you a connection between the dialogue and the gameplay. Ok, so you can argue that the story of our centrepiece Jim Raynor is 100%, certifiably cliché. And it is, but then Starcraft II has never been so much about “Jimmy’s love story” and more about the entire universe, you know, the vibrance of the other characters and everything, which really shine through. Of course, Starcraft has also been about South Korean gamers being wildly overpaid to play the game for as inhumanly long as possible in any one sitting.
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Although an RTS at its core, Starcraft II manages to incorporate a massive variety of mini game-eqse elements in its missions. No two levels are quite the same and most missions have a totally unique mechanic associated with it. There are so many examples to chose from, some are perhaps non-controllable and more subtle elements…like the appearance of a space colony or dig site that was modelled specifically for that mission alone. You won’t ever see it again, but for that one mission Blizzard have made everything feel so completely unique. They’ve certainly dedicated a ridiculous amount of time in to making this feel very obvious. Some elements (and without spoiling too much), are the entire focus of the mission, like the Drakken sun-powered-protoss-melting laser drill. Not to mention the awesomely fun Odin war machine……
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You could definitely argue that the mini game feel was perhaps lifted somewhat from Blizzard’s other releases. Does the phrase “dodge the goddamn fire wall” ring any bells? There are certainly heavy WoW elements within Starcraft II itself, and why not? The stylistic approach to the artwork, the designs and aims of the mini games are definitely not new inside of Blizzard. It boils down to the same adage that Blizzard has been putting across from the start on this project….if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Of course all the extra stuff Blizzard has been working in World of Warcraft definitely doesn’t hurt- the introduction of achievements certainly game me a lot of drive to repeat missions before moving on. Luckily, it doesn’t quite feel like a system that rewards you for even the most ridiculously mundane of tasks…there were still some tough achievements that took me a fair few stabs to get right.
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I was definitely impressed by the variety of extra options that had a direct impact in-game as well. There’s a fully customizable armoury you can use to upgrade your units. There’s a research lab that allows you to collect points to gain new units and dramatically change up the way you can approach a situation in game. You can purchase mercenary teams which you can deploy in the field…super powerful versions of your own units that can turn around a difficult spot very quickly. Not only that, but it’s the smaller things that really make these features stand out. It’s not a case of mercenary units getting a different lick of paint on their unit model, for example. They’re completely new, highly augmented and fortified models of your own units on the field. Even minor upgrades, such as increasing the collection rate of your gatherer units changes the way their tools look next time you dive in to a mission.
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For those lucky enough to play the multiplayer beta most would probably agree that the game felt highly polished even at the testing stage. Blizzard’s notorious reputation for taking their time with a release is certainly justified in Starcraft II. You just don’t see any of those “little bugs” that most developers end up trying to patch out within days of the game’s release. As of yet the only significant patches have tweaked some balances in the multiplayer side of the game….which brings me nicely on to my next area.
What is arguably a stripped down version of the single player campaign, the multiplayer side of Starcraft II was definitely built with a single focus in mind; it’s tightly tuned and extremely well balanced to cater for the elite gaming market that most of us already know about in the RTS genre. Starcraft I was certainly the forefather of professional gaming and Blizzard have certainly made sure that its predecessor follows suit. South Koreans will rejoice at the new combinations of units and the update to their decade long national sport…with online matches bringing an unprecedented level of elite (and elitist) players from around the globe. The revamped battle.net network certainly brings a fresh ui and some good social networking features to the whole thing…although have a link to post a notification on facebook for every time I get absolutely battered by another player is really not my cup of tea. Overall you couldn’t ask much more of the online experience; however the removal of LAN functionality to encourage players to purchase their own individual licenses is definitely a bitter subject for many people.
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It’s a Blizzard product- and because of that you expect a certain standard in every aspect of the game. I think it’s fair to say that they’ve once again delivered on that expectation. Is the Starcraft franchise strong enough to justify the company making 3 separate, full price retail games? (For those who don’t know, Wing of Liberty is only the first of three planned instalments of Starcraft II) The answer is probably yes. Is the lack of a LAN function enough to discourage players from buying the game? Not really. At the end of the day, regardless of some of the more unpleasant strategies Blizzard have decided to enforce…you’d be very very wrong not buy this game. In fact, if you’ve not already bought it I’d empty the piggybank right now and grab yourself a copy.