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Review: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
by Andrew Whipple III

It’s been twelve years since the original StarCraft graced us with its interstellar presence. During this epoch, the StarCraft name became a gaming pandemic that would slow for no man. So great was its influence that certain countries play the game as a literal sporting event. Now, Blizzard’s sequel to the impossibly successful strategy game is here and, believe it or not, it’s pretty damn good.

StarCraft II kicks off just about four years after the events of Brood War, StarCraft’s only expansion. Jim Raynor and his band of Raiders are in isolation, and in desperate need of manpower for their fight against the Dominion. Much to Raynor’s dismay, Arcturus Mengsk - the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Terran Dominion - still reigns unhindered, his implacable taste for vengeance haunting Raynor’s every move. Not only that, but Kerrigan’s Zerg forces have been strangely quiet, keeping the galaxy ever so nervous. It’s been rough for Raynor and his troops, and things aren’t about to get easier.

If you haven’t played StarCraft you’re likely very confused at the above description. Actually, you’ll find that a whole lot of StarCraft II’s story doesn't make much sense. Thankfully, Blizzard does a commendable job at explaining the events that transpired without you ever having to play the first game. Hell, even the game installer gives you a synopsis of what’s happened. But even with all that story-telling goodness at your fingertips, know that StarCraft II isn’t exactly composed of the most intelligent plot. Space marine dudes need to kill these other dudes because they’re corrupt, but everyone needs to work together to destroy the greater alien threat. You’ve seen this plot a myriad of times and it’s predictable beyond imagining, but it’s simple and it works very well for what it is.

Blizzard’s way of telling a story, as simplistic as it might appear, consistently keeps you on-edge and remains entertaining throughout. Characters feel fully fleshed out and you’ll definitely find yourself caring about them, especially if you’re a StarCraft veteran. The cinematics are nothing short of mind-blowing, and be reassured that Blizzard is second to none when it comes to presentation.

Speaking of presentation, StarCraft II launched with a brand new version of, Blizzard’s proprietary internet battleground. It’s required to activate the game and has an immaculate look to it. Above all, the new manages to streamline the experience with easy access to replays, ladder ratings, friend lists, and even achievements.

One of my favorite things about the campaign is the throwback tribute to point-and-click adventure games. Take a game like Wing Commander: Prophecy, where during the interim missions you’d have to click on doors to travel from section to section, or maybe a person to speak with them. You interact with Raynor’s Battlecruiser, Hyperion, in this very way and it couldn’t be more awesome. The setup is very intuitive and while you make your way through the 29 missions (and one hidden mission) StarCraft II offers, you’ll constantly be upgrading your troops, doing DNA research, and otherwise interacting with people and objects like televisions on the Hyperion. On several occasions you’ll also be tasked to make a choice, each having permanent repercussions on the rest of your missions. All of this makes the campaign that much more enjoyable.

Once your foray into the world of single-player StarCraft ends, you’ll probably be curious enough to explore the definitive mode of the game; multiplayer. Being such a popular component, if the game didn’t live up to the impossible standard its predecessor set, rest assured that the gaggle of rabid fans would storm Blizzard’s stronghold. With that said, Blizzard’s perpetual development time didn’t fail here: the multiplayer game is fantastic. incorporates a brand new matchmaking system that accurately pits you against evenly ranked foes, or close to it. Actually, before you get into the ladder ranked matches, you’re required to complete a series of five placement matches. Depending on how you do, you’ll be placed in the Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Diamond leagues. Placement matches are unique for every division of play including 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, and the giant 4v4 games. So if you play a 2v2 by yourself, you’ll be matched up with a stranger and have to complete five separate placement matches before being ranked. If you team up with a friend, you’ll have to complete five placement matches with them to begin ladder play. It’s very easy and doing this certifies the most fun and the most accurate way of pitting players against one another. And if you keep on winning, you’ll find yourself moving up in your division and even upgrading to different leagues.

Like standard Blizzard fare, the triumvirate of races are well balanced and a ton of fun to play. Just be aware that StarCraft II adheres to the old school form of RTS, not like newer Dawn of War II style. The game almost requires knowing build orders; that is, a specific set of when-and-where to build structures and units, which can be daunting. It’s frustrating to constantly lose, but every time you play a match you’ll become more knowledgeable on how to counter your adversary and what works against what. Once again, the matchmaking system is pretty good about pitting you against equally skilled opponents, avoiding constant undeserved thrashings. Even so, the learning curve behind the game is very steep. It will require practice, observing replays, and just overall tooling your strategy for every game.

It sounds like a rough place, and it is, but the online experience is completely worth it. Blizzard wants you to get involved and to combat the learning curve, and they’ve even set in place a series of single-player challenges that will help hone your skill online. Even after a match ends, the game gives you an in-depth analysis of what went wrong, your economy, graphs of army charts, and even gives you the build orders of your enemy all in an effort to get you better.

StarCraft II is a RTS masterpiece. Its presentation is unparalleled and contains a certain polish that only a company like Blizzard can pull off. While the game certainly has a giga-learning curve, there are an infinite number of tools in place to get you on the winning side. The real challenge now is waiting for the already announced expansions for both Zerg and Protoss.

10/10 [?]

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- Andrew Whipple III

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