The beast has finally returned, and in no better fashion with the glorious words of "Hell...It's about time." Starcraft II is finally here, a masterful release on a platform that has not had a good massive jolt of sales in a long time, excluding MMO's. So how is it? Was the wait worth it? Does it hold up with only one campaign instead of three? Stay awhile and listen...
I will tell you my first expectations going into Starcraft II, from what I experienced in the beta, was that I will receive more of the same from the original but with some new units replacing the old ones. Fortunately, I was quite wrong on that regard, while Starcraft II keeps the same formula of the original title, the new elements it adds on all fronts provides for an extremely unique and spectacular experience. Blizzard took their same gameplay formula and melded it with an interactive story experience that is not seen very often, if at all in the RTS genre. With blends of DoW II's unit upgrades & tech customization mixed with a Wing Commander like mission lobby setup, Starcraft II has truly put itself at a new level as an RTS and is definitely not the same old thing as before. Your involvement with the story, your involvement with the characters and your continuously evolving army has been pushed one level higher in Starcraft II.
The story of Starcraft II takes place 4 years after the Brood War expansion. Here you play as the infamous James Raynor, that good ol marshal from Mar Sara who robs from the rich and gives to the poor type of Stallion man. You learn that he is about to kick some kind of rebellion into over-drive against the Dominion, which is controlled by another SC1 character known only as Arcturus Mengsk. Throughout the game you help Raynor battle through the tryanical Dominion Empire all the while trying to avoid the Zerg ad Protoss threat. However, the story becomes much more involved after the first handful of missions, and you really start seeing a threat that is larger than that of the Protoss, Zerg, or the Terran put together.
While going through this experience you are given a series of wonderful options. You can choose which planets you want to go to, and do the missions in any order you choose. This ability is granted to you, so you can use strategic thinking in building your army. On one hand I can to this one planet and get +3 Zerg research, which will evolve the technology of some of my units, mainlly for offensive purposes. On the other hand I can go to this other planet which offers me +4 Protoss research which will push forward my technology tree that evolves mostly defensive abilities and building production.
Beyond the Zerg and Protoss research are mission credits, each mission will give you a good bundle of credits you can use to upgrade individual units or hire mercenaries to your base. Unit upgrades range from the foot soldiers, to your base structures themselves, and they all have their up sides. However.. you will never be able to completely dominate the tech board and have all of your units upgraded so you must choose which ones you want to upgrade based on your play style. It's also wise to hire mercenary's as well, as they provide a quick and powerful advantage on the battlefield. While there is a cool down timer on their use in the game, once you select them to be used they will come down in drop pods usually in groups of two, and you can select more than one type of merc at once provided you have the resources for it. This at times will give you a huge boost in offensive or defensive power when you need it.
Throughout my experience with Starcraft II, I would have to say the one thing that really turned me into a giddy school girl was how much more the story was presented to the player. It was in your face and you felt like you were a part of it the whole time. I think the biggest factor for this wonderful presentation is the Wing Commander like mission lobby. In this lobby you are, throughout most of the game, on your ship and from here you can travel to the armory, the cantina, the lab, or the ship's deck. Each area has certain characters that you can talk too that will tell parts of the story, and using this sexy in-game engine that Blizzard has designed, the Facial animations and character detail are absolutely superb. While you go through the game and you are interacting with characters you are also presented with crucial choices, where you have to choose to help or abandon a specific character. Depending on your choice depends on which way the story unfolds to you, and it will also unlocks specific missions, and units or technology. So there definitely is room for replay value if you want to experience both sides of the story, and want to play every mission involved with the campaign.
Beyond interacting with characters each mission lobby section provides some kind of army enhancement. The Armory for example is where you upgrade your indvidual units abilities, whether it be better armor, longer range weapons, etc. The Cantina is where you will talk to a shady looking fellow who will give you guns for hire, with each new unit you unlock through the progression of the campaign, new mercenaries of that unit will be unlocked for you to purchase. Then there is the Laboratory, here is where you put your Zerg & Protoss research to use, each race adds to one of two Tech Trees that effect your overall base abilities or adds new units / structures to build list. You also will eventually acquire a protoss crystal which allows you to read through the mind of a particularly famous Protoss character from the first game ;), in these visions you will be playing through as a protoss and get to experience how some of their units work in the campaign.
Well this is all well and good, but what about gameplay? Well, like I said, Blizzard has kept the same formula of Starcraft with Starcraft II so if you know how units move, bases build, what each structure does you will know, for the most part, how the game operates. But what Blizzard did that was really interesting to me was the story involvement with each mission along with the variety of each mission. There was not a single mission that I played throughout the campaign that I felt I did before in a previous mission. Every mission had a unique visual style, unique lighting, unique style of play. Now the first couple of missions on Mar Sara where kind of slow and bland, but I think they were more of a 'getting your feet wet in unit control' than anything else. Beyond the world of Mar Sara you really start to see the true meat of Starcraft II.
The variety of missions really impressed me.. ranging from the zombie like invasion mode where infested colonist would assault your base in massive hordes by night, but would die by day break.. to intercepting and robbing Dominion trains to gain supplies and acquire a special piece of technology. There is another mission where you are having to gather special resources on a boiling planet, where you had to move your base to high ground along with your units every couple of minutes to avoid losing them to a flow of lava. The most painful yet exciting mission was moving your base every 10 or so minutes forward trying to fight off Protoss on your front lines.. while you have a burning horizon of flames coming towards you ready to whipe out your base from the rear. Each mission in Starcraft II had its own special flavor, my personal favorites were the final missions on Char, to me they were by far the most epic, and definitely sealed the deal for me on how grand Starcraft II really is.
Now I know there was some voiced concern about there being only one campaign with this release and Battle.net being required to play. Regarding the campaigns I personally am glad that Blizzard split the campaigns up... why? Because it allowed them to focus on each campaign with detail, which has resulted in one of the most robust and exciting single player experiences Ive ever had with an RTS. So dont fret about Blizzard abandoning the three campaign system, because there is enough meat in one campaign alone to satisfy you and leave you with wanting more with the same amount of quality and detail. Now in regards to Battle.net just take it in like you would steam, you dont [need] battle.net to play the singleplayer campaign or skirmish modes vs AI, you can play all of that in Offline mode, so there really is nothing to really worry about.. its nothing like Ubisoft's DRM thats for sure. Battle.net if anything streamlines the community closer together and with the Facebook implementation you can see which of your facebook friends have starcraft 2 add them to your battlenet friends list and get a game on.
In the end Blizzard has proven one major thing with Starcraft II, and that is you do not have to change the formula of an older game to fit it with modern times, that a game can still be the same as it was 10 years ago and if blended together correctly can still be a magnificent experience to todays standards. They kept the same formula, but melded it with that of different genres, and in doing so has created an experience I have never felt with any RTS until now. Blizzard went above and beyond my expectations with Starcraft II and delivered the most engaging and certainly most epic experience I've ever had with a Real Time Strategy game. My hat's off to you Blizzard, you did not disappoint and you certainly have my heart pounding for the expansions now. Now to Battle.net and to experience what has changed since beta...
Also, Starcraft II's soundtrack is fucking superb, and the Terran music is absolute win. Firefly meets Starcraft? I'll take that any day.
.... Oh I'm sorry did you want a score? Well too bad, I find that system to be an industry killing joke! >:E But here is your 100 anyways.
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