Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Review of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

As a nerd it’s difficult to escape the reach of Blizzard’s gaming empire and almost every nerd I know has either heard of or played one of their games at some point during their life. I of course am no exception and have had my fill of Diablo, StarCraft, and WarCraft and a number of their spin off titles. For me the most recent of these titles is StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty which builds upon the lore established in the original StarCraft game and its expansion to continue to expand the rich lore of the StarCraft universe.

Graphics & Sound
Tychus in his marine armor
I don’t imagine it’s of any surprise that the graphics and soundtrack quality for StarCraft II are infinitely better than the original StarCraft. While I’ll be the first to admit I miss some of the old building and ship profiles, there’s no denying that the new entry into this saga is much more visually appealing than the original.

The game has undergone a complete graphical overhaul incorporating the advancements in graphics processing technology since the release of the original into the new engine. Doing this has not only made the game more visually appealing, but also helps it remain relevant in our ever advancing technological society. While the graphics are much better than they once were, Blizzard has made sure that they’re still not so intense that only a super high-end machine can play the game. This helps those with less vast means (like myself) continue to participate in and enjoy the lore created by this incredibly successful game studio.

Of course there’s no denying that the sound quality for the game is much improved as well. Like the graphics Blizzard has wisely chosen to upgrade the SFX as well as the background score to take advantage of advances in audio technology. This has the net effect of more effectively immersing a player into the action by delivering high quality realistic (where appropriate) SFX as well as breathing new life into the old musical scores included with the original game.

Interface & Balance
Interface in StarCraft II
Those familiar with the old StarCraft game will likely note that the interface is laid out in much the same way that it once was and functions much as it once did though it, like the other graphics has undergone a face lift to bring it up to speed with current rendering technology. One major improvement that should be noted is the cap to unit selection has essentially been done away with, allowing you to select groups of units beyond the humble dozen of the previous games. Despite this new advantage, I still find myself hot-keying groups of twelve if for no other reason than to indulge in a little nostalgia.

Because of the games highly competitive nature balance was a huge point of concern for the Blizzard team during development and likely was the cause of the long development process that the game went through. The long wait was well worth it however as the three factions are all well balanced and can field units capable of countering each potential strategy making victory a result of skill rather than what faction you’re playing as. This is good news for the StarCraft tournament leagues as it makes competitions fair and challenging and thus more exciting as well.

Story (Warning Spoilers)
For those who’ve been keeping up with StarCraft through its initial inception you’re already aware that the story has taken many interesting twists and turns to get it to where it’s at during the Wings of Liberty campaign. As the game is but the first of three entries in the StarCraft II arena it includes only a single campaign focusing almost exclusively on the Terran faction being led by Jim Raynor from the original title. Raynor throughout the campaign leads a group of freedom fighters through the universe gathering allies and resources to defeat the corrupt leader of the Terran Dominion. Throughout the campaign Raynor is plagued by guilt over the events that led to the loss of Sara Kerrigan in the original StarCraft and the rise of the Queen of Blades in its expansion. This leads him to drink throughout most of the game.

While the story did continue the lore of the game and was effective in moving the plot forward, I felt that it was ultimately poorly executed and could have been improved with better writing. Game play of course was not the issue, as it’s understandable that you can only do so much with the story in an real-time strategy format, but the cut scenes and dialog that was exchanged between characters could have been much better written than it was. Ultimately I found that many of the characters lacked the depth necessary to compel me to care about them or what missions they could offer. Granted I still did the missions, wanting to unlock as much as I could throughout the campaign, but I didn’t feel moved to do them for any other reason than to progress through the game.

The story did include interesting elements in that things you gathered throughout the game could be used to enhance the units you already had making them more useful and making the desire to do all the missions that much stronger.

Overall it’s hard to argue with the results of Blizzards efforts, though I think I speak for all gamers when I say I wish they could find a faster method to achieve the same results. While I had my issues with character depth I thought the story was compelling enough by itself to make the single player experience worthwhile and of course if you’re a fan of multiplayer and competition between gamers than you’ll definitely want to check out StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty as you wait for a chance to get its expansions StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm and StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void all of which will have their place in my N3rd C0rn3r.