Thank God for Cold Fusion

(Warning: Spoilers abound)

Twelve years. Twelve long years. That’s the duration the lot of us have had to wait for the continuation of fan-favorite Starcraft, an RTS from Blizzard. Twelve. Freaking. Years. We’ve had to clench our teeth while Blizzard focused all of their production time into the Warcraft intellectual property, watching as Blizzard pushed out the THIRD iteration of Warcraft and then even gave the damn mythos its own MMO. We wept when Starcraft: Ghost was canceled. Five years of production flushed down the toilet and why? Who the hell knows. What we do know is that we had to wait twelve long years for the sequel to show up. As Tychus Finley put it quite well, “Hell, it’s about time.” But was it worth the wait?

Let’s kick this revolution into overdrive

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty takes place four years after the end of the Brood Wars campaign, which saw Kerrigan deliver a serious blow to both Terran and Protoss forces after destroying the invading UED fleet and the second Overmind, thus gaining supreme control over the Zerg as the Queen of Blades. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty kicks off the first iteration of one of three Episode campaigns for the sequel. In Wings of Liberty, we follow Jim Raynor, protagonist from the first Starcraft. Raynor was a Marshal of a sector on a planet that was invaded by Zerg, losing his family to the Swarm.

Having a long history of dissent of the then-seated government of power, the Confederacy, Raynor quickly joined forces with Arcturus Mengsk, leader of the radical terrorist group the Sons of Korhal. Mengsk promised the Terrans of all the worlds that under his leadership, he would protect the people by driving back both the Zerg and the Protoss. Raynor would prove vital in helping Mengsk overthrow the Confederacy, until Mengsk would betray Raynor when he would take his liberties as a freedom fighter and instead put himself up as the leader of the power vacuum, establishing a new nation known as the Dominion, and him as the Emperor. Raynor would later leave Mengsk’s forces with other dissidents to vow to overthrow Mengsk.

Wings of Liberty throws you right into the mix of things with exactly that. Raynor, after watching a propaganda news broadcast of Mengsk’s speech, gears up to liberate a planet under Dominion oppression. Later on he would team up with an old friend of his, Tychus Finley, as well as some friends he may pick up along the way. Tychus offers Raynor good paying opportunities for working with the Mobieus Corporation, who wants Tychus to collect certain Protoss artifacts for some purpose. Claiming these artifacts starts off a world of trouble for Raynor, as the Zerg, who had remained dormant for four years, immediately launch invasion fleets onto Terran worlds, searching for the artifact. The crew is unsure what the artifacts actually do, but they continue to gather them. Eventually, after retrieving the last piece, it is revealed that there is a purpose to the artifacts after all.

Raynor is not completely sold, however, especially when it is revealed that the owner of the Mobieus Corporation is Arcturus’s son, Valerian. Valerian offers Raynor an opportunity to clear his name at the hand of trying to make himself look like a worthy successor to his father. And, with the artifact, Valerian also believes that he will be able to cure the infestation that Kerrigan has suffered from, thus rendering her human and virtually destroying the Zerg in all one bout of strength (as she is the supreme commander of the Zerg forces, as there is no Overmind or Cerebrates to assume control). They invade the Zerg homeworld of Char and construct the artifact together, but not before Kerrigan attempts to stop their plans to charge the device to use against her. She is thwarted, however, and the device fires off, destroying all the Zerg on the planet and turning Kerrigan back into a Terran.

If you’re thinking just now, “Wow, this sounds like really bad fan fiction,” then I’d have to agree with you. The story in Wings of Liberty is predicable, cliche, and shallow as it is more written as a children’s novel than the dark story we were welcomed with in the first Starcraft game. This is rather apparent in the beginning of the game and lets up later once you get into later missions, but it smacks you in the face again once Raynor walks out of a Zerg lair with Kerrigan in his arms, walking off (you guessed it) into the sunset. It was quite possibly the most anti-climatic and cliche thing I have ever seen. Yes, we get it, Blizzard. Raynor was always supposed to be a “space cowboy.” That doesn’t mean you need to give him a troperific ending just so you can feel smug about your “subtle” overtones, all at the expense of making the ending of Wings of Liberty truly terrible.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? One of your first missions includes saving a colony from being overrun by the Zerg by escorting colonists to the starport to evacuate. After you complete this mission, you bring aboard this lady doctor (I’ve forgotten her name considering she’s such a forgettable and worthless character) who, before you even hear her speak, you can already see where it goes. Obviously she has a soft spot for Raynor with her, “I’m an innocent doctor just looking for a nice place so my people and I can live.” Eventually her mission line leads you to a crossroad–her new colony is suffering under infestation and the Protoss are in orbit and plan to glass the planet. You are given the choice either to help the Protoss in this endeavor or help the doctor get her people out. While this is new and dynamic for Blizzard, what isn’t is the story’s outcome for helping her. They find another planet for her people, she leaves the dropship to live with her people, and then she turns to Raynor and (want to guess?) kisses him. I wanted to throw up. It’s like I’m watching an animoo or something, where all the actions and plot developments are predictable and all lead to the inevitable; social awkward interaction and lust for baby-making.

Compare this with if you help the Protoss. She vies to find a cure for her people (and there isn’t one, or else someone would have obviously found it in the decade that the Terran have been suffering under infestation) in the time span of twenty minutes (generally how long it takes you to beat the Protoss-choice mission). Instead, at the end of the mission, you get a message from your helmsman (also forgot his name; yet another forgettable character) telling you that the doctor has locked herself in the lab. Oh boy. Let’s guess what she did. Can anyone guess? I’m sure it’s going to be really difficult to guess. Oh, d’oh! How did you know that she was going to test the infestation on herself to try and find a cure!? That’s only just what every other mad scientist does! At least that ending has Raynor putting a bullet in her head.

This is generally the range of all social interactions in Wings of Liberty. Gone are the days when there was meaningful dialogue between memorable characters, epitaphs of defeat, victory, and anger. Now we just get, “Oh hi. I’m gonna kill you. Kekekeke.” To understand what I am talking about, simply type into Google “Starcraft Mengsk.” The suggested completion of your search? “Speech.” The speech Google is trying to find you is Mengsk’s inauguration speech as the Emperor of the Dominion. Take a listen below to compare on what we had then:

Compared to what we have now:

Obviously there is no comparison. The dialogue in the missions between characters is deadpan and full of puns, whereas meaningful and heartfelt dialogue is found in the first game between characters. For instance, such as Stukov’s dying speech to Dugall after he was shot by Duran. The saving grace of Starcraft had always been its strong story, and instead, in Wings of Liberty, it turns to what the plot is like in most other RTS games today; something that gets in the way of the multiplayer game, something that no one cares about because they think it’s just a “bonus” to the “real game.” If that was Blizzard’s intention, then they pulled it off wonderfully.

Upgrade complete

Not all of it is bad in Wings of Liberty, however. The saving grace to the campaign happens to be the very structure in which things are played upon. Gone are the days when you simply went from one mission briefing to the next. A new interface has been included to offer a new “adventure-like” feeling to intermissions between missions, where you can talk to your crew, reminisce about souvenirs, watch the news, and, heck, even play an arcade game. The real joy of this new interface, however, are the parts of the ship you can visit. The armory, for instance, allows you buy unit upgrades (which, in turn, removes the need to research upgrades during missions). Some of these upgrades are not available in multiplayer, which makes them all the more unique. An even better addition includes a laboratory, where you will be able to research unique upgrades or units based on either Protoss or Zerg technology (you collect said technology as optional objectives in missions). Lastly comes the addition of being able to hire mercenary contracts, hero-type units that you can drop pod into a mission to help you out. It adds a unique ability to make you feel like you are making some real progress in the campaign as you go along.

The other joy to the campaign is that it brings back all the old units Blizzard has thrown out in multiplayer. The Firebat, the Medic, the Vulture, the Goliath, and the Wraith all make their appearances back into the game (and the Science Vessel as well through Protoss research). Make what time you have with them in the campaign, as they will all be missing in multiplayer. Other unique additions in campaign include an anti-personnel unit, a super dropship, and new building capabilities, such as automated refineries, psi disruptors, and a combined tech lab and reactor for unit production facilities. Make what time you have with these as well, as they are all missing in multiplayer too.

As I said, the missions are the saving grace to the campaign. If you avoid the dialogue and focus simply on the objectives, then you will be having a ball. Each mission is unique with its own different objectives and triggers, showing off the impressive capabilities of the map editor. You will find yourself escorting a transport to a starport while also fighting off waves of enemies trying to attack it, to battling a Protoss mothership that is trying to eradicate all Terran life on a planet in a race to save colonists, to even blowing up space platforms to disrupt unit production on a later mission. The best inclusions to these missions, however, are when you are presented a choice in action, especially considering that they may yield different results. Nearly everything may be forgiven by the simple fact that Nova makes an appearance in Wings of Liberty, in which you can partner up with her for that said mission. Unfortunately there are only three presented choices in when it comes to a mission, so it’s not as dynamic as you would like.

Generally the gameplay experience in the Wings of Liberty campaign nearly makes up all for the fact that the story is absolute garbage. The trouble to it, however, is that the currency to your unit upgrades and mercenary contracts are limited by the amount of credits you earn by doing missions. Even if you do all the missions (including the secret mission), you won’t have enough money to buy even half the upgrades and contracts that you can, which can be a real downer if you don’t know that the cash flow stops once you invade Char (so save up your money for those Battlecruiser upgrades). Plus, for a campaign that works a lot like a “mercenary mission” game, what’s still drastically missing is a unit hero promotion rank system. I mean, there are given promoted ranks for units in Starcraft II, but they are purely cosmetic features. Why not have them return to the production facility they came from to get an individual upgrade? And if they reach some sort of hero status, then you can choose to summon them in on a mission. That would’ve made the game much more enjoyable, especially considering the map editor is capable of doing something like that.

Battle.net -2.0

The real fallout to Starcraft II so far has been the multiplayer function. I’m not just talking about Battle.net, but on the entire function and scope as well. For starters, Battle.net has been downgraded beyond recognition. I’m not sure why they call it 2.0, considering it seems like they went four versions back. Chat channels are gone, game search function is gone, LAN is gone, cross-region support is gone, tournament support is gone, and your privacy is shot if you ever add someone to your friend’s list. Oh, but they added Facebook integration, so I guess that makes up for the lack of all the wanted features. Right guys? Because I always wanted Battle.net to be all about Facebook.

The other trouble has to do with the game itself. I’m sure I’m vastly alone in this sentiment, but I have always felt that Real Time Strategy did not mean Fast Time Strategy. Maybe I’m just used to playing Turn-Based Strategy games like Civilization and chess, but to me, the word strategy has always been a word that should describe carefully-considered decisions over a period of time to coordinate your plan to then attack your enemy. This is generally what I loved about Supreme Commander. SupCom maps were gigantic, while troop movement was slow. Add this to the fact that you could construct some pretty impregnable defenses, and you had in the making of what an RTS really should look like–a game that lasts longer than ten minutes in which you did not win with tier zero grunt units. I was hoping Blizzard would have taken some kinks from SupCom, but was frightful when they proclaimed that the formula had not changed from Starcraft 1. So put it bluntly–in twelve years, the game has not changed.

The “balance” of Starcraft II multiplayer has been aimed so that every unit has a strength and a weakness. To me, this has always been counter-productive in an RTS. Why the hell would you develop, lore-wise, an aircraft that could only target air units, or one that could only target ground units? Since the Wraith has been removed, the Viking has had to act as its replacement, except that the Viking needs to transform to a different mode just to play the role of being able to attack both air and ground. The Banshee, the Wraith’s bastard replacement, can only attack ground units. This effectively puts a choke on unit massing and production–the most expensive unit in the game, the Battlecruiser, can be outdone by lower-tier units (if you have enough). And please, sans the whole, “Not if you have twelve of them.” If your opponent lets you make twelve Battelcruisers, then he is obviously waiting to attack you with his 50 Ultralisks/Carriers or he’s just a player that’s even worse than you are.

And therein lies the trouble behind Starcraft II. Why even bother with offering high-tier units if games are always won with the lower tier ones? Why even bother with base defenses if they can be easily destroyed by units that can attack out of their range? Starcraft II is a lot like a card game instead–your opponent plays a high card and then you just play trump. I mean, Ghosts. Okay, woohoo. By the time you can create one with nuke-launching capabilities, your enemy will have more than enough detector units/structures to ensure that you can never get a nuke off (or in the Terran’s case, just do a sweep with your Command Center). And, to trade off the powerful combination of a Marine/Medic/Firebat combo that we once had in Starcraft 1, the Firebat has been replaced by a more expensive mechanical unit with a slower attack speed, ensuring that your best counter against the Zerg has been rendered useless by the fact that it would take forever to repair in a fight.

Other misses in the improvement department include being able to zoom out farther than “I can still see the fungus on your foot growing” zoom, being able to turn the camera, and the infamous “your unit has been trapped behind a building.” This is especially annoying with builder units and building in corners. How Blizzard has been unable to improve on what are some very obvious STANDARDS to RTS games today is beyond me. What exactly did they do for twelve years? Oh, that’s right. They dicked around with their cash cow World of Warcraft. The only saving grace of multiplayer happens to be the custom maps, which have been proven to be extremely powerful as far as adding and editing content goes. I mean, it’s only been a week since the game has been out and already I’ve been playing some pretty interesting maps, including one in which that lets you play as a “hero,” including an inventory and bag system so that you can trade out weapons, armor, and even “rings.” There’s even a roleplay map that lets you spawn virtually anything you want, edit the values to just about anything, and every which way in between (such as setting the scale of a structure/unit). The map editor will be the saving grace of Starcraft II.

Aftermath

Above all else I am constantly reminded by one nagging fact–this was simply the START of Starcraft II. We still have to wait for two more Campaigns to finish the Starcraft II storyline, as the Zerg and Protoss campaigns are going to be their own separate additions as expansions. This still bothers me something fierce, as this was obviously a decision made long ago in the production timeline, meaning that new units, new features, etc. are being purposely held back to ensure that the cost of the $40 expansion packs will be “justified” as more than just “mission packs.” The big trouble to this? The next campaign won’t even be out for another two years. TWO YEARS. By Christ almighty, haven’t we waited long enough? Does Blizzard really not have the resources and staff to do this any quicker? Because I have to be honest. I don’t see how it would take TWO YEARS to create 30 maps. I am willing to bet good money that before November someone will have already recreated the missions from the first Starcraft game. The map editor, while powerful, is simple to use, especially when you’re the damn company that created it.

All in all Wings of Liberty was a sub-par introduction of the sequel to a great RTS. Color me not impressed.

Advertisements

About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

9 Responses to Thank God for Cold Fusion

  1. Avelives says:

    Good review, it does make worry for the future of Diablo 3 seeing the cynical way Blizzard have approached the release of SCII.

    I do wonder if by the time it gets released (2020 by this rate) they will release each class as a seperate game… I wouldnt put it past them

    • Agamemnon says:

      Personally I think the days are gone when we would expect quality games from Blizzard. I’m not sure what happened–the changing of staff, etc.–but Starcraft II is basically Warcraft III with better graphics (honest–the game was built off of Warcraft III’s engine). And if this is something they know like the back of their hand, I don’t see why we have to wait TWO YEARS before the next iteration of the Starcraft II campaign comes out. This is not Blizzard’s old standard of quality.

  2. John Markley says:

    I’m nitpicking here, but:

    “Why the hell would you develop, lore-wise, an aircraft that could only target air units, or one that could only target ground units?”

    Single-role military aircraft are quite common. If anything, Starcraft air units are implausibly generalist by real-world historical standards.

    • Agamemnon says:

      General standards of what? What warfare would be like in the year 2500? I was not aware you were privy to such details.

      Per your real-world historical standards, however, I’m having trouble finding any military aircraft that is not at least capable of dual roles, even if the roles are limited in its capabilities. The A-10 Thunderbolt is probably the best comparison to use for the Banshee unit in Starcraft II, as they both serve the purposeful role of ground attack, especially upon armor. And yet the Warthog is more than capable of still serving its dual capabilities to intercept other aircraft (although it certainly isn’t its strong suit).

      Point of the matter is that it’s a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Banshees could have had small anti-aircraft batteries or a gunner port that attacked more as a deterrent against other air units instead of it being a full-force weapon, at which point, in the very LEAST, one single air unit would then be unable to come and take out a fleet of Banshees. Supreme Commander employs this to great effect–the UEF Gunships are air-to-ground heavy-hitters, but they still have an air-to-air harasser turret.

      Fact of the matter is Starcraft II is rather base in its practicality for warfare. It throws out all conventional sense for tactics, doesn’t even consider adding units to serve different and multiple purposes, and remains the same as it was in 1998. They even ahd to remove the Diamondback Tank because enough people complained about its ability to fire on the move–and so every unit in Starcraft II is privy to some ridiculous clause that says a unit apparently cannot move and fire at the same time (the term “sitting ducks” comes to mind).

  3. Lonethar says:

    I heard that this game was a real mix of good and bad. SinceI have learned that my tastes are generally on par with yours, I’m thinking I might just wait for the price to come down before actually buying it.

    I’m not sure its a game I would feel comfortable shelling out $60 for. Seems to me I might feel better investing in it for $30.

    How are you AG?

    And how about a link to your list of Oblivion mods?

    I’m taking a break from Fallout 3 and wanted your input into modding Oblivion now.

    • Agamemnon says:

      I’m doing alright, Lonethar, thanks for asking.

      As for Oblivion mods, you can find it under the category “Mods.” I found out a long time ago about 95% of the hits to my blog are redirects for both the Oblivion and Fallout 3 mod lists. I figured it was only fair to find them easily.

  4. Faceoff says:

    Neat review. But I don’t agree with the aircraft part. They made it that way, to make it more complicated, which means more strategies will come from it. Also this way every unit will have its specific counter. It’s more challenging, it’s better. And Battlecruisers still kick ass. You wipe 1 viking/phoenix with 1 yamato cannon, and if I remember right, you can lunch 2 cannons until you have to wait to replenish your energy. So if you have 5 BC’s with yamato upgrade, you can own around 15 vikings easily.

    • Agamemnon says:

      This has actually been tried before. Even with microing your BCs to target each an individual Viking to hit with the Yamatos, the BCs still lose. Always.

      This hasn’t made the game more complicated, it has made the game quite unbalanced in terms of race vs race. Because Vikings are strong vs. air, they make mincemeat of Phoenixes and Mutalisks (the Protoss and Zerg equivalents to the Viking). While Mutas and Phoenixes have both their strengths a Viking doesn’t have, they still should stack up in SOME way against an enemy unit that cost the same (or more) than it did.

      Because the limited amount of units, Terran has a bonus over the other races in numerous places, such as early harassment, base defense, scouting, detection, and splash damage. There are counters for this, but no hard counters. If units served dual purpose roles, it wouldn’t be such a hassle to sigh when your Zealots or Zerglings get routed by a single air unit. Compare this to Marines, who remain as a hard-hitting unit far into the end-game, especially in the MMM combo setup.

      In the effort to make every race and unit special and unique, they failed to balance the game.

  5. LeQuack says:

    Thank god for campaign units. I personally prefer a lot of the old units because of what you said about versatility.

%d bloggers like this: