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Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty review

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How do you improve upon one of the best RTS games ever made? Ask Blizzard. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty stays faithful to its roots while surpassing its predecessor on virtually every level. It's easily one of the best games of 2010, and possibly one of the best RTS games ever made. (But is anyone surprised?)

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty does something few sequels manage to do: introduce countless innovations and new features while staying completely faithful to everything that made its predecessor nigh-perfect in the first place.

Sure, Blizzard had more than ten years of technology and gameplay innovations to work with in creating the sequel. But they also had to tread lightly and not mess with the core formula too much, lest they draw the ire of fans and probably cause the total collapse of South Korea's gaming community. Balancing ten-year old gameplay with modern innovations is a tricky balancing act.

But they did it.


Protoss forces attacking a Terran base

Starcraft II screenshot

Aboard the bridge of the Hyperion, in between missions

Starcraft II screenshot

This isn't looking too good for the Protoss...

Zeratul brings a dire warning to Jim Raynor.

All the stuff you liked is still there

The real-time strategy missions—the essence of the game—still feel and play pretty much just like the Starcraft you remember.

Sure, there are lots of new units (as well as some old ones), and you still mine crystals and vespene gas, build up your base, research a tech tree, and ultimately work to rain destruction down on your enemies.

You get to play against Zerg, Terran, and Protoss forces, and while there is still plenty of build-up-and-destroy-your-foe missions, every mission also has various side objectives and some enough diversity to keep things from  feeling repettitive.

RTS meets virtual play space

In between missions, you (Jim Raynor) are aboard your ship the Hyperion, and this is where the bulk of the game's many gameplay and story-telling related innovations are experienced.

Aboard the Hyperion, you can venture to different locations, talk to the game's many characters to learn more about the story and the Starcraft universe, and (most importantly) buy permanent upgrades for your units, vehicles, and structures.

The Hyperion has four locations: the Bridge, the Cantina, the Armory, and the Laboratory. In each location you can talk to various characters (such as Tychus Findley, for example) and enjoy numerous short cutscenes and conversations that enrich the story of Starcraft II. This is all entirely player-driven, however, so if you just want to buy your upgrades and plow through the missions, you can do that too.

In the Cantina, you can hire mercenaries, which gives you access to new elite units that you can build during the RTS portions of the game. You can also click on the TV in the cantina to get (often humorous) news reports providing more background for the story. Or you can relax and play an old-school arcade shooter by clicking the arcade machine in the corner of the room. You can even interact with various objects around the room.

The Armory is where you buy vehicle, unit, and base upgrades, and as new units become available (such as the Firebats, Marauders, Siege Tanks, etc.) they will appear in the armory in fully rendered 3D glory. You can click on them for a better view and to read more about them. Again, this serves to just enrich the Starcraft universe, and some of the descriptions are actually quite funny. (Read about the Firebats and Maruaders.)

The Laboratory is where you spend Research Points, which you acquire by completing side-objectives in missions. There is both a Zerg and Protoss tech tree, and you can earn both Zerg and Protoss research points to spend in either of them. There are 25 total levels (points) of research for each tree. Every 5 points you gain allows you to pick 1 of 2 available upgrades for that level—but once you pick one of the upgrades, the other is no longer available. (Minor spoiler: later in the game, you also gain access to a special item housed in the Laboratory that lets you play through special Protoss missions.)

And finally, there's the Bridge, where you select and launch the RTS missions. You can also view achievements, and if you like replay any mission you've already completed (to claim unearned achievements or research points).

Starcraft II screen

Brilliant innovations

The real brilliance of Starcraft II is that it improves virtually every aspect of the original game while enriching the Starcraft universe through superior story-telling methods and modern gameplay innovations.

The gameplay has been carefully tailored to be player-driven at every level. If you don't care about the story, you can ignore the 'virtual playspace' aboard the Hyperion, just buy your upgrades and choose your next mission.  

In addition, you get to make real decisions that affect the story. For example, after launching a particular mission, (minor spoiler here) you'll have to choose which side you will support in the coming battle—support your friend and protect innocent civilians, or support the Protoss?

Even the tips displayed on the mission loading screen are useful and directly relate to the mission you're waiting to play. In-game directions during missions give the missions a near-perfect balance of removing some of the guesswork and frustration of "figuring out" a mission while leaving sufficient leeway for you to experiment. Starcraft II also autosaves at key points during missions, but still lets you save your game at anytime.

And finally, Starcraft II offers around 15-20 hours of single player gaming alone, plus plenty of replayability through achievements. You can replay any mission at any time if you want to go back and earn missed achievements or research points. And of course, there's multiplayer and a fully fledged set of tools for creating your own missions.

Overall

When it's hard to write a review because it feels likes there are just too many good things to write about,  then you're not just writing about a good game, you're writing about a best-of-class experience. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is hands-down one of the best games of 2010, and possibly (if not probably) the best RTS game ever released on the PC.

Combined with the newly revamped Battle.net (video link) and its many new multiplayer features, Starcraft II is a no-brainer recommendation, even at its $60 price tag.

But you probably already knew that, so just go buy the game already.

Comments

  • Matthew "Floyd" Clough 4 years ago

    Fellow PC game examiner here - really enjoyed your review. I've been trying to not suck so much at SC2 since Tuesday but it's going painfully slow.

    Cheers!

  • IronClad1o9 4 years ago

    loved the review...

    TERRAN FTW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Carmesi 4 years ago

    I am still very skeptical. I do understand that if you change to much, then an entire country will be upet and possibly send literal nukes towards blizzard HQ. BUT I have waited a decade for this game, and it seems like (at least in multipalyer) that I am playing the exact same thing I played 10 years ago. It wont take long for the newness to wear off and then I'll be bored of it faster than any RTS I have ever played. And why is the screen so zoomed in now? I wish i could see more map at once. its annoying. The graphics are understandably cartoonish, but kind of have to be in an RTS. but really, it is just SC1 re-released to fanatics 10 years later. Can someone tell me whats much better besides single player? I play mostly Zerg, and so far, there are a couple new units and thats it, same buildings, same tech tree, same units, same game.

  • Golddigga 4 years ago

    @Carmesi

    "If it aint broken don't fix it"

    Have you even played the game yet?
    You don't wanna change too much in a RTS. Especially an RTS thats so popular and has stayed popular for 10 years straight. You're argument lacks substance.

  • Golddigga 4 years ago

    @Carmesi

    "If it aint broken don't fix it"

    Have you even played the game yet?
    You don't wanna change too much in a RTS. Especially an RTS thats so popular and has stayed popular for 10 years straight. You're argument lacks substance.

  • carmesi 4 years ago

    @golddigga,
    I obviosuly have the game if i am complaining about specifics. Why would I waiste my time if I didnt. I still really really enjor the single player and do not get me wrong, I am not bashing what works, but with that argument, you could say why even make a sequal? just play the 1st one that works so well. You are right, SC is a great RTS, but if we are spending 60 dollars for a new game, I would hope they could come up with something new and still be as great or better. I feel more like they were to scared or nervous to take any risks with anything new. There is substance, I gave specific examples, then asked the question of what makes it so much better. You didnt give an answer. so, i ask again. What makes it so much better than SC1? why should i spend $64 (with tax) to play the same great game I have owned for 12 years? then pay more later to get the 2 expansions? It feels like a scheme to sucker in loyalists. like apple people with their Ipods (I must have the new one!)

  • carmesi 4 years ago

    "if it aint broken, dont buy a new one!"

  • Bryan Edge-Salois 4 years ago

    Thanks for reading! I have to confess it's been tough pulling myself away from the game every night (technically, it's usually morning by the time I do...)

    @Carmesi -- I understand your skepticism. I was a little skeptical myself when they first announced the game and how it would stay true to the original. Regardless, the game reels you in and doesn't let go. Missions have more variety, and there is just so much more to do in the game in general -- and that's just single-player, too! I'll be curious to see how they handle the same elements for the Zerg and Protoss.

  • carmesi 4 years ago

    absolutley agree about the single player. I love it. Im about 2/3 the way through. I am just dissapointed in multiplayer (which is what kept SC1 as a top playing game for so long). It really is the same game. my first online multipayer match, I was Zerg. I did exactly what I did when I play SC1 to succeed. And I did. That is a problem. Only because I already feel like I dont want to spend much online time with this game. There is nothing much to learn. It is not a new expirience. Luckily it is worth the single player, or I would have been on the phone with Blizzard demanding a refund. But when I go to play online, I will probably end up playing something I new to me like Supreme Commander 2 and Age of Empires 3. Give me a challange! (which brings up another cool thing I do like in SC2, the challenges are great fun, but again are single player)

  • Bryan Edge-Salois 4 years ago

    @Carmesi -- Totally understand your point, and it's a good one. But with two more SC2's to go -- not to mention likely expansions, updates, and who knows what else -- I wouldn't give up on SC2 multiplayer just yet. :) OTOH, messing too much with the MP side would likely have likely turned off a lot of fans. And destroy South Korea, which doesn't look good on a resume.

  • carmesi 4 years ago

    absolutley agree about the single player. I love it. Im about 2/3 the way through. I am just dissapointed in multiplayer (which is what kept SC1 as a top playing game for so long). It really is the same game. my first online multipayer match, I was Zerg. I did exactly what I did when I play SC1 to succeed. And I did. That is a problem. Only because I already feel like I dont want to spend much online time with this game. There is nothing much to learn. It is not a new expirience. Luckily it is worth the single player, or I would have been on the phone with Blizzard demanding a refund. But when I go to play online, I will probably end up playing something I new to me like Supreme Commander 2 and Age of Empires 3. Give me a challange! (which brings up another cool thing I do like in SC2, the challenges are great fun, but again are single player)

  • Anonymous 2 years ago

    protoss FTW

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