In an unusual move, Blizzard declined to send out advance copies of Starcraft II to reviewers. I can understand the move, to a certain point: It’s Starcraft … it’s going to sell no matter what the critics say.
The Bad Stuff First
There’s no Zerg or Protoss campaign (though, you do get to play a handful of Protoss missions in a nice storytelling gimmick), so you’ll be forced to wait until those versions of the game to learn their respective storylines. Is this “milking the franchise” or “prolonging the magic”? Your choice.
The intrusion of the RealID system is very apparent in Starcraft II. You are forced to tie the game to your Battle.Net account, and also to create one online pseudonym that will be what you are known by forevermore. One of the biggest issues at launch? Nowhere in the game did Blizzard tell gamers the name we chose was one that would be irrevocably tied to our account. Luckily, I didn’t mash the keyboard just to get past the screen but chose something I could live with. Not so lucky are those folks who were in too big a hurry just to get into the game after buying it at midnight, and now they are permanently known by the name “Ssdkljfhue” or similar.
The game also uses the online system as a form of DRM, to restrict usage of the game; you are required to have an active internet connection to install and to play the game. There is an “offline mode” available, but you will still be required to have an active connection once every 30 days.
There are ways to opt-out of the RealID feature in the game, but it’s convoluted, needlessly laborious and involves creating Parental Controls for your own account. The RealID system is a potential privacy risk, and Blizzard can potentially use/sell your personal data at some future point. If they go that route, you could be worth far more than the purchase price you paid for the game, or your monthly subscription to WoW. Also, with the built-in Facebook integration in the game, they potentially have access to the vast amount of personal data on that site (your favorite bands, TV shows, all your friends’ information, etc. …)
Now To The Good Stuff
Starcraft II‘s storyline picks up four years after the events depicted in the first Starcraft game and the expansion, Brood War. The marauding Zerg have been eerily quiet, and the human empire is slowly beginning to focus on internal conflicts. The mysterious and advanced Protoss race has retreated into the vastness of space, after nearly being wiped from existence by the rampaging Zerg.
It is at this quiet moment that the protagonist from the first game, Jim Raynor, is catapulted into the center of a civil war between human factions, and then is drawn into a galaxy-spanning shadow war when the Zerg suddenly reappear. His former romantic interest, Sarah Kerrigan, also makes an appearance as the de facto leader of the Zerg, their Queen of Blades.
The story of the game is integrated flawlessly into Starcraft II‘s gameplay. The storyline is told through multiple cutscenes, in-mission updates and pre-mission briefings, and by using a hub-system that allows you to converse with the crew around you on the ship, as well as research new tech and upgrade existing tech. You can also do nonrequired missions in order to make some much-needed money to perform these upgrades and research. I have seen complaints from other players about the lacking storyline, and while the main story is not what I had hoped would emerge, I also am keeping in mind that this is only one-third of the storyline; we still have the Protoss and Zerg campaigns to play through.
The graphics are nice, without being superb. They are a bit less than what you might expect from a game that’s taken 12 years to be released. The small touches are nice, with the various environments having details to help bring them to life: small wildlife wandering, or waterfalls in the jungle, and dust-devils swirling through the barren deserts. The times you revisit places from the first game, you see wreckage from the battles that had been fought there.
Adding to replay value is the inclusion of multiple bonus objectives for each mission. Above and beyond what you are required to achieve for the mission, you can roam the map, looking for caches of materials, alien artifacts or other items. If you complete the mission successfully, but don’t find everything you were looking for, you can always replay the mission and your next set of discoveries will be counted.
The research is an interesting way to add replay value, as well, because once you make a choice between items, you are not allowed to put resources to researching the second item at all. If you want to know how the Raven would have done better on the battlefield than the Science Reactor Vessel, or if you should have improved the armor plating instead of improving the weapons, you’ll have to play again.
Currently, I’m about two-thirds through the single-player game and, all things considered, I’m enjoying it immensely. Actually, I’m surprised my eyes haven’t started to crust over, with as much time as I’ve spent staring at the screen while trying to survive the Zerg onslaught. Or defend the transmission tower long enough to allow my allies to broadcast the message that the evil government has been suppressing. Or… Yes, Starcraft II‘s gameplay is amazingly well-tuned and is a blast to play.
The myriad of mission styles and the ability to guide the research of new tech adds new layers of strategy to an already well-honed game mechanic. The storyline, while not quite as epic as I was hoping for, certainly has me hooked and revealed some great moments. (The Xel’Naga?! And how freaking cool is Zeratul’s teleport ability in the “Prophecy” cutscene?!)
The games that Blizzard makes are phenomenal and fun. The way they are making attempts at positioning themselves to use gamers’ personal data is shameful and disturbing. What’s a gamer to do?