I recently completed the single player campaign for Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty and decided to shared my thoughts about it with the world. Starcraft 2 is a game that needs no introduction, but I’ll give it a quick one for the campaign for those of you who haven’t played it (yet).
The Starcraft 2 campaign picks up four years after the end of Starcraft: Brood War. The campaign is played from the point of view of Jim Raynor as he struggles to overthrow the corrupt Terran Dominion, led by none other than Raynor’s previous comrade-in-arms, Arcturus Mengsk. Luckily, Raynor doesn’t have to go it alone; Raynor has a colorful supporting cast of characters including a gruff mechanic, a prim, but efficient number two, and Tychus Findlay, a former ally who has recently been released from a quadruple-supermax prison. Along the way he’ll encounter Dominion forces, renegade protoss forces, and maybe, just maybe, the Queen of Blades herself. The characters interact in beautifully rendered CGI cinematics, on-the-fly rendered game sequences, and within the game itself.
But that’s all stuff that you can find on the Starcraft 2 homepage. What is the campaign actually like?
Put simply: it’s pretty awesome. For a lot of little reasons. Between missions you roam about the Hyperion, Raynor’s flagship, talking to various crew members (or not talking to them) to get their take on things, examining little bits of culture from the Starcraft 2 world like photographs and news shows, or you can just hang out and play the Lost Viking in the arcade. All of these things (well, okay, less so with the Lost Viking, but still) help to enrich the game world and make the characters feel more alive and three-dimensional. Not only are these little things great for giving the player a more firm understanding of Starcraft lore, but they also help greatly with the pacing of the game.
Earlier this Spring, I sat down in one evening and blasted through the Terran campaign in Starcraft 1. In one sitting, I ate through 1/3 of the content that the game has to offer. However, with Starcraft 2, even just beating the first three or four missions might take the same time, given that between the missions, I’d go and talk to all the characters, or perhaps go to the armory and check out all of the available upgrades. The storytelling of the game makes it feel more like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2 than Starcraft 1. And that’s a great thing!
“But Sunhawk, what if I don’t like listening to plot? I want to blow stuff up!” That’s fine too, as the pacing material is entirely optional, though achievement-fiends will likely want to view everything.
But hey, I like to blow stuff up too, so let’s get on to the missions themselves.
The campaign structure of Starcraft 2 is pretty straightforward. You head up to the bridge of the Hyperion and can view available missions. With the mission selection, you choose a planet and listen to a short description of what you’ll need to be doing on the planet, and what technology will become available to you during the mission. This is a real nice way to introduce the new units game, as the missions are designed to highlight that unit’s strengths, and because there are many more units in the single-player than in multiplayer, it is handy to have a quick intro on what the unit is supposed to be doing.
Sometimes when you choose a planet you will be confronted with competing missions that you must choose between. For instance, on one planet you discover that colonists have been infected with the zerg infestation virus; you can choose either to help a doctor develop a cure to the virus, or you can side with the protoss who have arrived to purify the planet (with a whole lotta firepower, of course). Your choice directly influences the mission you are about to play, which is pretty awesome. The only downside to this is there weren’t a whole lot of missions that had this mechanic. Off the top of my head, I can recall three instances of this branching mechanic, but there may have been a couple more in the campaign that I am simply not recalling.
The missions are spectacular. No, seriously. I have been a gamer for a long, long time, and I have played dozens upon dozens of RTS games, and I have to say that Starcraft 2 has the best mission design of any RTS game I’ve played, period. Pretty much every single mission has some twist or gimmick to it. Very rarely is the purpose of the mission simply to stand over the charred remnants of the enemy’s base and yell, “All your base are belong to us.” No, each mission has a unique flavor that challenges the player to use a different strategy or unit. Here are a couple of my favorites (spoilers):
- A planet where the sun is slowly rising and burning everything in its path (just like the epic sequence from the cinematic masterpiece, Chronicles of Riddick). This forces the player to relocate their base to stay ahead of the flames, taking full advantage of the terrans’ mobility.
- Killing zombies is always awesome, no matter how you slice it. One mission has waves of zombies attack your base at night, but you must venture out to destroy buildings by day. I love how you have to scurry your army back to base and hunker and bunker down. Great mission.
- The train robbery. Blowing up trains is fun, what can I say?
What I love about the Starcraft 2 missions is how they each add a little something. Each one is unique, and the player must adapt in order to win. Time is often a more valuable resource than Minerals, and positioning of units more important than Vespene. But each mission isn’t so different that it is frustrating. It’s not that on this mission you can’t build infantry, it’s that on this mission, fast vehicles have an edge over slow moving troops, or, in this mission, you can build whatever you like, but reapers will be to your advantage. A masterful balancing act that Blizzard has pulled off.
I played through the whole campaign on Hard difficulty, and it felt about right. There were a couple of missions that I failed a couple or three times, but then once I figured out the gimmick, I did fine. I’m a decent player in multiplayer, but because not all of my skills translated well into the campaign. Part of the reason is because I play zerg, and part of it is because the campaign is so different from multiplayer. I look forward to playing through the campaign again on Brutal, and grabbing all of the achievements as well. I doubt I’ll do both at once.
Overall the Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty single-player campaign is awesome. There are a few minor issues things that I hope Blizzard polishes a little more for the Heart of the Swarm. For instance, I felt that the story jumped around just a little bit too much, too quickly for my taste. Also, more branching missions and player choice would be great additions. But such minor imperfections don’t prevent this from being the best RTS campaign I’ve played. Props, Blizzard. Thanks for making such a great game.