by Ryan Phillip Hardesty
reviewed on PC
RTSs aren’t exactly known for their engrossing, well-orchestrated narratives but the original Starcraft hit it out of the park as far as video games go. The characters and world seemed grander and more important than they really were, a major component that helped raise it above and beyond the typical RTS. This is not fully reproduced in the sequel.
The vast majority of the cutscenes and the time in-between missions takes place onboard the Hyperion and most of it consists of Raynor simply talking to the main characters cruising around with him. The characters themselves could fall into stereotypes and most of them don’t even seem to serve any purpose other than as an excuse for more missions. Even Raynor himself comes off as an outdated Old West archetype. Instead of getting a grand view of things from multiple points of view like you did in the original game, with Wings you’re told things solely from the Terran perspective, and to narrow it down even further, Jim Raynor’s. Though that’s an obvious side-effect from Blizzard’s planned trilogy, you nevertheless are robbed of what could’ve been a more epic, all-encompassing story.
Some people may tire of the story quickly, wishing for some time away from all the metal corridors. If a game’s story were to ever give you cabin fever, it’s this one. And when it actually does give you a new setting, such as the forward base of a recently-invaded planet, or throw in new characters like a young, upstart prince, you wonder why Blizzard didn’t do more of that to switch things up. Apparently they centered all their creativity on making the missions varied and not the setting, but hey, I guess it could’ve been the other way around. Nevertheless, with two more parts of the story left to tell, and with some plot threads heading into a more interesting direction, I trust the developers will start to pen a better tale.
Staying Inside the Bubble
Something negative could also be said about the lack of innovation. Blizzard, along with Westwood Studios, is considered the pioneer of the RTS. They are the key architects when it comes to tiny digital armies beating the crap out of other tiny digital armies which is why it’s such a shame this time around that the bar was hardly, if at all, raised in terms of core innovation for the real-time strategy genre.
While innovation can be found in online competition and mission variety, nothing has been done to experiment with or renew the main principles of an RTS. You’re still harvesting resources with workers, buildings bases, churning out units, and then sending them out to defeat your opponent. It’s a formula that dates back to 1992’s Dune II. Instead of staying within their comfort zone, a bit more risk taken on Blizzard’s part would have been welcoming.
Wings of Liberty’s multiplayer proved to be a streamlined experience without any glitches. The single-player game was a different story. The loading screens froze up several times, forcing me to reboot the system and occasionally part of the sound or speech would go silent for a short while. In the grand scheme of things these are but minor issues in an otherwise polished game.
Overall, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, is a unique, if not entirely even, success. The people at Blizzard have set a new standard in fast-paced, yet deep, online competition. Other developers should look at the game’s single-player campaign as a template for how to finally break away from the stale missions that have gripped RTSs for so long. Another benchmark has been made by the visuals as they are gorgeous, mixing a sleek, beautifully-rendered, realism with Blizzard’s typical stand-out artwork.
Being not even halfway finished, Starcraft II will hopefully become a new landmark in the strategy world. Through the continuous introduction of patches to the game, it will evolve, adjusting itself and perfecting the gameplay as needed until the second installment of the trilogy arrives, at which point a whole new range of features and additions born from trial-and-error will arrive at our doorstep. And when the second installment of the trilogy does come out, I’ll be waiting just as eagerly as I was for Wings of Liberty, because the first game has shown itself to be one hell of a start.
A raised bar for multiplayer and a breath of fresh air for single-player
A claustrophobic story, and not as much innovation as you’d think