Review by Marius “Stripe” van der Merwe – Mint Gaming SC2 player
Starcraft. The first title was released more than a decade ago, followed by the expansion: Brood Wars. It is one of the best selling games of all time, and in some countries namely Korea, one of their biggest national sports. It defined real-time strategy (RTS) and its standards.
The next instalment has finally arrived, and Blizzard did not disappoint.
The campaign takes off where Starcraft: Brood War ended. If you aren’t up to date on the story, one can always view the trailers Blizzard released. The installer also has a built in story reviewer with voice overs.
This first chapter, titled Wings of Liberty, takes you on the journey of Jim Raynor and his quest to reunite with Sarah Kerrigan. You play as the Terran on every mission, except for one where you take the role of a Protoss warrior named Zeratul and some of his Protoss companions. Some missions depend on the choices you make, like whether they are to help the refugees or exterminate the infested Terran. Before I go any further I think I should explain that Terran, Protoss and Zerg are the three main races in the game.
The campaign alone takes several hours to complete. Now every mission has a set of tasks, but Blizzard have done something amazing by giving each mission a unique element. From chasing fires and lava tides, to racing the Zerg through Protoss forces to gain artefacts. This, coupled with constant video messages from your ‘friends’ and ‘foes’ via a small window, keeps missions fresh and interesting.
Throughout the campaign, you will be spending most of your time in between missions, inside the fully interactive Hyperion, a spaceship that Jim Raynor stole. Inside the Hyperion are many different objects and characters you can interact with as a player, from jukeboxes and TV news casts to Jim’s old time friends. This gives you a nice breather between missions. You can also purchase upgrades or mercenary contracts via credits you earn throughout your complete missions. These will boost your forces and give more options in future missions.
Aside from the campaign, you can also play skirmishes against the computer, such as many other popular RTS games. The AI is better than expected, but like all AI opponents, once you find out how to exploit their weaknesses, they become peanuts to beat. The third option is to play the “challenges”. These are “mini-games” designed by Blizzard to teach you about the different units in the game, and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how to properly use and exploit unit abilities to win the game.
Starcraft II was released with Battle.net 2.0, a new and improved multiplayer platform. Battle.net 2.0 provides several new features that has made your online experience just that much better. Match history allows you to view the stats of all the matches you have played in the past, ranked or unranked. Replays of your latest matchups are saved automatically, but disappear sooner or later if you do not decide to keep them. An achievement system allows
one to unlock new portraits for your profile among other things, there are achievements for almost anything in Starcraft II. What’s also wonderful about the game is that Facebook is integrated into the game which makes finding friends really easy, but be careful not to add to many because you don’t want all these popups notifying you that your friends are playing during an important ladder match. Unfortunately there are no public chat channels like the previous Battle.net had, but Blizzard intend on introducing them again due to popular demand.
Probably the best thing about Starcaft II is the ladder system, which has a very accurate match-making mechanism and depending on your statistics and how you’ve played in your previous matches, it will attempt to put you up against an opponent of equal strength. This almost guarantees you that every ladder match will be tight and exciting. Players on ladder are divided amongst 5 leagues – Platinum, Diamond, Gold, Silver and Bronze, each of whom represent the sort of skill you can expect from a player. If you do well in your league, the ladder system will automatically move you up to a higher skilled league. The game itself uses almost no bandwidth, so those of you who only have 1GB of cap each month – this is the perfect game for you. During your online experience the delay is so minimal, that it does not play a factor at all, unless you are having trouble with your line.
If you don’t want to risk losing points in ladder for testing out strategies, a new race or using unexplored units, then you can always play unranked custom games. These also include Tower Defence, sidescrollers, team survival, and many other creative game modes made by users using the infamous Galaxy Editor.
Even if you aren’t really into RTS games, Starcraft II is still a must-have. You don’t need to be brainy to enjoy the game. Seeing your zealots carve up enemies or zerglings dart all over your opponents base will be all the satisfaction you need once you realise that Blizzard really outdid themselves with the game. With literally hundreds of different death animations, beautiful textures and well polished game play, just watching how everything unfolds is satisfying enough.
The thing that makes Starcraft II stand out above rest of the RTS titles, is that the three playable races are very unique in terms of visuals, style and technology, yet they are balanced to the utmost. Blizzard really could have added a few necessary features such as chat channels, but keeping fans any longer from movie night, or having to do stuff like sleep, would have just killed off any long lasting passion they might have for the game. Starcraft II has everything you want from an RTS. The game itself already has a strong online platform, and with two more chapters planned in the years to come, there is a very bright future ahead for this popular title.
The gameplay stands out the most in Starcraft II. Very smooth, very fun. A Strong balance between the playable races, hundreds of death animations and a broad set of unique units; no battle is ever the same.
Graphics isn’t the biggest focus in Starcraft II. Blizzard intended to have more compatibility than insane graphics. When entering the game for the first time, Blizzard could have done a better job at giving a first impression, especially after such a long wait. The fine artwork done on models and maps are quite exceptional though. There are clear distinctions between every unit. Each one’s nature and purpose is well brought out by the art.
Blizzard always goes the extra mile when it comes to sound. An epic soundtrack for when you are playing, and beautiful orchestral music when browsing through Battle.net. Sounds are very clear cut in the game.
The price ranges around R500, which is more expensive than your average PC title. But with such a strong multiplayer platform such as Battle.net, high replayability value and no subscriber fees, this title can easily be seen as a bargain.
There are always going to be features to add and things to tweak. Blizzard has done such a great job at creating a solid foundation for the new Battle.net, that one cannot help but imagine all the wonderful things that can be added. I recommend Starcraft II to anyone looking for a solid game, casually or competitively. A Brilliant game with a bright future.
[Reviewed on PC]