Hell it's about time! These were the first words players heard when the teaser trailer for StarCraft 2 was unveiled and those sentiments have been echoed over and over again since. But after waiting a decade, fans of StarCraft have their sequel - a bigger, better and certainly more badass version of one of the best RTS games in history. Yes, that's right, StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty is here and it will rock your world.
The story was extensive in the original StarCraft and it was expanded upon when Brood Wars appeared. It's even gone on to spawn numerous books and StarCraft II expands on the lore even more with a story that sees the three main races fighting for survival. The Terran, a race of humans, are having conflicts within their own ranks, while the Protoss and Zerg are locked into a fierce battle. This is only the first game in the StarCraft II series though and it focuses on events from the Terran perspective.
Players take control of Jim Raynor, who veterans may remember from the first game. He has formed a band of men known as Raynor's Raiders and is set to do battle against the Terran Dominion. His reasoning? The Dominion's leader Arcturas Mensk is responsible for Sarah Kerrigan, the love of Raynor's life, having left her to die and subsequently becoming infected by the Zerg. Jim's only intention is to set things right some way some how, to see Mensk fall and to free Kerrigan from the Zerg by any means necessary.
The mission structure in StarCraft II is very unique. Unlike in typical RTS games, players are able to take a slightly more interactive approach. Players are taken to a hub where they can talk to key characters about the current turn of events, upgrade their units and base and investigate more about the actual game. They can even play on a fully developed space shooter aptly titled "Lost Viking", one of Blizzard's first games. There's also a jukebox which will play a few songs that players will definitely recognise. Essentially though the hub is a very nice feature as players will find they have a lot more freedom about the order they do the initial missions. This also means they have a choice of when they get certain units and what tech they get for them; it adds another level of strategy and allows different ways to actually tackle each mission.
But that's enough about structure as the gameplay is what is really important here. To be blunt it's practically flawless. Players follow the usual routine of build a base, gather resources, build an army and destroy the opposition - something which other RTS games are steering clear of. But rather than take that approach on every level, each mission objective for every mission is completely different. Not one mission feels the same and it's all due to some fantastic design. Players might find themselves destroying trains as they try to escape across the level, or having to move a base around to avoid firewalls. The game literally excels at keeping the variation up, and with the addition of a new unit to more or less every mission it makes players want to use them effectively for specific scenarios. It's hard to fault a game which will make players want to play for extremely long sittings.
The actual control of the game is spot on too and Blizzard have definitely taken a keen interest on making the game as macro and micro friendly as possible. Macro being the running of a base and production of units through hot keys, and micro being the precision use of units to deal with another army. The latter is only made possible by how defined each unit is. Knowing how to use a unit well can make all the difference in a rather one sided looking battle. There's a lot of scope to be good at the game and even more to be very good. It's not just all about having the bigger army and this is much more apparent in the multiplayer component of the game.
The single player campaign delivers on all fronts, but the multiplayer side of the game is where things really start to heat up. StarCraft to this day is still being played world wide after a decade and it's clear Blizzard want to be able to continue this trend with Starcraft 2. The multiplayer is not a let down either. It's fully supported by ranking systems and leaderboards to not only allow players to advance to high ratings, but to play with people of their skill level. With anything up to 4vs4 matches available, the game can get very intense and winning a game is extremely satisfying. There are also plenty of stats available at the end of matches to end disputes about contribution.
On the presentation side, the game is outstanding in every aspect from sound, music and graphics. While certain options are obviously constrained to those who can run everything, the game still looks beautiful even on low. With physics and reflections there has definitely been a lot of time spent into how the game looks and feels. Even with it looking as good as it does, it doesn't hamper the flow of the gameplay either. Moving around the map is smooth despite the scale of the armies on the map. The voice acting for the most part is solid, aside from the odd one or two moments when it seems a little bit forced.
StarCraft 2's campaign will easily take most players at least 14 hours. After their first completion, there's also the option to try two harder difficulties as well as challenges. The challenges, of which there are 9, are focused on developing an understanding of the multiplayer side of the game. Using only the units that feature in multiplayer, players are challenged with accomplishing certain tasks for a gold/silver/bronze medal. These are actually rather fun though short lived, but achieving the gold on all will definitely take a few runs for those who aren't hardcore players. There are also user created maps, which people have made using the map editor included in the game. Being as it's similar to Warcraft 3, expect to see the usual Tower Defence and DotA maps, but the scope for what players can make is pretty unlimited. So far there have been space shooters, third person games, party games and first person shooters. And this doesn't even take into consideration how much replay value the default multiplayer options allow for.
StarCraft II is a game that's near flawless in every aspect. Any real-time strategy gamer who doesn't pick it up should be flagged as committing a serious crime. The campaign's story rounds up nicely and players will eagerly be awaiting the follow up campaigns for Protoss and Zerg as soon as they finish them. The multiplayer and custom maps just complete the package and if StarCraft is anything to go by, gamers will be playing this for many a year to come.