When StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty debuted in 2010, it was embraced by a global community of rabid fans who had been playing its predecessor for more than a decade. Now, five years later, Legacy of the Void has launched into a very different market than Wings of Liberty, one where many believe real-time strategy games are a dying breed. Never fear, because Blizzard has gone to great lengths to revitalize their titan of the genre, and with over a million day-one sales things clearly aren’t as dire as some would have you believe.
A big reason why StarCraft II has failed to bring in new players is accessibility. One thing most gamers know is that StarCraft II is difficult, and it’s one of the toughest games to master. It’s something the game’s designers are proud of and it’s what makes it such an amazing game to watch. Seeing Korean pros make plays that us mere mortals couldn’t hope to pull off is nothing short of awe-inspiring. However, its daunting learning curve does make it extremely challenging to introduce the game to someone who is new to StarCraft. As an example, one of my own previous experiences involved hyping up one of my friends and loading into a 2v2 with them – where we quickly tasted bitter defeat at the hands of a Zerg rush. After that my friend never played the game again. If you’ve found yourself in similar situations, you’ll be happy to know that Blizzard has added two new game modes that focus on solving this issue that has long plagued the game.
The first mode is called “Co-Op Missions” and is the most casual/friendly of the two, allowing you and another player (whether it be a friend or a stranger via matchmaking) to work together to complete six replayable PvE missions. Each player gets to choose from six very distinct “Commanders”, who have their own smaller tech trees from their respective race as well as a range of powerful abilities at their disposal. For example, Jim Raynor is more of an infantry commander and only builds Terran infantry units such as Marines, Medics and Marauders. He has the ability to call in the Hyperion Battlecruiser, which has devastating firepower. The missions generally involve defending against waves of enemies or destroying an objective within a time limit. This grants experience upon completion which goes towards levelling up your commanders and unlocking new tech tree options and new abilities. While the levelling system does serve as a good way to encourage players to engage in co-op play, the missions do become stale after a while. Thankfully, there are talks of more missions being added, so this should soon be remedied.
“It took a while for me to adjust to the changes, but I honestly can’t see myself ever wanting to go back to how it was before.”
The second new mode is “Archon Mode” and lets two players share the command of one army. There’s less pressure on each individual player, since tasks (and, of course, the blame) can be divided. In my experience with the mode, it allows me to handle the building of the base, production of units and expanding to other mineral locations. Without having to worry about those pressures, my newbie friend is free to learn how to scout the map, discover how all the different units work and take part in all the action, which naturally gets them amped to play more. Things can also get really crazy at the pro level – if you think one Korean pro managing an army is amazing, can you imagine what happens with two of them? The result is games where you’ll see four simultaneous Medivac drops into an enemy’s expansions, or a Zerg pair that has their creep spread over the entire map. This is all being done whilst things at base are being defended and progressing without a hitch. All these never-before-possible plays makes for an exciting new mode that encourages experimentation and teamwork.
All that being said, Blizzard hasn’t ignored the ranked/unranked multiplayer component for which StarCraft II is known. It’s been changed significantly, having you start the game with double the amount of workers than before. This forces you to make big decisions early on – do I want to build up an early army, or do I want to expand and build up my economy? The whole goal of the design team was to make the game more aggressive. You have less minerals per mineral patch so you’re forced to expand earlier and more often. There’s less rushing your enemy and more fighting for expansions and trying to deny your enemy theirs. It took a while for me to adjust to the changes, but I honestly can’t see myself ever wanting to go back to how it was before. It’s definitely an improvement.
There’s been a TON of changes made to the existing units and structures, and as with every StarCraft expansion, a bunch of new units have been added to each race. These are some of the units that you’ll have a love/hate relationship with: Zerg sees the return of the beloved Lurker from Brood War, who must burrow to attack ground units with a long-range line attack that decimates clumped armies and can outrange defensive structures. Protoss get the Disruptor, which can launch a ball of energy that detonates to deal terrible, terrible AoE damage. I’ve often looked away from my army for a moment, only to arrive back and see a sad pile of corpses in a Disruptor’s wake. The Terrans get the Liberator, which is an air unit that has air-to-air missiles and can deploy into a stationary defensive mode. This creates a circular perimeter that deals heavy single-target damage – perfect for telling your opponent that their minerals don’t belong to them anymore.
The new units have definitely made the game more micro-intensive. The changes have made the game quite a bit harder to crack, but it also makes working at getting better at it that much more substantial and rewarding. That, and getting a Disruptor shot off on an enemy’s army and causing them to rage quit is ridiculously satisfying. Another great addition is that of daily Automated Tournaments, for players who want to experience what it’s like playing StarCraft II in a tournament setting. They’re three-round tournaments that occur every two hours throughout the day.
The same level of polish you’ve come to expect from Blizzard titles is prevalent throughout Legacy of the Void’s single-player campaign. It looks absolutely amazing, with a massively overhauled UI and jaw-dropping cinematics and cut-scenes. To avoid spoilers I’ll just say this: the Protoss story has its fair share of cheesiness, and the epilogue – which attempts to conclude the overarching story – does feel a bit rushed. There are some odd choices made, and some unbelievably ludicrous lines uttered by some of the characters. That being said, there was still lots for the fanboy in me to experience and enjoy. You assume the role of Artanis, Hierarch of the Protoss, and get to know and experience the race like never before. Blizzard really has done a great job of fleshing out the Protoss and its culture, making it believable and interesting. You’ll get to learn about their different factions, each of which are very unique in both appearance and beliefs.
As you progress through the missions these factions will bring their warriors to your aid, and the different warrior types speak to their respective faction’s style of warfare. Tired of having the Stalker as your ranged unit? Switch it out for the hardier Dragoon from Brood War and get that nostalgia vibe going. All these customisation options help keep the game fresh and are done aboard the Spear of Adun – an ancient, massive Protoss flagship that will get you from place to place and acts as a hub where you’ll enjoy cut-scenes and conversations with new and familiar characters. The “prophecy specialist” Zeratul returns to the fray, and you get to meet my personal favourite Alarak, the delightfully cynical and sadistic member of the Tal’darim (one of the Protoss factions).
The Spear of Adun also has abilities that can be used during your missions and upgraded with Solarite that is rewarded upon completing mission objectives. You’ll start out with something as mundane as the ability to warp in a Pylon but things soon get more exciting, with some of the higher-tier abilities letting you bombard the battlefield for a sustained period of time or warp in a legendary warrior to fight for you.
The missions themselves are diverse and very well crafted, with new tilesets that give each location loads of character. A few missions let you take control of the characters you’ve gathered on the Spear of Adun, getting to experience each character’s downright overpowered abilities. Their abilities are very well thought out – when I played as Artanis I really did feel like I was the legendary warrior of the Protoss. In another mission I had my base on a mobile platform with limited resources, forcing me to move around the map scrounging what I could find to build my army. All this and more made the campaign really fun and entertaining to play.