It’s a sequel twelve years in the making, gamers have been anticipating it for ages, and finally it has hit PC’s. The game even boasts primitive, yet satisfying, co-op capabilities. Yes it’s Duke Nu....errr, no it’s not. It’s StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, and Co-Optimus is going to take a look to see just how co-op the game is, as well as how well its RTS formula as evolved for this long awaited sequel. Will our co-op go soaring to the stars or never quite leave the ground?
Entering the StarCraft II realm after a 12 year gap between right now and the first game seems like it would be like re-learning some great skill. Playing a game like this is like picking up a bicycle after 12 years - it’s simple, but you might need a little refresher before really taking off. Thankfully, Blizzard has made sure to give you the proper training wheels before sending you on your way, and it helps that not a whole lot has changed.
While installing the game, you’ll get a great recap from the first game for those that forget or never played the campaign story. You’re left with a broken outlaw of a man, Jim Raynor, angry at his former ally turned tyrant Emperor, and tormented by the guilt of losing Kerrigan at the hands of the Zerg. At least, they cover the main story - but oddly leave out the events from the expansion pack The Brood War. After being brought up to date and watching one of those nicely rendered intro cinematics that Blizzard is famous for, you’re given your first mission.
While the game is mostly familiar, StarCraft II feels a bit different than the StarCraft you may be used to. The campaign mixes things up a bit by creating a hybrid between the great things like the original StarCraft, WarCraft 3, and even adds some Dawn of War 2 style RPG-lite elements. The a strong mission variety here, and not all of them are simply build a base and kill all the bad guys. While some follow this formula, others have you protecting a goal, while other missions will have you searching for artifacts from the advanced and proud Protoss, or the vast infectious Zerg. There is even a nice surprise new race that makes an appearance, but I won’t ruin that for those interested in the story. These can then be used to research and upgrade your units with new technology.
Other missions have you taking a small contingency of “hero” characters through hostile territory armed only with a healing unit and a few special powers, while others utilize environmental hazards like rising pools of lava or day and night cycles to mix things up. All of the missions do serve the main goal: Uncovering the treachery of the now Terran (human) “Emperor” as well as stopping an advancing Zerg Plague set to wipe out the entire universe. I’m guessing SARS masks didn’t work.
StarCraft II’s RTS elements are still largely based on mining minerals or collecting Vespine gas with your SCVs. Fortunately there are quite a few purchasable and permanent campaign upgrades that help with this tediousness, including self-mining gas refineries, and faster building SCV’s. Balancing your force vs. defense is absolutely necessary, especially when some missions leave you with a precious few resources in general. Completely new is a merc system which allows you to hire upgraded Mercenary units and drop them in during missions - for the right price.
Between these great missions you’re dropped into a richly detailed static screen, it almost looks like a point and click adventure game. In it you’ll see Jim Raynor and crew in various areas of a ship (or bar). There’s a cantina, command bridge, a laboratory, and other areas with a variety of shiny things around him to click on and check out. These different idle screens will have a lot of interaction and you’ll be able to get additional story elements through news broadcasts or by talking with characters. Most importantly you can purchase upgrades and research new units and technology to help you along the way as well as hire mercenary factions for additional aid.
These idle screens will also give you a few easter eggs as well, especially exciting for those that grew up with Blizzards works. There’s throwbacks to Diablo and Warcraft as well as other games. In the cantina there is an arcade system loaded up with a game titled Lost Vikings. Though it isn’t the official Lost Vikings, an old school plat forming co-op game, it is a neat vertical scrolling shoot ‘em up to play if the strategy time gets a bit too rough. The game is more or less to show off the power of the StarCraft II “map” editor to create custom content for the game.
To say this is one third of a game because it doesn’t have all three races in individual full campaigns is a bit of an erroneous statement. There’s A LOT of content here. There may not be three separate campaigns like we’d seen in StarCraft, but there are more machines and a greater variety of them. Whether the missions focus on Zerg, Protoss, or Terran specific goals - they all tie in nicely with the story. There is even a section of the game devoted to uncovering a truth from a long-lost friend where you’ll take control of Protoss units for a variety of missions, earning new upgrades and intel along the way.
For those that didn’t want to see any of their beloved StarCraft changed, don’t worry. It’s still Blizzard. They give you plenty of the things you love. Quirky characters are still present, a variety of units and tactics are there. Even the hotkeys for building and commanding units are the same (a few changed for efficiency, but most are the same). They did remove the great codes though, so no more PowerOverwhelming, or ShowMeTheMoney if you want to beef up the difficulty and wing it.
Another new change is the music, largely channeling the outlaw space western style of Firefly which people seem to enjoy quite a bit. The cut scenes are also enhanced, though most are no longer pre-rendered, showing off more of the battles up close and personal. To add a lot of replay value to the campaign, you’ll be forced to make decisions that will forge allies, make enemies, unlock certain units, or change the outcome of the final battle. No two play-throughs have to be exactly the same if you change your decisions. Not necessarily changed, but still newer to StarCraft is the zooming angle, as well as the detail in the environments.
The story does seem to leave the ending open, but we’re also, as gamers, under the impression that there are still 2 more parts to this particular game. Whether these campaigns come out in expansions (preferred), or as independent games isn’t yet decided, but I am really itching for some more StarCraft. Which brings me to the multiplayer, which will extend those hours of gameplay as long as you have the right friends - or, are a hardcore StarCraft playing Korean.
Multiplayer in StarCraft II comes in two forms The first is custom melee (that’s any variety of teams from versus teams, to team vs. A.I. in any combination you can come up with). That mode does not apply co-op achievements, even in versus A.I. combat. To get true co-op according to the StarCraft II universe, you have to select the more confusing menu labeled “Cooperative.” At first this looks like it’s just a matchmaking service, but if you’ve made a party you can play together according to their laid out co-op rules without having to search the vast Battle.net network between skirmishes.
The co-op for StarCraft II is, simply put, comp stomp. This particular comp-stomp does add a few nice elements that those of use who appreciate co-op will love. First, you can share Minerals or Vespine gas to help each other out. Communication has also been beefed up, as you can talk either by headset (which is currently being patched, and didn’t work at the time of reviewing), or hitting the enter key while in-game to type in requests or comments.
Blizzard is also a company that is very fond of keeping their games fresh and new. They’ve been patching StarCraft and Diablo 2, games thare are 10 plus years old, as recently as this past year. They’ve also been catching the various bugs that users have been reporting, and working on a lot of quick fixes. This is an encouraging element for those of us experiencing a few issues, and we actually appreciate that more than condemn them for it.
For parents that would like their kids to enjoy the StarCraft they experienced 12 years ago, but are worried about the shmucks of the internet misbehaving, there are also violence and language filters. Perfect for any wary parent, but they are also optional for those of us that enjoy our games as they were made: full of violence and gooey gory Zerg.
The multiplayer gameplay in both modes in general seems a bit gimped compared to the main game. For instance, many units aren’t available for many of the races (medics for Terran, Brutalisks for Zerg, and Dark Archons for Protoss for example) and many of the upgrades work different in multiplayer. This feels a bit odd, especially in co-op (it would be especially co-opish if healers healed ALL friendly units, as well.)
Perhaps it was intentional to leave out some of the more impressive units, to balance the races a bit more, or draw people to the campaign element of the game. I’m not really sure what the reason was, but it’s a bit disappointing to lose some very impressive tech from the campaign when you switch over to play with your friends.
The co-op comp-stomp is also limited to simple RTS tactics. Build, defend, assault, recover, etc. There are no hero or mercenary units, or alternate goals for teams working together. But, once you get a good rhythm going with some friends, the co-op is actually a lot of fun, and can add hours upon hours to your enjoyable gameplay.
An achievement system also challenges players to try new things, deal out some new tactics, and even try out all three of the available races. That’s right, you can play as any of the three main StarCraft races: Terran (human), Protoss (advanced Alien), or Zerg (primitive Alien). Try to find a balance between the three, or just mix-and-match based on your play style.
To be honest, I was never a huge fan of StarCraft back in the day, I was more of a Warcraft man myself. That being said, I eagerly awaited to get my hands on a new Blizzard product, something that’s always a quality experience. Right from the get go it’s hard not to be impressed, the new Battle.net being the forefront of the experience is quite nice.
The controversial RealID system, is in my opinion, a really nice feature to have. I was able to invite all my facebook friends in the game, view them by their real name, and send messages, party invites, and game invites. Something about having their name there adds a more personal touch to multiplayer gaming.
While I was dissappointed in the lack of campaign co-op, I gotta admit after warming up a bit in the game’s co-op mode, it was a lot of fun. I especially had a good time playing the three players vs three AI players with Kat and Marc. We’d strategize from the beginning, each deciding which units to build for our respective races, and when one player would get attacked the other would come to the rescue. It wasn’t long before we realized just how powerful a solid counter attack is in the game.
I really would have liked to see some sort of co-op scenarios, where multiple players are challenged to complete specific in mission goals, instead of straight up comp stomp. Thankfully that’s where the map editor will come in over the months as the community churns out plenty of content.
All in all StarCraft 2 is a beautiful and strangely addictive game. Despite the formula being nearly identical to that of a game 12 years old, and really - not adapting a lot of the progression many RTS games have made in the years - I find myself going back for more. I guess that says it all.