In 1998 Blizzard released one of the most important video games in the history of the artform. StarCaft was called the "grandaddy" of RTS games and it certainly went farther than just that. It turned video games into a sport, turned an entire country into its fanbase and catapulted Blizzard into one of the most well-regarded developers in the history of video games. The expectations for Starcraft II were as high as they could get and there is no wonder that Blizzard decided to take even more time than usual to ensure that it met there extremely high expectations. What was the result? Starcraft II is a remarkable achievement. It is as polished a video game as there ever will be with a bold story and high production values. It truly was an honor to play the game and quite a challenge to express how incredible it is into words.
I believe it is necessary that I start by addressing the complaints that people have about SC II. If you check the user reviews at Amazon or Metacritic you will see hundreds of people have lambasted the game. It is not the game itself they have a problem with but some of the innate features that Blizzard decided to include. Check out this customer review for an in depth look at all of the problems that people have http://www.amazon.com/revie... To summarize, firstly, people don't like the fact that you have to be connected to the internet in order to play SC II. If you do not sign up for Battle.net and log in every time you play StarCraft II you will only be able to play single player and you will not be able to earn achievements. The reason Blizzard did this (from what I can tell) was to try to prevent piracy (it didn't work since SC II has been pirated as often as it has been purchased), to enable all achievements, gameplay progress and stats to be recorded immediately into Blizzard's cloud network (this is actually very convenient) and because the game's menu is chock full of news updates and feature that would require an internet connection to view. Now, this doesn't seem completely necessary and it probably isn't, however, I did not have a problem with this and I enjoyed the benefits of having all my save game progress being saved online (as well as on my computer). Other issues include how Blizzard is splitting up the campaign into three games (SC II: Wings of Liberty covers the Terran and the upcoming Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void expansions will continue the story and focus on the Zerg and Protoss, respectively). This was more of an issue before the game released -people thought Blizzard was trying to rip them off with separate campaigns- and people soon saw that the campaign of SC II is even more lengthy (around 29 missions -without a ton of tutorial missions like the first SC-) and more exciting than the original StarCraft. People also complain about the lack of LAN play (but if you need to be connected to the internet to play anyways, there is no purpose for LAN play) and region lock (U.S. players can only play with other U.S. Players). Recently, however, the U.S. has merged with Latin America and this has sparked hope that future mergers will be made. If you can get past these issues (I certainly did) then you will have quite an amazing experience ahead of you.
Campaign: The six years or so that Blizzard had to make Starcraft II really show how they have evolved at their single player experience. They have broken the traditional RTS campaign structure, but in a good way. You won't just be turtling, building up and attacking the enemy base on every mission. Sure, you will often have the option to do this strategy and there are definitely missions that fit this description, but Blizzard has done an excellent job of making each mission feel unique and satisfying. Your objectives for each mission are clear and there are always multiple ways to complete them. Achievements add to the experience here, forcing you to use strategies that you are not comfortable with (attacking the enemy during a defensive mission) and pushing you to think creatively to accomplish them. These are the best video game achievements I have ever seen as they enhance the experience without requiring you do do anything dumb or meaningless. Throughout the campaign you will return to a ship, where Jim Raynor resides along with other rebels whom he has "recruited" throughout the game. Here you will be able to take a break from the hectic missions in order to talk with characters, upgrade your units, explore the universe and hire mercenaries which can be used during the game. These upgrades add another layer of strategy to the game because they can dramatically improve your strategies. However, you are not able to obtain them all. For example, do you want to upgrade your SVCs to train two at a time or upgrade your refineries to harvest vespene gas without SVCs? There are also MANY units and buildings that are exclusive to the single player, some of which can be unlocked with these upgrades. Enjoy these interesting units while you can, because a lot of them (i.e. Firebats) are not available in multiplayer.
Graphics: What can I say about the graphics in StarCraft II: WOL? They're as incredible as you would expect from Blizzard. The landscapes (the most important aspect of RTS graphics) are finely detailed. Unit detail looks as excellent as you would want without providing lag or requiring a super-powerful PC. Best of all, there are plenty of graphics settings to fiddle with that will allow you to get the best performance out of your PC. For people who want to max out the settings,you will get an excellent experience. For people who just want to play the game with the minimum requirements, well, you'll have a blast as well. I played on medium settings and was thoroughly impressed.
Music and Sound: Blizzard is always top notch with their soundtracks. The soundtrack for SC II is incredible and has some very touching songs. One of my favorite is entitled "Fire and Fury" http://www.youtube.com/watc... and was played at an emotional part in the game. I have trouble describing music but I will say that when I hear the songs from the soundtrack I immediately am taken to another galaxy and can picture everything that is happening in the StarCraft universe. It is a very impressive effort on Blizzard's part – which is to be expected. In addition to the soundtrack, you will have access to a jukebox in between missions. There are some hilarious gems here including my favorite, "A Zerg, a Shotgun and You." http://www.youtube.com/watc... These comical, often "country" songs are an excellent reciprocal to the majestic orchestral soundtrack and compliment the game well.
The voice acting for the game is very well done and, as usual for Blizzard, all of the units have interesting, sometimes crazy voices with catching lines. For the cutscenes, all the voice acting is very well done as well and the lips are matched up to the voices near-flawlessly. The sounds of the game are also very fun. You'll get an adrenaline rush when your tanks send off a round of missiles and will feel a shiver crawl up your spine when you hear the embryonic sound of a zerg emerging from its egg.
Controls: StarCraft II has without a doubt created the most solid RTS controls that I have ever used. Blizzard being the perfectionists they are, coupled with the fact that StarCraft is the most most widely played competitive video game in the world means that there was no way that they would have created a game where you cannot do what you want. Anything you would ever want to do in a RTS game you can do. Want to select 200 units at a time (200 is the population cap)? Go ahead. Tired of SVCs getting stuck behind supply depots? You can now collapse the depots into the ground. In every RTS game I have ever played there is some feature that I wish was there. This is not the case with SC II. Shift clicking is alive and well. Hotkeys are available for everything. Pathfinding is top notch and your units have the ability to push through your allies troops as they navigate the terrain with ease – never getting blocked or stopped. Little things like double clicking a building to select all similar buildings -just like you can with units- and being able to customize EVERY single hotkey for every single unit make SC II an absolute joy to play.
Story: I don't give specific details when talking about story in a review. Suffice this to say that the story is as good as every other aspect of Starcraft II. Complex characters, plenty of twists and turns and emotional moments show how much Blizzard has learned from previous stories. I did not have a problem understanding the story throughout the entire game and was left (until the conclusion) with uncertainty about how the central conflict was going to be resolved. This led to an absolutely amazing ending that nearly had me in tears (nearly). The ending isn't necessarily a cliffhanger which proves that Wings of Liberty isn't just a cash in until the expansions arrive. It is a well-rounded story that can be viewed simply as itself.
Multiplayer: It would be an understatement to say that Starcraft is a huge online game. The first game enchanted millions of people around the world and led it being one of the most influential online games ever. Well, the multiplayer is there, it's good and it is balanced to amazingly well. I can picture entire meetings in Blizzard's headquarters where ten people are arguing, calculating and discussing whether or not a flying Terran building should move at 6 or 7 speed. Do you wonder why Blizzard takes so long to release their RTS games? This is why. The game is incredibly balanced, it runs very smoothly. You start out playing five online games to determine what league you will be placed in. Bronze league is for the most inexperienced and it goes all the way up to Diamond League and beyond (but only for pros). You are placed in a different league for 1v1s, 2v2s, 3v3s and 4v4s. FFA is not ranked. You will earn points for winning etc. And can move up with your section of your league (Yes, gold league, for example is broken down into a ton of smaller leagues). You can move up or down in leagues depending mainly on how well you do when you play people from different leagues (which will happen occasionally). There are also "seasons" which last months at a time. After each season everyone has a clean slate and you have an easier opportunity to move up the rankings. I found that most games I played in had an fairly equal balance of skills.
The in-game aspect of multiplayer is as impressive as the single player. The strange choice I found was how many units were cut for the multiplayer. There were taken out apparently because they did not fit the correct balancing act or because Blizzard noticed that they were not used much in the first SC or in the SC II Beta. You get used to the units you have very fast and all of the essentials are available.
Blizzard includes a TON of maps for multiplayer and made it easier for the community to create more. Speaking of creation, you can also create minigames within the editor. There are entire communities of people who focus on playing these user-created games. One example is a game which blends tower defense with RTS. It is an excellent feature that many people will love. Once again Blizzard has created an online juggernaut and their constant support (there have been 19 patches or so at the time of me writing this) show that Blizzard is adamant about supporting the online community.
Collector's Edition: The Collector's Edition of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is as carefully and thoroughly crafted as the game itself. It contains a large, hardcover artbook with a sleeve, the soundtrack for the game in a nice, official CD case, a special StarCraft #0 comic book with a plastic covering, a "Behind-the-Scenes" DVD with over an hour of content as well as all of the game's cinematics and in-game cutscenes -complete with director commentary- and a Jim Raynor dog tab USB drive (2GB) which contains the original StarCraft and Brood War expansion. In-game bonuses include a special skin for Thor units (only in multiplayer) and a few avatar icons which combine Diablo, Starcraft and Warcraft characters (my personal choice is the night elf banshee). Finally, several Starcraft II friend trials and World of Warcrafts trials are packed in, as usual for Blizzard. The box itself is awesome and is made of high quality, thick cardboard and has a very clever closing mechanic (you have to see it to understand). It will set you back $100 -maybe more since it is becoming more rare- but I do not regret any penny I spent on it.
Map Editor: I have not tried out the map editor and probably never will. However, I recently watched the "making of" DVD where someone said that the editor is so complete that it is possible to make the next expansion pack with all the available options (including the ability to make cutscenes -not CGI but the in-game scenes-). That sounds really awesome. The editor is also the reason why news maps are being produced on a daily basis as well as minigames (mentioned earlier in the multiplayer section).
Conclusion: Everything about Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty screams "polished, artistic and built for longevity". Simply put, it is one of the best video games ever made. I am once again a Blizzard fan for life, which is good, since we may not see Starcraft III until 2065.