Right in the beginning of StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, Tychus (one of the game's main characters) utters his first words: "Hell, it's about time." While this does relate to the game's story, it also echoes the feeling of a great many gamers out there. See, just about everyone who finished the original game and its Broodwars expansion have been waiting for the inevitable sequel. The wait has been a long oneâ€¦ with Broodwars having been released in 1998, gamers have spent twelve years chewing their nails in anticipation of StarCraft 2.
On the 27th of July, 2010, the wait ended. StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty hit the shelves. The big question, though, for those that played the previous title, is whether the game was worth the waitâ€¦ the simple answer is yes, it was.
StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty takes place several years after the events in the original series. The player finds Jim Raynor, the Terran Hero of the previous games, living a secluded life on a far flung world, away from the conflict that cost him so much (including seeing the love of his life turned into the hideous Zerg matriarch, the Queen of Blades.) When his old friend Tychus shows up, though, Jim is thrust back into the struggle. And that is all we're going to tell you about the story. The rest you'll have to find out for yourself.
StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty is the first of three releases that will make up the entire StarCraft 2 basic stable. Each of these will feature a campaign related to the three races that battle for supremacy in the game, namely the Terrans, the Protoss and the Zerg. Wings of Liberty presents the player with a lengthy single player Terran campaign. The campaign is a great way for newcomers to learn Terran tactics, while veterans can use the slow roll out of new units and concepts to relearn the game, and come to grips with what is new. While the campaign is understandably linear, there is a bit of freedom in the way that players can, at times, choose which missions they want to do. The player will be wise to go through all the missions, though, because the final battle is a big one, and unlocking all the units (each mission generally adds something new to the player's arsenal) is pretty much vital.
Many of the abilities that are unlocked during the single player game aren't perpetual. They either need to be researched in multiplayer or skirmish games, or aren't present at all.
While the single player campaign is great fun, and a very rewarding experience, StarCraft has always been about the multiplayer aspect of the game. To this end, developers Blizzard have set up a very robust new version of Battle.Net, their free-to-play (for StarCraft 2, at least) online portal for all their games. The catch is, though, that you will have to play the game through this service. There is no LAN support built into StarCraft 2. When this was first announced there were more than a few grumbles, particularly here in South Africa where LANning is still a primary avenue for social gaming. With our internet infrastructure still being upgraded, as well as the high cost of bandwidth, people were concerned that playing StarCraft 2 would become a very expensive exercise, and that current internet services wouldn't be stable enough for the game.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. The game uses around 4MB of bandwidth per multiplayer match. Skirmishes against the AI and the single player campaign use virtually no bandwidth at all. These can be played offline as well, but the structure of the Battle.Net service makes playing online a great option. Even though there is no data traffic taking place, other players will be able to get hold of the player, thanks to a solid friends list that spans all of Blizzard's releases. Whether playing the campaign, the numerous challenge missions (which are a great idea, as they can teach the player a lot), a skirmish against the AI or a 2v2 multiplayer game, StarCraft 2 doesn't hog bandwidth. There is a patch to download after install, but at the time of writing it only amounts to around 100MB, which (these days) isn't too bad.
We also tested the game using a 3G connection, and had not one whisper of a problem in terms of reliability. We did see some other players who seemed to lag a bit, but we're guessing this was related to hardware, rather than internet connectivity. While StarCraft 2 is a scalable game, playing it at the highest settings (and smoothly) does require decent PC hardware.
Possibly the best aspect of the game is that the developers seem to have taken the approach of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Veterans of the previous title may notice new units, concepts and research items, but the essence of the game remains exactly as it was. The graphics may be vastly improved and the game dynamic may be smoother, but, essentially, it's an extension of the original StarCraft in more than just spirit.
As before, there are three races: the human Terrans, the hive-minded Zerg and the spiritually powerful Protoss.
While anyone who has played the Terran campaign should be more than familiar with that faction, people wanting to play Zerg or Protoss in multiplayer matches will be able to practice in AI skirmishes, or take advantage of the 50 'training' matches that the game grants each player before tallying their multiplayer performance.
All three races are dependant on two resource types: minerals, which are harvested from crystalline deposits, and vespine gas, which issues from the ground via geysers. Using these resources, the player constructs a base, readies an army, and attacks his opponents. It's a simple idea, but the strategies and tactics in the game are numerous. Perhaps that's why the original game was so popular, and why the second instalment will go a long way to keeping the franchise in the position of definitive of the real-time strategy genre. To use an old saw, it's easy to learn, but difficult to master.
The controls are as uncomplicated as they were in the first version, with many of the key shortcuts remaining identical to what they were before. In fact, the controls haven't changed at all, except for a few additional tweaks and streamlines.
In the end, StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty really is more of the what we had before. But, considering that the original was arguably one of the finest PC games ever created, more of the same isn't a bad thing. In truth, it's exactly what fans of the series wanted. StarCraft 2: Wing of Liberty was well worth the wait, and anyone who is an RTS fan, or is looking for an exemplary PC title, shouldn't think twice about snapping it up. The graphics are incredible.
The sound is awesome. The game dynamic is addictive and beautifully balanced. Blizzard have done it again â€“ they have delivered a sublime gaming experience.
At A Glance
The follow-up to StarCraft is everything we hoped for, and more.
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
The author is an avid gamer and game writer with a bent for the latest and greates games and gaming technology. This year's games have delivered big on all platforms including the PC, PS3, Wii and the XBox 360. And with the release later this year of the new Playstation Move motion control camera and the XBox Kinect games, the gaming year should end with an excellent splash of new tech toys and games. You can read more by the author about Kinect games at Kinect Yourself website (kinectyourself.com) or this infobarrel piece about games for Kinect coming soon.