Twelve years after the arrival of the genre-defining StarCraft, Blizzard are once again throwing their hat into the Real-Time Strategy (RTS) ring. That StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty would be a commercial success was never in doubt, especially given that Korea has practically adopted the original game as a national pastime, but living-up to the expectations of its passionate and openly critical fanbase is another matter entirely. Of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, no less than a revolution in Strategy gaming is expected, and setting-out to dethrone a game that continues to thrive twelve years after release was never going to be an easy task. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty needs more than a few new bells-and-whistles to .please the fans, and even from the first moments of putting the disc in the drive, it’s obviously just how aware of this expectation Blizzard are.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is simply of the highest build quality imaginable, from the voice over bringing you up to speed with the universe during the installation process to the constantly active menu system, Blizzard has devised not only a game, but a videogame product that bears all the hallmarks of a love for its source material. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty pays homage to the success of its predecessor with a lavish frontend, and plays its own game once the player begins the campaign.
Though StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty’s campaign delivers a plot full of twists and intrigue, no matter how powerful it may ever have been it would only ever play second fiddle to the in-game action. Less a waste than a pleasing and well devised extra, players will warm to StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty’s legion of oddballs and machismo ex-cons out to make a quick buck while saving humanity quickly.
In-game, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty delivers one of the most compelling Strategy games ever seen. The game uses all the typical RTS traditions – fog of war, construction units and base building, resource gathering and special skills – and yet comes packed with fresh ideas in each aspect. Though little is likely to take players familiar with the genre by surprise, the game’s strength lies in exactly that; an easy to use set of tools that placate the player’s every desire. Building several bases across a map is certainly an option, if risky, and to a skilled player establishing their own personal objective within a map is second nature.
However, while the balance of structures, units and special abilities is second-to-none, this would have little bearing on the player’s ability to grasp the game were it not for an intuitive menu system. The immaculately designed user interface provides all the visual feedback the player could ever need, streamlined and presented as a simple series of windows – a design decision that is of course complimented by the fact that every PC user will be familiar with such windows, as their operating system is also based around similar principles. Displaying the currently selected unit in fantastic real-time detail, taking the once comical DOOM health meter and turning it into a modern purpose-serving convention, this simple inclusion exemplifies the effort to deliver immediate feedback on a situation perhaps miles away from the area you are currently viewing.
While the campaign provides longevity with a host of Achievements and an incredibly well paced difficulty curve, more single-player content is available in the form of Challenge mode. Along with the traditional Skirmish gameplay option, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty presents these preset challenges suggested as designed to improve your skills. And that they do, as although starting-off reasonably gentle, the Challenge mode increases in difficulty much quicker than the single-player campaign. With only nine challenges present however, there’s plenty of room for Blizzard to expand on this gameplay option at a later date, should the community wish.
The multiplayer mode is obviously one of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty’s greatest pulls, and yet again, Blizzard has come up with the goods. To assess a player’s standing, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty features the Practice League, a series of battles that play at a slower pace on specially designed maps. A brilliant addition to the formula, Practice League allows both skilled players and newcomers to impatient to play through the campaign to experiment with all the available structures and units without the pressure of keeping their ranking higher than their friends. Online play both here and in ranked games is flawless, again providing just the right amount of information for the player before, during and after matches. In the extensive playtesting session Electronic Theatre embarked upon, lag was only experienced in a handful of matches, and forewarning to the lower grade experience came in the form of extended loading times prior to matches commencing on behalf of our opponent.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is, quite simply, one of the best looking videogames ever released. While some will be stunned by the quality of the cut-scenes (and rightly so), it’s the in-game graphics that harness the greatest amount of character. The attention to detail is phenomenal, so much so that even the most incremental of differences between units is noticeable at just a slight glance, aiding the player to build a connection with their troops that RTS games have until now failed to evoke. Life in the world of StarCraft may be cheap, but often the player will lament their fallen soldiers. The sound quality is also commendable, as while the characters may be based directly on stereotypes, it’s this familiarity that manages to distinguish each during moments of great concentration.
With all the hype that has surrounded the eventual release of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Blizzard quite simply had to ensure that the game met the fan’s demands, and was no less than a great game. That it has in one fell swoop become the leader of the genre was both unexpected, and a feat deserving of the celebrated series. As a game designed both to entice newcomers and please the fans, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty couldn’t be better pitched, offering both accessibility and challenge seamlessly. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty will go down in history as one of the great games of the RTS genre, and most likely of it’s time, just as its predecessor did.