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StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty


Epic Familiarity
Dropping in March of 1998, the original Starcraft has been an enormous success for Blizzard with over 10 million copies on the PC sold over the last 12 years as well as three expansion packs. Fans have been clamoring for the sequel for ages and Blizzard finally came through this year with the recent release of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. Blizzard has been hard at work to recreate the magic that made Starcraft a blockbuster while bringing a smattering of fresh ideas to the table.



In Starcraft II, the main conflicts are the same at the original as the Protoss, Zerg and Terrans are battling it out for control over natural resources on the planets. In the main single player campaign, the player takes control over the Terrans (humans) and gets launched into a variety of varied missions that spread over a broad story arc; specifically starting four years beyond the events in Starcraft: Brood War. You can really see the influence of Joss Whedon in the writing, specifically in the Raynorís character and a few of the missions similar to events in Firefly / Serenity. I would dare say that it borders on clichť, but the cutscenes have tremendous production value and do an excellent job of wrapping your head around the narrative; even if you are starting with Starcraft II as your first game in the series. The story is spread across about 30 missions and the flow of the story is generally even as well as entertaining.

Single player missions are molded around standard RTS rules and often include rescue, sneaking, survival, reinforcement and intercept objectives. The player has primary and secondary objectives to complete during the mission that typically require you to defend and conquer specific points on the map. Secondary objectives donít have to be completed, but finishing them often helps you with the primary objectives in some form or the primary objectives in future missions (if completing a series of secondary objectives across missions). Between the missions, players can spend research points (gathered during the missions) on upgrades spread across an enhancement tree. Taking one path locks you into the upgrade path for a particular power (like increased armor) or unit (like Goliaths or Firebats). New units can be purchased during a mission and they get tossed onto the battlefield to help you fight off the alien scum. In addition, mercenaries can be hired for an extra cost if the battle is turning in the favor of the enemy.



By design, the single player campaign is created for multiple playthroughs. The campaign typically stretches about 15 to 20 hours, depending on the difficulty. Playing again with entirely different upgrades offers an alternate experience during battles. There are also multiple ways to approach a mission with stealth or direct offensive available to you. While the single player story doesnít change, you can earn achievements which are tied to your Battle.net online profile. These achievements are broadcast over the network to your friends when achieved. Blizzard is really pursing a platform of ďonline all the timeĒ design with Battle.net. You have to be online and logged in to earn achievements as well as get blasted with requests / achievements of your friends (very similar to Xbox Live).

Connecting through Battle.net is pretty simple as well functionality to search your Facebook friends and add anyone on your Facebook account with a Battle.net account to your friends list. Of course, you may be adding old high school buddies that you havenít talked to in 15 years, but it can be helpful in jumpstarting your friends list for online play. Speaking of, all races in the single player campaign are opened up in online multiplayer. Each race has their strengths and weaknesses as well as strategies that can be applied during a match to become the dominant race. Many maps support up to 12 players and players can be grouped in teams as well; all AI controlled teams can be created as well if you want to team up with friends against difficult AI.



If you assemble a consistently well-oiled machine for a team, there are also league matches; ranked for performance with leaderboards. During my matches, I heard plenty of people complaining about the lack of a LAN mode for private games, but the Battle.net experience really isnít that bad. Laggy players can be booted from matches and there are tools in place to identify those people. Overall, the multiplayer is very much designed like the original Starcraft and Blizzard did a great job of capturing the original feel and addictiveness of the first title in the series.

Graphics

  • Similar to other RTS games for the PC, the graphic engine of Starcraft II is built to scale up on quality. If you have a recent build with a high powered graphics card, you are going to be amazed with the amount of map detail and the quality of the cutscenes. Maps are covered in lush details and are highly animated to appear lifelike.

  • On the low end of PCs, you can find a level of detail thatís manageable on your system, but still looks decent. I tried this title out on a midrange laptop purchased a couple years ago and was able to get it running without major difficulty. That being said, running full aliasing on my main gaming PC on a 24Ē screen is the preferred way to go. Blizzard did an excellent job making the graphics scalable for the maximum amount of users.



Audio

  • The soundtrack is really fantastic and stands out as the real winner regarding the audio. Some of the music that plays during the single player campaign could be dropped in a major motion picture. Itís just that amazing.

  • The sound effects and voiceovers take second tier to the soundtrack, but do an admirable job of bringing life to the maps and the cutscenes. Raynorís cowboy-esqe character is well done as well as a couple of the supporting characters.

Conclusion

If you are into real time strategy in any form, itís hard to ignore Starcraft II. The exceptional single player campaign is nearly worth the purchase price, but adding the extensive multiplayer component into the mix really ups the replay value of this title. Itís the type of game that you can jump into a couple years from now and still find a thriving online community, something that the console community doesnít get to experience often. My only caveat is that the similarities to the original Starcraft may turn you off if already tired of playing the original over the years. That being said, this is highly recommended for RTS fanatics or those who enjoy sci-fi themed games.

System requirements

2.6 GHz processor or equivalent
1GB RAM for XP, 1.5GB for Vista and 7; 2GB RAM for Mac OS
128MB video card for Windows;
512MB video card for Mac OS
DirectX version 9.0c or better
12GB hard disk space

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