Well, I can safely say that no one saw this coming. At this year’s BlizzCon celebration, Blizzard revealed that the long-awaited StarCraft II is being broken up into three full-length games. The first, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, follows the Terrans, and will likely hit sometime early next year. Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void follow the Zerg and the Protoss, respectively, and will ship at roughly one-year intervals after WoL. Blizzard says owners of the first part will be able to play all factions in multiplayer, and the second and third parts are basically expansion packs, though it’s not yet certain whether they’ll be stand-alone or not. Each will feature new single-player content, including a unique meta-game, since the Terran model that has Jim Raynor cruising around the galaxy choosing missions wouldn’t suit the Zerg or the Protoss.
That part was a surprise. What’s not at all surprising is that StarCraft fans are up in arms. At first glance, it’s hard to blame them—this announcement is a huge change in the format from the original StarCraft, which contained separate campaigns for each of the three races that together told a full story. For a year we were led to believe the sequel would follow the same formula, but now Blizzard is saying that gamers will have to wait up to two years after the release of the first segment for the following segments, and then open their wallets two more times to reach the conclusion. (Blizzard hasn’t yet announced pricing on the second and third installments, but I think we’ll be lucky if it only charges $40 each.) It certainly seems like a money-grab scheme by a greedy developer.
But on closer inspection, it might not be a raw deal at all. The sheer volume of mission content Blizzard is promising is impressive. Each release will have 26-30 missions, which is a full helping of campaign for any game. By comparison, the original StarCraft featured 30 missions, and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 had 27. So, is there any question that Blizzard will be able to tell a full story in each release, with over-arching plot elements threaded throughout all three? Not in the least. In fact, it’s an opportunity to tell a more detailed story on a more epic scale than anything we’ve ever seen in an RTS. While it is the competitive nature of the multiplayer game that has given the original StarCraft such longevity, it was the story (combined with the excellent gameplay, of course) that made it such a huge hit among non-competitive (aka, the vast majority of) gamers. So from a content perspective, has Blizzard turned greedy and decided to give you less and charge more? No, I’d say not.
Wings of Liberty will allow Jim Raynor more missions at which to furrow his brow in angst
Actually, my concern is that we’ll be dealing with too much content from each race. One of the things I enjoyed the most about StarCraft was being able to play one side, and then a completely different one. Blizzard says that three to five of the 30-odd missions in Wings of Liberty will be an optional mini-campaign played as the Protoss leader Zeratul—hopefully, that will give us at least some of the variety that made StarCraft such a wild ride.
The best analogy for this situation is probably the Lord of the Rings movies. Fans weren’t pissed off at Peter Jackson for charging them three times the admission fee to see the entire saga—in fact, they would have been furious if he’d attempted to cram the whole thing into one film. Demanding that Blizzard whittle down its entire planned 80- to 90-mission story into 30, or even 40 missions could render an incredible story merely OK, and I for one would rather play the entire, unabridged version. As long as these missions live up to the vaunted Blizzard standard of quality, I’m looking forward to playing them as they come.
December 1, 2008