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StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty review

AT A GLANCE
  • The unique single player missions
  • Exploring the Hyperion
  • Multiplayer matchmaking works great
  • Reaching the end of the campaign
  • Waiting for Heart of the Swarm
  • Waiting for Legacy of the Void

The light bulb, penicillin, mathematics, democracy, and porn. They’re all important inventions, testaments to mankind’s collective creativity and ingenuity. But none of them were ever as much fun as StarCraft. Well, maybe most of them. It’s been about 12 years since the first StarCraft launched. The seminal title was a genre-defining game that cast a shadow over every RTS that followed in its massive footprints. But this week, StarCraft fans finally got the sequel they’ve been waiting over a decade for and it definitely doesn’t disappoint.


The Story

The singleplayer campaign resumes where the StarCraft: Brood War expansion left off. Players take on the role of Jim Raynor, leader of Raynor’s Raiders, a ragtag group of rebels railing against the unjust rule of Arcturus Mengsk, Emperor of the Terran Dominion. But Mengsk’s autocratic rule is only the beginning of Raynor’s problems.

The Zerg have also returned. Led by the Queen of Blades, the bug-like aliens are wreaking havoc across the galaxy, infesting Terran colonists as they search for a mysterious artifact. It doesn’t help that Raynor still harbors heartfelt feelings for the the leader of the Zerg swarm. Before she sprouted demon-like wings and a thick layer of carapace armor, the Queen of Blades used to be Sarah Kerrigan, a Terran Ghost operative and close friend of Raynor.


Above: After a betrayal by Mengsk, Sarah Kerrigan was transformed into the Queen of Blades 

Enter Zeratul, a Protoss Dark Templar and former ally of Raynor. The mysterious warrior leaves Raynor Raynor with a warning, suggesting that Sarah Kerrigan (aka the Queen of Blades), may be the only one able to save the galaxy from a threat far greater than the Zerg swarm.

With the corrupt and irresponsible Terran Dominion to topple, a galaxy-wide Zerg assault led by a lost love, and a mysterious prophecy foretelling the destruction of everything, Jim Raynor has a lot to deal with. But even if you aren’t already caught up with the intricacies of the plot leading up to Wings of Liberty, it’s still easy to settle into Wings of Liberty’s new story arc. There’s lots of expositional cutscenes to catch you up to speed, and they’re all top-notch with the slick high-quality CG work Blizzard is famous for.


Above: The CG cutscenes look fantastic. Here’s a taste from a teaser


The Hyperion

A ton of great RTS titles have released since StarCraft: Brood War, but despite all the great campaigns we’ve played since then, StarCraft II: Wing of Liberty still manages to make every mission feel exciting and fresh. Strangers to RTS titles shouldn’t be daunted by StarCraft II. The singleplayer campaign eases newcomers into the game gracefully, but still offers interesting twists for RTS veterans with unique objectives and special scenarios.

One early mission finds you clearing a colony of Terrans who have been infested by the Zerg. The zombie-like monstrosities will only attack once the sun has set, leaving you with only a small window of time to raze as many of their buildings as possible before rushing back to your base to fortify your defense.

Another mission leaves you on an unstable planet that’s about to burst at its seams. Lava is slowly flooding the map from the map, constantly creeping forward as you are forced to push your forces forward towards the right, moving your mobile bases to minimize damage along the way.


Above: Another mission has you manning a giant laser cannon to cut through thick walls protecting an artifact guarded by Protoss. You’ll need to turn the cannon on the incoming waves of Protoss forces who don’t take kindly to your tomb raiding

But for every minute you spend playing through the great missions in the campaign, you’ll want to spend at least two exploring the Hyperion. Raynor’s giant battlecruiser is your hub between missions and it’s chock-full treats that invite you to explore the ship every time you complete a mission.

There’s the Cantina, where you can hire mercenaries. These specialized units are veteran soldiers and can arrive on the battlefield instantly via drop ship. As you complete more missions, you’ll unlock more of these powerful units and can hire them to join your forces for the right price. Here, you’ll also be able to watch special news reports highlighting your conquests across the galaxy. There’s even a jukebox with a ton of country songs and a working arcade cabinet with a rather decent vertical shooter.


Above: As you complete more missions, you’ll receive new trophies to display on the wall on the upper-right 


Above: The playable arcade machine in the corner is a nice touch 

There’s also the Armory, a level on the Hyperion where you can purchase upgrades for your units and structures for future missions. If you have enough credits, you can upgrade you can improve your Siege Tanks so their splash damage doesn’t hurt friendly units as much, for example. It’s also worth noting that during the campaign, you’ll gain access to lots of special Terran units, which aren’t available in multiplayer. Often times, these units are favorites from the original StarCraft. So when you’re ready, you can improve your Firebats’ flamers so their attacks cover a wider radius, or improve the rate that your Medics heal friendly troops.


Above: Your armory will fill up as you complete more missions and acquire new units 

Head to the Laboratory, and you can also unlock useful upgrades and new units. When playing through the campaign’s missions, you’ll often stumble across secondary objectives that yield research points for the Protoss and Zerg races. As you accumulate research points, Dr. Egon Stetmann, your onboard gadget geek, will be able to develop useful additions to your arsenal based on his findings from studying the alien races. Climb the Zerg research tree, for example, and you can help Stetmann develop Biosteel. Inspired by the Zerg’s regenerative properties, it allows your vehicles to regain hit points slowly. Similar upgrades and new units can also be unlocked after finding enough Protoss research points.


Above: Click on the units in your armory for some background lore 


A Touch of Firefly

As you get to know your crew members and explore the ship, it’s hard not to notice elements that remind us Joss Whedon’s science fiction Western, Firefly. The Terrans were always portrayed as being a bit country in the original StarCraft. But like Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds or Red Dead Redemption’s John Marston, Jim Raynor is a Western hero of the highest order.

Armed with a revolver and a bottle of bourbon, Raynor is unflappable, with a quick comeback delivered with an easy going attitude for every problem of galactic proportions that come his way. The one-liners are plentiful and painfully cheesy at times, but despite all that, the melodrama in between serious missions is always welcome – and when cutscenes fade to black with a twangy slide guitar riff, it’s hard not to marry memories of Serenity soaring through space with Raynor’s Hyperion. It’s good stuff.


Above: Jim Raynor is no Malcolm Reynolds, but you'll still like him a lot 


Above: Another unique mission has you robbing Dominion supply trains 

Multiplayer

Of course, StarCraft has always been about the multiplayer, and from what we’ve played so far, it’s a blast. Still, we’re not professional level players; we wouldn’t be able to tell you if we think unit X needs to have its damage nerfed by X points. But we can say that it feels balanced, and with so many people playing, the matchmaking system seems like it’s doing its job quite well. We haven't run into any problems finding matches quickly, and because of StarCraft's popularity we wonder if we ever will. We found ourselves regularly matched against players of equal skill once we got a few games under our belt.

In many ways, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty feels like StarCraft 2.0 – and that’s a good thing. You’re still gathering resources and building up your army to destroy the other player’s base first. The Zerg are still all about numbers, the Protoss still sport strong but expensive units, and the Terran still support their troops with lots of tanks and ships. Blizzard didn’t mess with the gameplay formula that made the original so intense. Instead, they've refined and polished everything to the point of perfection. Play matches in the lower level multiplayer leagues, and you can get away with easy wins using cheap tactics, like Zergling or Zealot rushes or skipping up the tech tree to air units. But those one note tricks won’t get you very far in the higher tier leagues where scouting, counter-building, and making micro/macro management of your units and economy are more important.

Every unit or tactic has a vulnerability. A large group of Protoss Zealots early on in a match might seem strong, but a small squad of Zerg Roaches will tear them apart. Even end-game units, the biggest most expensive vehicles and starships are weak against specific units from each faction.

And if you're serious about getting better, StarCraft II gives you just about every tool you'll want or need to improve your game. After every match, the end game battle report gives you a second-by-second summary, showing you exactly what you and your opponent were building and buying throughout the entire match. For a more detailed recap, you can use the game's robust replay system, which allows you to fast forward and rewind as you review the match from your perspective, your opponent's or a god's eye view with the fog of war completely lifted. Plus, it's always fun to save memorable matches to watch again later.


Above: There are also special Challenge missions, which were designed to prepare you for multiplayer. They’ll familiarize you with each units’ strengths and weaknesses and prep you for defending against rush attacks 


The Galaxy Map Editor

Then there's the Galaxy Map Editor, which also comes with the game. Our friends at PC Gamer have published a great tutorial that will show you how to create your own custom StarCraft II maps. But fans have also created cart racers, prototypes for RPGs, and other promising projects during the brief period when it was available to participants in the StarCraft II multiplayer beta.

We can't wait to see what great things will come next, now that the game has officially launched.


Above: An early version of Wacky Races, a cart racing mod for StarCraft II


Is it better than…

StarCraft? Of course! A cynic might say that “StarCraft II is just StarCraft I with new units and better graphics.” But at the same time, that's all we've really been wanting. “It's StarCraft I, but with new units and better graphics!” Wings of Liberty keeps everything we loved about the original StarCraft, refining and polishing every aspect to the point of perfection.

 


WarCraft III? Yes. We liked WarCraft III's hero system, but the cost of upkeep for your units ensured that you've never command the sorts of huge armies you can wield in StarCraft II. The thick clouds of Mutalisks and the massive swarms of Marines are back. Sometimes quantity counts.

 

 

Dawn of War II? By the Emperor, yes. We loved what Relic did with the Warhammer 40K universe in the Dawn of War series, home of the original Space Marines, the Eldar and the Tyrannids. But StarCraft II outshines the Dawn of War series. The campaign is more satisfying, the multiplayer plays better, and matchmaking via Battle.net works better, making StarCraft II the clear winner.




Congratulations. You've made it to the end of the review, the place where it is customary to list the game's caveats. Sure, it may bother some that you need to log into Battle.net and be online to earn achievements. There's also the controversial RealID system for adding friends through Battle.net that have made many uncomfortable. But really, these quibbles aren't deal breakers by any means. If you're still on the fence about StarCraft II, don't be. It's awesome.



Just for you, Metacritic!

The wait was worth it. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty delivers on all fronts with unique singleplayer missions, a gripping story for the campaign and excellent multiplayer. Prepare yourself for the definitive RTS of the decade. StarCraft II is the new standard and will cast a shadow over all RTS titles that follow for quite some time.

Jul 30, 2010

More Info

Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Strategy
Published by: Blizzard
Developed by: Blizzard
Franchise: StarCraft
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending

66 comments

  • highsis - September 28, 2010 11:19 p.m.

    I think the storytelling of SC2 sucked so much with cheap recycles of already-revealed-cutscenes making it even worse. It was amazing how they managed off to finish the whole campaign with movies most of those everybody already watched like 10 times, exposing Blizzard's low capability of creating high-qual CGs and that explains why their quicly made race promotional clips were pieces of joke; the one where a queen's voice said "we are the swarm..." What was with Valelian the prince welcoming Rainer's party aboard? Huh, since when were battle cruisers armless? And the other two ships just waching Rainer's docking? LOL. What was with "My friend, I did not experience true death yet." crap? Ok, some might have liked the return of our old hero, so I won't say more about it. In SC1 Mengsk and Rainor were kinda allies fighting against Kerrigan and they had to be for Kerrigan had infliced them heavy damage with betrayals, yet Mengsk somehow became Rainor stalker. Huh-huh. And how the heck does Mengsk not only know about the hybrid and prophecy, but also performing experiment with those things? (unless he is minion of the "Far greater power") He got his ass booted by Kerrigan in SC1, so he Absolutely Should have focussed all his attentions to Zerg's movement and plans, yet somehow he uses his intels to figure out about Xel-Naga's some old tales and myterious hybrid and busy tracking Rainor down? WTH. What's with General someone's character? so typical cliche-like I don't even remember his name. Was it war field or something? What's with Kerrigans A-princess-waiting-for-hero-on-white-horse attitude? What is Mengsk and Kerrigan doing while Rainor travels all aroud galaxy righting the wrongs acting like a super-hero full of justice? Are protosses off to toilets during the final battle? WOW. JUST WOW. There are just too many things that I can not even count those tell how wrong, childish, unrelated, irrelevant SC2 stories are. Perhaps good for light users, but come on, those who enjoyed Mass Effect and Planescape-torment, Bioshock will never be able to appreciate SC2's story. Apart from great cinematics and mission system(and perfect multi too),the story telling is just too bad that almost forced me to post a writeup about it on SC2 official forum from where I just got overflamed with swearings and black mailings. WHATEVER. I'm still a large fan of Blizzard as I bought Collector's Edition, but it is towards thier impressive world-creating ability and multi play, not to thier story.. Their story sucks man. SC only stood out with its background settings, WC3? A typical mythology. Diablo. Oh, don't even mention it.
  • GamerGamer - August 17, 2010 12:43 a.m.

    Blizzard has come along way since starcraft one! It definetly seems more realistic than starcraft one. (Not saying that Starcraft one is bad though)
  • aliengmr - August 8, 2010 6:40 a.m.

    Im really not sure why this game deserves anything close to a ten. It took Blizzard over a decade to release what is essentially the first starcraft with better graphics? God forbid Blizzard try anything new, it might take a century. There were plenty of companies out there trying to bring something new to the genre and trying to keep their fans interested but blizzard can dick around for over ten years and put out a standard RTS with decent visuals and gets an automatic ten? I am really struggling to understand why this game is so special.(aside from the MP popularity) Seems to me a ten should be reserved for games that fundamentally alter a genre not game that just do a great job. Don't get me wrong, Im sure this is a great game but blizzard had me waiting ten years for a game that just does the same old thing but looks a little better doing it. Then charges an extra ten bucks for the privilege.
  • HeavyTank - August 7, 2010 1:07 p.m.

    Why change?Well, because old is fine, but, y'know, using your creativity to make something fresh and original is not a bad thing, eh? Especially since you're making the sequel to what is probably one of the most played games of all time... Take Dawn of War for example...everyone loved the first game with its expansions, and everybody expected a next-gen RTS sequel (and nobody would complain if they did just that)..and yet THQ made a RTS/RPG hybrid with a shipload of new features, most of them making the game radically different from its predecessors... But yeah, frankly, I didn't expect anything different than a simple graphical update (and a "new" campaign) from Blizzard...they just like to milk their games, it's just how they are..
  • Helios - August 5, 2010 3:35 a.m.

    I would first like to say that mahabat is awesome. Second, what's the big deal with you folks? As odd as it sounds, critics have opinions, and they are not always going to agree with yours. And anyways, what does the score matter? The words themselves are what you should be looking at. They tell you what you should expect. Of course, some game sites tend to be biased, but then that is why you should never limit yourself to one game site. Get different opinions. It helps. And for those complaining about the game not being that different from the first? For some reason, I thought that was the reason you wanted a sequel. I mean, StarCraft is supposed to be a great and awesome game, so why change what was so awesome about it in the first place? And if you wanted some big change (because you would, of course, need that in order to make the game not be so similar to the original, and from what I gather, you certainly don't want that), why don't you take a look at Command & Conquer 4. Not very successful now was it? Also, please note that I'm not trying to be mean or hateful here, even though I most likely come across that way. I'm just a bit mystified by some of the comments I'm reading.
  • stevenbrianp - August 4, 2010 4:40 p.m.

    Does it always have to be some fat jackass with a cigar hanging out of his mouth and "Pain" tattooed somewhere on his body? Not very original.
  • tacoman38 - August 3, 2010 3:38 a.m.

    doesn't it not support LAN for multiplayer though?
  • Rancid47 - August 2, 2010 4:17 p.m.

    When people complain about this being the setup for the next game... isn't that what the original Terran story was? It set you up for the rest of the story lines. But the fact is, the stories are so large and engaging they have to split them up. Except this time each GAME is a different piece of the story, instead of all pieces being in one. Sure, they could of put it in one, but who can blame Blizzard for trying to make money as a BUSINESS? And it doesn't have the same "feeling" of the "end of the universe"? Uhh, did you complete the same storyline I did? Or did you somehow manage to skip (possible spoiler)------- Zeratul's story?
  • geraltofrivia - August 2, 2010 4:08 a.m.

    ok...I absolutely hated the first Starcraft game, as it was probably around '05 when I first played it...after having played AoE 2 (and expac) and Age of Mythology (which imho was great, not quite on the level of AoE2, but still great), Starcraft just did not stack up. Seriously, I borrowed the game from a friend, installed it...played it once and uninstalled it - my friend got it back literally an hour or 2 after i first borrowed it....that is how much I hated the first Starcraft. One day though...probably summer of 07 I was reading a hands-on preview in PCGamer which got me cautiously optimistic for SC2. Fast forward to July 28th, and I pick up Starcraft 2 at local store. Install it immediately after work and play it for 2 hours at which point I decided that sleep was for the weak and would stay up all night...thats how good this game is. Also, I do not have a thousands upon thousands of dollars PC...I got my PC about 3 years ago for mebbe $750-800 (I am still on Windows XP for Chrissakes), and haven't upgraded it since....my GPU is an Nvidia Gforce 8600...I got like a duo-core proc (yeah...not even quad-core) and can still run Starcraft at high to ultra graphics...and you know what? A brand new game on Consoles will cost you 70 bucks guarenteed...this was $63 well spent... and to those saying this game doesn't deserve 10/10 as its not a 'perfect game': I believe OXM says it best - a 10 Classic "One of those rare and very best of games. Every Xbox gamer" (substitute Xbox for platform of choice) "simply mustbuy it and play it, regardless of whether they're a fan of the genre." -and their rating system doesn't stop there however it goes all the way to 11 - Mechagodzillas Choice "The unicorn. Will never happen. Never." - September '09 issue. They (OXM) have also gone on record as stating that an eleven is the perfect game that will never happen, and that 10 is simply their way of saying that game is just a great game that goes beyond simply getting an editors choice - and its not a perfect game too. The problem is that we will never, ever see a perfect game - simple reason being that without fail humanity will find a fault with it which therebye makes it imperfect. Its simple, a 10/10 doesn't mean perfection, it simply means greatness. But otherwise, SC2 is a great game that definitely deserves a 10/10 as being a classic example of it's genre.
  • HeavyTank - August 1, 2010 10:04 p.m.

    A single game "outshines the Dawn of War series"? Sod off...I think there is a shitload of nostalgia and bias all over this review.. You admit that it's a decade-old game with shinier graphics and yet you give it a 10/10, which should be a game that contains ORIGINALITY.
  • Brett35 - August 1, 2010 1:55 p.m.

    Heck I still play SC1 and love it so I will get this game sometime
  • R_U_Guys_From_British - August 1, 2010 1:58 a.m.

    I never play RTS games these days, te last one I did play was Age of mythology (which by the way sucked ass) and hearing the rave reviews Starcraft 2 is getting it might just be worth delving into RTS' again..
  • mahabat - August 1, 2010 1:15 a.m.

    Hey if you think the score is wrong, why don't you make your own dam sight and write your own review? theres an idea, and then maybe make a comments section and whine about your own score because no one else is going to post there.
  • InstantTitKill - August 1, 2010 12:01 a.m.

    "I also find it funny that you would choose to post this comment on the only site that I've seen try to combat the problem of not knowing which one out of two highscoring, similar titles is better by having the comparison section in their super reviews."*
  • InstantTitKill - July 31, 2010 11:58 p.m.

    @ crumbdunky If a perfect game came out, it would get a 10 (obviously). The score would be accompanied by a series off words I like to call a "review". In this review, you would be able to read about the game and have explaned to you that this game is perfect and has no flaws. The reason why most games are getting 7-10 is that most games don't suck. The standards for videogames quality has risen along with the cost of making them. Games are too expensive to make these days for companies to risk pumping money in to shitty games (hence the large amount of recently closed projects by EA). I also find it funny that you would choose to post this comment on the only site that I've seen try to combat the problem of not knowing which one out of two highscoring, similar titles by having the comparison section in their super reviews.
  • Sickooo - July 31, 2010 9:29 p.m.

    i want...i WANT!!!!
  • M0rt1f1cat0r - July 31, 2010 7:50 p.m.

    It beats dawn of war 2, starcraft 2, and warcraft 3 pretty easily, mostly as those are all out of 10 games. dawn of war 1, however, is still far superior.
  • bigmonsterguy - July 31, 2010 7:09 p.m.

    @ whoever said a Korean forced them to play Starcraft, Same here. He was playing it at school on a USB, and I had a look as he Zergling rushed his way to victory. He let me have a go, and i died, with only two zerg larvae spawned. O.o
  • AnonymouZ - July 31, 2010 4:58 p.m.

    i knew this game was a 10, but i'm not buying it till the other campaigns, or "the whole game" bundles are released.
  • infestedandy - July 31, 2010 4:46 p.m.

    I loved the Firefly reference Tyler. Nice work! I've only got an old Dell Precision M90 laptop and while I can run it at the barest of the bare settings, I just can't do it. I can't play the sequel to one of my favorite RTS games without them looking better than the worst. *sigh*

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