Orcs in Space: The Return
For the millions of fans waiting the seemingly interminable twelve years since the original StarCraft launched, July 27th was positively surreal. This is perhaps the most important sequel released since Halo 2 or Half-Life 2, and its impact will be felt for years to come. No matter what happened when this game released, StarCraft 2 would still be a point of conversation for a long time. But now, the time has come to find out whether this is a worthy sequel or the most cacophonous flop of all-time.
In short, it’s an amazing game . quite possibly the single best RTS ever released. That statement comes with a bit of a caveat, though. This game isn’t the best because of its wildly successful innovations; it’s successful because it has perfected formulas introduced by other RTS games that have released since StarCraft.
In a lot of ways, this game plays like a fusion of the original StarCraft and the magnificent Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War strategy games. Don’t get me wrong, StarCraft 2 is better than both of those games, but like a true Blizzard game, this is (near-perfect) evolution rather than revolution.
If StarCraft pushes the envelope in any category, it’s storytelling. The series has always been known for having a rich mythology full of interesting characters like the renegade Jim Rayner and, the Queen of Blades, Kerrigan, but the sequel pushes things even further in several ways. There are a bevy of great cutscenes which play after almost every mission, giving you a great reward for finishing tough fights. In the previous game, most of the story was conveyed on a video intercom system. It worked fine, but the sequel’s cutscenes do a much better job of keeping you interested in the story.
They’ve also introduced a neat little detail to the gameplay that helps with immersion and in-game storytelling. Sometimes, you’ll happen across civilians in a level who will tell you things about the situation or give ominous warnings. It’s small, but keeps you from feeling the gameplay is just a hurdle you need to leap just to get to the story.
Also new are the interesting ability trees that are introduced a couple hours into the game. Once you reach a certain level of “research” about each race (Protoss and Zerg), you’ll be able to give yourself upgrades. For instance, the first level of Zerg research gives you the option to choose whether you want automated turrets on your bunkers or extra armor for bunkers, but you can only choose one. Research is granted by completing missions against that race and by acquiring their artifacts, which are often strewn throughout levels. This system grants extra replayability since your upgrades can drastically change from one play through to the next.
Going back to the original StarCraft (which I did in preparation for this review) can often feel like a chore. Most things rarely work the way you would expect, and a lot of the nuances from the modern era weren’t invented yet. One of the beautiful things about SC2 is that it doesn’t try to do too much. Part of the reason it’s great is that it takes the base formula that made the original so good, and introduces tons of modern systems to make it work better. For instance, the simple fact that you can control more than ten units at once is a huge addition. Also, Terran units now get into formation automatically.