StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty rebuilt a great deal of the StarCraft formula. Cutscenes were better, interactions within missions were more frequent, and the mission structures were vastly improved, but some fans were unconvinced by James Raynor’s story. Heart of the Swarm shored up the story, giving us an expansive story from the Queen of Blades. But for Protoss fans like me, we’ve been waiting a very long time for Starcraft II:Legacy of the Void.
Wings of Liberty released five years ago, and Heart of the Swarm landed March of 2013, so if you are a little rusty on lore, you aren’t alone. Thankfully, Startcraft II: Legacy of the Void picks up with a video entitled “The story so far” to catch you up, giving you the full story from the first title to now. Also included is the four prologue missions that show Blizzard is clearly grabbing up all of the strings left by all previous efforts and tying them off in a nice little bow.
The four missions that were released as a prologue give us the backstory that serves as the prime mover for Legacy of the Void. Dark Templar Zeratul continues his pilgrimage to uncover the secrets of the prophecy revealed to him in his Shadow Walk. Receiving a distress signal from Praetor Talis, Zeratul took his ship, the Void Seeker, to a nearby Moebius Foundation base. On this base he discovers the most horrible truth — experimentation on the captured Protoss, hybridizing them with Zerg to create vicious monsters. Behind this effort is a fallen xel’naga named Amon. Barely escaping Amon’s wrath, Zeratul races across the stars to warn Artanis before it’s too late.
Legacy of the Void proper kicks off with Artanis ascending to the position of Hierarch — the leader of the Protoss. In a bid to retake the besieged world of Aiur, Hierarch Artanis gathers the Golden Armada and prepares to assault the entrenched Zerg forces. What happens afterwards was a complete surprise that I leave to you to experience. The storyline unfolds at every second of every mission. The two previous expansions had mid-mission sub-objectives, but Legacy takes it to the next level. It isn’t just the Protoss on display here, either — all three factions get some screen time. Sure, there are some moments that take the whole thing a little too seriously, but it is a far more cohesive storyline than the Wings of Liberty or Heart of the Storm.
If there is one aspect that is a little long in the tooth, it’s the graphics engine. While Blizzard’s CGI chops are the very best in the industry, the in-engine cutscenes are starting to show their age. I’m not saying they are ugly, but they are a bit of a juxtaposition with the far superior pre-rendered goodness. Conversely, it’s pretty awesome to be able to change the soundtrack to the music from previous StarCraft games (including Brood Wars) if you are so inclined.
Wings and Swarm both had elements of customization for the single player missions that allowed players to undertake specific missions with unit customizations. Legacy adds customization of your ship to the mix, allowing for some additional twists and surprises. The custom units feel fresh, even if they are characters we’ve been playing for quite some time.
Speaking of entirely new, Legacy of the Void introduces a co-op mode allowing players to choose between six commanders — Artanis, Vorazun, Zagara, Swann, Raynor, and Kerrigan. Squaring off against the AI, you’ll play cooperatively through five missions. Levelling up your hero unlocks 15 upgrades that provide new units, ship upgrades, or additional skills and powers that can change the tide of battle. Your XP is locked to individual heroes, giving multiple opportunities to engage with the specialties afforded therein. The missions aren’t the usual base building business, instead asking players to stop escaping trains or eradicate several behemoth enemies before they destroy a nearby base. It changes up the formula and is the best vehicle to give new players the chance to swap strategies with veterans without just talking about build order. Since your units are unlocked based on your level, it’s a good way to ramp your strategy.
Multiplayer is heavily rooted in the eSports world, so expecting drastic change here would be a foolish assumption. That said, there are two new units for each faction. Much like Brood Wars, there are only a few new units, but they change the landscape quite a bit. Time will tell which of these units are the most effective competitively, but for the casual player there is a whole host of new tactics to tackle. On the Protoss side, Adepts are a new ranged ground troop that can cast an invincible ‘shadow’ of themselves, then teleport to where that ‘ghost’ ends up — perfect for bypassing tightly packed defenses. The Disruptor is aptly named as it does a great job of throwing off splash damage to anything nearby, but beware — it doesn’t distinguish between friend or foe. Zerg players get a familiar friend back on the roster with the Lurker, turning ramps into kill-boxes and generally obliterating ground forces. The Zerg Ravager is more of a siege weapon, lobbing corrosive bile on their foes — perfect for sustained acid damage on shielded Protoss units. The human faction picks up an interesting unit in the Cyclone. This unit can fire while on the move, including while retreating. The Liberator is essentially a siege tank for the sky, able to use missiles against flying foes, but also able transform into a stationary gun platform to rain damage on ground troops. If you’ve gotten overly familiar with the tried-and-true units of StarCraft II, these should be a welcome surprise, and might force a strategy change for veteran players.
Beyond the new units, there are also some minor tweaks to Battle.net. Matches start with more workers pre-built, pushing the speed of the early build order, and simple UI tweaks make it clear when you are reaching peak efficiency on collection efforts. Fully delineated areas also give each mode its own space, as well as revealing a fully transparent stat system. There is also a daily tournament mode, giving players a taste of the chaos of bracketed battle without all of the logistics and hoops.
The biggest addition to the formula is one that I didn’t expect — Archon mode. In Archon mode, players can team up and tackle the game together. With two players controlling the same faction, you can divvy up activities as you see fit. Like the co-op mode, it’s a great way to get players to dip their toe into the water without making the full commitment to the multiplayer aspect of the game. With the help of a new friend named Dobbymaul (picture that in your head for a moment) on Battle.net, I got a taste of running Macro while he handled Micro. We decimated the enemy in short order thanks to his impressive management skills, juggling multiple bases while I assaulted the enemy. We could have easily divvied up the tasks in other ways, with one of us running ground soldiers, while the other handles air power. I’ve been playing StarCraft off and on for a while on now, and this was a pretty fresh way to enjoy it. However you’d like to play, this is StarCraft II your way.