On the Wings of Love

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Screenshot

HIGH: Swarming marines with carriers and watching them go crazy trying to shoot all the interceptors.

LOW: The cringe-inducing "happily ever after" ending.

WTF: Zeratul: "I don't have time to explain…..so stare at this crystal for like four hours…."

StarCraft was a cultural phenomenon. Even a full twelve years after its release there are still legions of dedicated players around the world. Its impact on competitive gaming and the RTS genre cannot be understated. It was the standard bearer for the strategy games, featuring a mix of balance, atmosphere, and penchant for epic multiplayer battles that had never been seen before. 

In the face of all that StarCraft accomplished, what could we as gamers possibly hope for from StarCraft II with the release of Wings of Liberty? What can it do that would alleviate the chants of "It'll never be what the first game was" that will no doubt emanate from the gaming masses?

The answer is surprisingly simple: nothing.

StarCraft II will never be what its predecessor was in terms of impact on the genre, or impact on gaming as a whole. Blizzard, to their credit, appears to have realized this and chosen not to tinker too much with a formula that had already been proven to work so well. Is StarCraft II revolutionary? Not in the slightest. It does however, introduce many small improvements that make it a worthy successor.

A hallmark of any great multiplayer game is balance. Any advantage a particular class or race has must be offset by a corresponding disadvantage or vulnerability to another kind of player, essentially boiling down to a game of rock/paper/scissors with spaceships. This balance is especially difficult in RTSs, as the multitude of strategies and unit types available to the player results in something akin to a speed chess match where all the pieces can move anywhere they want, whenever they want. Keeping a level field among not two but three different sides was a major feat of StarCraft, and StarCraft II has kept that facet alive and strengthened it with the introduction of several new units.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Screenshot

In terms of multiplayer, the new battle.net features really help the experience along. The matchmaking system works great, and I never had problems finding or hosting a game. In-game chat and friend-related functions are also improved, and getting to getting together with acquaintances to crush Very Easy Zerg took only minutes. However, network lag was a bit of a problem at times. Having to wait for a player to reconnect every now and then got pretty annoying, but the waits weren't too long, and I never had a game simply drop me due to network problems. This is one of the reasons I lament the loss of local LAN play, as playing over the internet still isn't quite the same as hosting a game with a group of in-person friends and trying to see if three of us can finally take down a Very Hard Zerg.

Before going on, a confession: I am bad at StarCraft. I lost every placement match I played, and routinely got mauled even in the practice matches. Don't be fooled—getting good at StarCraft is hard. It's like speed chess, and the ability to think quickly is key. It also requires a good amount of research beforehand and lots of practice, but the reward is there for players who seek it. Victory is hard-won, but I think the reward of watching a well-built machine obliterate my opponent (the few times I got to see it happen) is worth it.

The campaign also does a decent job of preparing the player for online play, as many of the missions required me to move quickly when setting up my base and readying my forces for combat. Time is key, so it's good that the game encourages the player to multitask. It obviously doesn't come close to the real thing in this regard, but it's a start. In truth, I actually enjoyed the single-player missions more than I expected, with each mission having a distinct flavor that made it at least somewhat memorable. As the campaign pressed on, the game felt appropriately more intense, and the difficulty rose at an acceptable rate. Unfortunately, the campaign contains the one area where StarCraft II (or at least Wings of Liberty) truly fails: the story.

I realize that a poor narrative is an odd thing to criticize an RTS for, but the story of the original StarCraft was something that impressed me. The game universe felt massive, and the lore surrounding it painted an intricate backdrop for the events to come. Most other RTSs of the time had plots that were little more than pieces of yarn stringing the missions together, but StarCraft's featured struggle, duplicity, tragedy, and other dramatic terms. The modern sci-fi setting was built to a tee with a race of psychic aliens, a monolithic threat to all life in existence (complete with a tragic villain), and lots of cool technology. This world lent itself extremely well to the StarCraft experience, with the battles actually feeling like part of an epic struggle against annihilation. The scope of the story matched the scope of the game itself.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Screenshot

By comparison, I was disappointed to see Wings of Liberty's story devolve into an awkward space western with far too many meandering subplots and a cheap "save the girl" arc thrown in. There are a lot of head-scratching plot points and a particularly curious retcon of something established from the first game. Then there was the ending….I like to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, so I won't mention specifics. However, I will say I was feeling a Star Wars prequel-level of betrayal when the credits started to roll. It takes a special kind of failure to screw up a character like Darth Vader, and it takes a similar type of failure to screw up Sarah Kerrigan. There are of course the other two campaigns still to be released, so it's entirely possible Blizzard might redeem themselves in this department. However, this story with this ending in particular felt very hollow.

I'm also disappointed that Blizzard has chosen to distribute only one of the campaigns with this release. While the game does contain roughly the same amount of missions, nearly all of them are Terran-based, with a Protoss mini-campaign thrown in. This differs from the structure of the first game, which had ten missions for each race.

I think 30-40 single player missions is enough to tell the entire story of StarCraft II, and smaller segments dedicated to each race would have helped prevent the story from wandering in so many directions. Even though I did enjoy the missions themselves, I found myself wanting to play as the other two races after about half the campaign. I'm not at all opposed to the idea of having expansions later on—more of a good thing is always welcome. However, I don't feel that the main story or the single-player campaign was best served by being split up.

My qualms with the writing aside, the way the story is presented is actually pretty well done. The RTS genre isn't the most conducive to good storytelling, and the original StarCraft broke the mold in this regard. Now instead of watching almost everything unfold through video screens, I can interact with the rest of the cast in a Wing Commander-type setting by visiting different parts of the ship. This is also the way to get unit upgrades and some new items, so weaving in some minor plot development into these instances works very smoothly. It's a shame that the writing doesn't live up to the presentation.

StarCraft II is not ground-breaking. It will not have the same lasting impact on gaming that its predecessor did. There's no way it ever could. It will, however, be remembered as a worthy sequel to one of the all-time greats. It's just a shame that (at least for now) it's missed the mark so badly on its narrative. Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 30 hours of play was devoted to completing the single-player campaign on Normal difficulty and 5 hours of play in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains violence, suggestive themes, crude humor. I'd say a T rating is appropriate here. Keep the small ones away.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All spoken lines are subtitled, and there are concurrent visual cues to accompany audio cues.

Richard Naik

Richard Naik

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Richard received his first console (the NES) at the age of six, and from that point on games have been an integral part of his life, whether it's been frittering summers away with the likes of Mario, Mega Man, and the Zerg or partaking in marathon sessions of Halo, Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead. After being a longtime reader of GameCritics, Richard joined the staff in March of 2009, and over the years Richard grew into the more prominent role of part-time podcast host.

In 2016, he spearheaded a complete rebuild of the GameCritics.com website, earning him the title of Chief Engineer.

His gaming interests are fairly eclectic, ranging from 2D platformers to old-school-style adventure games to RPGs to first-person shooters. So in other words, he’ll play pretty much anything.
Richard Naik

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28 Comments on "StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Review"

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Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 3 months ago

oh yeah i want to add
Blizzard want to continue the story from their original starcraft, it’s about heroes, arch enemy, prophecy and many more from 80’s. yeah it’s like bed time stories, IMO thats what blizzard want for continuing the story, the corny saving the world type.
As for the ending, it’s perfect, the hero saves the girl she loved, yeah it’s the same happily ever after ending from 80’s or 90’s
have i said 80’s?
nice review

Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 3 months ago

the narrative is pretty good for me, it’s just not as big as the original cause i think it already told a lot of backstory for the main character. The corny-macho-80’s-90’s style of conversation is likeable, Raynor talk like Rambo or Arnold from 90’s movie
As for gameplay it’s not revolutionary, it’s just an upgraded version of the already great original.
Nice review

Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
5 years 7 months ago
1) SC1’s writing wasn’t perfect, but I felt it managed to convey the happenings of the universe is such a way that I could become attached to them. I couldn’t say that about SC2. 2) The infestation did make her evil, no question. But she was still sentient, and simply forgiving her (and the Overmind) is too much to ask, especially after the way she Brood War ended. 3) Again, Brood War’s ending makes WoL’s ending not make sense given Raynor’s vow for revenge against Kerrigan. 4) As I said, I enjoyed the presentation, just not the content. The space-western… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 7 months ago
First of all 1.) The dialogue in starcraft I could also be deplorably cheesy. Tassadars final speech before ramming his ship to the overmind made me giggle 2.) The “deinfestation artifact” has technically been done in brood war. What’s more, the implication i got was that the infestation was what made kerrigan evil (by completely removing any sense of compassion and morality, leaving behind only the bitterness and rage against the people who exploited and betrayed her. 3.) How ddid the ending not work? Raynor’s finally achieved a real victory after 4 years of hardship and struggle. He’s totally earned… Read more »
randomrob
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randomrob
5 years 11 months ago

[quote=carg0]so we’re all in agreement, right? Daikatana is the greatest game in the history of forever?

= )[/quote]

nope. Minority Report: Everybody Runs (on Gameboy Advance) is teh awesomest.

carg0
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carg0
5 years 11 months ago

so we’re all in agreement, right? Daikatana is the greatest game in the history of forever?

= )

Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
5 years 11 months ago

[quote=randomrob]just want to mention Argumentum ad populum: something is not true because many people believe it. Consensus does not equal fact (for ex: “Most analysts consider Enron Corporation a well-run company with excellent management, so its common stock is a good investment”).[/quote]

This is true. Majority opinion is often wrong. That’s why “everyone else liked it” when trying to explain why something is good isn’t a valid argument.

Chi Kong Lui
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Chi Kong Lui
5 years 11 months ago
[quote=carg0]”perfect gameplay” and the “right game at the right time” is pure hyperbole, im afraid and certainly doesn’t explain Starcraft’s unequaled success as i can name dozens of titles that been described as having “perfect gameplay” and being the “right game at the right time” while still coming nowhere near Starcraft’s enduring popularity.[/quote] I like this quote a lot as it relates to my blog post about the impact of MMA on the Street Fighter series. As was the case with Street Fighter, “perfect gameplay” and “right time” were both cited as to why it was so popular and it… Read more »
Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
5 years 11 months ago
[quote=carg0]i was merely saying that your phrases like “perfect gameplay” and “right game at the right time” were inadequate (hyperbole) when trying to explain Starcraft’s unequaled success, as we’ve all heard at one point or another numerous games referred to using such catchphrases.[/quote] I think Starcrafts success is greatly overshadowed by the success of World of Warcraft 😉 In case of Blizz gameplay isn’t a catchphrase or marketing gadget. After all they are polishing every game to a mirror shine. Games that don’t live up to their potential get canceled (Starcraft Ghost, that Warcraft adventure game). Some companies produce a… Read more »
randomrob
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randomrob
5 years 11 months ago
just want to mention Argumentum ad populum: something is not true because many people believe it. Consensus does not equal fact (for ex: “Most analysts consider Enron Corporation a well-run company with excellent management, so its common stock is a good investment”). Commercial success has to do with sales, which has to do with popularity, which has nothing to do with the subjective term ‘GOOD’, or whether an entertainment has some redeeming social value. If you want to (try to) explain why one story is better than another, it should at least be based on articulating some points that have… Read more »
aHei
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aHei
5 years 11 months ago

[quote=carg0]and as for your list, im afraid only Baldur’s Gate, Fallout and System Shock have been as critically acclaimed as Starcraft for either story, dialogue or voice acting but not all together. none of which, im inclined to add, share the same (if any) amount of acclaim world-wide like Starcraft. [/quote]

I’m afraid the Grim Fandango fan inside me will have to disagree here 😉

carg0
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carg0
5 years 11 months ago
What other RTS was (or is) as balanced as Starcraft 2, without having exactly the same units on both sides? RTS? i never said i was limiting the field to just RTS. i was merely saying that your phrases like “perfect gameplay” and “right game at the right time” were inadequate (hyperbole) when trying to explain Starcraft’s unequaled success, as we’ve all heard at one point or another numerous games referred to using such catchphrases. “You misunderstand me here, I don’t hate the stories. Not at all. I really like them, but I don’t think they’re especially deep or innovative.”… Read more »
randomrob
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randomrob
5 years 11 months ago

using ‘pure hyperbole’ and ‘enduring popularity’ in the same sentence breaks my brain.

Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
5 years 11 months ago
[quote=carg0]”perfect gameplay” and the “right game at the right time” is pure hyperbole, im afraid and certainly doesn’t explain Starcraft’s unequaled success as i can name dozens of titles that been described as having “perfect gameplay” and being the “right game at the right time” while still coming nowhere near Starcraft’s enduring popularity.[/quote] What other RTS was (or is) as balanced as Starcraft 2, without having exactly the same units on both sides? [quote]frankly, you and i could both hate the stories in all their franchises.[/quote] You misunderstand me here, I don’t hate the stories. Not at all. I really… Read more »
carg0
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carg0
5 years 11 months ago
“I disagree here, the main reason Starcraft has endured is the perfect gameplay and the fact that it was the right game at the right time to become a smash hit in Korea. “perfect gameplay” and the “right game at the right time” is pure hyperbole, im afraid and certainly doesn’t explain Starcraft’s unequaled success as i can name dozens of titles that been described as having “perfect gameplay” and being the “right game at the right time” while still coming nowhere near Starcraft’s enduring popularity. just because the multiplayer is the main reason for it’s success in Korea doesn’t… Read more »
Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
5 years 11 months ago
[quote=carg0]there’s a reason why Starcraft has endured for over a decade while establishing itself as one of the most successful PC games of all-time; a perfect marriage of story and gameplay.[/quote] I disagree here, the main reason Starcraft has endured is the perfect gameplay and the fact that it was the right game at the right time to become a smash hit in Korea. I know quite some people who played starcraft on battle.net for ages, but didn’t really care for the story. The main concern of people playing competitive multiplayer is the balance and that’s what really worked for… Read more »
carg0
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carg0
5 years 11 months ago
“I also remembered the story of SC1 fondly, but after revisiting the old game I have to say: the story in SC1 wasn’t that good either.” there’s a reason why Starcraft has endured for over a decade while establishing itself as one of the most successful PC games of all-time; a perfect marriage of story and gameplay. that’s why games like Starcraft are so rare and why we’re still talking about it today. “Blizzard has this tendency to craft a very convoluted (and cliched) narrative for their games.” deep? sure. convoluted and cliched? no. convoluted primarily means ‘extremely complex and… Read more »
Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
5 years 11 months ago

[quote=Li-Ion]I also remembered the story of SC1 fondly, but after revisiting the old game I have to say: the story in SC1 wasn’t that good either. The string of phone conferences, where everyone apparently just popped in and out at will (especially in Brood War), wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. Therefore I wouldn’t rate SC2 down on those grounds.[/quote]

The presentation was a limitation of the time, and the writing managed to be interesting enough to overcome that “phone conference” feel. It wasn’t perfect, but that was far better that the sludge I was presented with in Wings of Liberty.

Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
5 years 11 months ago

@carg0

Like I said, I had been working on a fairly long and drawn out blog post about my problems with the story, but I’m holding that back until the Zerg campaign is released. There may be an angle I’m not seeing here, so I’m withholding judgment.

I agree about that final cutscene. It was my Low for a reason 🙂

@Googoo24

I think the internet (and not just gamers) has always been conducive to overreaction simply because you can remain anonymous. Things always get nasty when there are no consequences.

Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
5 years 11 months ago
[quote=carg0]being enthralled by the story, characters and dialogue from the original over 12 years ago, i was crushed when completing the single-player campaign. just f*ing crushed…[/quote] I also remembered the story of SC1 fondly, but after revisiting the old game I have to say: the story in SC1 wasn’t that good either. The string of phone conferences, where everyone apparently just popped in and out at will (especially in Brood War), wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. Therefore I wouldn’t rate SC2 down on those grounds. Blizzard has this tendency to craft a very convoluted (and cliched) narrative for their games. They are… Read more »
Googoo24
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Googoo24
5 years 11 months ago
I’m glad to see people have such varied opinions on the story. I’m glad you guys don’t post extremely hostile comments. Speaking of which, not to go too off topic, somethings been racking my brain. I just meandered over to Metacritic and happened to come across SC II’s user score. I saw it was rated at 8.3, but then I realized how many people had given it a score of 0. Most of these 0 rated reviews read something like, “This game is overhyped! And I’m tired of seeing these good reviews, so I have to bring the score down!,”… Read more »
marxum
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marxum
5 years 11 months ago

story should’ve been better.

carg0
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carg0
5 years 11 months ago
being enthralled by the story, characters and dialogue from the original over 12 years ago, i was crushed when completing the single-player campaign. just f*ing crushed… i’m old enough to remember games that had fantastic story, dialogue and characters that were subsequently ruined by sequels but i just refused to believe that a company like Blizzard would allow that to happen so long as Metzen (their head guy in charge of Lore) was still there. christ, was i wrong. o_O im not gonna sugar coat this; the story, characters and dialogue were the epitome of the words “uninspired” and “lazy”.… Read more »
Googoo24
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Googoo24
5 years 11 months ago

@Crofto

Like Richard somewhat indicated, most RTS games have doodoo stories. Personally, I think the fact that this game’s story managed to illicit such a response, whether negative or positive, is telling. Like I said originally, IMHO, it’s better than the original’s. In the first game (excluding expansion pack), you met Raynor, he joins Arcturus, you realize he must have fell for Kerrigan at some point; she gets abandoned and captured, and Raynor rebels against Arcturus. All in 10 missions. Aside from the dense manual, there wasn’t much back story.

Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
5 years 11 months ago

@Demiath

Yeah, I had been working on a fairly long blog post about how Kerrigan got screwed, but I decided to withhold final judgement until Heart of the Swarm.

@Crofto

Multiplayer can be pretty intense-there does have to be a certain amount of dedication to climb the ladder. The good thing is that there are areas for people who just want to have fun and not play competitively too. For placement matches I’d advise trying 3v3 or 4v4 first before trying 2v2 or 1v1. It’s always better when the enemy has targets that aren’t you 🙂

Crofto
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Crofto
5 years 11 months ago
I’m about half-way through the campaign and would say an 8/10 is about where I’m at too. That said, I haven’t tried the multiplayer yet, so there’s a chance that could knock up the score. Don’t know if I’ll ever be ready though, since it seems like you need to be really really good at the game before you can even challenge anyone! As for the story – Yep, it’s cliché and pretty crud, however, like Resident Evil 4 as a good example, it presents itself in an impressive fashion, which does help a lot. Not every game has to… Read more »
Demiath
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5 years 11 months ago
The original StarCraft certainly had a more epic narrative and fully fleshed-out game world, but given Blizzard’s intentionally stream-lined action movie approach to storytelling this time around I guess SC2’s unlikely resolution was to be expected pretty much from the get-go. I personally like the basic idea of the ending (being the hardcore sentimentalist that I am), but felt it suffered from being blatantly “unearned” after just one campaign. However, the ending could unlock some rather intriguing narrative potential for Heart of the Swarm so I’m definitely looking forward to SC2’s first “expansiquel” (or however the next installment will be… Read more »
Googoo24
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Googoo24
5 years 11 months ago

You really hated the story (enough to deduct points). Personally, I think it was better than the original game’s (albeit a little corny at times), but that’s subjective. Anyway, good review and excellent game.

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