Starcraft II: Last Impressions

All you need to know is there's a cut scene where a character talks about someone he lost, while Free Bird plays in the background.

Three years ago, I got to review Starcraft II as a beta tester.  I had my reservations.  Now, after having played the whole thing, final release, I can say the sequel to the best game ever made is one of the best games ever made.

Video game reviewer Yahtzee says that a sequel should keep the best parts of the original, discard the bad parts, and add something new and fresh, so the sequel isn't just more of the same.  Tall order, and blessed few games have ever pulled it off.  Starcraft II does.

What I loved about the original was its excellent balance, its polish, its gritty yet cute sci fi feel, and excellent cut scenes.  No, really; Blizzard is known for its cut scenes and Starcraft had one of the best:

Starcraft II delivers everything you loved about the original.  Your favorite characters are back, including Jim Raynor as the protagonist, Arcturus Minsk as the antagonist, and Kerrigan as "Queen Bitch of the Universe."  (She said it, not me.)  Your favorite units are back, including seige tanks and battle cruisers.  (The battle cruiser captain smokes a pipe, and if you bug him he talks about how much he loves to drink.  I can't tell you how much I identify with this character.)  There's dungeon crawling, but just enough to give you a taste without becoming tedious.  There's an excellent single-player campaign with phenomenal cut scenes.  Warcraft III started the practice of rendering cut scenes using the in-game engine.  I didn't like it then, but I love it now.  Even on a relatively low end machine (by modern standards), I was able to turn the graphics all the way up and they looked phenomenal.  Particularly memorable was Raynor's pre-battle speech near the end:

To be honest, I would have been perfectly happy if that's all the game offered.  But SC2 doesn't rest on its laurels.  The campaign is somewhat open-ended and you get to pick which missions you do, and when.  The story actually changes based on your decisions.  There's a minor RPG element where you get to "buy" units and abilities between missions.  This makes for much better replayability; I'd love to see how the game reacts when I choose different options.

Raynor lives on a battle cruiser and you get to visit different parts of the ship in order to do different things.  There's a cantina with a juke box.  Every time you visit, there are different crew members sitting at different tables, so it never feels like a static backdrop.  There is smoking, drinking, and strippers.  (These aren't necessary for a good game, but they go a long way toward establishing the authenticity of this fictional environment.)

Some of the new units are fantastic.  If you liked creating giant "victory fleets" that could romp around the map crushing everything in their path, then check out Thor.  You can upgrade buildings to produce two units at once.  Command centers can defend themselves.

RTS games have evolved somewhat and SC2 keeps up.  You can select more units at a time - a LOT more.  There's auto-casting, including auto-repair for SCVs and auto-heal for medical units.  It'll tell you where your inactive workers are (and how many you have).  There's auto-load for ships and buildings.  And, of course, the battlefield is rendered in 3D.  I don't think I'll ever get sick of zooming in on my brave space marines standing at the ready.

I don't mind the decision to break up the game into three installments.  To be honest, I've always preferred Terrans and the Terran campaign.  In the original game and expansion, I often skipped through Zerg and Protoss missions so I could get the plot and the cutscenes without having to actually defend cerebrates (for example).  SC2 solves this problem by only having a Terran campaign.  The first sequel is already out and features a Zerg campaign.  I don't really want to pay for tha so I don't have to.  I may shell out for the Protoss campaign when it comes out in two years.  I'm sure Blizzard has gotten a lot of flack for this - it's similar to what Peter Jackson did with The Hobbit.  The difference is SC2: Wings of Liberty didn't feel watered down.  I definitely got my money's worth, and it focused on the part of the game that I actually like.

This game literally came out years ago, but I've been so busy rebuilding my career and being a father that I haven't had time to play it until now.  Now, I'm between contracts and I managed to set aside a couple days for myself.  This was the perfect reward; I feel that both my money and my time were well spent.  When I was a student, I spent untold hours playing the original, and it was wonderful to get a taste of that again.