Okay. So today I’m almost done playing Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void. It’s been about a year since it was released and I started playing it.
I’m a single player guy. World of Warcraft was great when shared by friends, and I played the original Call of Duty when I was at UCLA, but by and large, anonymous online communities tend to be so toxic that I just avoid them as a matter of course. So keep in mind that my reactions to this are to the single player campaign only.
I guess to start, I’ll explain why I play video games. I really like the ways that interactive media can experiment with narrative. At times, playing them can draw me deeper into that narrative. And generally, video games service genres that tend to be prohibitively expensive in film or television.
Wings of Liberty: Honestly, the initial entry in Starcraft II will remain a gold standard by which I judge not only other video games, but the genre of space opera in general. I started playing it right when Battlestar went off the air, and space opera was just dead for a couple of years. The story wasn’t hugely original (I mean, what stories are? will anything ever repay the debt owed to Alien?), but the beats it did play, it did so very well. The characters seemed well drawn, and there were hints of interactivity in the selection of Nova over Tosh, or the delightful Lost Viking. I could go on, but honestly, I have nothing but praise. In short, the story opted to tell a simple, bombastic space opera, cashing in a lot of the chips racked up by the first game. It was a real treat.
Heart of the Swarm: Somehow I think that as the franchise slowly progressed away from human characters, they became less relatable. This entry was saved because Sarah Kerrigan, suffering from amnesia, provided an excellent audience character to get the player integrated into the culture of the Swarm again. Abathur in particular stands out as an interesting and well drawn character, as inhuman as he is. This entry takes some structuring cues from the RPG genre, which is always a bonus for me.
Kerrigan herself is, well, perhaps the most interesting character of the franchise to unpack. At any point in time, she has been subject to just about every hackneyed trope out there. The whole list of “dead, depowered, left for dead, has to be rescued, has to rescue her boyfriend… large galaxy encompassing destiny…” could easily dominate the Women in Refrigerators blog. This is basically the only time where she isn’t somehow the MacGuffin. Given how her character is resolved in the sequel, achieving apotheosis, I kind of wish that the races of Swarm and Void had been reversed. Seeing Kerrigan achieve power is what I’d want to see, not her getting revenge against Mengsk. But, the developers clearly wanted to pit swarms of Zerg against turtling Terrans, so from a gameplay perspective, I suppose I can respect that.
In terms of gameplay, I really started to notice something in this expansion: you’d unlock an awesome new ability, only for it to become mostly obsolete in the next mission. And even in the endgame, things like summoning the Leviathan you only get for two or three missions. I think the most direly needed structural change needed in this game is, you get access to all your units and most of their upgrades at the 2/3 point through the campaign. Assembling fleets of upgraded Carriers or Battlecruisers and steamrolling the map is literally one of my purposes for being. Don’t rob me of it.
Legacy of the Void: Well, there’s a reason I put it down for six months. The Protoss are boring. The characters are boring. The mythology is unforgivably paint by numbers boring. The mechanics are tedious and not fun to play.
I mean, the absolute greatest sin that this Campaign commits is that the mythology and story so profoundly deviates from actual gameplay mechanics. The story is vague, mystical, and transcendent, cloaked in made up words to make it even more opaque. Yet the gameplay mechanics, from the ship to the upgrades, is just the Terran campaign in yellow and blue crystal skin. The stakes are the fate of the universe, there’s psychic powers and other dimensions involved, but the gameplay involved, even at those late stages, is still “build a base, blow up that thing.”
And I get it, I’m being unreasonable. The genre of the game is Real Time Strategy, and the developers have a compact with their customers to deliver something along the lines of what was expected. And adding counterfactuals to a review is just profoundly unfair, but still…
Think of something that might have challenged what an RTS game is? Maybe something where you start out with all your units and abilities, and it’s all stripped away from you? You start out as the grand Protoss army, but as losses mount and Artanis is pulled into greater conflict with Amon, less units become available? And as the battle moves deeper into the Void, the mechanics become even more detached from what we expect from the genre?
Well, that’s Starcraft II. I really haven’t been very interested in the latest batch of Blizzard titles. Again, focusing way to much on multiplayer for my tastes. I don’t know, I think that this game itself is illustrative of the company’s decline after its merger with Activision. Well, hopefully they can put out another IP that proves me wrong.