Having covered the midnight launch of Starcraft II last night, the only thing left of course was to actually give the game a spin. As tempted as I was to try out the game at 1am, I decided to do the most ungodly thing and wait for the next day to get my fill of Starcraft II. Easily the year’s most anticipated title (yes, that line never gets old), fans of Starcraft have finally got their grubby hands on the sequel to the award-winning game that launched 12 years ago. And believe me, it was well worth the wait.
I popped in the CD to be greeted with the slick install screen – a few clicks through and the 12GB installation began. As the install progresses, you’re taken through screens of the storyline so far, as well as introduced to the main protagonist Jim Raynor, a marshal from the original Starcraft. Without going into too much detail of the story from the original game, Starcraft II is set four years after the events in the original Starcraft, with Raynor and his rogue crew desperately trying to escape from Emperor Mengsk whilst still plotting their revenge on the corrupted government. Of course, the Zerg and the Protoss races are also present, but we’ll get to that later on.
As soon as you begin the first mission, it’s blatantly obvious how far the game has come in all these years, though it still retains the loving look and feel of the original game. You can’t help but feel this ominous and somber undertone as you play the game, and it’s due to the strong focus on narration and storyline this time around. While the original Starcraft had an amazing storyline, Blizzard has seriously outdone themselves this time around. The game is helped along by superb cutscenes rendered in real time before each mission as well as during key moments. The camera pans and zooms to create the perfect framing, adding a much needed depth that was missing in the top-down fixed view of the first game. Coupled with stellar voice acting and music, you’re in for a real treat on each and every mission.
A new feature in Starcraft II is how each mission is laid out. For example playing as Raynor, rather than go through mission after mission, you have the time to go visit certain sections of your ship, each of which fulfills a different purpose. The Armory is a great place to buy upgrades for your infantry, buildings, or vehicles, The Canteena is where you can socialize with other characters on the ship, the Bridge is where you choose your next mission, and the Laboratory is where you can unlock tech trees. Each of these areas is critical to your survival, and it’s a refreshing change from the usual barrage of in-game upgrades that become available once you start a mission. Another unique aspect in Starcraft II is the ability to hire mercenaries to fight with you. Each team of mercenaries can be called upon a select number of times in a mission, and come with their own unique skills and unit upgrades. It’s worth spending some time in the Canteena getting to know the different mercenaries you can hire, as some of them can really turn the tide of battle for you.
In addition to visiting planets that help progress the main storyline, you also have the option to go to other distant worlds to finish side quests. These too can be quite important, as they help you unlock new units and skills, and often provide big boosts to your technology tree. The tech tree is slightly more complicated this time around – in addition to regular upgrades that you can buy through the Armory or research during a mission, the Laboratory offers unique research trees in the field of Protoss and Zerg intelligence. To climb up each tech ladder, you have to complete a series of sub-quests in each mission, which usually pertain to collecting Zerg samples or lost Protoss artifacts. Doing so will let you climb higher up the tech tree, and unlock new abilities to improve your units and buildings etc. It’s a nice change as once you’ve researched something, it is automatically applied to all future missions you play, so you don’t have to re-research it each time you start a new mission.