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Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void Review

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It has been nearly two decades since players first ventured into the Koprulu Sector and the Starcraft universe. The original game introduced players to the Terran, Zerg, Protoss, and their galactic war. Players took their first steps with Jim Raynor, Sarah Kerrigan, Arcturus Mengsk and the Terran Dominion, followed the directives of the Overmind and led the Zerg swarm in their mission of conquest, and joined forces to defend the Protoss homeworld of Aiur with Tassardar and Zeratul. The Brood War expansion, released in 1998, continued the story, showing the exile of the Protoss from Aiur, the appearance of the UED to control the Terrans in the sector, and the rise of Kerrigan into the Queen of Blades. However, after that, the Starcraft universe went without update; surviving largely thanks to the overzealous devotion of the player-base the phenomenal game had cultivated. In 2010, Blizzard returned to the Starcraft universe and released Wings of Liberty, the first piece of the Starcraft II trilogy which culminated with the release of Legacy of the Void and concluded a journey which began in 1998.
Note: seeing as this game is the third entry in a trilogy, I will assume you’ve played the two prior games, Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm.

Legacy of the Void, the Protoss entry in the Starcraft II trilogy, opens with the Protoss armada holding orbit above their homeworld of Aiur. After losing the planet in the original game and becoming nomads in Brood War, the Protoss have finally returned to push back the infestation and retake their home. In an extravagant opening, players are reintroduced to Artanis and his massive army, built with the singular purpose of retaking Aiur, as it descends upon the planet. Of course, those who have been following the Starcraft II story know that the occupation of Aiur is, at best, a footnote, and the true calamity of the dark being Amon is rapidly approaching. Within a few missions, the imperative switches course and the true battle against Amon and his forces begins in earnest. Amon, a fallen Xel’Naga, sets out to wipe out all life in the Koprulu Sector and beyond, and the campaign of Legacy of the Void follows Artanis as he works to build a new army to confront Amon and prevent his machinations. When it was unveiled in 2007, Starcraft II was promoted as a story told through three of its central actors: the Terran renegade James Raynor (star of Wings of Liberty), the infested Sarah Kerrigan (leader of the Zerg Swarm and focus of Heart of the Swarm), and the Dark Templar Zeratul. Legacy of the Void would follow Zeratul’s journey to coordinate the various Protoss tribes and unite them in their fight against Amon. However, Blizzard decided that Artanis was better situated to represent the Protoss and unite the various tribes. While Zeratul has been a central figure throughout the history of Starcraft, telling the story through Artanis, the Hierarch of the Protoss, works better for constructing a narrative built around uniting disparate forces, many which have been neglected or isolated for thousands of years.

When it was announced in 2007, Starcraft II was wrapped in a rousing glow of possibility. It had been nearly a decade since Brood War had been released, and no one knew what Starcraft II would bring. When we had last ventured into the Starcraft universe, alliances had been broken, allies had been killed, and Sarah Kerrigan and her swarm stood triumphant over the broken armies of her enemies. Rather than a battle between the forces of good and evil, the story of the original Starcraft was more of a political drama, pitting characters with competing goals and motives against each other. Was Kerrigan evil? Probably, but she was also driven by the merciless betrayal by those she most trusted. Ten years later, Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm changed all that with the introduction of Amon and his hybrid forces. Instead of a contest between competing forces, the Starcraft universe transformed into the battle against an evil entity who had to be defeated by teamwork and understanding (and more than a few convenient plot twists..). As a result of this change, the entirety of the campaign in Legacy of the Void is spent battling minions loyal to Amon, and the campaign lacks some of satisfaction found in the other games. Rather than getting the sense of battling enemies who believe in their cause, it often feels like clashing against waves of mindless worshipers of a dark god.

For those who are (somehow) unaware, Starcraft II is a top-down, real-time strategy game. While the game provides enough guidance so anyone can delve into the campaign without too much difficulty, the crux of the enduring success of Starcraft arises from its phenomenal multiplayer experience which has a challenging learning curve (to be generous) and has previously not been very accessible to newcomers. It can be thought of as a complicated game of chess which requires nimble decision making, an encyclopedic knowledge of strategies and counter-strategies, and adroit and rapid mouse control. If your enemy approaches with an army of Void Rays, you need to create Stalkers; If your enemy makes an early push with Roaches, you had better be able to quickly get out some Immortals to focus fire them down; If you scout a Starport and a collection of Barracks, you had better have some Colossi and possibly a Phoenix or two in waiting for the inevitable ball-o-Marines-and-Marauders. Legacy of the Void does not break this mold, and I doubt it is even possible at this point. However, Legacy of the Void makes a number of changes to make the competitive game more open to new and more casual players. For starters, there are a number of minor tweaks (like starting each game with more workers) which help games evolve faster and alleviates some of the initial pressures felt during matches. There are also two game modes which I have yet to explore -- Archon mode, which puts two players in control of a single army, and a cooperative mode where players control armies built around various heroes from Starcraft II. While Starcraft II is still incredibly competitive and challenging, these game modes offer a lower barrier to entry, and give players game modes which are not completely driven by the competitive ladder.

In addition to a plethora of new Protoss units featured throughout the campaign (as well as some old classics like the Dragoon and Reaver), Legacy of the Void also introduces six new units to competitive multiplayer matches. Protoss can now produce Adepts and Disruptors. Adepts are early units with ranged attacks and can engage in combat, produce a projection which can traverse distances, and then instantly teleport to the projection’s location. The Disruptor is an interesting unit which releases an invulnerable ball of energy which can be sent towards enemies to detonate and cause massive damage. They are great at suddenly causing large amounts of damage to opponents who are not paying attention. Terrans now have the Cyclone, a mechanical unit which can do large amounts of damage while moving, and the Liberator, an aerial unit which can do splash damage to both air and ground units (think of an overpowered aerial Siege Tank). Finally, the Zerg bolster their ranks with an evolution of the Roach called the Ravager, and the fan-favorite Lurker. The Ravager is intended to be something of a siege unit, but currently does not have the range and benefits to be worth the cost of upgrading. Like their Brood War counterparts, Lurkers burrow underground and serve as a long-range siege unit for the Zerg.

The missions featured in Legacy of the Void feel like they have taken a step back compared to those featured in Heart of the Swarm. The role playing cues which inspired the creativity of Heart of the Swarm are absent and lead to levels that are more expected in traditional real-time strategy games. While there are some creative missions (for instance, one which puts players into what is essentially a psionic Tug of War game and another where players must move their base along rails from one cache of resources to the next), most are fairly simple and straightforward. Honestly though, it’s not really a bad thing, given the different structure of the two games -- Heart of the Swarm was about Kerrigan’s journey while Legacy of the Void puts you in control of the Protoss army’s stand against Amon. It’s also worth noting, Legacy of the Void feels harder than either Wings of Liberty or Heart of the Swarm, but I can’t help feeling that at least part of that is due to the number of missions which rely on countdown timers to put an added burden on players rather than actual difficulty.

Between missions, Artanis and his allies congregate aboard his capital-ship, the Spear of Adun. Akin to the Hyperion and Kerrigan’s Leviathan before it, the Spear of Adun serves as Artanis’ command center where he can converse with his allies and make decisions regarding his troops. Every unit type can be assigned to one of three possible factions which lead to units with different strengths and weaknesses. For instance, early on, players can choose between the Starcraft classic Dragoon or the Starcraft II replacement, the Stalker. While Stalkers have Blink and are more agile, Dragoons have greater range and stronger attacks. However, unlike the previous games, none of the troop decisions are permanent. Players can freely change troop assignments based on the needs of particular missions, a welcome change over the more restrictive choices featured in Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm. The Spear of Adun can also be upgraded throughout the campaign and used to call down attacks and support. These range from aerial bombardments, to the ability to instantly summon pylons, to even providing all allied units with a powerful shield. These upgrades can also be freely changed throughout the campaign.

When it was originally announced, I was more than a little disappointed to learn that I would have to wait the longest to play through the campaign of my favorite race, the Protoss. Now that we’re at the end, I can confidently say that the end has been well worth the wait. For many, myself included, there is no doubt that the conclusion of Starcraft II, and the Starcraft franchise as we know it, is more than a little bittersweet. I’m sure there will eventually be another Starcraft game, but Legacy of the Void puts a period on the story of Raynor, Kerrigan, Zeratul, and numerous other heroes whom players have known since 1998. Do things work out a bit too perfectly in the end? Given where the franchise left things after Brood War, probably -- but honestly, that’s not really a bad thing. Legacy of the Void and the Starcraft II trilogy in general certainly have their flaws and criticisms. As I mentioned earlier, Starcraft was originally the story of three forces with different cultures and ideology battling against each other. From the start, Starcraft II has been gearing towards the story of good versus evil, and that change is pretty jarring. You can also argue that the story of Raynor and Kerrigan wraps up a little too neatly (which is partially the result of this game’s focus on the Protoss and their limited interactions during the game’s epilogue). However, given how long it has taken to get here, I can appreciate Blizzard’s attempts to wrap everything up with a nice bow. I’ve said this before, but Starcraft is one of those games which every gamer has been or should have been exposed to at one time or another. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to pick up Legacy of the Void. As someone who has been playing Starcraft for nearly two decades, I can confidently say, Starcraft II and Legacy of the Void might not be perfect, but they're pretty damn good. And if we have to wait another ten years for the next entry in this franchise, I can think of worse ways to go out.

My life for Aiur.

All images owned by Blizzard.