What it is:
“Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void” is a real-time strategy game, and a follow up expansion that builds from “Wings of Liberty” and “Heart of the Swarm,” which, as a whole, serves as a sequel to the original “Starcraft” and its expansion “Brood War.” Legacy of the Void picks up after the end of “Heart of the Swarm,” but for much of the story it only focuses on the Protoss until the Epilogue Missions which bring the three races, Zerg, Protoss, and Terran together. The main storyline follows Artanis, the leader of the Templar Protoss in his quest to defeat Amon, a Cthuluan dark god, a fallen Xel’Naga, and then switches to follow Artanis, Kerrigan, and Jim Raynor as a trio in the Epilogue.
The Short of It:
“Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void” is a good game. Blizzard’s games are always polished, and LotV follows that tradition. The gameplay is smooth and polished, and likely the best in the RTS genre, but it has been that good since “Wings of Liberty,” so nothing new there. However, the design of the levels wasn’t very strong in places, and the story feels thin and a bit bland despite its epic scope, which disappointed me considering Blizzard’s pedigree. Despite my qualms with the game, it is still fun and well made, generally speaking. I recommend it to fans of the series and the genre, with the caveat that the story and ending will likely disappoint. I don’t recommend it to people new to the franchise, who should really go back and start from at least “Wings of Liberty” if not the original Starcraft.
The Long of It:
If someone is an RTS fan, I find it hard to believe that one would find fault with Blizzard’s RTS mechanics, whatever one thinks of the lore. The core gameplay is as good as it ever was, which keeps the space warfare difficulty in the right places. If you find yourself challenged it won’t be because of poor control design.
The campaign doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of adding new units, though a couple of old ones return (the slug-like siege units, I forget their name). The branching styles, or load-outs, for each of the units does a lot to give a feeling of customization, control and newness when using the familiar units, though some feel obviously better than others. My favorite addition was the Spear of Adun controls that allowed me to call on the powers and resources of the command ship in space. I always had a good feeling when I was able to obliterate an army attacking my base with power beams from space.
The graphics are still fine, but they feel par for the course now, while they were stunning back in 2010 (to me, at least). The cinematics, however, felt cheaper. Blizzard is normally known for their amazing cinematics, but this time around they felt distinctly in-game engine. On the other hand I wouldn’t say there was too much worth giving cinematics.
I’m very mixed on the characters and the plot line. The characters are conceptually interesting, ranging the gamut from a Protoss version of the nerdy scientist, Karax, to an AI robot, Fenix, to a reawakened relic of the past, Rohana, to a slimy manipulator and dictator, Alarak, to the noble, brave, idealist, Artanis. However, none of them are given enough screen time to allow the angles they bring to the storyline to fully develop. The fact that you can’t get much emotion from their faces means that the vocal performances are especially important, but while they are good, they aren’t enough to really make us connect with them. Body language would have helped, but most of the characters are stuck in a subtle idle-animation during their conversations, which feels lazy and gives the player little to go on.
I liked a lot of characters by the end, but I didn’t love them. Then, when we finally get back to characters we’ve spent a decade caring about, like Jim and Kerrigan, the transition is jarring and the Epilogue Missions give even less time to slip back into their lives and plots before the end.
The storyline itself was fairly simple and straightforward. This counteracted what I felt was supposed to be a great build-up and epic climax. Unfortunately the story never reached those heights, and it didn’t quite feel as epic as it should have been. The main campaign missions ended with one trope, which was then upended by the Epilogue missions, which was cool, but then the Epilogue ended with a different trope. Despite that, I personally found the ending fairly satisfying. However, it has me worried for the future of the franchise as it felt very definitive. I think you would have to set it in the far future, or something if you were going to do another one, and just start from scratch. That could be cool, but I don’t think it’s likely.
There were some design shortcomings as well. The game was too easy most of the way through. During the final level of the main campaign, it was relatively easy to build up enough defenses that the enemy was never able to breach my main base even once. I’ve never had that experience with a Starcraft game. I’ve always had to struggle with the latter levels on normal difficulty, but not with this one. But then I move into the Epilogue and the game suddenly spikes in difficulty with no curve or warning.
The plot and characters’ weaknesses can all be attributed to the length of the game. It just didn’t feel long enough for the epic scope it should have had, especially since it serves as the capstone for such a beloved series. I know that single-player isn’t Blizzard’s bread and butter anymore, but that’s no excuse for a truncated project. It’s frankly shocking that it took two years and this is the best they were able to put together. I would have rather waited another year and had a better story-arc, like I felt “Wings of Liberty” and “Heart of the Swarm” had. The whole game feels rushed, though it took two years to come out.
Conclusion and Star Rating:
Ultimately, this is probably the weakest entry in the Starcraft franchise. It doesn’t improve on much from the previous entries, and in some ways it is lesser. Still, I did enjoy myself. While I may have hoped for more, I don’t regret my time back in that universe with that excellent gameplay. It is a good game, I just wished for something a little grander. I give “Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void”’s single-player campaign a three out of five stars, or “Good.”
For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish or high-concept for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.
Let’s talk about the final mission and the very end. The mission itself was the only one I had to restart. It was hard as hell, but not in a satisfying way. Killing the pillars and such is just boring. The hybrid were much more interesting to fight from a conceptual point of view. Maybe give some hybrid creatures the pillars’ abilities or something? That’s probably a bad idea, but it doesn’t change the fact that I was mostly fighting giant rocks with lasers during the final mission of the story of the entire series. Lame.
The one thing I really liked about the final mission was when Amon took a bite out of the bases. It felt like he was an actual larger than life threat for those brief moments. The rest of the time, however, he mostly just hid. Why couldn’t they have had Kerrigan and Amon clashing in the center of the map or something, making everything feel more epic? Both Kerrigan and Amon could have shown off their true strength that way.
Kerrigan’s Final Form was cool conceptually, and all, but she did not feel like some sort of all-powerful Xel’Naga. I’m glad she didn’t turn into tentacruel or anything, but surely there was some way of conveying a for-all-intents-and-purposes godhood. Her final sacrifice is a bit cliched, but it’s effective for what it is, I suppose.
The real final ending is where I feel the biggest emotional impact is, at least if it plays out the way I read it. My guess is, Kerrigan didn’t really sacrifice herself, it only looked like she did. Maybe it just took almost all she had and she had to recover before she went to get Jim.
The reason I think that it isn’t just a metaphor for Jim going crazy or committing suicide, or what have you, is for a few reasons. First, the scene isn’t initially portrayed that way. The bar seems real, and people find his badge later. Secondly, we get a hint of a mysterious power bringing life back to barren worlds. These two things combined make me think Jim and Kerrigan are out there in the galaxy being lovey-dovey and bringing life back – adam and eve stuff, ya know?
At least, that is my take. If you think differently, feel free to share in the comments below!