StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Review!

by on December 1, 2015

                More
than 15 years ago Starcraft gave a new spin to RTS games both in singleplayer
and multiplayer giving birth to a competitive scene that didn’t die even today.
With a story driven campaign that has presented some of the most interesting
characters in video games and a micromanagement multiplayer which made it to
the home screens in South Korea, Starcraft and Brood Wars became legends that
nobody can’t deny.
More than 15 years later part of that legend is about to
end, but was this ending worth waiting for?
                Legacy
of the Void is a standalone expansion and the last installment of Starcraft II
which was split in three different campaigns (because economics).
The story takes off just after the action in Whispers of
Oblivion with the players taking control of the protoss race which wait aboard
the Golden Armada the orders from the Hierarch Artanis to warp in on Aiur and
take back their home planet from the zerg. A bold move from a young leader and
maybe an unnecessary war for a dying race, but honor and tradition force the protoss
into making mistakes and despite the last minute warning from Zeratul, the
invasion doesn’t stop.
Aiur turns once again into a huge battlefield as the yellow
armored warriors pour in charging the zerg and holding them back while they are
being toasted by the lasers of the advanced cybernetic units. A victory it
seems, a long waited victory, but in the fashion of cliché twists the intrigue
of the game kicks in turning the protoss tactical advantage upside down and proving
that Zeratul was right. The protoss were reminded that in their tunnel vision
moment of taking back Aiur the galaxy is on fire and they are not immune to the
impending doom. With losses that will probably haunt Artanis forever, the
remaining protoss activate the Spear of Adun, an ark from ancient times, board
it and warp deep into space to reflect on the situation and plan their next
move, because Amon lives and while he does nobody else should.
                Artanis
is not alone in his mission to reclaim Aiur and subsequently fight the Dark God
Amon. Both Khalai and Nerazim fight alongside him and important characters from
these factions are gathered on the Spear of Adun to help and guide the young
Hierarch in what seems to be the darkest time for the protoss race since the
civil war. Artanis is assisted by the Phase-smith Karax which is responsible
for the Spear of Adun maintenance and scientific research. The Matriarch of
Shakuras, Vorazun, joins in a desperate hour lending her Nerazim forces to fight
their enemies. As a ship from a time long gone designed to help the protoss in
a time of need, Spear of Adun holds a few secrets and tricks but also provides
the information needed through the preserver Rohana which struggles to
understand the changes that have come into place.
Wandering through the galaxy in search for allies more
factions will join Artanis in his just cause of unifying the protoss and
leading them to battle and an age of change.
Like a true leader!
                The
Legacy of the Void singleplayer campaign plays in a similar fashion with the
previous campaigns of Starcraft II. With the intrigue established, the
narrative dictates the gameplay’s progression not only through increasing difficulty
but through available units and upgrades. The Spear of Adun serves as a mobile
base like Hyperion and the Leviathan did. The base is also a campaign interface
where the players can select between available missions, choose new units and
upgrade the technology of the ship and the army.
They are back!
Going for orbital purging!
But this time there is a difference, Legacy of the Void
combines old with new in an attempt to rekindle the melancholia and nostalgia
of different times. The missions debrief has been changed to look similar to
those in Starcraft and Brood Wars where the main characters talked through
small screens about the mission details. It’s a nice tribute to great games and
combined with returning units like dragoons, dark archons or reavers it surely brings
back memories.
Not exactly the same, but still brings back memories.
                The
campaign missions are heavily scripted and narrative driven with multiple
primary and secondary objectives that tie in with the upgrading system on the
Spear of Adun. The main mission’s objectives vary a lot from escorting AI
controlled units, searching the map for important devices or fighting your way
through using the heroes to the classic destruction of the enemy bases or the
last stand type where you defend objectives against uneven odds.
The difficulty level ranges from Easy to Brutal and there is
everything for everybody in that range. Some of the missions are pretty
challenging on their own and the optional achievements attached to them spice
things up even more.
Protoss deathball!
Like a true completist!
                With a
ton of units to choose from, various upgrades that can dictate the way you play
and 22 (real) missions of different intensity, the Legacy of the Void campaign
doesn’t come short in terms of content. Adding to this the refined gameplay of
Starcraft II and things could only get better, but sadly they don’t.
                The
campaign in this expansion doesn’t escape the curse of being just a glorified
tutorial and for that reason players are treated like newcomers (it could
easily be read imbeciles) for the most of it. The hand holding is there and I
tend to believe that it is worse than ever as now it follows the players even
in the last missions of the game. Strategy games have always been part of a
niche that is getting more and more abrupt as the years are passing by and this
kind of player treatment only makes it worse for the players that have been dedicated
to the genre. I do understand the need of teaching the new players the ways of
the game, but this used to be done with a tutorial at the start of the game and
maybe hints spread through loading screens and popup bubbles. It wouldn’t have
been a problem if this feature could be disabled but it’s incorporated in the
game’s story having a negative impact on the immersion when the leader of the
protoss receives newbie information about how to use certain units (…). Even so
the missions are engaging and playing the game on hard was a satisfying
experience, but that experience is diminished to a great extent when the story
comes into play.
                I’ve
always had a difficult time coping with the story of Wings of Liberty and Heart
of the Swarm, not because their presentation had changed, that’s a change for
the better, but because of the worsening narrative. It’s not nostalgia that is
taking control over my brain and fingers as I type this down, I went back and
checked some of the crucial moments in the original Starcraft campaigns and they
are holding even today and are as breath taking as always. It’s a dark but compelling
story where the emotional parts don’t take the hold of the best of it. Instead,
the story unfolds in an intelligent fashion presenting the relationship between
characters that have different goals shaping up the action as they show their
true interests. It’s political to a degree and more importantly, it doesn’t
really care if the players want that to happen or not, because if the writing
gets to a point where it desperately tries to please its audience than things
are lost (keep up the good work George R.R. Martin). And that’s what happened
with the previous installments of Starcraft II. The story went off from its
original course presenting an American hero stereotype and a villain on the
path of redemption almost ignoring everything that went on in the previous
games. It was filled with cheesy writing and moments that hardly made any sense
(that General Warfield mission…), all of these just for the sake of making the
players feel better.
                Knowing
this I dived into Legacy of the Void with much skepticism, but as a long time
player of Starcraft, a protoss fan (my life for Aiur!) and a guy that read most
of the books and theorized a lot about the lore, I had to see it to its end and
now I’m not so happy I did.
Not a great day to be a terran.
                First
of all, I want to put it out there so I don’t have to come back and say it
multiple times, the story of Legacy of the Void is not horrible, but neither
good. There are things at which the story stands out they mostly have to do
with the high production value that comes with any Blizzard game. Cinematics
with over the top action moments and impressive battles can be seen often
during missions or in between them pumping the presentation value to a
movie-like level. But the moments when the writing and storytelling shine are
few and rapidly swallowed by the shallow and cliché plot and its hauntingly bad
ending.
                Presenting
the races is where Starcraft II excels, mostly because the technological
limitations of late 90s didn’t allow for more in the previous games,
nevertheless, is great looking at the three playable races of this universe
through a magnifying glass.
                The
main focus of this expansion, the protoss, is a conservatory race split in
multiple factions, each valuing its own traditions and not taking change
lightly. This leads to a great struggle as things change faster than they can
even accommodate with, an atmosphere captured by the game’s narrative.
It takes a great leader to stand up for the task ahead and
Artanis proves to be that leader. By not being reluctant to change, Artanis has
the wisdom to slowly guide his race to the future. He shows great honor and
loyalty without looking down upon the other races as he tries to understand
everyone’s culture and traditions. This time around it is hard to pinpoint the
main character into a stereotypical behavior. Artanis is tormented by many of
his decisions, struggling to do what’s right for his race and accommodating
them to a forced but welcomed change. Yet, he stands tall and doesn’t show
weakness even when he’s outnumbered and is willing to sacrifice if necessary.
It’s an interesting written character that comes in an antithesis with those around
him, but the other characters help Artanis strengthen his motivation and make
the right choices.
                All the
characters present on the Spear of Adun have savory dialogues depicting a clash
of multiple layers of Protoss society that come to terms with each other to
form an unified force, the Daelaam. But none of these characters come even
close to the original cast in writing quality. Artanis doesn’t match the
character level of the protagonists in the original Starcraft games, but he has
more depth than those seen in Starcraft II but the story doesn’t help him as
much as it did with Sarah Kerrigan, Jim Raynor and especially Arcturus Mengsk
back in the day. But from the Starcraft II perspective he’s one of those who
stood out the most, alongside with Tychus and two other characters from Legacy
of the Void which I won’t mention for spoiler reasons.
This Aiur obsession is going to get you and your people killed!
                Considering
the great presentation of its main race and the overall cinematic level, Legacy
of the Void was in need of a well written story to secure its place alongside
the original games in the series.
The story starts great setting a desperate and dark tone leaving
the feeling that every important character could die at any moment. But the
game doesn’t keep up with that switching instead to the narrative style of its
predecessors and rarely letting that go.
                Wings
of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm had a great problem with pacing, the former
having the players go through 18 or more missions before important things
started to happen and the latter tried to change that but lost itself through
evolution missions and a story arc about the origins of the Zerg.
Legacy of the Void is set on doing things differently and
from a story unfolding slowly it switched to warp speed (or zergling rush if
you are a zergs fan). One would argue that because the galaxy is coming to an
end the story rushing through events is justifiable, but this leads to awkward
moments of poor writing where longtime enemies become friends on the spot
without even a “how do you do”. The glue that should hold many of these
relationships together is nowhere to be found and alliances happen just for the
sake of it.
                To pile
up on the sketchy writing is the inconsistency between games, Heart of the
Swarm denied the action of Wings of Liberty and now Legacy of the Void does
little effort to acknowledge things from its predecessor. Niadra, a zerg
broodmother which lost contact with Kerrigan and was set on following her last order:
destroy the protoss, is a character I theorized a lot about after Heart of the
Swarm and I thought it was going to play an extremely important role in Legacy
of the Void. But I didn’t even remember seeing her in the game and while the
zerg presence is felt on Shakuras, her story that could have strained the
relationship between races leading to further complications serves nothing more
than a reason for why the zerg were there. This leaves a feeling of abandoned
or undeveloped story and cumulated with some of the plot holes which aren’t so
hard to spot leaves an even bitter taste.
Funny…
                It’s
obvious from the things I’ve mentioned above that Legacy of the Void doesn’t
manage to capture the twisted atmosphere of Brood War or maybe just doesn’t
want to.  The narrative is never as
dramatic and dark as the main plot set it to be, maybe because hope keeps
showing up leading the protoss on a track that brings them more and more chances
of victory without any real setbacks. There’s a rather cheerful vibe that I
felt for the most part of the campaign which made it hard for me to take
everything seriously. People die like crazy sometimes because that’s how some
missions work, but nobody seems to care and considering the number of protoss
has diminished drastically maybe the main characters should have a reaction to
that. For crying out loud, I got killed hundreds if not thousands of units
attempting to get some of the achievements to a point where I was wondering if
there should even be any protoss available for warping. Maybe I’m nitpicking,
but for me the immersion didn’t peak much as the severity of the situation
wasn’t always reflected like being so.
                Then
there’s the part about the xel’naga mystery that has always been a subject for
debates on forums and bulletin boards, but that will stop now because the questions
have been answered. What people will probably discuss now is if the quality of
those answers really rose up to the expectations and more than 15 years of
waiting. The entire xel’naga and Amon story gave me the impression that this
has never been thought through until just now and this chapter of the story was
only written for the last part of the series. The majority of the questions
have been answered mostly by empty cliché giving closure by addressing the
mysterious plot and not necessarily to make the story more exciting.
The xel’naga arc was hard to bear, it was presented in a
rushed and cheesy manner that wasn’t suitable for such an important part of the
story, but when I thought things couldn’t go worse, the finale came a finale
not worthy for the series.
                The
ending was disappointing to say the least. Yes, it grabbed a smile from me
because over more than a decade of playing these games and reading the books I
came to care about the characters. But it fell flat like once again it was
written only to please that majority of people that can’t stand when things go
wrong. I won’t go into details because of spoiler’s reasons and maybe I’m too
pretentious about this because I had higher expectations, but I sure wasn’t
pleased.
                Overall,
the story in Legacy of the Void is appealing through great presentation, high
production value and a good exposition of its main characters (En taro
Artanis!). To be fair, the series was lead to an awkward point where clichés
were unavoidable and while the writing in Legacy of the Void was supposed to redeem
the past mistakes it doesn’t even save itself. If you liked the story in the
previous installments of Starcraft II you will probably end up enjoying this
one as well (more or less), on the other hand, if you are urging for the dark Sci-Fi
narrative that made Starcraft and Brood War so great, you might find this to be
nothing more than a galactic soap opera. The story clearly has its moments and
playing as a protoss was a pleasure for me, but at the end of an era not only
for Starcraft but for the RTS genre as well, this trilogy story and especially
its finale are not one of Blizzard’s best works (after Diablo 3 I guess I
shouldn’t have expected more).
Are they going to fight?!
                Starcraft
and Brood Wars not only excelled in storytelling, but in gameplay and
multiplayer as well and while Starcraft II couldn’t carry on the great writing
of its predecessors it managed to adjust perfectly their gameplay mechanics to
a new era of gaming and technology.
                For a
slightly arcade strategy with a lot of micro and macro management, Starcraft II
has an almost flawless gameplay. The game’s focus on three races with different
play style has kept the gameplay engaging for years and it will probably
continue to be so for years to come, after all Brood Wars is played at a
competitive level even today.
It’s surely not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s
understandable, Starcraft II has a hardcore gameplay where good decision
making, high actions per minute and a thorough understanding of its mechanics
are required to reach a satisfying level of play. But even at a casual level,
Starcraft II will have your heart racing and your fingers trembling leading to
some of the sweetest victories or some of the most frustrating losses. It’s a
great way to get an adrenaline rush without doing anything too extreme, but an
ever present danger for your peripherals if you put too much emotion into it.
                The two
gameplay related flaws of Starcraft II has been battling with have carried on
with Legacy of the Void, but not because of Blizzard’s lack of trying to fix
them, but because they are almost impossible to fix.
One of the problems stands in the balance, which for a
competitive game where the meta changes with each new Korean breakthrough
tactic it’s extremely hard to keep the three races on a foot of equality.
Protoss has dominated Heart of the Swarm (sOs!!), but no one knows what will
happen in Legacy of the Void. The game will continue to evolve and change based
on the necessity as Blizzard will keep supporting it as an e-sports. And here
comes in play the second problem.
While the game is continuously adjusted and balanced for e-sport
purposes, it’s getting harder and harder for the casual and untrained players
to get into it or keep up. Starcraft II is a hard game by definition and the newer and inexperienced
players always had problems getting into it because the learning curve is
extreme. Reaching a level of understanding and control that could make a player
competitive enough to stay on the average of the ladder could take quite some
time. The achievement based tutorials, AI skirmishes and the singleplayer
campaigns did what they could to accommodate the players into the game, but
that was never enough and more often than not players end up abandoning the
game.
Legacy of the Void has some new features that should keep
the casual players interested for a longer period of time and help them better
handle the game in the hopes of moving to the next level.
One base all in, old school style!
                First
of all let’s talk about the Co-op mode which serves as a multiplayer campaign
where two players can choose between six heroes, two for each race, and play
together a bunch of scripted scenarios with adjustable difficulty. Each hero
has its own unique abilities that can be used during matches and a preset build
of units from its respective race. The Co-op play is engaging and fun but only
for a while, mostly because it lacks in content quantity. The heroes are great
and leveling them unlocks new units, upgrades and abilities, but the mode has
only five maps and exhausting everything that can be seen on these maps doesn’t
take long. Blizzard has promised updates in the future that will bring more
heroes and maps to the Co-op mode, but as it stands now it’s just a good way to
have fun and maybe train a little for the more important features of the game.
Joint forces.
Progression!
                The
next big thing that comes with Legacy of the Void is Archon mode, an innovative
way to play skirmish or competitive matches with friends. In Archon mode two
players take control of one race facing another Archon. Playing in a team is
much more tactical and given the ability to spread the work between two players
makes it more fun, but players shouldn’t be deceived, as this doesn’t lower the
work load during a competitive match.
The introduction of Archon mode doesn’t reduce the
micromanagement or simplify the game, because playing against the cumulated micro
of two players requires as much effort as possible. What Archon mode does and
does it rather well is allowing teams to play competitively in a much more
balanced environment, 1v1, because everyone who played team ranked knows is an
unbalanced cheese fest.
                Last
but not least is the feature designed for those players who are extremely
competitive: Automated Tournaments. I’ve been waiting to see this in Starcraft
II for a while and it is finally here. These tournament sessions take between 3
and 4 hours with the matches being limited to 25 minutes after which the player
with the highest score will win and move forward. The players taking part in
the Automated Tournaments are matched equivalently to their league and winning
a tournament awards 3D trophies which will last for the entire season. This
feature is extremely welcomed as it will greatly increase the competitive play
at any level extending the lifespan of Starcraft II.
                Legacy
of the Void didn’t bring only new modes to play the game, but newer units to
play with as well. Each race has received two new
units
for skirmish and multiplayer purposes. I won’t go into detail about
them, but what I will say about these units is that most of them are extremely
micro focused and clearly designed for e-sports and highly competitive plays
and not so much for the beginners.
In addition, all races have received notable adjustments for
balance purposes, including new abilities for older units and some interesting
modifications that will change the meta gameplay of Starcraft II. It’s probably
too early now into the expansion to see the full potential of each race, but
with the start of WCS 2016 I expect that new ingenious tactics will flow and
hopefully Starcraft II e-sports scene will be revitalized.
I foresee an expansion of cheesy tactics!
                Wings
of Liberty was launched in 2010 and since then I didn’t notice many
improvements in the graphics of this series. Legacy of the Void is still a CPU
centric game with crisp and colorful graphics that hold on even today, but
don’t stand out aside of physics courtesy of Havok engine. But the technical
graphics isn’t where the visuals of this game shine the most, the beautiful and
unique design of the protoss or xel’naga civilization remains show that
Blizzard’s artists still got what it takes to make impressive architectures.
                Legacy
of the Void runs smoothly up to a point. The engine was designed to be flexible
and work on a wide variety of hardware configuration and while it does that
quite well, it does have problems on ultra settings even on high end rigs. When
the screen is filled with units shooting at each other that’s when the frame
rate starts to drop to critical levels not only affecting the visuals but the
gameplay experience itself as it’s extremely hard to micro units as the fps
fluctuates.
                Despite
their age, the graphics serve the cinematic presentation of the story very well
(thought their quality is not the greatest), showing up close characters with reasonable
details for an engine designed for strategy games. But the main goal of this
engine is to make everything look as sharp as possible so they don’t affect the
micromanagement gameplay in any way and this feature is put to good use in
Starcraft II.
Remaking the Golden Armada!
                While when
talking about the graphics I can criticize the technology lagging behind considering
we are in 2015. When it comes to sound design and music, Blizzard is spot on in
every game and Legacy of the Void makes no exception.
The unit’s sound effects might be the same as in previous
games with the exception of the newer ones, but the soundtrack has received
some new epic songs which fit perfectly with the protoss thematic of the game. The
voice acting is also impeccable giving life to the protoss characters with
their electrical and booming voices.
                It’s a
great treat for the ears to listen to the music and sounds of this game and is
gladdening that even strategy games are getting to a point where little
complaints can be made about sound design.
The menacing Spear of Adun!
Goodbye StarCraft…
                It has
been a long journey and to be perfectly honest I’m somewhat relieved that it’s
coming to an end even if that end was completely unsatisfactory. Starcraft II was always in a permanent conflict between its amazing gameplay and its average story up
to the end. The story’s conclusion doesn’t come near to its origins quality,
but does put the last pieces of the puzzle together in a matter that favors closure
above narrative quality having much of the fans reconciled. And as before,
Legacy of the Void makes up for a lot of its sins through great production
value that only a few AAA studios can and want to pull off.
The story is just a part of Starcraft (how big is that part
is up for you to decide), the other component is what made this series so
popular, the multiplayer, which is now as good and competitive as ever but
freshened up by this expansion release and ready for new tournaments and e-sports
madness.
                Real
time strategies are a dying breed and their final moment might be getting
closer with Starcraft II reaching its end. The future is uncertain for this
genre, but maybe learning from mistakes while still using this clearly successful
recipe, Blizzard Entertainment will listen to the fans
and revive one of this genre’s glorious franchises that is now astray between a
movie and MMO expansions: Warcraft (4)!
Pros:
+ A cinematic and lengthy enough campaign with a lot of
unique mechanics and units
+ The protoss characters
+ High quality sound design and voice acting
+ The same almost flawless gameplay updated and balanced
+ The multiplayer is as competitive as always
+ Co-op (for some)
+ Automated tournaments
+ Overall high production value
Cons:
– The campaign has some extremely poorly written moments and
the overall story is a letdown
– The third campaign of Starcraft II and it still has
handholding
– The ending is beyond cheesy
– The new units make the multiplayer learning curve even
more abrupt
– The cinematics video quality is questionable
– The same old performance issues of this engine
– (Upcoming DLCs?!)
Nodrim