StarCraft II Box Art

There are very few things that maintain my complete attention for more than a few hours. Any more, and I just need to do something different, get my mind somewhere else (which I suspect makes me completely and utterly average). The recent exception of course, came about one week ago - the day my copy of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty arrived, eliciting a response much more akin to DROP-ALL-YOUR-SHIT-RIGHT-FUCKING-NOW-AND-PLAY!!!

Dishes? Ha! Bills? Whatever. Clothes? Are you mad sir? For me, the past few weeks have consisted of panning every shining particle of free time out of the river of my life (go ahead, groan - I deserve it) in order to play this game, resulting in absurdly gratuitous amounts of neglect in every other aspect of my social and personal well-being. Yet, having finally emerged victorious from the cave that is my study, I can say- it is glorious inside. Yes your skin may take on an odd pallor and yes, you may develop a repugnant odor, but it is all done in service to a greater power. Saving the universe.

Now, I haven't played any of the multi player yet. That's what most people are excited about I know, but I just love me some story. I've played through the Starcraft I/Brood War campaigns dozens of times over the years, and expect to get at least as much use out of SC II's campaign. With that in mind, let me just say right now, this game is the closest we will ever come to a Firefly video game.

Raynor Mal

Our Hero, Mal Jim Raynor, the lovable rogue with a history, is tired and nearly broken ten years after his failed rebellion against the then-newly-created Dominion Empire. Ever the desperado, Jim decides to get his rag-tag group back together for one last hurrah, motivated by the bullet he's saved for Acturus Mengsk, the sunnuvabitch that betrayed him and left Main Love Interest to die on a colony world that Mengsk sacrificed to a hostile alien species in order to further his own ends.

Jim is joined by Jayne Tychus Findlay, a rough-around-the-edges bad-ass with a mercenary attitude and thirst for violence. Tychus' release from prison (and longtime friendship with Raynor) is the catalyst for the subsequent destruction of pretty much everything that gets in their way on their quest to take down the Dominion. Of course, Tychus, being who he is, has to make some difficult decisions concerning loyalty, in a way that will seem very familiar to the kind of person who knows the lyrics to "The Hero of Canton".

But while the sci-fi/western theme absolutely permeates the atmosphere of the game (to great effect, I might add), I'm not trying to imply a lack of originality- the single smartest thing Blizzard did was not try to re-invent the Starcraft universe. Everything is pretty much right where we left it ten years ago- the tech has improved somewhat, and Raynor has developed a drinking problem, but all the old alliances and vendettas remain intact.

StarCraft II Box Art

The story actually branches off at a few points in minor ways, giving you choices as to how to handle a given scenario. The options presented, however are not terribly palatable, and no matter how I decided, I always found myself regretting my decision, wondering if it wouldn't have been better to pick the other scenario (which incidentally, is the same feeling I get when being forced to choose between contributing-something-of-substance-to-society and eating ice cream).

I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't say any more about the story, but below I've outlined a few more things that I noticed while playing and liked (or pretended to like so that I blend in with humans):

What's he building in there?

Missions now take much less time to complete, averaging at about 30-40 minutes each. No longer will you have to explain to your mother that you'll be downstairs for dinner "right after wiping out this Zerg base" every ten minutes for the next four hours then afterward, have to listen to a two-hour lecture about your "addiction" to "those games", and how you should be making some friends, and meet a nice girl so "I can have grandchildren someday".

Difficulty levels: I can haz easy?

"Normal" difficulty allows you enjoy the story without being prohibitively challenging- great for a first play-through, but there are incentives to replay the levels on "Hard" (or what I like to call "Starcraft I Easy")

Making up for "1/3 of a game"

Zeratul

Even though Wings of Liberty is only the Terran campaign, within it Blizzard has embedded a Protoss mini/side-campaign that gives a taste of what the expansions might be like. There's also a "Challenge Mode" which seems to be intended to teach you specific gameplay tactics for each of the three factions, but it is quite short, and I got bored with not killing everything instantly and effortlessly, so I went back to some of the aforementioned campaign mission paths I had missed earlier.

Gameplay fluidity

Starcraft 2 Upgrades

Units are now easier to micromanage, and abilities that should have been autocastable or passive in the previous games now are. Units also have campaign upgrades that you purchase between missions which allow you to focus on whatever gameplay style best suits you. Some units with overlapping capabilities have been rolled together or changed for better distinction in their functionality.

Vultures are still useless.

Not World of Warcraft Beta

Warcraft 3 XP bar

I uber-hated the hero leveling and equipment system in Warcraft III, but thankfully, such mini-MMO features are nowhere to be seen here. You rarely even control Hero Units, and when you do, they are simply a unique unit with special abilities. No farming for XP, no enchanted items, and no potions that promise to make your staff bigger for only three easy internet payments of $19.99

"Click. Click. Click. Click. Stop Poking Me!!"

The Lost Viking

As is traditional with these people, Blizzard maintained proper decorum with the inclusion of the usual in-jokes and easter eggs, with references to many of their past titles (my favorite so far being "The Lost Viking"). Others have been spotted by eagle tortoise-eyed gamers and posted online, but I'm looking forward to seeing what else turns up once people have had more time with the game.

All in all, completely justified for being the first video game in over a year that I've paid more than $50 for (thank you Steam). Now that it's over, I should probably take advantage of the break to do something of value with my time- read a deep book about an important modern issue, start a jazzercise routine, learn how to make food that is both edible and not on fire. But if you think about it, I mean, really balance the pros and cons, look at all the evidence, et cetera, et cetera e pluribus unum, habeas corpus, the only logical conclusion is that those things are boring.

*sigh*. I'm never going be president...