Review in Progress: Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty
We've started in on Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty's campaign and are here to offer a brief look.
In Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty's opening cutscene, the gruff, cigar-chomping Tychus Findlay opines, "Hell… it's about time." He's talking about his release from prison, but he also speaks for Starcraft fans that have waited many years for the original game's sequel. Well, it's here, and like many of you, I am voraciously gulping down the game's campaign, in which I am already totally invested. As you may already be aware, the press didn't get copies well in advance; GameSpot received boxed copies yesterday and had to wait for the battle.net servers to go live and allow the game to be installed. This is why you haven't seen any advance reviews, but the good news is that we are well into the game and will bring you our review as soon as we've finished the campaign and spent significant time with the other modes--both online and off. Obviously, we're not ready to pass on a final verdict, but I am willing to say this much: The campaign is pretty great.
The early campaign missions are what you would expect: smaller-scale battles that gradually introduce you to the units you will be commanding. In this case, of course, you will only be controlling Terran units (or at least, we assume) because Wings of Liberty includes only a single campaign. Yet even the early missions are super fun, thanks to small and subtle details that get you invested. Even the first mission--a typical "lead all your units around and shoot everything that moves" task--gets under your skin. You shoot down propaganda holograms, which give you a sense of the emotional influence Emperor Arcturus Mengsk wields over his subjects. And when the colonists you save rise up and fight, you taste their desperate desire for freedom.
And so the campaign continues, having you fight the Zerg while avoiding overflowing lava, shoot down racing trains, retrieve artifacts in the midst of Protoss versus Zerg showdowns, and more. The between-mission activities are what make the campaign so intriguing--not just the missions themselves. There's a point-and-click adventure element here in which you can click on the various characters aboard your ship, and they fill you in on the backstory or further flesh out their motivations. Not only does it get you immediately interested in Jim Raynor and his colleagues, but it also allows players unfamiliar with Starcraft to get up to date quickly and easily.
You aren't just advancing the story onboard your ship, however. You also research advancements (using research points you earn for doing missions and finding important items during missions), hire mercenaries that you may summon during your mission, and spend the currency you earn for doing missions on upgrades to your base and units. Many of these enhancements are either/or propositions, so there's clearly some replay value here, if just to see how these choices manifest on the battlefield. In-game achievements also provide a reason to return to single-player missions, and many of them are a real challenge to complete, often requiring you to play on harder difficulties to unlock them.
As you might have guessed, Starcraft II's cinematics are incredibly impressive, but what's more impressive is how well the gameplay pulls you into the story--through varied objectives, through unit and hero feedback, through visual and musical touches that set just the right tone for your mission. Obviously, there's a lot more to talk about with Starcraft II: the social features, the challenges, the editor, the online ladders, and more. We'll bring you a full review when we can, but in the meanwhile, we'll be uploading movies and screenshots for you to feast upon. We hope you enjoy them!