Review: Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty

August 10, 2010, Author: Ray Willmott

Pretty Wings
I’m going to be brutally honest here, Starcraft 2 Wings of Liberty is essentially Starcraft 1 with High Definition graphics. That’s not to say it doesn’t look good or that the specs aren’t demanding and expect the best from your rig, but to look at, you may be a little surprised by the graphical output of the game. The best comparison would be to look at Warcraft 3, seeing the 3D elements Blizzard put into it, and then expecting to see a more tweaked, refined and cleaned up engine to suit 2010. That’s Starcraft 2 in a nutshell.

The differences here are more in the game’s engine and the dynamics it is capable of. I feel it is one of few games that really takes the environment into consideration as well as the units you can control. For example, there is one level in the game where you will need to obtain a set amount of minerals with your SUVs. However you’re collecting minerals from a very unstable, volcanic planet and every five minutes, the lower ground is flooded with lava. You will have to make sure you time your collections adequately. If any of your units are left on the lower ground when the time limit is up, they will be incinerated instantly. The game offers some very creative missions that will require you to adapt and adjust just like that, considering your environment as much as your foe.

The game is also filled with the vintage cut-scenes you’ll be used to from Starcraft, which look absolutely stunning and are as close to looking like real humans as you can expect. The action is frequent and furious and the story is gripping and compelling. You’ll also notice a big difference from Starcraft 1, however, in that WOL uses the game engine much more in order to further the story with more inbuilt cut-scenes. Blizzard have a very good story to tell in Wings of Liberty and one that certainly is going to sync up very nicely with further instalments in the series. This is a real space epic that is as much about character development as it is about war in the galaxy.

Sounds on the Wings
Seeing as the title is set in Space, you may be expecting ‘Imperial March’ or Weird Al’s Star Trekking, but frankly, if that’s on your iPod ready for when you get the game, you’ll be quite surprised. I mean this game has a rip-roaring rock soundtrack that really ramps up the beat for the more tense scenes, but then also comes at you with Sweet Home Alabama (no really!). You’ll find familiar songs in here which you can fire up on the Jukebox in the Cantina onboard your ship, with more becoming available as you progress through the campaign. You’ll also find in-house tunes and beats that have been made specifically for the game and range from the triumphant to the upsetting. Blizzard really know how to score a game and WOL is further evidence of that.

The sounds of guns firing and alien creatures imploding, screeching and wailing is as gratifying as ever and totally adds to the immersion that you are in another aorld, facing down species of all types. The sounds of different environments on different planets and different guns zapping creates a unique feel wherever you decide to go. You’ll hear gurgles and gargles, chanting and ranting in alien tongue that give you a glint of satisfaction when putting these irregular species to rest.

Power from the Gods!

Familiar voices from previous instalments make a welcome return to the game and all are as suited to their counterparts as you may expect. It’s nice to see Blizz have kept continuity between the series. I’m a real stickler for that and find it frustrating when authenticity isn’t adhered to, so this pleased me from the very beginning. Robert Clotworthy returns as the voice of Jim Raynor from the previous Starcraft and Neil Kaplan as Tychus. However, there are changes, as Tricia Helfer voices the Queen of Blades, although I have to confess she does a great job. The voice acting is still top-notch, really gritty, energetic, it all fits in the scenes and sounds crystal clear.

Flying with many other sets of Wings
Multiplayer is completely handled by Blizzard’s own system that also empowers the original Starcraft, World of Warcraft, Diablo 2 and everything else in the company’s back catalogue. However, it’s not just a simple stream of servers where you can play your games online but it also contains its own friends list, its own achievements, leagues, tournaments and ladders and even Facebook connectivity where anyone on your Facebook list with a account can be added to your friends list. is a very stable, very polished experience and considering you don’t have to pay any fee for the service, it really is an exceptional tool that rivals just about any online experience on the PC to date, even Steam.

I’m going to tell you right now, I’m not going to sugarcoat it; the online counterpart for Starcraft 2 is already monstrously competitive and unmerciful. Games can be over in five minutes flat the higher up the ladder you go, and if you’re not ready or prepared, or you don’t know how things work or what to build; you’re going down very, very quickly. Fortunately, Blizzard are aware that the Starcraft online functionality has always been a very competitive arena and have tried to introduce it to people in a much more friendly and encouraging way. When you first fire up the online mode, Blizzard prompt you to see if you want to take part in the practice arenas. This essentially gives you fifty unranked games that will not count against your win/loss ratio and give you a chance to get to grips with the online play, while still competing against people from across the world. If that’s not enough, you can throw yourself into a custom map at anytime and play the AI at a difficulty set you feel most comfortable with.

Some may find it particularly difficult that, at this time, you can only play as Terran and not Zerg or Protoss. The availability will be there once the other instalments in the Starcraft 2 legacy are released but for the time being, you’d better get to liking the Terran. This is actually a bonus in many respects, as unlike Starcraft 1, this presents the player the opportunity to come to terms with a race more than ever before seeing as they are now confined to playing as Terran online for the foreseeable future. Whereas before, out of the box, players would have three races to choose from, now they only have one. Down the line, I feel this is going to make for much more competitive online experiences and is going to force players who want to play online more aware of each races strengths and weaknesses and perhaps change their perspective as to who their race of choice is supposed to be.

This could go completely the other way and when the second instalment comes around, people who have Terran as a preference will be at a distinct advantage over every other race and can fly their way through the rankings. This is indeed a very brave decision by Blizzard to adopt such a standard within an online experience many claim was already close to perfect. Whether the strategy pays off, we won’t know for sure until later next year, but for now we’re going to have to entrust the company’s new vision for the series and just play along. This is going to upset many Starcraft players who have always played Zerg and Protoss online and they are just going to have to wait that much longer now before they can prepare their alien forces. For now, just take solace in the fact that everyone is in the same boat.

Of course, Starcraft is filled with leagues, ladders and tournaments and allows for a very varied online experience. There’s something in there for everyone. However, what is also great is that Blizzard have added a map-maker, allowing you to create custom maps with a very powerful creation tool and share them online. Not only does this merit you achievements but it also means that the games online community is going to be thriving for a very long time to come.

Frankly, multiplayer is where you’re going to find most of your time in WOL and Starcraft 2 as a whole and while it’s not a huge change to Starcraft 1, everything has been brought up to date and into the 21st Century. The online component of Starcraft has been much improved, it looks better, and is still incredibly stable. This will be one of the most played online games on PC for a long while to come.

Was it worth the wait?
It’s difficult not to feel ever so slightly shunned knowing that you’re only getting a third of a game here and that you’ll have to fork out for further instalments down the line considering the price tag. It’s a pretty full package having said that, with around thirty missions, all filled with variety and accompanied by a non-linear gameplay element. That’s without challenges, a vast multiplayer output including leagues, ladders and tournaments. It is quite incredible to think a game can be this large on this scale, although this is coming from the house that World of Warcraft built. When you consider the scope of the game, you can see why this has taken so long to come out and why it’s coming out in separate instalments.

These days, it’s rare for a PC exclusive title to come along that captures everyone’s attention and makes you stand up and feel proud to be a PC gamer. The format has suffered from poor ports and shovelware mostly over the last decade, but Starcraft 2 is a reminder of the golden days. For this game, people will remember what it is they loved about the PC as a gaming platform. So, although it might sound a tad cliché, you could say that the saviour of PC gaming has arrived. Not only that, Wings of Liberty as a sole package, stands as yet another game of the year candidate in my eyes (seems they’re being churned out in 2010). Even if you didn’t play the original, if you’re looking for a reason to get into PC gaming, then this is absolutely the game for you as it captures everything that made the format so special. There’s a couple of minor glitches, for example I had to reduce the size of my icons in Windows 7 as the cursor was not responding in-game, and there have been some slight graphical hiccups, but these are relatively trivial concerns easily averted and soon rectified. The bottom line is Blizzard have done it again, proving again why they are the masters of entertainment and quality in the PC market.

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