StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Single-Player Review: Homeward Bound

starcraft-2-legacy-of-the-void-headerAfter five years, the story of StarCraft II comes to a conclusion in its second expansion. In the great tradition of the franchise that first launched in 1998, StarCraft II played out in three parts, each focusing on one of StarCraft’s three races. The third and final part of SC2, Legacy of the Void, not only focuses on the Protoss as they try to take back their homeworld but also includes an epilogue to wrap up the series’ story.

If you’re a fan of the RTS genre, you know about StarCraft. Since there hasn’t been a WarCraft or Command & Conquer game for years, StarCraft is the genre. For a time, it was the biggest eSport in the world. But the majority of the time spent on SC2 and the Twitch viewership and eSports popularity comes from the multiplayer. Since I suck at StarCraft II, that’s something we’re going to address separately as I spend more time laddering… Or trying to climb to the bottom rung of the ladder. Prior to publishing, I’ve played three placement games. I lost all three in a combined 22 minutes but I was cheesed in two games so it’s not like I’m losing quickly to skilled players.

Today’s review will focus on the single-player campaign. This is the part of the game that will set you back $40 as you can access a good portion of SC2’s multiplayer offerings through the Starter Edition if you have a Battle.net friend that will “spawn” you. I don’t understand that either. I’m trying to corral a friend into being a willing experiment participant for that.

starcraft-2-legacy-of-the-void-promo-01-whispers-of-oblivionThe campaign of Legacy of the Void plays out in three parts. It starts with a three mission prologue starring Zeratul, a Protoss dark templar who has featured in multiple parts of StarCraft and SC2 (not just invented for Heroes of the Storm, Kotaku), called Whispers of Oblivion. The main campaign features Artanis’s quest to retake Aiur. And the series ends with a three mission epilogue in which you play all three races called Into The Void.

Each of the campaign segments play out a little differently from the other.

The Whispers of Oblivion prologue was available to those who pre-ordered LOTV at first and later made available to Heart of the Swarm owners with the 3.0.0 patch. It’s also included as part of the campaign of Legacy of the Void.

If you played the Zeratul missions in Wings of Liberty, you’ll know what you’re up against here. You’ll be building Protoss forces to accomplish certain objectives. In one mission, you are tasked to lead a force as Zeratul to stop the summoning of Amon which would bring about the end of days. The only real difference in the Zeratul mission between WoO and WoL is that Zeratul’s abilities have changed. His Wings abilities are fairly similar to his abilities in Heroes of the Storm. They’re more unique here.

As a set piece for the main campaign, it doesn’t really say much. The influence of Amon was hinted at in the Wings and Swarm campaigns but this is the first time since the final Zeratul mission of WoL that you see the scale of the task at hand for the Protoss. Even then, it’s more implied than outright stated how much trouble the galaxy is in. I think you could comfortably skip this portion of the campaign and not miss anything. The real plus in my mind is that it’s the “start” of the campaign and you’re thrown head first in the deep end. It’s a refreshing experience compared to the hand-holding that most games do at the start.

starcraft-2-legacy-of-the-void-screenshot-01The heart of the story is the 19 mission Legacy of the Void campaign. Taking the focus off of Zeratul, LOTV stars as Artanis, the executor (leader) of the Templar Protoss. From a progression standpoint, it plays out in much the same way that HOTS did. As you go through missions, you unlock new units. These units can be customized from one of three options which are changeable at any time (HOTS had two options per unit and you were locked in when you chose).

The new mechanic for this game is what I’m going to call the command panel at the top of the screen. As you progress through missions, you gather Solarite by completing bonus objectives. That can be spent on abilities that you can use from a panel at the top of your screen. You unlock four active and two passive ability slots along with bonuses for starting supply and shield recharge rates through the allocation of solarite. This lets you play the game with the abilities you want though the default ones were pretty good choices for my playstyle.

The story sees Artanis having to fight the forces of Amon, the dark god of the Xel’naga, who is trying to eradicate life from the Koprulu sector. There’s a lot of pseudo-religious stuff in the story about prophecies and visions and creationism and the end of days. On the one hand, it’s a little corny but a lot of StarCraft II has been with a touch of humour. Wings of Liberty especially didn’t take itself too seriously. While LOTV didn’t have as many comedy moments as Wings, it’s not like it never joked around. It’s just funny enough that the big cheesy end of days plot doesn’t seem too much for the game. It kind of reminds me of Indiana Jones. Yes, it can be pulpy but that’s what makes it great.

To defeat Amon, Artanis can’t do it alone with the Templar or the Narazim (AKA the dark templar). He has to rally the support of the Terrans and Zerg to help fulfil Zeratul’s prophecy to stave off Amon’s apocalypse. From there, he acquires technology from the ancient Protoss purifiers to shore up his fire power which also plays into the progressive unlocking of new units and allies himself with Amon’s former worshippers, the Tal’darim sect of Protoss.

starcraft-2-legacy-of-the-void-promo-02While I found that a good portion of Heart of the Swarm were missions where Kerrigan was a hero unit but you could leave her at home and not need her help, LOTV does a good job of actually making use of the hero unit. There are a couple of missions where you are playing as a hero character, including Artanis and some allies, where they are with and without the support of other units. In those instances, you can see where they would have leveraged the work done on Heroes of the Storm in the same engine that SC2 uses. The hero units play in a style that looks kind of like a MOBA in an RTS. That’s convenient since DOTA was a WarCraft 3 mod and a whole genre all spun off from there.

Before I got into StarCraft II about two years ago, I never really understood how you could fit a story into a real-time strategy game. I always thought it was missions haphazardly thrown in between mission briefings that lead to a military goal at the end. I don’t want to say ludonarrative dissonance because I hate that term but that was what I always feared from this genre.

While LOTV certainly has its moments of RTS missions for the sake of RTS missions, for the most part, the missions are built in such a way that they make sense in the story of the game. The missions pack enough variety and the objectives tie in the story and standard RTS gameplay so well that I really didn’t notice any disconnect between the game and the story with the exception of maybe one of the 19 missions. Then again, Blizzard has been making RTS games for over 20 years so I shouldn’t be surprised that they have the genre figured out.

Into the Void is the concluding part of the series. As such, the difficulty gets painfully hard. While the LOTV never got particularly difficult on Normal difficulty, Into the Void’s second and third missions were painfully difficult. Perhaps that’s because after 23 missions of playing Protoss, I couldn’t make that mental switch to playing Terran or Zerg.

starcraft-2-legacy-of-the-void-promo-03The Protoss mission of Into the Void was fairly straight forward as it never felt like you were being stretched too thin. The Terran mission saw you having to split your forces to deal with attacks on four fronts. Considering the frequency and strength of the attacks, it was the first time in LOTV that I felt like this was a macro (economic) exercise. As I mentioned, I’m not particularly good at StarCraft so I had to drop the difficulty to casual but that was far too easy. I also was on casual in the final mission as Zerg but I think I could have done that on normal if I was to give it another try.

Not only do the three missions change the playable races but each has different objectives and therefore playstyles. The Protoss mission is pretty standard. Build an army and take it from one side of the map to the other. The Terran mission is extremely macro intensive, as I mentioned, but is a base defense mission as you have to defend a central hero unit. The Zerg mission features Kerrigan as a hero unit but the focus is on hitting hard and fast against really  powerful units and structures as your economy literally crumbles behind you.

The mix of high difficulty, differing objectives and the three races made this a fantastic conclusion to the StarCraft II story. If Blizzard had fleshed Into The Void out into a five or ten mission expansion pack that cost $20, I wouldn’t have been too upset. I think they could have gotten more out of this epilogue. It was a little rush but I understand the pacing given the stakes and the number of playable races in StarCraft lore.

That being said, I think that the conclusion to the story that Into the Void provides actually increases the score of the game even if it wasn’t necessary. I thought the story was concluded at the end of the LOTV campaign but the scenario presented managed to re-open the story, crank the stakes up to maximum and gave a conclusion to all of the major characters that we met in StarCraft II. While HOTS was weakened by not having a real ending as it was building up for the fight against the apocalypse in LOTV, the final SC2 expansion doesn’t have that problem and is better for it.

starcraft-2-legacy-of-the-void-promo-04Now, this is still a game on the StarCraft II engine which is a little dated. While the game looks pretty good, the biggest problem is that when the unit count gets high, the burden shifts to your CPU. That normally wouldn’t be a problem but the SC2 engine only uses two CPU cores. Steam’s hardware survey says that about half of gamers have more than two cores on their CPU but are at a disadvantage here. So while the game thinks that I can run on all Ultra settings, once the action picks up, my framerate tanks to below 30 FPS regardless of my settings. I have this same problem in Heroes. The engine and my hardware don’t get along.

One important piece that might get overlooked is that the audio is spectacular. LOTV has this sweeping orchestral score that I wouldn’t have expected after playing Wings and HOTS but it fits with this underdog battle against fate that the Protoss wage against Amon. The game also adds a whole host of good voice acting performances to really make the story work. Bonus points for getting John de Lancie as Alarak, the smarmy Tal’darim higher up, who turns in a performance worthy of a Q.

And I’ve gone all the way to the end without mentioning that Blizzard has made Legacy of the Void a standalone game. You don’t need to own Wings of Liberty or Heart of the Swarm to also own and play LOTV. If you want to play those campaigns, you’ll need to go back and buy them. For just playing LOTV, all you need is to drop $40 on it.

Conclusion

starcraft-2-legacy-of-the-void-screenshot-02As a conclusion to the StarCraft II trilogy, Legacy of the Void more than holds up its end of the bargain. While perhaps not as strong as the Terran campaign because the stakes lack that personal feel that Raynor vs. Mengsk and Kerrigan had, the game does a great job of telling the story of the Protoss to those fairly new to the franchise while also giving a satisfying conclusion to stories dating back to the Brood War days.

I may not be the biggest fan of the RTS genre but Legacy of the Void did a great job of keeping me engaged through the story and the challenge (though not an overwhelming one on Normal difficulty). Unless you absolutely hate RTS games, I think there is actually something for everyone to enjoy.

From here, it’s onto the co-op and multiplayer portions of Legacy of the Void. I really, really suck at multiplayer. I might not be back quickly with that review.

Rating: 9.0/10

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void’s single-player campaign was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available on Mac OS X. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on platform played on, PC specs and whether you think that Protoss are imba in the campaign too.

Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr, Steam and RSS.

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