While the story of StarCraft II ended with Legacy of the Void and the Into the Void epilogue, Blizzard hasn’t ended the stories it wants to tell in the StarCraft universe. The first return to the Koprulu sector takes place several years after the conclusion of Legacy of the Void. One of the long-lost Blizzard projects was StarCraft: Ghost which was supposed to introduce Nova as the player character. The game was eventually scrapped and Nova was introduced in Wings of Liberty and a StarCraft: Ghost novel.
Many years after Ghost’s cancellation, Nova finally gets her long-awaited solo project. It’s not a shooter but it’s a real-time strategy game in the same way that we’ve come to know from StarCraft II but with an episodic twist.
You’ll notice from the title that I’m not classifying this as a full review but as an impressions post. I want to try something a little different with Nova Covert Ops because it’s an episodic release in nature but I think the idea is to take it as a whole when all three mission packs and nine missions are released. When the final mission pack is released, I’ll do a full review.
Nova Covert Ops follows the adventures of Nova, a Dominion ghost who was introduced in SC2: Wings of Liberty, in a post-Amon galaxy. Of course, you couldn’t have a video game about a cloaked sniper without a little bit of master assassin action happening though a StarCraft farming / dating simulator wouldn’t be a bad idea for the SC2 Arcade.
Arcade dreams aside, Nova Covert Ops picks up several years after the conclusion of Legacy of the Void. While the Dominion under Valerian Mengsk still runs Terran interests in the Korpulu sector, the Zerg, now under Zagara’s lead, are encroaching back in on Terran space. If you’ve played LOTV, you knew this was coming from the epilogue. Much like the story of SC2 which saw Jim Raynor lead a ragtag group of rebels to overthrow the Dominion and save humanity from the Zerg, a new rebel group, Defenders of Men, have risen to protect humanity where they feel that the Dominion has failed.
You’re not playing from the side of the rebels, though. Nova is a member of the Dominion and doesn’t seem in any rush to change sides. However, not everyone is convinced of this. The game starts with Nova having been captured and had memory of her failed mission erased. She escaped thanks to a mysterious tip and heads back to the Dominion to investigate her capture.
Through one-third of the missions, we haven’t gotten too far into the story of Nova Covert Ops apart from what I described above. There’s no exploration of the origins of the Defenders of Men, how Nova was captured, why the Zerg are encroaching on Dominion and why the Dominion find themselves overrun by the Zerg to the point where the Defenders of Men have an active role in Terran defense.
Blizzard is keenly aware that this is an episodic game even if they don’t apply that term to the game. While the progression of the three missions (from introduction to rejoining the Dominion to covert infiltration) doesn’t really flow well as an “episode,” the ending is a textbook example of a cliffhanger to bring you back for the next episode. Mind you, the cliffhanger isn’t a surprise which is a little disappointing. Granted, they could have done the usual rebel cliché so maybe there wasn’t a superior choice when it comes to the general theme of the story.
Gameplay is pretty standard StarCraft. While you control Nova as a hero unit in a fashion similar to what we saw in HOTS and LOTV, she also has an army around her to build and command. Unlike the two most recent SC2 expansions, I didn’t find it possible to leave Nova at home when moving your army out. Nova either had to run point of be a part of a group in order for the rest of your army to be most effective. In HOTS, I generally left Kerrigan at home because the rest of my units could handle things without her. In NCO, you need Nova to be an active part of the plan in order to succeed.
There is one pretty cool sequence that sees you on a vulture bike going through the streets in a bit of a boss fight. While you’ve played SC2 with hero units before, this is closer to the high-speed chase sequence from Final Fantasy VII crossed with StarCraft.
Much like we’ve seen in various forms from the three games of the SC2 trilogy, there are character customization options. There is one menu for Nova herself and another for her units. It’s reminiscent of Heart of the Swarm where you could select buffs for both Kerrigan and the zerg swarm. Unlike HOTS, the buffs for the army aren’t locked in. The difference is that a particular buff (jetpacks, for example) can only be selected for one type of unit. So you can have jetpacks on tanks (yes, you can have jumping siege tanks) or marauders but not both.
In order to unlock various buff for Nova and her army, you need to complete bonus objectives in the missions you undertake. They’re not easy to do, though. Granted, this is my assessment through all of three missions but splitting your limited resources on multiple fronts to engage spinecrawlers for a perk isn’t exactly my idea of fun but it is a challenge which is entirely appropriate for a bonus objective. That becomes a problem when not having these buffs make the next missions much harder.
If you’ve played SC2, you already know how the game looks and its technical issues (if you have any). Seeing as you’re up against the zerg, the screen will get quite busy with AI units so that’ll make your CPU and GPU work hard to render all of them. Basically, if your computer chugged along during the HOTS campaign, it’ll feel the pain here too.
Back in the review for Legacy of the Void, I said that I would have liked to Into the Void expanded a longer story with more missions, even if it meant that it would be paid DLC. Nova Covert Ops is exactly what I wanted for SC2’s epilogue. It’s a shame that we got something of a rushed conclusion to the StarCraft II trilogy.
In the end, I think that an impressions post for the first third of Nova Covert Ops is the right call because there’s so much more to come. Compared to Telltale’s episodic offerings, there’s more content to play and even replay value from bonus objectives and difficulty levels. It’ll be fun to see where the story goes from here because there seems to be one or two more big twists coming down the pipe.
Nova Covert Ops was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for Mac OS X. This post does not constitute a full review of the game. Impressions of the game may differ depending on platform played on, PC specs and where you stand in the ongoing war between Terran and Zerg.
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