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StarCraft is Now Free, Which Means You Should Play the Single-Player Campaign

Seriously, it's still pretty good.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

It's easy to forget in light of how it defined the first wave of eSports, but StarCraft's campaign was pretty good for its day. In fact, when StarCraft II came around in 2010, I was more excited about picking up the story of Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan than playing online.

Sadly, StarCraft's campaign has been largely lost to history amid the rise of stars like Lee "Flash" Young-ho and Lim "BoxeR" Yo-hwan, better-known as the "Terran Emperor." But now that StarCraft is officially free, now is as good a time as any to go back to what was Blizzard's most ambitious campaign to date.

The cutscenes were pretty great too.

When StarCraft first launched in 1998, it immediately impressed with missions that were far more complex than what had been offered in WarCraft II just a couple years before. Where Blizzard's landmark fantasy RTS mostly told its story through a Star Wars-style text crawl, StarCraft's briefings featured fully-voiced dialogue, which carried into the missions themselves. It also had more complex objectives, including a much-celebrated mission that required Raynor's forces to hold out against a Zerg onslaught until time ran out (later a Blizzard staple).

With more interesting objectives and fully-voiced dialogue came better storytelling. Unlike WarCraft II, which featured two discrete campaigns, StarCraft told its story across three successive chapters, each one starring a different race. This allowed Blizzard to tell a more cohesive story while giving each race an equal share of the spotlight. It also leant the story a greater sense of mystery, as the Protoss—the stars of the final chapter—were mostly kept in the shadows until the final arc.

The Zerg briefings in StarCraft are pleasantly creepy.

Over the course of its 30 mission campaign, StarCraft deftly builds an intriguing universe filled with interesting characters, none better than Kerrigan—the Ghost operative who is betrayed by the Terrans and ultimately assimilated by the Zerg. From the moment she emerges from her cocoon, she becomes StarCraft's number one villain, a ball of righteous vengeance that makes her immediately sympathetic, but also pure evil.

Her conflict with the Protoss is at the core of the second of the game, the tension steadily ratcheting up as she leads the invasion force against the Protoss homeworld of Aiur. The missions here are massive, the grand finale pitting a combined Protoss and Terran armada against the Zerg Overmind itself. It's classic sci-fi in the mold of Warhammer 40K and Starship Troopers, a sweeping tale that nevertheless manages to feel more grounded than WarCraft. WarCraft III would end up borrowing more than a little from StarCraft, including the arc of Arthas, who bears more than a little resemblance to Kerrigan.

Kerrigan was amazing until StarCraft II ruined her.

In the meantime, Brood War—the expansion that followed a little less than a year after StarCraft—upped the ante considerably with its mission design. It made liberal use of map triggers, in-game conditions that would trigger specific events, as well as even more complex victory conditions. In just the first stage, you battle through the desolation of Aiur, Zerg Scourge flying above as a fight rages all around you. It's immediately grander in scale than anything in Vanilla StarCraft, foreshadowing the still more ambitious WarCraft III campaign to follow.

StarCraft and its expansion both did their share to advance the single-player RTS formula, ultimately winning over a legion of fans who cared as much about the fate of Kerrigan as the proper order for a Zergling rush. They still hold up, too. With its 2D graphics, StarCraft is one of those timeless games that still looks really good now, which is likely one reason Blizzard isn't going out of their way to upgrade the visuals for the upcoming HD version.

The campaign manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of the multiplayer game. You don't have to have lightning fast APM, and you don't have to put up with trollish opponents. Some of the later missions in Brood War will tax your micromanagement skills, but in true Blizzard tradition, the classic campaign is accessible to all skill levels. I was able to beat it pretty easily even when I was 15 and utterly terrible at real-time strategy game.

The world has moved on over the years, and StarCraft in particular has seen its star fade in the wake of the protracted sequel, but the campaign is still worth another look. After all, it's free.

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Comments 12

  • Avatar for Lord-Bob-Bree #1 Lord-Bob-Bree 2 months ago
    The question is, do I replay the story without cheats this time?
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #2 brionfoulke91 2 months ago
    I've gotta confess, although I played through the Starcraft storyline, I was never too impressed by it. The whole Kerrigan thing was a standout, but everything else just kinda blended together in my mind. Still, I did play through the whole campaign just because it was something to do, but for me the real Starcraft was always the multiplayer.
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  • Avatar for peak_performance #3 peak_performance 2 months ago
    I've replayed parts of the original over the years and I agree, it still holds up really well. The story is cheesy sci-fi but told efficiently and with interesting characters. I think they hit the perfect spot with 10 missions per race in vanilla, it's just enough to introduce all the plot points, characters and units without showing too much.

    Admittedly there's just been a few too many paper cuts playing the games on a modern system. Part of the reason I'm excited for the remaster is that I hopefully won't have to change my monitor display mode to 4:3, have to rearrange my desktop windows after exiting, or forget about alt-tabbing between missions. I've grown lazy!
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  • Avatar for Thetick #4 Thetick 2 months ago
    I was really impressed back then how the story went on as the next campaign started where the last one finished. And the way they mixed it up a little with missions on foot and that you didn't have to start from scratch every level. And that terran soundtrack! Can't wait for the remaster.
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  • Avatar for One_Vurfed_Gwrx #5 One_Vurfed_Gwrx 2 months ago
    I played through the vanilla campaign again last year and it was still enjoyable. Finished the final mission which stalled me last time I played it back in the day. Have to play through Brood War some time this year and then move onto SCII. I never played SC multiplayer, was quite happy with the campaigns. There was 1 minor crash bug on a mission when I played where one voice file if allowed to finish crashed the game but hopefully that was fixed in the new patch.
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #6 Mooglepies 2 months ago
    I played the SC2 custom maps that essentially remake the original game in the sequel's engine, so I think I'll pass. I really enjoyed the story and the minute-to-minute gameplay though, it's great.

    Only being able to control 12 (I think?) units at the same time is just busy work in a campaign, to my mind.
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  • Avatar for admiralsnackbar #7 admiralsnackbar 2 months ago
    StarCraft 2 had none of the heart but all of the scale. Nothing mattered, everything was a soap opera and suddenly that dirty, grimy HICKS...IN...SPAAAACE setting gave way to clean corridors, metal cities and nice clothes.

    No thanks. Give me Lester and Sarge.
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  • Avatar for mattb0527 #8 mattb0527 2 months ago
    I play through WarCraft II, StarCraft and WarCraft III about once a year because the campaign of each game is so good. Yes WarCraft II is the weakest but I get through it with a heavy dose of nostalgia as it was one of the first PC games I really went head over heels for (believe it or not I did not become fascinated with Mavis Beacon typing) spending hours poring over every mission, every level, making my own custom maps and playing via dial-up with my cousin.

    StarCraft is a genuinely enjoyable story even to this day. The characters are well crafted and the world is very well fleshed out.

    WarCraft III still holds up too. Turning Thrall from wandering chieftan to Leader of the Horde is so fun, the tragic arc of Arthas is still very powerful (I cringe every time I watch him stab his father) and the Night Elves...well...they're just fun to play as.
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  • Avatar for Dorchadas #9 Dorchadas 2 months ago
    The sequential campaigns to tell a single story blew my mind at the time, though I made the mistake of starting the Protoss first because I loved space elves and getting massively spoiled immediately.

    Once I figured out what I was supposed to do, though, the game was a ton of fun.
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  • Avatar for qwilman #10 qwilman 2 months ago
    Those old CG cutscenes are amazing to watch now. Half the rough and tumble space marines look like the Pixar baby in power armor.
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  • Avatar for guillermojiménez88 #11 guillermojiménez88 2 months ago
    @Lord-Bob-Bree The answer, at least for me, is "yes".
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  • Avatar for PhyllisGray #12 PhyllisGray 2 months ago
    How amazing would it be to be able to work for a living playing video games. I would love to be able to livesteam my artwork on Twitch.tv, but that requires having a good computer. The older generations don't know much about this area. People are making huge sums of money playing games like World of Warcraft and League of Legends. Playing video games is a way to connect to people from across a the planet. It's a frowned upon business, but to some people the struggle of getting higher in the Twitch community is worth it. Work related to essaywritings is also highly paid though.
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