It's hard to believe that StarCraft II is finally finished. In one way or another, I've been waiting for this moment for more than 15 years; and now that it's here, I'm not sure how I feel. Gaming has changed so unbelievably in even just the past five years that Legacy of the Void in some ways feels like an anachronism, as if it has sprung straight out of 1999.
And yet, this is not the StarCraft of years past. It brings with it a number of interesting structural changes, some of which are designed to widen its appeal beyond its hardcore base, and some of which are meant to streamline it and heighten its appeal as an eSport. It's risky of Blizzard to mess with the formula that helped make the original StarCraft the best real-time strategy game ever made, but with the series having slowly slid of relevance since 2010, there's no denying that some tinkering is warranted. And for the most part, the changes seem to work.
The most obvious change is in the pacing. The traditional six workers has been upped to 12, and command center structures have had their supply increased as well. The net effect of these changes is that builds come out much more quickly, lessening the room for error. Additionally, resource patches seem to run out much more quickly, necessitating multiple expansions to stay ahead of the resource curve.
I'll admit, the new structure has really thrown me for a loop. It requires a change to a mindset that has become ingrained in 15 years of experience. It's not just the need to get used to a new set of opening movies, it's the need to adjust to a much more unforgiving pace. I'm not quite there yet.
Elsewhere, the StarCraft II metagame has reached its final form, give or take a few tweeks here or there. To tell you the truth, it's too early to say whether it's in a good place - everyone seems to be kind of figuring things out right now - but Blizzard seems to have gotten all three races back to a place where they are well-rounded and have distinct identities. As with Heart of the Swarm, the last expansion, Blizzard has once again shaken up the unit mix by giving every race two new units - a tank and an aerial unit for the Terrans, a stealth unit and a siege unit for the Zerg, and an aerial unit and a commando-style infantry unit for the Protoss.
Being primarily a Protoss player, I've yet to find a good use for the Adept, the commando unit capable of using a shadow to teleport into an enemy base, but the Disruptor aerial unit and its area of effect attack is quite common. Zerg players seem to be pretty happy to have the Lurker back, a stalwart from the days of Brood War who got lost in the transition to StarCraft. As for the Terrans, they're doing what they always do, which is roll around in an infrantry-heavy ball of death with Vikings serving as aerial support.
All in all, StarCraft remains much as it always has - a highly competitive game that is in some ways the video game equivalent of speed chess. Much has been of its decline amid the rise of MOBAs, not the least because real-time strategy is a style of game that requires a great deal of commitment and practice to learn, but it remains enticing in its own way. It takes a bit to learn the ins and outs of the strategy, but once you do, there's little better than breaking through an opposing army and walking straight into their headquarters with heat ray-firing deathbots.
Our Powers Combined
While the new units will probably get most of the press, they may not be the most important addition to StarCraft II. That honor, in my opinion, goes to the new cooperative missions.
Co-op has never been a strong suit for StarCraft. While other games have put more emphasis on teamwork, StarCraft has mostly limited itself to 2v2 battles and so-called "comp stomp" battles against the computer. To this point, the best bet for a player looking for a more cooperative flavor has been the Arcade - the section reserved for heavily customized maps (as it happens, MOBAs got their start in just such an environment).
Legacy of the Void changes that with several distinct co-op missions with distinct objectives. Playing with either a random player or a friend, you select from one of six available heroes, all of whom have their own distinct abilities and units. Raynor can build units from the Terran army and call down the Hyperion, while Kerrigan can enter the battlefield herself to crush opponents. Objectives range from working together to stop enemy trains from traversing the map to destroying void rifts to stop Hybrids from attacking and overwhelming your forces. Each mission has its own achievements, and heroes level up over time and gain new abilities.
We'll see how well the co-op missions go over with more casual players, but StarCraft has been needing a mode like this for a long time now. It serves to vary up the gameplay and gives purpose to the online play beyond walking into the buzzsaw of competitive play or messing around with custom maps. If any mode gives Legacy of the Void legs beyond the campaign, it's the new co-op mode.
I'm admittedly a little more skeptical of Archon Mode, which still strikes me as a gimmick. Interesting as it is to team up with a friend to manage one base, effectively halving management duties, the level of coordinating required is intense. Still, more options are always better, even I don't see myself using the mode myself.
As always, multiplayer remains the lifeblood of StarCraft; but with competitive multiplayer having become so insular, it's nice to know that more casual fans have options outside of the campaign. As for the campaign itself, I'm going to have some more thoughts on that next week when I wrap up this review-in-progress and offer some thoughts on StarCraft II as a whole. En Taro Tassadar.