So let's talk about Legacy of the Void's campaign, which wraps up a story set in motion by Wings of Liberty back in 2010. Is this a story that warrants three full campaigns and five years of development? No, not really. But strictly from a design standpoint, it's still by far the best real-time strategy campaign ever - a gift for fans who have stuck with Blizzard since the days of the original WarCraft.
After focusing on the Terrans and Zerg in the first two chapter, Legacy of the Void shifts the spotlight from the the Protoss, who continue in their function as the StarCraft universe's elves. Being a Protoss player myself, I'm partial to their surplus of laser beams and giant mechs; though, as in the first two entries, playing as the same race can get a tad old at times. That sense of repetition is exacerbated a bit by the fact that the Protoss are by nature a tad staid, with most of their dialogue being the sort of earnest-sounding speech you'd expect to find in high fantasy. The most interesting character is Alarak - a Protoss who has essentially embraced the Dark Side of the Force. His snide observations go a long way toward breaking up the otherwise overwrought dialogue.
As in the first two entries, missions are chosen from a hub that allows you to interact with your various helpers, as well as customize your units and abilities. Each unit has three different variations that become available as the story progresses, and they can be chosen from at will, so you don't have to worry about getting locked into any one strategy. Old favorites like the Reavers and the Arbiter join Carriers, Motherships, and cloaked Dark Templar, the only real omission being the Scout. It takes a bit to build up unit variants, but the three variants makes for a satisfying array of options.
Complementing the units are the special abilities of the Spear of Adun - the Protoss flagship. Completing bonus objectives will earn you solarite, which can in turn be invested into options like calling down a orbital strikes, automatically harvesting gas, or even freezing enemy units and buildings for a few seconds. These abilities are immensely useful, and if I'm being honest, a little overpowered. The ability to stop time alone makes assaulting even the most heavily fortified locations relatively easy. As a result, I never failed a mission on Normal difficulty. Having said that, though, the Spear of Adun's abilities go a long way toward streamlining the drudgery of resource gathering, and like the unit customization, there are interesting choicees to be made when it comes to investing your solarite.
The missions themselves are customarily great. We've come a long way from the days of WarCraft II, where every mission would boil down to killing every unit on the map before running out of money. One mission has you supporting Alarak as he battles a rival in a Dragon Ball Z-like war of psionic abilities, your units contributing the energy needed for him to push his opponent back until he finally tumbles into a pit. Another has you physically moving your base on a sliding platform in pursuit of resources. In general, the mission design in StarCraft II has been very strong, and Legacy of the Void is no different, only occasionally lapsing back to traditional RTS design tropes like "hold out until help arrives."
Tellingly, the best missions are the ones where you take control of a hero in a manner similar to that of WarCraft III. My favorite moment in the entire campaign had Artanis and an ally teaming together in a manner that reminded me of a shounen anime as they tossed lightning bolts and exploding minions at Zerg coming from all directions. It's hard not to view it through the prism of the MOBA genre, which has all but replaced real-time strategy in the hearts and minds of PC gamers, with StarCraft II being one of the few holdouts.
It's funny, because there was a time when real-time strategy was the forward-thinking genre that rankled traditionalists. Now, some 20 years after the debut of Command & Conquer, StarCraft II is itself raging against the dying of the light. Legacy of the Void's campaign in many ways feels like a throwback - the logical endpoint for a tradition of RTS campaign design that extends back to Dune II. It's nostalgic in a way, which is not something I ever expected I would say about StarCraft II when it debuted five years ago.
If Legacy of the Void shows anything, it's that the march of progress is relentless.
Is StarCraft II's campaign a success?
So with StarCraft II's campaign now complete, let's talk a little bit about the series as a whole. It was about six years ago that Blizzard caused a furor by announcing that StarCraft II's campaign would be split into three parts - a crazily ambitious approach to video game storytelling that has yet to be replicated outside of perhaps Xenoblade Chronicles (which incidentally never realized its ambitions). It's the sort of approach that only a developer like Blizzard could take, because they are one of the few developers who can count on their fans to stick around for years at a time.
Unfortunately, the story that Blizzard opted to tell was not really one that could really bear up over the course of three full campaigns. There's a lot going on in Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm, and Legacy of the Void - Kerrigan's quest for revenge against Arcturus Mengsk and the real story behind the creation of the Zerg and Protoss among them - but the overarching story is surprisingly conservative. As a villain, Amon is one-dimensional - something to fight and not much more. His true purpose, which is finally illuminated in Legacy of the Void, seems almost beside the point.
Really, Blizzard's biggest mistake was trying to redeem Kerrigan from her role as "Queen Bitch of the Universe." She was the perfect villain - a woman discarded and abused by powerful men who gains the power to strike back. Her evil is tragic, and even when she's destroying whole civilizations, it's hard not to root for her. Her rise to the top of the heap in Brood War made for a great sequel hook. I spent years wondering how everyone would end Kerrigan's roaring rampage of revenge.
Instead, Blizzard copped out and pulled a Darth Vader with Kerrigan, allowing her to make a heel-face turn at the expense of more interesting storytelling possibilities. Look, at the end of the day the story is just an excuse for space battles; and in all honesty, it started going off the rails back in Brood War with all the double-crosses and unlikely alliances. But as a fan of the original, StarCraft II feels like a missed opportunity.
Disappointed as I might be, though, I still think it's worth playing. Taken as a whole, it's a huge game, encompassing 80 or more missions and a variety of unique mechanics. A single campaign by itself will keep you busy for quite a while, and it's all packaged in Blizzard's customarily great presentation. Unfortunately, it also suffers from some serious trilogy creep in trying to stretch a story that could have been wrapped up in one game across three nearly-full sized campaigns.
It's been an inordinately long wait, and now that it's finally over, I find myself questioning whether it was all worth it. But at $60 for the complete collection, there's no denying that there's a ton of game here. I'm just glad that it can finally be played to conclusion.
StarCraft's interface has come a long way, making it easy to manage large groups of units and produce them quickly. It is aided by Blizzard's large, attractive art.
StarCraft II's multiplayer rabbit hole runs deep, and there are now co-op missions as well. With additional content set to arrive next year, StarCraft II should last you for quite a while.
Though not as memorable as some of Blizzard's earlier soundtracks, StarCraft II's music mostly hits all the right notes. The sound effects and voice-acting are both very good.
StarCraft II's engine has help up rather well over the past few years, aided in large by Blizzard's excellent art. As a bonus, it should run well on most modern computers.
Legacy of the Void has been a long time coming - so long that in some ways it feels like a bit of a throwback. But Blizzard has packed plenty of value into their final expansion, piling co-op missions on top of their solo campaign while tinkering with the multiplayer's pacing and mechanics. The story is ultimately disappointing, but on a mission-to-mission basis, StarCraft II represents the apex of old-school real-time strategy design. Mostly, I'm relieved that it's finished. As Tychus once said, "Hell, it's about time."