It didn't get much bigger than StarCraft 2's reveal in 2007. In front of a cheering stadium full of fans in South Korea, a marine chomping on a cigar stepped out and growled, "Hell, it's about time," followed by the now-familiar logo. Coming toward the tail end of the original game's popularity, it seemed to secure the franchise's future for a long time to come.
Today, with StarCraft 2 celebrating its 10th anniversary and no sequel in sight, Blizzard doesn't quite seem to know what to do with its sci-fi strategy series. StarCraft 2 keeps chugging along, supported by a passionate but dwindling community and a steady stream of content patches (including a big one that was released just today), but many of its principal developers have long since departed. Designer Dustin Browder is gone, as is writer Chris Metzen. There was reportedly an attempt to reboot StarCraft 2 as a shooter akin to Battlefield, but the project is rumored to have been canceled before seeing the light of day.
That leaves StarCraft at something of an impasse. The conventional wisdom is that real-time strategy is dead, and thus the series has no future. But is that truly the case?
If this year has taught us anything, it's that it's a mistake to underestimate the groundswell of passion that can follow the revival of a niche series. A month ago, EA revealed Star Wars: Squadrons to considerable acclaim, creating a rare wave of goodwill for the oft-criticized publisher. Just today, a spiritual successor to Suikoden managed to get fully funded on Kickstarter in the space of about two hours.
Like those games, StarCraft is a legacy franchise, though it's sometimes easy to forget with StarCraft 2 still being actively supported. The series has been around for better than 20 years at this point, and at one point was basically South Korea's de facto national sport. It continues to be the standard-bearer for the genre, and while its fanbase is largely dormant, it still stirs a certain amount of passion within the hearts of strategy fans. I've discovered this for myself in 2020. Picking up StarCraft 2 again on a whim, I've found myself developing a renewed love for the series as I've steadily fallen into its little universe of Bronze to GM ladder how-tos, Twitch streams, and tournaments.
The traditional narrative holds that MOBAs replaced real-time strategy (RTS) because they're more accessible—League of Legends is free-to-play—and because it's more exciting to watch multiple players work together on a team. There's obviously a large degree of truth there, but it tends to discount the strengths that drove the RTS genre for two decades. In particular, StarCraft 2 provides a degree of spectacle that is absent in MOBAs, with swarms of units parrying throughout the map, Zerglings swarming mineral lines, and fleets of Carriers engaging with hordes of Corrupters. It's both intuitive to watch and looks cool, with high-level tournaments being especially thrilling.
Despite being 10 years old, StarCraft 2 also still looks pretty good on PC. Benefiting from Blizzard's distinct art style, it manages to incorporate a huge number of interesting details without requiring too much processing power. Really, if Blizzard hadn't botched StarCraft 2 early and ceded ground to League of Legends, there's a decent chance that it would still be relevant today. Even now, its pro scene still offers decent cash prizes at events like Dreamhack, with regular GSL tournaments rounding out its schedule.
Within the StarCraft 2 community, there's a degree of cynicism and hopelessness about the franchise's prospects, but also a longing for the return of its glory days. I've heard more than one streamer say that if Blizzard were willing to build any new RTS—either Warcraft 4 or StarCraft 3—the community would be there. The hunger is real.
I do believe that RTS can survive and thrive in 2020, but Blizzard has to be the publisher to carry the banner. It alone has the marketing power, the esports connections, and the historical legacy to bring the genre back into the limelight. More than that, it should, if only because its history is so firmly embedded in real-time strategy. StarCraft was a long step toward making Blizzard the powerhouse that it is today; to fully abandon that history would be tragic.
Sadly, it's hard to imagine a StarCraft 3 ever happening. As a genre, it's a poor fit for console, and existing franchises like Overwatch have a higher degree of crossover appeal. If Blizzard ever does return to real-time strategy, it will almost certainly favor a Warcraft 4 over a StarCraft 3, if only because of World of Warcraft's enormous fanbase.
That knowledge has tinged my enjoyment of StarCraft 2 with sadness. It's been a little like rediscovering an old friend, only to learn that they have a terminal illness. I think the worst thing is realizing that it doesn't have to be this way. StarCraft is big enough to support its own audience; it doesn't need to be an Overwatch-sized megahit to have a future. Apparently, though, Blizzard disagrees, and so the series that helped define real-time strategy seems destined to slowly decline and eventually pass.
What a shame. StarCraft deserves better.
Major Game Releases: July 27 to July 31
Here are the major releases for the week of June 27 to July 31. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Destroy All Humans! [July 28 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia]: Destroy All Humans! returns this week after a decade-long absence, courtesy of a new remaster by THQ Nordic. Weirdly, I owned this game back in the day, and I'm pretty sure I even liked it. These days though, it seems pretty dated. Does anyone really have any nostalgia for Destroy All Humans? I guess we'll find out.
- Grounded [July 28 for PC, Xbox One]: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was a very good movie in its day. I still shudder thinking about that giant stop-motion scorpion. Grounded seems to be Obsidian's attempt to ride the coattails of some of that nostalgia, all while creating a light but enjoyable survival sandbox. It's likely to garner headlines as it heads into Early Access, but that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve them.
- Othercide [July 28 for PC, Xbox One, PS4]: In a year with several high-quality tactics games, Othercide stands out as being among the weirdest. In this stylish monochrome game by LBC Games, you recruit a series of women from a birthing pool and throw them against hideously malformed plague doctors, who resemble the baddies from Dark Crystal. Trust me when I say that it's better than it sounds. I'll have some extended thoughts on it tomorrow.
- Skater XL [July 28 for PS4, Xbox One, PC]: Like tactics games, skateboarding has been enjoying a mini-renaissance in 2020. What do the two have in common? I suppose they're two very deep genres with passionate fanbases that endured extended downturns, at times being considered too dated or inaccessible. Hey wait, this sounds familiar. Blizzard, are you paying attention?
- Fight Crab [July 30 for PC]: It's like Gang Beasts, but it stars crabs wielding swords. Nuff said. Like Maneater earlier this year, it seems destined to go down as this summer's meme game.
- Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxiboost On [July 30 for PS4]: Yeah, yeah, I know, it's a Gundam licensed game. But bear with me: this one is actually pretty good. A 2v2 fighting game that plays like a cross between Virtual On and Zone of the Enders, the series has dominated Japanese arcades for more than a decade. The last entry to make the trip to America, the console-focused Gundam Versus, didn't go over extremely well with the fans. This one is the real deal. If you like Gundam, you should play it.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
- We're heading into a bit of a dead period. With Ghost of Tsushima and Paper Mario: The Origami King both now available, it'll be a while before we see anymore major releases (well, outside of Madden... hey, where are you going?) Now is a great time to catch up on your backlog. Or you know, start building a cockpit in your garage in preparation for Microsoft Flight Simulator.
- Joe Rogan recently had some harsh words for video games. "Video games are a real problem," the podcaster said in a recent episode. "They're a real problem. You know why? Because they're f***ing fun. They’re [addictive], I have a real problem with them. You do them, and they're real exciting, but you don't get anywhere." Rogan's comments went over about as well as you'd expect on social media. Rogan, it should be mentioned, helped provide commentary for UFC 1 and 2, a job that he apparently hated.
- Nintendo's "Gigaleak" just keeps going. The leak, which has seen the release of everything from Ocarina of Time's source code to prototypes from Yoshi's Island, has been the subject of much discussion within the retro community. You can read our full breakdown right here.
- Eiyuden Chronicle Funded Almost Immediately. Last week, Suikoden's original creators announced that they were creating a spiritual successor to much fanfare. The Kickstarter for the new project, titled Eiyuden Chronicle, was funded almost immediately and now sits at close to a million dollars. Seriously, the thirst for a new Suikoden game is strong. The only company that doesn't seem to realize this is Konami.
- Panzer Paladin is worth your attention. Okay, this is just a bit of editorializing on my part, but Panzer Paladin really is very good. I think Nadia's review is pretty much on point, but that hasn't stopped me from thoroughly enjoying this retro tribute, in which a blue-haired hero pilots a giant robot in battles across the world. I feel like this game is flying well below the radar and that makes me sad. Panzer Paladin deserves more love for its outstanding graphics alone.
Axe of the Blood God for July 20, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
It's a super busy week for RPG news as Kat and Nadia talk about all the Shin Megami Tensei announcements while breaking down the big Fable and Avowed reveals from the Xbox showcase. This is all on top of word that the Suikoden creators are getting together to create a spiritual successor, which Kat and Nadia react to in real-time. Listen as we discuss all the RPGs you'll be playing in 2021 and beyond!