Released in 2010, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is the sequel to the original StarCraft. That game (and its spinoff Brood War) helped to usher an entire generation into real-time strategy games.
Of course, that generation has grown up to create their own RTS innovations. And now, lovers of this genre have a ton of options to choose from.
Now that StarCraft II is nearly a decade old, is it still worth playing? Or should players seek their point-and-click glory out on a newer game?
StarCraft II is a pretty direct continuation of the original game’s storyline. Depending on the player, this can be a good or a bad thing.
For longtime fans, it’s wonderful to follow characters like Jim Raynor once again. And the storyline surrounding Kerrigan, now a kind of Zerg Queen, is downright compelling.
Players who skipped the first game, though, might find themselves a bit lost at first. All of the dense StarCraft mythology is tough to process at first blush. Fortunately, it’s worth it for players who stick it out.
The original StarCraft was notable for its three-part story. There were essentially three different campaigns, each focusing on a different faction: humans, Protoss, and Zerg.
In this sequel, those races all still factor into the narrative, and you can play as all three during multiplayer. The campaign, though, focuses entirely on the human faction, allowing players to buy other games to experience other campaigns.
Initially, it’s easy to feel a bit letdown by this. When you must buy entirely separate games to enjoy campaigns for other races, you might find yourself longing for the days of getting everything for one price.
On the bright side, though, the campaign in StarCraft II is long and rewarding. While it may not be as diverse as its predecessor, the storyline is totally worth the price of admission.
The Achilles heel of most RTS games is that they are not character-driven. And when games focus too much on hordes of nameless characters, it can be difficult for players to feel like they should root for one side or another.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty gives a human face to your mission in the form of Jim Raynor. We see the whole weird world through his eyes, and his commentary on that world alternates between being insightful and humorous.
Raynor also has a character arc that feels genuinely rewarding. You get to spearhead his transition from drunk washout to passionate rebel to big damn hero. And his personal triumphs help to sweeten your triumphs on the battlefield.
The conceit of StarCraft II is that you are a military commander. And the game drives this point home by having you make a series of decisions that have serious impact on both gameplay and the narrative.
On the most basic level, you have options on the battlefield. As with the original game, you must choose which upgrades to start and which units to use as the focus of your army.
As the game goes on, you’ll have chances to upgrade certain units. These upgrades are always a choice (you get Zerg-inspired upgrades and Protoss ones), so you must choose wisely.
You can also purchase upgrades and hire mercenaries that are designed to give you an edge on the battlefield. The result is a game that is very dynamic and makes you feel like every choice matters.
The original StarCraft had some amazing missions. Here’s something many people have a hard time admitting, though: many of those missions were pretty repetitive.
With some entertaining exceptions, most missions boiled down to “build up a massive force and go stomp the enemy.” While this is rewarding in its own way, it gets old after a while.
Fortunately, StarCraft II changes this. Despite the length of the campaign, the missions continue to feel fresh and creative. Instead of feeling fatigue from repetitive gameplay, you will likely find yourself looking forward to discovering what the game will throw at you next.
I’ve focused a lot so far on the single-player campaign. However, for many players, single-player is merely one small element of what StarCraft II has to offer. The real gold is the multiplayer!
Back in the day, the first StarCraft used the Battle.net system to make it easy to connect with and play against players from all over the world. StarCraft II uses a more modernized Battle.net, and it’s easier than ever to log in and find a game.
There are many tutorials (such as Challenge Missions) available to help ease new players into this brave new world, so you don’t have to worry about getting completely stomped by a stranger as soon as you start playing. Additionally, the game has a kind of ladder system that works as a form of matchmaking: basically, the game does its best to make sure you are always playing against someone of your own skill level.
Games can get fairly large as well. There are plenty of traditional 1v1 games, but you can also find massive 4v4 games that are likely to keep you playing well into the evening!
As user-friendly as it is, though, online play does have a learning curve. If you just want to play a casual game from time to time, you’ll be fine. But for anyone who wants to seriously compete, you will need to spend a lot of time studying the game’s meta and watching ace players do their thing on Twitch.
Ultimately, StarCraft II is a game well-worth playing. For lovers of the original or fans of a good sci-fi story, the campaign alone is worth it. Since 2017, the game has been available free to play. And for someone looking for a great RTS challenge and online community, it doesn’t get much better than this!