Wot I Think – StarCraft II: Legacy Of The Void Singleplayer

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void [official site] is the second expansion for StarCraft II, this time focused on mystical, mouthless, paladin-like alien race the Protoss. I’m not much of a one for StarCraft II multiplayer, but I wanted to see the singleplayer tale through to its conclusion and, heck, I do miss traditional real-time-strategy, so I took a belated look at the campaign mode.

When your entire cast consists of people who don’t have mouths or pupils, you need to do your damnedest to ensure their words carry the emotion their faces cannot. Legacy of the Void does not do that. In fact, it does the exact opposite of that.

The StarCraft II series before Legacy of the Void wouldn’t win any storytelling awards in a sane universe, but at least it tried to give its main cast personalities. Those personalities are hilariously broad – hard-bitten space cowboy with a heart of gold, vengeful death-queen, snooty evil emperor – but at least you knew who they were, and what they cared about.

This third and ostensibly final part of the StarCraft II series has already been wrong-footed by its two predecessors wrapping up the bulk of the storyline, making it all the more bewildering that it doesn’t even try to imbue its cast of mouthless Protoss techno-aliens (whose goal is overcome some evil deity who’s trying to crossbreed them with Zerg and then destroy the universe or something) with any semblance of a personality.

Every one of them speaks robotically faux-biblical lines like “and in that treasonous instant, Adun ushered the heretics and himself unto fate”, like a whole cast of entirely humourless Thors. None have anyone they care about, or mourn for, or hope for. Great, OK, they want to save their race from a returned dark god who wants to do that thing that returned dark gods always want to do, but they don’t have any personal stakes. Or, for that matter, characteristics beyond “very serious”.

This is a tale without anyone or anything to anchor to unless you’re really, really into cement-faced aliens who sound like they’ve never smiled in their lives and are for some reason trying out for a part at the Renaissance fair. Even the overblown pulp and soap operatic pomp of the last two instalments is lost in favour of a relentless tidal wave of bone-dry exposition and techno-babble.

Nobody in the Protoss cast makes an individual impression. I’m not even sure I can tell you anyone’s names: they are all the same person with a different skin. Even the one who’s a robot. It was a genuine relief when StarCraft old hands Kerrigan and Raynor made their appearances, no matter how contrived or redundant after the events of earlier chapters, because at least they and their doomed, chaste courtship represent something human, something beyond technobabble incarnate.

Rest assured it reaches a definite conclusion, but the vast bulk of it is so cloyingly dour, so entirely devoid of wit, warmth or humanity. It’s the kind of videogame storytelling that would cause someone who doesn’t play videogames to decide, should they walk in on me playing it, that this really is the lowest common denominator of art forms. It’s not simply tedious: it’s openly humiliating that one of the biggest game-makers in the world believe that all we want is this. I’d be highly tempted to say that this was Blizzard on cruise control, including a token singleplayer effort for a package only really intended for its multiplayer mode. And yet they have, as always, clearly spent an absolute shit-ton of money on cinematics and setpiece levels. This is them being as big as they can be.

Nothing in it is an accident; nothing is the result of laziness or inability. Quite the opposite. This is laser-targeted, mathematically-calculated offal, meeting the believed needs of an audience obsessed with lore above all else. It’s a formula that has worked many times for Blizzard before, but Legacy of the Void is that formula at its most depressing, its most inhuman. Everything but made-up words and hollow bombast has been scoured away. In the grim darkness of twenty-first century blockbuster videogaming, there is only lore.

And breathe. Breathe. Done with story now. Time to talk about the real-time strategy missions that are squeezed inside the inanity. And they’re pretty good stuff, if by now fairly familiar. Legacy of the Void works hard to make each level distinct from the last, and indeed to make each an escalation upon the last one. Blizzard have very much mastered the indefinite crescendo, each challenge feeling even more impossibly climactic than the last.

We’re a long, long way from the routine military ops of the original StarCraft and deep into some ongoing intergalactic apocalypse, so there’s almost always some race against time element, and some giant doohickey that needs to be defended or destroyed. It’s very good at sending absurd waves of enemies at you, convincing you that the situation is unwinnable, in order that you then feel like the champion of champions when you do, in fact, win.

It’s admirably unafraid to be difficult, though. This far into the series, it accepts that even the most casual SC2 player knows how all this stuff works. Despite a few early attempts to teach higher-level tactics, it quickly gives up on that and ramps up the challenge. I’m happy with that. I’m unlikely to go anywhere near multiplayer StarCraft again – primarily because it’s a lifestyle rather than something you dip occasional toes into – but that doesn’t mean I want to be shown the ropes every time I dabble in campaigns which, with the best will in the world, are fundamentally only doing what RTS campaigns have been doing for three decades.

Give me a stiff challenge with lots of moving parts and let me hack away at it in my own time, at my own pace: Legacy of the Void does that. Almost every level has the structure, pacing and intensity of the final mission in any other RTS. I might hate the trappings around it, but I do admire that. It kept me busy, and maintains that element of army-building choice that the last two instalments offered. I’m picking unit variations and global powers that suit my style rather than just being granted access to set functions as the campaign dictates. The Protoss as a whole have some neatly counter-intuitive tricks which force me to think about strategy, not simply resort to build’n’bash. I might not care for their characters, but on a tactically level, they’re hugely interesting.

At the same time, mission-to-mission, it does tend to feel very similar, because no matter how many setpiece enemy swarms or mega-monsters it throws at us it’s still bound by StarCraft II’s core multiplayer rules. It doesn’t help that the blue colour scheme of the Protoss has such a homogenising effect either. The gigantic, apocalyptic spectacle of each mission sits somewhat at odds with the routine busy-work of building workers and queuing upgrades, especially when the cutscenes invariably show that the guys you’re playing as have the ability to mass-transport gazillions of troops wherever they please. Er. Why not just beam everyone down to deal with the thingy in the temple of wotsit rather than have me laboriously build an army then? But, for the sake of sanity, it is best to separate cutscene logic from mission logic.

The campaign is not particularly long, but its intensity is such that it would be hard to argue you were short-changed. It makes the stage as wide as it can, so a mission is something that leaves you satisfyingly fatigued rather than just a step to sprint up en route to the next. While clearly techno-magician aliens the Protoss are centre stage, the Terrans and Zerg (and their main characters) get a few new moments in the sun too, plus missions hop between massed armies and all-conquering hero affairs. Every trick in trad. RTS’ box is deployed, and with more gloss and varnish than anyone else could possibly muster.

It doesn’t have the cleanness or the slow-burn escalation of your old-school C&Cs or the first Warcrafts and StarCraft, so certainly don’t approach it as a return to the old ways, but if you want a giant sci-fi army bashing buildings and monsters to death while a crazy lightshow rages, Legacy of the Void is hard to argue with on that basis.

What I personally would like to see from any future StarCraft or Warcraft, if they are to have a singleplayer future, is to now dial it back a bit. When the stakes are sky-high from the get-go, and when every character can survive any cataclysm until arbitrary plotting decides otherwise, there’s no drama to be had, little sense of achievement to be found. Of course, this is intended to be the third and probably final act of a larger game, but even so, it’s kicking off from a cold start, several years after the last one. Give me a reason to care before you make everything explode.

111 Comments

  1. padger says:

    I like the idea that anyone gives a hoot about the story.

    • Doogie2K says:

      Seriously. I gave up on following Blizzard lore sometime during the glory days of WoW. StarCraft is thick with cliche, while Diablo III was outright Saturday-morning cartoonish in its bombast and questionable acting choices (Jennifer Hale notwithstanding).

      Blizzard knows how to make a damned video game, even if they make a few missteps into misguided features here and there, but good Lord, they need to hire some people who can fucking write one of these days. We’re close to 2016, but I swear Blizz’s story people are still stuck in 1996.

      • Sinjun says:

        They’ve never been good with writing, but they were still better in the 90’s. Starcraft, Diablo, and Diablo 2 were legitimately dark at times and had a strong grasp of atmosphere. Dialogue actually sounded semi-natural and the plots were more interesting. Take Diablo 2 for example – the cinematic storyline framing the gameplay is about an old man following around some sickly pale man who eventually becomes Diablo in a moment of genuine body horror. The old man has to go to an insane asylum because of what he saw, and then is burned alive by Diablo’s brother. During all of this, there aren’t any grand speeches of any kind or talking down to the player. It’s practically the polar opposite to the awful stupidity of Diablo 3. I don’t even know who they made that game’s story for. It’s so dumb that it would be insulting to children, but they’re not old enough to play it.

        • ludde says:

          Exactly this.

        • Amake says:

          Of course in the nineties they still had the founders of the company making games that they wanted to make. Not only did those visionaries leave, but for some unfathomable reason Blizzard then put Chris Metzen – a fine concept artist, but not someone with an interest in writing or storytelling – in the lead story designer chair and apparently still can’t grasp the idea of hiring any actual writers.

          • Mokinokaro says:

            Actually, Metzen did the majority of writing on the original Starcraft. It’s just that Warcraft 3 was where his cliches became really apparent.

            The better their presentation has become, the more indulgent he’s become.

          • Amake says:

            Anyone can get lucky once, they say. Even M Night Shyamalan did it twice. . .

          • socrate says:

            it always end up being the same dumb story that just repeat itself and diablo 3 felt like i was watching the supernatural show and expected to see the winchester brother to appear any moment and a “to be continued” or unresolved ending that leave place to a dumb milk train which the later is the only one i got…pretty much the same with now WoW and SC2.

            I really stopped my love of blizzard a long time ago and as time goes on im less and less interested in their dumb copy/paste game which now don’t even offer interesting gameplay but instead focus on dumb stuff they never did right in the first place like pvp and balance…or worst the now horrible mentality that everything needs a dumb esport link to it.

          • Velthaertirden says:

            In my opinion WCIII story is still fine. It is the best combination of story and gameplay as it is a result of cumulative work of Metzen and Pardo. But when they both moved to more of a manager positions this job went into other hands and it became rather dull and repetitive (yes, under their supervision).

      • malkav11 says:

        WoW hasn’t been immune to high-level story direction missteps, but I feel like a lot of the moment to moment storytelling is alternately cool and funny, and there’s been some genuinely great stuff in it, particularly in Wrath of the Lich King. And Starcraft, Brood War, Diablo I and especially II, and the Warcraft RTSes (III much more so than the first two) all had pretty solid to great storytelling, particularly compared to other games in their respective (sub)genres. It’s not clear to me what the heck went wrong when they came to SCII and Diablo III. Did the person who made the good stories for the previous games leave? Did they stick them with the B-team while the A-team worked on WoW?

        • Gitsi says:

          Nope, it’s the same people. They simply failed to keep growing up with their audience.

        • Mokinokaro says:

          It’s always been Metzen writing.

          I just think the presentation of the earlier games forced you to be a bit more imaginative. You could imagine better than what he intended to portray.

      • Gitsi says:

        What was amazing in the 90’s, and my how I loved those old x-craft manuals that felt thick with lore, just doesn’t cut it anymore. Their original audience grew up and expects more, sadly, blizzard never did.

        • malkav11 says:

          That’s just it, though. The Starcraft story holds up. The WCIII story holds up. The Diablo II story holds up. The presentation doesn’t really, aside from maybe WCIII, but that’s the newest of the bunch. But the story beats do. They’re maybe not as impressive in the light of more ambitious and skilled stories elsewhere in the industry, but they’re still good. SCII and Diablo III’s stories aren’t good. That’s not remaining at a level that’s been left behind. That’s a decline.

      • plebman182 says:

        I just stopped caring after Wings of Liberty. Brood War ends with Raynor basically vowing no matter what Kerrigan will die for what she done then 5 minutes into WoL, Raynor is all “Dun worry bae, I will save ya, I will love ya no matter what” so what happened between that made him just change his mind and want some zerg hybrid lovin

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Not to take away from your amusement, but the internet being what it is, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people who find Blizzard’s storytelling hugely entertaining and/or seriously think it’s right up there with the best of the medium (or any medium). As Alec says, Blizzard pour tons and tons of money into these things; they’re giving a sizeable audience exactly what it wants.

      • Sinjun says:

        I can only picture these people being teenagers who don’t read books, watch films, or play other video games. Any exposure at all to even moderately better material would make someone realize how bad Blizzard writing is and has been for the last 5-10 years, and not bad in a good way.

        • Philomelle says:

          The weakness of your response is in assuming people can only enjoy one type of storytelling entertainment ever, as well as that people have no imagination whatsoever.

          For the first part, you assume that only people who don’t know Blizzard’s writing is bad are going to enjoy their games. That makes no sense. People very frequently peruse low-brow and idiotic writing when they’re stressed out and don’t feel like thinking; it’s why the same person can enjoy smarter movies like Amelie, Pan’s Labyrinth and Blade Runner, then turn around to watch Terminator 2 on a day when they just want to relax and watch Arnold punch things.

          When I want a smarter story, I will go play Final Fantasy XIV or The Secret World or an Amy Hennig work. But if I had a stressful and angry day, you can bet I’ll be more content with just watching Tyrael punch Dominus or listening to boatloads of charming nonsense that is Covetous Shen. For the second one, James Hong’s incredible voice acting more than makes up for the mediocre script.

          For the imagination part, the bad writing and mediocre characters in Blizzard games are sparse and backed up by relatively competent world-building (admittedly less so in Warcraft, but whatever). There are plenty of quiet moments when the player is left to do their own thing and can peacefully write their own story that matches their own vision in their head.

          So really, it’s perfectly fine for Blizzard stories to be dumb. The way their games are designed allow people plenty of chances to enjoy them despite or because of their dumbassery.

          • SomeDuder says:

            Off-topic: Whenever I hear Shen talk, I can only picture the duck from Kung Fu Panda and his noodles. I need model replacement of Shen into a duck for my D3 climaxing needs.

          • Sinjun says:

            Terminator 2 doesn’t talk down to it’s audience. It’s light, silly, and dumb but it knows it is and doesn’t think the viewer is an idiot who needs it’s dumbness spelled out. Blizzard doesn’t seem to realize that their story is garbage and that the audience does not need their pedestrian themes hammered home to them with every word of dialogue. That’s the difference. I love stuff like Terminator 2, but I abhor media that doesn’t respect my intelligence even if I’m purposefully looking for something to just relax to and not think about.

          • Philomelle says:

            @SomeDuder:
            I’ve generally grown very fond of Hong’s voice ever since I’ve heard him in Kung Fu Panda and Diablo. I hope he does more things, he’s an absolute delight to listen to.

            @Sinjun:
            The second chapter of the Human campaign in World of Warcraft opens with a CSI: Miami parody. Their Heroes of the Storm trailers are exclusively humorous while maintaining the same tone as the originals. How much more realizing do you need? Do you want them to hang a sign “NOT TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY” around their necks and leak funny syrup from their eye sockets?

            If you think Tyrael punching Dominus in the face was taken seriously at any point during production, you need a replacement for your reality check gland. It seems to be broken to a degree where you’re confusing a video game analogue of a Saturday morning cartoon for a serious thing.

    • magogjack says:

      I have known people that care about the story, one was a Juggalo and the other thought Hitler was great, not even kidding.

    • Domitian says:

      Am I the only person who played SC and was incredibly frustrated with the rush-fest the game had become? I’m an old-school turtle (WC1/WC2/SC/AoE/etc) and I was quickly shown that turtling would NOT be allowed in the new Starcraft. I think i got to some mission where Lava required me to move my based every X minutes before I realized that this series sadly was no longer for me.

      Sad, because I love the first one and WC1 and 2.

      • magogjack says:

        Starcraft becoming an E-sport could be what killed turtling. It seems like the design was centered as much around how much fun a match was to watch as it was to play. Hence purposefully making the game faster.

      • Whelp says:

        I’m gonna risk sounding like an asshole, but turtling never worked in any RTS and has always been the mark of the noob. You spend (semi-limited) resources on turtling instead of spending those resources on actually winning the match, you’re doing it wrong. And every RTS since Dune II (missile tank) has a counter against turtling.

        • Whelp says:

          Since there’s still no edit button here, I’ll have to add that turtling was actually viable in C&C95 multiplayer since nothing outranged obelisks or advanced guard towers.
          That was horrible. Luckily they fixed that in Red Alert.

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            SuddenSight says:

            The thing is, “turtling” is a vague term. The core idea of turtling – building static defenses to delay your opponent until you can tech up to a better army – works in a lot of games. Those games include SC2, actually (how many games begin with a “wall off”?). THAT is what “turtling” looks like at the competitive level.

            The thing is, in SP it is actually quite fun to try and build impermeable defenses and slowly win at your own pace. But this is not fun in multiplayer, so turtling – even when it works – is always short-lived in MP games.

            Also, for examples of games with effective turtle strategies later in the game, look no further than the AoE series. Castles, walls, and towers are all great in that series because they separated seige units from normal military. In fact, building a castle in the middle of a battlefield is a standard strategy in that game.

        • Domitian says:

          Yup, the comes off a bit asshole-ish. Since we’re talking single player (and I specifically refer to missions) I figured it would be clear that I’m referring to SP. couldn’t care less about multiplayer … And turtleneck worked fine in SP.

          And if turtleing makes mea “Noob” then I’m proud to be one … And someone who would be proud to not call someone something derogatory for having a different play style.

          • Konservenknilch says:

            Gonna back you on this. I do don’t do multiplayer, not a competitive player at all. So what if I enjoy turtling as a strategy? Games are entertainment products after all. If someone on the internet calls me a noob for that, so what.

            There’s a lot of fun to be had in meticulously crafting an impenetrable fortress and then stomping the enemy with whatever you built up meanwhile.

            My favorite game for this is probably Supreme Commander. Shields, powerful turrets and very very powerful artillery are loads of fun. On the flipside, so is trying to get to that goddamn enemy artillery under ten shields or something. Then just wiping them out with an army of monkeylords.

            Stronghold is fun too (heck, it’s in the name), though it’s almost a genre on its own.

          • Konservenknilch says:

            I don’t do multiplayer, I meant. Woops.

          • Niko says:

            Yeah, same. I’m not into multiplayer, but I do like Starcraft’s singleplayer campaign, and there’s no wrong or “noob” way to play in singleplayer.

          • vlonk says:

            Lets not forget KKND2, another game where turtling is a viable strategy because of the impressive power of upgradable defenses.

            Base building is a wonderful strategic element but it somehow got out of style in the RTS genre and that is a sad development in my opinion. Someone should take that design space and do something else then another tower-defense-em-up.

            Still waiting for a nice remake of “Rampart”, a game that combines building bases, repairing it tetris style then bombarding your fellow players again.

          • hpsaucy says:

            Have to agree with you. I get a lot of enjoyment turtling in SP. There’s something cathartic about watch waves of enemies breaking themselves on my nicely constructed wall-of-death.

          • Konservenknilch says:

            Oh, KKND 2 really deserves a “Have you played?”. Just so wacky, irreverent and hugely playable. Then again, some people just don’t get along.

      • MisterFurious says:

        There’s seven billion people in the world, so I highly doubt that you are the only one.

      • Amake says:

        I think Warcraft 2 had single player mode worked out well. Against overwhelming enemy strengths, you’d usually be forced to keep an airtight defense while sapping their resources with maximum cost-benefit guerilla tactics. Harder maps would force you to hurry and choose your targets among smaller enemy encampments you could wipe out and take over before running out of gold. Simple.

        Starcraft I believe was the first to ruin it by giving the AI money at regular intervals forever, limiting your options to whatever tempo the mapmaker decided for you, which was always too impatient for my taste.

        • Konservenknilch says:

          I’d go further back to the original C&C. The AI always had an unlimited supply of harvesters, making attrition strategies a huge pain.

          • rmsgrey says:

            The original C&C let the AI cheat in several ways, but I don’t think free Harvesters was one of them. Instead, every time a Harvester made it back to the Refinery, it completely filled their Tiberium reserves. Combined with the AI’s ability to build without adjacency, but only where it already had a building, you could turn a tidy profit by finding an isolated Silo, capturing it with an Engineer and selling it then waiting for a new one to spawn and fill before capturing and selling it again…

    • Banyan says:

      Not only was there a lack of the amusing “I love you, Sarge”-type asides of the original, there wasn’t even the bombastic stupidity of Wings of Liberty. I was so bored by the dry mechanics of Legacy that I actually quit halfway through the campaign and haven’t picked it up again. So yeah, I suppose some people do play for “story,” or at least some veneer of narrative that doesn’t sound like the pronouncements of a 13 year old Dungeon Master.

      • Mokinokaro says:

        Yeah, Wings of Liberty turned out the better of the 3 SC2 campaigns partly because Raynar’s goofy group brought some much needed heart to the whole thing.

        Then HoTS turned it into “bad Diablo in space with shitty MOBA bits” and LotV’s story was a snorefest despite the good mission design.

  2. Gorbacz says:

    RPS, reviewing single player of ostensibly multiplayer games because they care since 200something.

    • Sinjun says:

      It’s there. It deserves to be criticized. That’s all there is to it. If you don’t play the single player, that’s great, but lots do and Blizzard shouldn’t get a free pass for garbage.

    • int says:

      I play SC for single player, big whoop! Wanna fight about it?

      • Cockie says:

        So do I! And I know more such people!

      • kud13 says:

        +1. Never touched multi in any RTS game, and I was a bona-fide RTS junkie for the glorious decade beginning in 1997.

        Stopped caring about Blizz after WoL, though it was more to do with “always online”. Very occasionally I feel the urge to drop some money on HoS to “play the story”, but such impulses are short-lived.
        Now, excuse me while I go back to replaying AoK campaigns in the recent HD release before tackling , new expansion pack.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        If you’d fight someone about it, that would be multiplayer, though.

    • Zekiel says:

      There are games which are primarily multiplayer with a token single-player component bolted on (like Quake 3’s campaign against bots). SC2 is emphatically not one of them. Blizzard put a shed-load of effort into their single-player offerings and they deserve to be judged separately from the multi-player.

    • Palladian says:

      The single player of LOTV is hardly token. Say what you like about the story, but the cut scenes and the quality of the animations are astonishingly well crafted. Moreover, the missions are more than a tutorial for the MP (as they might be in say Supreme Commander) and the game even has units, abilities and even a whole strategic layer (the Spear of Adun) which is absent from the MP.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      It’s a huge part of the game, lasting hours and hours. And generally atrocious writing aside, the actual mechanics are among the best of any RTS I’ve played. It’s worth a review.

      • Punning Pundit says:

        According to Blizzard, half of all StarCraft players are Single Player only.

        Half.

        50%.

        That’s definitely something worth reviewing, I should think.

        • Faxmachinen says:

          Are people really that desperate for singleplayer RTS? I did eventually play the campaign, and the singleplayer is about as exciting as drying paint with a hair dryer. The only good thing about it is that it’s a watered down version of the multiplayer.

          Because the multiplayer is indeed good. So good, in fact, that I play it even though I hate both RTS and other people. That makes the 50% who don’t play it even more unfathomable. It’s like buying a banana, eating the peel, and throwing the rest away.

    • mavrik says:

      Like with pretty much every game out there, most of the people buying this game will play it only in single player.

      Multiplayer gamers are a minority. A loud minority on forums, but still a minority.

    • EhexT says:

      Ah yes, the old “multiplayer RTS” fantasy. If a game has a singleplayer mode, the majority of people playing it do so in singleplayer. That’s been proven time and time again whenever a developer releases internal numbers. This isn’t just true for RTS games (though the singleplayer multiplayer divide for those is hugely on the side of singleplayer) but even for “pure multiplayer” games like MOBAs. Most people prefer Singleplayer, comp-stops and Coop. That’s a fact.

  3. Sinjun says:

    “It’s the kind of videogame storytelling that would cause someone who doesn’t play videogames to decide, should they walk in on me playing it, that this really is the lowest common denominator of art forms.”

    Thank you for saying this. If only people stopped gobbling shit like this and Destiny up and instead masterpieces like The Witcher 3 sold more than anything in 2015. Gaming has regressed since the 90’s in terms of mature storytelling (and even gameplay in lots of instances) when it comes to most of the big publishers, and it’s depressing.

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      teije says:

      I was going to argue with you re storytelling regressing, but then I noticed the “most of the major publishers” point, so I won’t.

      But I don’t find that depressing, indie games are where the stories & fresh approaches are these days, and there’s tons of great stuff out there and in development.

      • Sinjun says:

        Yeah, indie stuff is great and big companies like CDPR, Naughty Dog, and Rockstar are putting out some of the best writing ever seen in games over the last 5 years. But aside from GTA, the biggest sellers are dumber than ever before.

        • magogjack says:

          GTA may be good at story telling but its cynical and soulless.

          • kael13 says:

            I wouldn’t say that’s wholly true. Cynical, yes. Soulless? Not entirely. What about the section in GTA V where (SPOILERS) Michael finds redemption with his family?

        • BannerThief says:

          I’m not sure how ‘good’ I’d be willing to describe GTA V as being; the protagonists are all hateful and annoying, the side characters are mostly two-dimensional fodder, the cynical humor has worn out its welcome, and the ‘plot’ is too winding and has a distinctly lame payoff. Red Dead Redemption’s story was WAY better than the dreck in GTA V.

          • Sinjun says:

            RDR is vastly better, yeah, but GTAV was still a well written game. It was cynical and often juvenile, but was filled with satire and lots of clever dialogue. At the very least it’s an order of magnitude more intelligent than anything from ActiBlizzard.

    • Palladian says:

      The thing I really hate in all the chapters of SC2 is that it has narrowed the field of characters and factions from SC1 and Brood War in the interest of an “epic” storyline (and perhaps more importantly making people who love each race in multiplayer feel like they’re winning).

      So the relative complexity of SC1 where at least individual factions had their own interests – say, the UED, Sons of Korhal, Terran Confederacy – are here narrowed down into either for or against Amon. It really destroys any investment in the story when important characters are ‘retconned’ to be a puppet of some larger entity (see also the new James Bond) and in StarCraft 2 it feels like every theft, every murder, every instance of littering, even, is probably done in service of Amon.

      I think this is especially apparent in LOTV because as Alec says the Protoss here are so completely boring and lack even the characterful if a little trite dialogue of the Terrans in WoL.

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    Nauallis says:

    I had a weirdly different experience than you did – it felt like half of the missions (played on Normal) were constantly pushing for me to rush rush rush proclaiming dire consequences or at least auto-failure scripting if rush rush rush tactics were not met. This isn’t anything new to the Starcraft 2 campaign experience, but I rarely felt like I was given any time to:

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      Nauallis says:

      Argh. Hardly given time to plug away at the missions at my own pacing.

    • tetracycloide says:

      Most of the missions don’t require rushing of any kind and are quite slow relative to multiplayer. The best strategy in almost every level is to mass a unit at the end of a tech tree be it void rays or colossus or what have you. Granted you have to get past the intro set of planets and there’s an obnoxious difficulty spike on shakuras before you can.

  5. Utsunomiya says:

    This was the weirdest one story-wise of the three, I found. Like, I don’t even know what they were thinking, because it comes across as maddeningly stupid or magnificently weird.
    So Protoss chums win because they’re a democracy now? Wasn’t them becoming more accepting of others the arc of the original SC campaign? Why are they buddies with Darth Vader who likes to kill people? Is love stronger than quantum mechanics? And why is [SPOILERS] on fire AND IN SPAAAAAAAACE?! What is this last mission even?
    So many questions. This game really makes you think! Not in the way they intended though, I’d hazard a guess.
    Anyway, the campaign is really good gameplay-wise, even though it’s kinda made from the same bits as WoL, which really was the pinnacle of the series from the gameplay standpoint. Still, that wot-I-liked-but-with-Protoss-now is totally fine.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      The epilogue bit really feels like it’s a rushed half of a campaign.

      Like they were intending a fourth expansion originally or for it to be the bulk of the LotV plot before Metzen realized the Protoss should star in the Protoss expansion.

      • Asurmen says:

        It’s there to tie up the WoL Kerrigan prophecy/she’s the only one who can stop Amon plot thread.

  6. Punning Pundit says:

    Heart of the Swarm gave me exactly what I wanted from a StarCraft game: I got to build a fun army and do interesting stuff with it. They also automated a lot of the tedious micromanagement away from the campaign, with the understanding that the half of their playerbase which is single player only would not care to engage with such antics. I had very much hoped for more of that from Legacy of the Void.

    Alas!

    I think a lot of that has to do with the Protoss. As a faction, they are very much the over powered Eldar elder race, balanced more by the need for mechanical skill than anything else. For example: Stalkers are very nearly unkillable if you have mastered blink micro. I have not. I don’t even bother building High Templar because their attack is an ability that needs to be triggered on an individual basis.

    High 5 for the tooltip which taught me that hitting tab would cycle within a control group between types of units. That was a useful thing to learn. Sadly, I am not dexterous enough to have actually put this into practice. But it was nice to learn. I bet I should have learned about that tip a decade ago.

    And yes. The story. I didn’t realize how much I liked Jim Raynor until I had to suffer through the Protoss. Every time Jim showed up I let out a sigh of relief.

    Frustratingly? I think I want to play Legacy again.

    • tetracycloide says:

      Funny you should put it that way considering Terran is considered the most mechanically demanding race in multiplayer.

  7. Zekiel says:

    I have to say (not having actually played this campaign, but just played the free Whispers of Oblivion campaign) that I’ve always felt an odd fondness for the Protoss, Zeratul, Artanis, Tassadar and so on. I’m not sure why since they’ve always been portenteous and overly-serious with largely one-dimensional characters. I guess sometimes that’s what I want out of my sci-fi. They’re basically Worf from Star Trek (except that occasionally Worf cracked a joke).

    • Thankmar says:

      I´d like to chime in here, I take Very Serious Space Alien Robot Paladins over Smug Soulless Amoral Bugs anytime, but oh boy, if Whispers of Oblivion is in any way like the whole campaign, thats a shame. It just droned on and on.

      • Mokinokaro says:

        Thankfully the actual campaign is a lot better than Whispers.

        I fear that Alec is doing the cast a bit of a disservice by not mentioning a certain Protoss voiced by John De Lancie who brings a decent amount of necessary brevity to parts.

        • tetracycloide says:

          It’s Q with a slight voice filter, how is that not awesome? How is that a lack of personality?

    • GardenOfSun says:

      I’m exactly in the same situation you are in, and I am currently finishing Heart of the Swarm, after playing Wings of Liberty. I must say that I don’t really understand this much hate for the protoss. I much prefer the one dimensional haughtiness of a space mystic than the forced pretend-feelings of Raynor and Kerrigan, just as I much prefer an high tech research machine to a droid programmed to be a sexual doll. I mean, they’re not literature or even serious sci-fi, sure, but in them I see the last dieing embers of the earnestessness of ’90 Blizzard, which surely employed cliches and was more about spectacle and charisma than depth, but also knew how to spin an epic tale with morbid or tragic overtones that was for the *smart* 15 year olds, not the dumb ones.

      Nowadays it almost seems to go for an almost disney-like audience, and as a result what in my opinion suffered the most aren’t the characters, but the overall plot; and that *that* was going to be meaningless and completely unrelated to the charm of SC1 was evident from WoL. There’s some truth to what someone else said, that the (for my personal taste) dreadful multiplayer killed what made SC interesting and unique, but it is also true that somewhere along the line of the WoW timespan and after Warcraft 3 Blizzard just gave up on any honesty in their writing, turning it fully AAA and industrial.

      But again, in such a situation any attempt of pretence to humanity sits far worse with me than sparkly one-dimensional technobabble. The latter, from the few LotV cutscenes I’ve seen, at least doesn’t feel as patronising.

  8. Greg Wild says:

    My biggest problem with the whole SC2 arc is that it’s just all so apocalyptic, end of the universe stuff – something SC1 resolutely wasn’t. Sure, the Zerg were poised to decimate Koprulu throughout, but that was just one cluster of stars in the galaxy. What it really limits is where they can go with SC3. How are they going to have a more dramatic threat than what has come in SC2?

    All the games have been strongest when they focus on their characters rather than the grand, dramatic stuff. They’d do better to create stories about the characters.

    • Greg Wild says:

      This said, I didn’t mind the Protoss characters in LOTV for the most part. They just didn’t really mesh with the wider plot.

      • BannerThief says:

        I think the answer that seems most likely is that there ain’t gonna be a Starcraft 3. It’s a shame, because I never really liked these games (I was an Age of Empires kid) but I respect the hell out of them for what they’ve accomplished. The ending to this game seems pretty definitive, for my money. Not a lot of places to go after this.

        • magogjack says:

          Something tells me that there will be another Starcraft game it just won’t be an RTS.

          • Mokinokaro says:

            I just really, really, really hope it isn’t an MMO. MMOs cause game universes to stagnate.

            Just look at WoW where things do move but the gameworld itself is mostly static where few characters can permanently die (sure they die in a dungeon, but when you’re done or on another character, POOF there they are alive and well.)

            WoW also has completely torn about the Warcraft lore with all the silly retcons needed to fit it into a MMO structure.

          • PsychoWedge says:

            well, as you can see RTS also can stagnate game universes since nothing happened in LotV. Or HotS for that matter.

  9. catscratch says:

    “Laser-targeted, mathematically calculated offal” – that’s spot on. Blizzard seems to have the 15-year-old male demographic firmly in mind, and is creating content just for that, and with little appeal to anybody else. Hence, the trite, overblown nonsense story, absurdly oversexualized female characters, and writing that has all the subtlety of a turd hitting a ming vase.

    It’s a charmless, graceless exercise from a company that has put out some of the most charming games in the past. And still does from time to time, i.e. see Hearthstone.

    Oh well. Maybe I remember Broodwar fondly because I was a lot closer to their demographic back then. Either way, mechanically, SC2 is sound as always.

    At least Blizzard is less obvious in its intentions than Capcom in Street Fighter 5.

    • Stijn says:

      While Kerrigan has indeed sadly gone the way of “absurdly oversexualized”, I think you’re doing Blizzard and the other female characters in LotV a disservice with that comment. Both Selendis and Vorazun were not sexualized (though, they’re Protoss, so there was limited potential for that anyway) and I don’t think anything was made of their gender.

      • tetracycloide says:

        Selendis spends almost the entire campaign in the thrall of the bad guy, classic damsel story. Vorazon at least seems competent enough to lead a faction of Protoss on her own so that’s nice. Then there’s the new girl, not sure what to think about her character but she does use her unique abilities to give the good guys key insights they might not have prevailed with out over the constant protests if Artanis. She was very sexualized though, apparently mystical mind reading, Kahla attuning powers are inversely proportional to the amount of clothing worn. Also a pretty common trope.

        • Asurmen says:

          Not sure I understand any point you raised. How is Selendis a damsel in distress when the story never focused on rescuing her? It was about freeing all Protoss.

  10. Jekadu says:

    Just finished getting every Achievement for the campaign (Anvil of Will was particularly nasty, although a couple of the other Mastery ones took a lot of effort to figure out as well). Overall I’m rather satisfied with what I got.

    The biggest problem with this one is that after the excellence of Wings of Liberty, anything lesser just feels a bit phoned in. Okay, maybe not as bad as that, but when you’ve got one campaign that’s “fantastic” and two that are merely “great” then you will end up feeling a bit wistful. Legacy of the Void and Heart of the Swarm both share the same bunch of issues: they’re a bit too short to be effective, they focus on factions that are inherently one-dimensional, they strip away a bunch of the core mechanics (air units are an afterthought) in order to streamline gameplay, missions often feel samey, and the central conflict is so forced and uninteresting that it’s a wonder they even bothered with it.

    All that said, it’s not all negative. Legacy of the Void actually features discussion about history, cultural relativism and a bunch of other social science stuff that I’m not very well versed in but which I recognize to be genuine. It’s really basic and the incredibly serious and amazingly boilerplate word-making of the Protoss makes it easy to miss. (I’m starting to suspect Protoss dialogue is generated by pulling random quotes from space opera works featuring “elder races”). Still, it’s clear the writers tried. The twist early on is also pretty good.

    Overall it’s a solid game. It’s just no Wings of Liberty. I wish they’d stuck to Terran characters for viewpoints. I especially miss Tychus — not the character himself, but what he did to the story. A down-to-Earth character with unknown goals to shake things up while at the same time keeping things grounded.

  11. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    The writing is indeed quite bad, but I’ve got to give a shout out to Alarak, who I’d call the best character in all of Starcraft II. Rude, smug, sarcastic, and generally just a shithead to the sticks-in-the-mud who seem to make up the rest of his race, I never got tired of him. He’s just as ridiculous as anything else, but he’s the only one having any fun with it.

    I look forward to your impressions of the co-op, which came out of nowhere to be my favorite surprise of the year.

  12. Sin Vega says:

    They should never have killed off Fenix (again). He was the heart and soul of the Protoss, as ready with imperious rumblings as anyone, but always keen to cut through the shit and get straight to business. The rest of them just took it all far too seriously.

  13. Premium User Badge

    artrexdenthur says:

    Definition pedantics! You note that “the vast bulk of [the story] is so cloyingly dour…” The word “cloying” means “sickeningly sweet, rich, or sentimental”, so this may be the only occurrence we ever see of that word next to “dour” :D
    Other than that, I enjoyed the review. It really is a shame the series ended with such a splat story-wise, but it sounds like fun nevertheless.

  14. RegisteredUser says:

    “It’s admirably unafraid to be difficult, though. This far into the series, it accepts that even the most casual SC2 player knows how all this stuff works. Despite a few early attempts to teach higher-level tactics, it quickly gives up on that and ramps up the challenge.”

    I want to say a few words about this.
    The game basically step by step unlocks for you: orbital bombardment which can take out defensive units and structures with one strike with no problem, build/research acceleration by 1000% which produces 2 of the highest end units in seconds or quite a few more of the lower tier, auto-harvest gas, auto-repair while idle, boost shields by a vast amount and bring the ray of death that auto-targets and destroys units.

    Or put differently: except for the twice used “hold-out for nigh forever vs 4-sided assault” mission, every single singleplayer campaign map is basically: Spit out units, steamroll enemy things, use abilities should you struggle even slightly(which, if you can at least moderately click on “build things” quickly enough, barely happens) and then simply win and waltz on.

    The only difficulty in the game comes from even the slowest game speed on the “casual” setting being far too fast as to truly be tactically valuable even for a casual player, since there is no pausable realtime where you can order things around during pause.
    Essentially, the difficulty for SC2 SP is zero and only becomes artifically created by taking away your agency by refusing to let you plan in anyting less than the frantic Blizzard-wants-it-so pace.
    So as long as you can click yourself through the first 5 minutes fast enough, you’ll be hard pressed to lose anything but the holdout missions.

    On those settings I tried out, the enemy does not rebuild bases, if it expands it does so via an apparently mainly prescripted systematic (rather than an AI that orients around unit types and pressure points) and map layout and other than that, even the periodic little attacks on you seem prescripted and on a timer.

    I find this truly the most depressing and superficiality inducing issue about the whole game, because it basically means there really isn’t any strategy to the “real time strategy” genre here. It of course gets made worse by the fact that your campaign is one of unit unlocks, most of which make prior unit type buildings obsolete, because the new unlocked units are just more powerful and not much more time and money expensive in the way the singleplayer maps play(i.e. the AI would never try to overrun you with zerg miner units or a first minutes zergling horde so you always have enough time to push on to the highest tier buildings as units).

    TL;DR: The real trouble is that SC2:LOTV (and the former two SC2 SP campaigns as well) are really just very plain “power fantasies” for the singleplayer against a very narrowly coded, barely serviceable AI that relies on gamespeed or prebuilt advantages to create a challenge rather than properly made AI algos. Which is fine if you want that, but not much of a strategic challenge for what is called a RTS game.

    • kael13 says:

      I assume then, that you have completed the campaign on Brutal, so that you actually have an idea of what you’re talking about? Where the AI target-focuses weaker/caster units, micros units away from explosive blasts and generally plays better.

      If you don’t like the Real-Time aspect of RTS, perhaps you’re playing the wrong genre?

      • RegisteredUser says:

        If you read properly, you wouldn’t have replied what you did.
        Part of my critique was that I would have actually wanted to play the most difficult settings, but at a speed of _my_ choosing. So that the difficulty actually IS the AI skill, and not just me being older and slower than a 8000 APS esport kid. The way it is, “normal” speed is far, far, far to fast for me to still make decisions gameside at the pace I am making them in my mind. Its a human speed / interface issue.
        In a singleplayer mode, I expect this kind of flexibility. And yes, RTS is the right genre for me, even though I prefer TBS. Classic RTS titles had game speeds from slow to slower to slowest, where slowest was an almost frame-by-frame game crawl that actually let you made strategic battle decisions without having to plug in 2 more input devices and hiring people to smash away at hotkeys. Those were still for comfort-speed then, not difficulty-speed.

        • kio says:

          So, no, then. And on top of that you have a convenient excuse for yourself that you’re slow, when really the game can be beaten on brutal with an action speed several times slower than the average typing speed. It’s not about how fast you can click, but how fast you can think — which has to do with how well you know the game, also known as skill. So when you’re playing on casual because you have one hand on your chin considering what you should do when you should already have made a decision and be acting upon it, even at a reasonably slow physical speed, and talk down on the mechanics of the difficulty… Really what you should be complaining about is how the genre has largely evolved past four hour snoozefests per level and how unwilling you are to evolve with it.

          • kio says:

            Consider the fact that some people WITHOUT HANDS can play several times faster than you.

            link to youtube.com

            …and continue to pretend that you’re just old and don’t have the superhuman reflexes to play SC2 even on the slowest speed.

  15. Troika says:

    Ok, can someone explain to me why everyone hates Chris Metzen? I mean, from what I have gathered, he isn’t the writer anymore, as far as I can understand. He was the one during old times with SC 1, Diablo 1-2 and WC3 (and those were relatively great, I think), but now he is more like a story supervisor or something?.. Or not? I may be completely wrong though.

    • EhexT says:

      He’s the reason every one of the 3 Blizzard settings looks the same and has the same story. Not the sole reason obviously – somewhere in Blizzards gold-plated corporate fortress there must be people who nod and say “yes” when he makes presents the same concept art with a slightly different color scheme as a Draenei, Protoss and Angel concept (and does the same thing with Demons, Fel Demons and Zerg and whatever the Zerg are called in WoW, etc.). But he’s certain to blame for a lot of it.

  16. Rao Dao Zao says:

    Oh come on, Alarak the emo protoss *was* hilarious. Not sure if intentionally so, but he had some excellently grimdaft lines.

  17. Sisco says:

    So, here I thought this was the third expansion, and yet this article opens with calling it the second… ;)

    • Cockie says:

      … but it is the second expansion? WOL was the base game, HOTS the first expansion, LOTV the second.

  18. poohbear says:

    “In the grim darkness of twenty-first century blockbuster video gaming, there is only lore.”

    lol classic! love the Warhammer 40k reference, especially considering Starcraft lore is pretty much based on that!

  19. Konaa says:

    Okay yeah. It’s full of grim sad aliens who are grim and sad and mystic, but it’s weird you didn’t even bring up John de Lancie’s character, who seriously lightens things up with his comedic levels of sadism.

    (Why is John de Lancie in this, seriously)