When you think of video game genres that have their home on the PC, there’s only a few that spring readily to mind. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, real time strategy ruled the PC platform but in recent years it has all but died out, killed off by the very monster it created, the MOBA. The StarCraft series has refused to go quietly into the night however, and now, five years after the release of Wings of Liberty, StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void brings a story seventeen years in the telling to a close.
If you’ve ever played an RTS before, or especially StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty or StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, you’ll already be familiar with the core mechanics on display here. Resource gathering, trying to read your opponent’s mind through the handful of moves you can see them making and getting a force to counter them onto the field in a hurry remain key aspects of the StarCraft II experience.
The single player campaign, like all of the StarCraft II installments, is fist-pumpingly awesome in places and rather rickety in others. Missions involving the series’ big name characters like Artanis or Jim Raynor are generally a lot of fun and lead to some reasonably challenging strategic moments but they’re interspersed with your garden variety “build a force, flatten that thing” and “defend this thing until the timer, displayed or internal, reaches zero” missions that we’ve been seeing since the original StarCraft back in 1998. While they’re not a big problem in the early part of the campaign, they wear out their welcome in a hurry.
The aforementioned hero missions let you get to grips with some of the series most well-known characters and their personal movesets. The campaign also comes with a host of new customisation options for campaign maps that help you shake things up a bit, and you can now mess around with faction styles too. You’re given Aiur and Nezarim to start with but that bulks up as the campaign progresses. The Tal’darim are particularly fun, especially their ridiculous, repurposed Void Rays, tellingly called Destroyers.
The Protoss megaship/S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier is used as a mobile base of operations and can also be fully customised (which, being able to customise a space-faring battle cruiser is all I’ve ever really wanted and thanks very much, Blizzard). You can use a mineral called solarite, collected from optional objectives in each mission, to gain passive bonuses and hilariously OP abilities. These layers of customisation were EXACTLY what I needed to help get me through some of the more lackluster campaign missions and I’m glad Blizzard were cognizant of that.
While the campaign’s story un-selfconsciously embraces its pulpy, space-opera setting to the fullest, bringing fans answers a lot of long-standing questions, it feels like it’s struggling against itself a little. Structurally speaking, every plot beat is about as straight-down-the-line as sci-fi gets, but Legacy of the Void has some big, imaginative ideas in its head and it isn’t quite sure how to properly demonstrate them, especially when the story starts getting really woolly further in.
StarCraft players are little like Call of Duty players, however, in that they may not even touch the campaign at all, and instead head straight for multiplayer. Legacy of the Void sports a number of fresh units and balance tweaks for the multiplayer side that I can see causing chaos in the eSports world, and creating some very interesting games in the future. The best new unit, in my opinion, is a returning favourite – the Lurker, who first appeared all the way back in StarCraft: Brood War.
There are also now daily and weekly tournies you can jump into if you’re feeling especially competitive and want to work on your skills against similarly-skilled enemies outside of the dreaded ladder. Easily my favourite new multiplayer feature is Archon Mode, which puts two players in control of a single base. It’s perfect for vets who want to show newbies how to play, but it’s also great for people like me who can build and run a base like nobody’s business but couldn’t produce a viable army to save their lives. Now I can work on the base and expansion while my buddy devotes all their time to tactics and unit manipulation.
There’s also a co-op multiplayer mode that allows players to run through objective-based mission maps, overseen by a commander that allocates abilities and unit formations. Players are able to level commanders and open up new abilities and units for use in the mode. It sounds like a bit of a grind of paper but for those who’d like a little PvE in their StarCraft, this is perfect. It’s certainly not as deep or complex as the competitive multiplayer, and while that may turn die hards off, I hope Blizzard expands on it in later updates.
For the most part, StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void is Blizzard doing what they do best. It’s stylish, polished and feature-rich. Yes, the story is a little wobbly and there are a few maps that feel rather similar, but the scope and it’s depth of its multiplayer remain impressive. It pushes a genre in decline in ways that are singular and daring, something RTS desperately needs now more than ever. It proves that the genre still has life in it.
Review Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Multiplayer still competitive and deep; Looks great; Customisation is cool; Archon Mode is great
Lowlights: Story a bit creaky; some uninspired campaign missions
Released: November 10, 2015
Platform: Windows PC, Mac OS
Reviewed on PC