It was a very moody conflict.
The original Starcraft may have started it all, but it was the expansion, Brood War, that cemented the series as one of the finest RTS games of its time. The question is now, does Brood War still hold up or has the intervening two decades dimmed its luster? The short version is that Brood War refines the gameplay of the original Starcraft while making a few mistakes of its own. It remains a worthy game, though not the revolution it was when it started.
The campaign picks up after the events of the original Starcraft with the Protoss shattered, Emperor Mengsk controlling the Terran Dominion, and Kerrigan trying to unite the disparate Zerg broods. Once again, the player takes control of three nameless generals, in the service of each race, who participates in some of the key battles of the conflict. The story isn’t as compelling as the original, but includes a few neat twists and does a better job of involving the player in the highlights of the narrative. Kerrigan serves as the focal point of all three plot lines and while she is established as clever and ruthless, Brood War does little to flesh her out beyond that. She deftly manipulates all of her opponents, but the player never gets an end goal beyond world domination. Fortunately, her supporting cast has more depth to round out what Kerrigan is missing. Overall, the plot is compelling enough to keep the player invested and holds its own against modern RTS games.
One of the noticeable improvements is the level design. Blizzard tried to include both more variety and depth in the campaign missions which it only partially pulled off. Most of the best ideas are in the early Protoss missions including a standout level to disarm missile turrets using a handful of units and tactics. After that, the game reverts to the classic template of building an army and assaulting the opponent. In terms of depth, Blizzard had better luck. Maps are better at facilitating conflict and even the more standard levels include wrinkles such as assaulting multiple bases. It’s clear Blizzard had trouble calibrating the tension between giving the computer enough troops to annihilate the player outright and restraining their aggression in using them. The AI aggression is tuned to the starting unit amount making most stages difficult early on with the last half of the fight becoming a prolonged clean up mission. The one time Blizzard put in too much aggression, the mission was so hard I had to cheat to get through it. Blizzard’s inability to resolve this tension detracts, but does not seriously harm, the overall fun of the campaign.
Brood War introduces many of the series’ iconic units including the lurker and medic. The new units add a great deal of variety to the basic gameplay by shoring up each races weak points. For example, the Zerg get the Devourer and lurker which support air and ground superiority respectively. Sadly, the greatest arena for the new units, online, is barren. As one might expect from a 20 year old game, few are playing Brood War anymore making online matches all but impossible to find. Without friends drawn in from elsewhere, Brood War and Starcraft are best treated as single player experiences.
Combined, Starcraft and Brood War still represent a potent gaming experience. Brood War’s additions remain fun and interesting while the new campaign further develops one of the genre’s best stories. This remains a great game and is a worthy buy for any genre enthusiast.