Writing this for a second time. Thanks Word!
Blizzard is an evolutionary developer. Occasionally they take great leaps forward, but those are rare when compared to their measured steps towards something better. Even with their long history, rarely has Blizzard made a series of games clearly heading to something specific. The Starcraft series is different. The story, gameplay, and infrastructure all lead to one point: Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void. The game is still recognizable from the Wings of Liberty days (or even Starcraft 1), but Blizzard learned so much from its past that this feels like the definitive experience.
Well, most of it does. While much of the game stands above its predecessors, the story is still clearly shackled to an unevolved version of the model set out at the beginning. The player takes control of the Protoss hero Artanis as he attempts to retake his homeworld of Aiur. The attack falters when the evil god Amon takes control of the Protoss army and Artanis is forced to collect the remaining independent forces of the Protoss to beat back Amon. The characters and plot of the Protoss story are compelling enough and even manage to evoke the occasional moment of awe at the epic scale of the conflict, but it’s hard not to feel like the single race model of the expansion packs works poorly here. Legacy of the Void should tie the disparate story lines together, but the Terran and Zerg characters only get a fraction of the screen time. It’s enough to convince the player that there is a broader conflict, but not enough to draw the player in. Amon, the link between all three games, is the flat evil god of evil stereotype and does not sufficiently tie the experience together. Blizzard understandably felt obligated to give Protoss players their due, but dedicating the final game in the series to one race undermined the overarching, multi-race narrative. If Blizzard had incorporated the other plotlines, the story would have been all the better for it.
Beyond the story, the campaign shines. Campaign missions drop the timing heavy levels of Heart of the Swarm in favor of the greater mission variety of Wings of Liberty. The upgrade system also receives an overhaul by injecting substantial flexibility. Rather than select a specific form of a unit, Legacy of the Void allows the player to switch between three forms, each with their own unique power set. The forms combine to create an impressive number of strategies and should complement whatever approach the player wants. On top of the unit forms, Blizzard included universal upgrades and powers that effect the whole level. Old standbys like automated vespane harvesters return with new friends such as teleporting in a pylon. The player can reallocate a new resource, solarite, to change the universal buffs based on their strategy. The new flexibility of the upgrade systems allow for numerous adaptations…and confusion. Legacy of the Void never explains the virtue of any one upgrade and leaves it to the player to fill in the gaps. Fortunately, this only means the player will miss out on the potential of their builds, not be confused.
The game really shines in the multiplayer. The biggest change is the addition of six extra harvester units at the beginning of each match. The additional units increase resource production and prevent the often slow beginning of most competitive Starcraft 2 matches. They also allow for a number of new strategies by getting players to the resources they need quicker. Of course, Blizzard also adds the requisite new units of which the Terran Liberator and the Zerg Ravager stand out. All the new units promote smart play by being incredibly powerful, but only when used correctly. This produces more dynamic games where even the strongest army compositions can fail if mishandled.
Legacy of the Void also adds two new modes. Archon mode lets two players control one race. Designed as a trainer mode for new players, the real fun of Archon mode is letting two friends split up the substantial control burden of the game. There’s substantial professional competitive potential in Archon mode, though there haven’t been any major tournaments yet. The other option is cooperative where players ally to take on 7 missions based on campaign missions across Starcraft 2. Players choose heroes with limited access to their race’s units and buildings, but who have special powers which expand and improve as the hero gains levels. There isn’t a lot of depth to this mode, but it’s hard to deny the fun of playing with a friend.
Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void is the finest expression of the RTS genre in a long time. If you have any interest in this kind of game, you owe it to yourself to buy this game.