Review: Starcraft 2 – Legacy of the Void

StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void concludes the StarCraft 2 saga in grand fashion, although after the first 2 chapters (Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm) its machinations feel more familiar and a little less innovative. And its endings—both of them—are pretty generic.

Building an army and razing enemy bases is at its finest, and Legacy of the Void delivers an outstanding RTS (Real-time strategy) experience. And it’s all dramatically told—sometimes a bit over-dramatically—through Blizzard’s superlative (if tangled) story-telling, top-notch cinematics, and triple-A production values.

 The story thus far…

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void continues the StarCraft story with the Protoss leading the charge against the universe-threatening, nihilistic god Amon and his minions, forcing the Protoss (lead by Artanis) to unite with other Protoss factions (the Purifiers, the Dark Templar, and the Tal’Darim). They will also unite with Kerrigan (The Queen of Blades) and her Zerg, as well as Jim Raynor/Emperor Valerian leading the Terran forces.

There is a *lot* of StarCraft lore, and even fans many have a hard time remembering everything that has transpired across the last 5 years (i.e. the events of Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm)—let alone what happened in the original StarCraft (1998) and its expansion pack StarCraft: Brood Wars.

Thankfully, there’s a long, informative in-game cinematic designed to help remind you of everything—although even if you watch it you may want to read up on some official StarCraft lore to fill gaps.

Customize your Protoss with Factions and Solarite

Each game in the StarCraft II series has introduced new units and the ability to further customize and upgrade them far beyond the confines of what was introduced in the StarCraft (and RTS games of almost 20 years ago).

In Legacy of the Void, you gradually unlock new Protoss factions, each of which provides a number of unit variants that cater to different play styles. Factions are selected when you’re aboard your command ship, the Spear of Adun. Each variant has a unique look, design, and capabilities. You also aren’t locked into these selections, and you can freely switch them between missions to experiment with different unit combinations.

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For example, standard Zealots (infantry) are much like you remember them, but the variants (Purifier and Dark Templar) each have unique properties. The Dark Templar Zealots can teleport a very short distance (even through friendly units) to quickly close with an enemy. The Purifiers can essentially die and auto-resurrect with a portion of their health.

Dark Templar Dragoons can blink a short distance, whereas standard Dragoons are more heavily armored and inflict slightly more damage.

In my own play through of the game, I tended to select faction units that simply required less micromanagement. Although units will activate their own abilities (and seemed to be pretty smart about it), I still preferred to focus on controlling large groups (organized into squads) and controlling the broader tactical game for simplicity. But if you prefer more tactical/sneaky play style, there are faction units that will cater to that playstyle, and you can micromanage as much or as little as you want to.

The Spear of Almighty Whoopass

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In addition to customizing your army through the faction system, your ship The Spear of Adun has its own capabilities you can call down to aid you in battle.

There’s a large number of abilities, but a few examples include:

  • Orbital strikes to blast enemies. There are few variations of these of differing strengths.
  • Automatically siphon Vespene gas from refineries so you don’t have to assign drones to collect it.
  • Immediately warp in Crystals—and sometimes additional units or even a hero unit to aid you in battle.
  • Enhanced shield regeneration for units

These abilities can be further enhanced by collecting Solarite. You gain a little Solarite by finishing missions, but you can earn more by completing side-objectives in every mission. You can allocate your Solarite to different Spear of Adun powers in between missions, and you can have 4 active at a time. After using an ability, it goes into cooldown before it can be used again.

New options, old Starcraft

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With all the possible configurations, Legacy of the Void still plays much like its predecessors Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm. It retains all the classic elements of what has become the ‘gold standard’ of RTS gaming since StarCraft first arrived in 1998 while still innovating on the original in ways that enhance the game without altering the core experience. This has largely been the case for each of StarCraft II’s chapters.

The missions are diverse and provide far more than just ‘build a base and trash the enemy’ objectives—although I think Blizzard went a little too far with the diversity. I actually found myself wanting more standard ‘build-and-destroy-the-enemy-base’ missions.

I definitely enjoy the occasional hero-based missions—missions where you only control a small set of characters (sometimes heroes with special abilities), and there’s no base building involved. These play a little like a footnote from Diablo III and provide a break from longer missions. There are also timed objective-based missions and at least 1 capture-and-hold style mission.

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Admittedly, I would have liked more standard (or ‘classic’) build-and-destroy-the-enemy missions. Sometimes you just want to raise a massive army and destroy everything on the map, and Legacy of the Void seems to dole them out a little too sparingly—more so than I remember in Heart of the Swarm or Wings of Liberty.

At the very least, Legacy of the Void delivers some pretty epic scale build-and-destroy missions by the end of the game, so maybe Blizzard was just trying to save the best for last.

The End is Bleak

Blizzard’s storytelling is still good, but it may be starting to show its age and could use some refreshing.

Don’t worry, the ending of the game isn’t bleak, nor are there spoilers here. But I have to confess that for the grand finale to nearly 20 years of PC gaming history, StarCraft II ends on a pretty pedestrian note. The first ending is pretty trite and unimaginative. Play through the over-the-top (but very fun) epilogue missions, and it’s even more so–although at least it ends with the perfect quote.

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Like its brethren Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm, Legacy of the Void contains plenty of replay value in the form of achievements and its endless multiplayer (co-op/PvP) options.

Due to time constraints — and maybe it’s just me but I found Legacy of the Void to be a more difficult than its predecessors out of the gate — but I largely played through the game on ‘casual’ mode (grudgingly), so I may revisit the game on ‘normal’ mode not only to redeem myself for playing on casual, but to experiment with the vast array of tactical options available through The Spear of Adun and the different Protoss factions. There’s also the Starcraft‘Arcade’ where you can play dozens of mods and other variants created by the StarCraft II user community.

Overall: 9/10 Highly Recommended

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void continues—and ends—the StarCraft RTS legacy. Like the other games in the series, it maintains StarCraft (and Blizzard’s reputation) as the gold-standard by which all RTS games are measured.

But we all pretty much knew it would, didn’t we?

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