The choices in Starcraft II

August 16, 2010 7 comments

Warning: this post contains spoilers about both the story and gameplay of Starcraft II single player

There are three choices during the Starcraft II campaign and one of those greatly impacts how the final mission plays. The ending, however, is not affected. It is possible, however, to still play the mission you did not choose through the Mission archive even after finishing the campaign. Interestingly enough, these are not choices like Mass Effect, but instead it seems like Raynor always made the right decision even if the consequences are not all good.

Safe Haven / Haven’s Fall

Dr Ariel Hanson’s colonists set on Haven after you rescued them earlier, but it turns out that some of them are infested and the Protoss wish to wipe them all out. Dr Hanson wants to save as many of them as possible while she looks for a cure to the infestation. Both mission are about using and defending against air units. Either mission gives you access to Vikings.

During Safe Haven you side with Hanson. The Protoss send a Mothership that is made completely invulnerable through the power of three Nexi. The goal of the mission is to help evacuate the colonists while the Mothership slowly flies from one site to another and then destroys it completely until it finally arrives at your base. Meanwhile, Protoss air forces attack the colonist settlements (saving them gives bonus resources), while there are occasionally ground forces that directly attack your base. This mission is timed more strictly than the alternative.

Consequences: Raynor’s actions during Starcraft I have given him enough respect from the Protoss. They take their loss sportsmanlike. Ariel Hanson leaves the ship, but not before making clear she has feelings for Raynor.

During Haven’s Fall it turns out the Protoss were right: Zerg are quickly infesting the whole colony. This is also a mission about air attack and base defense. Every colonist settlement that gets infested results in more Zerg forces attacking, which eventually leads you to being overrun, making it a timed mission as well. Your base has to deal with both air and ground forces, but not too many. If you have access to Banshees and or Science vessels, then the mission, even on Brutal, is trivial.

Consequences: Ariel locked herself up in the lab to work on a cure, but it turned out she was infected herself. Raynor is forced to kill the monster she’s become.

My verdict: I like the gameplay of Safe Haven more and the ending is a bit happy, at least.

Breakout / Ghost of a chance

Nova or Tosh? Is Tosh a dangerous psychopath that has been manipulating you or is it Nova who’s doing the manipulating? In either case, there follows a mission with no base building. Instead you control a cloaked unit that has to sneak through an enemy base. There’s a slight difference in the unit you get at the end, but neither is necessary to complete the campaign. Both can cloak and drop nukes.

Breakout shows how Raynor backs up Tosh in breaking out all rogue Spectres. While Tosh clears a path, there are endless waves of both friendly and enemy units that clash with eachother. It’s up to Tosh to make sure Raynor’s troops progress.

Consequences: the cinematic shows that Tosh is indeed a dangerous psychopath. You can now build Spectres who have an Area-of-Effect stun.

During Ghost of a Chance it turns out that Tosh has already freed a few Spectres and is preparing to create more of them. You guide Nova and a limited number of normal units throug three puzzle sequences to destroy three key parts of Tosh’s equipment.

Consequences: Nova does not join your cause. It turns out, again, that Tosh is indeed a dangerous psychopath. Nova assassinates him, but some hilarious things also happen during the cinematic (that I am not going spoil). You can now build ghosts have the Snipe special ability that allows them to do heavy damage regardless of armor.

My verdict: Tosh had been annoying me to no end because he sounds like a World of Warcraft Troll. The unit you get matters little and Nova’s cinematic is a lot more fun than Tosh’s.

Belly of the Beast / Shatter the Sky

This is the most important choice you will make during the game, because it completely changes how the final mission plays out. Either way keep a save game before you make the choice so you can play the other scenario of the final mission as well.

During Belly of the Beast you lead a team of heroes through the underground of Char to disable the Zerg’s Nydus network. Playing with Raynor, Tychus, Swann and Stettman, who each have special abilities, you navigate through the caves occasionally rescuing normal troops. There is no base building in this mission.

Consequences: There will be no Nydus worms during the final mission. There will still be Zerg ground forces attacking as well as Mutalisks and Brood Lords.

In Shatter the Sky you go back up into space to destroy a platform that houses most of the Zerg air force. This is a regular base building mission. There are some attacks on your base, but the mission is mainly about destroying several key points of the platform that will cause that whole part to be destroyed.

Consequences: There will be no Zerg air attacks during the mission, but Nydus worms will constantly spawn everywhere over the map that will result in heavier ground waves than in the other scenario. Note that the Overlord drop about halfway through the mission still happens.

My verdict: Shatter the Sky was a fun mission, but I liked Belly of the Beast better. There’s enough base building in the final mission and this is the only mission that you get to play with a group of Hero units. However, the choice of playing this mission comes down to what you want to fight against during the final mission. I played the Nydus variant on Brutal and the air variant on Hard. For either mission it seems quite hard until you place your defenses right and then it is quite easy. The Nydus variant seemed more frantic, because every one of them shows up on the mini map. but Brood Lords can really sneak up and destroy a large part of your base if you do not pay attention.

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Starcraft II: The Singleplayer/Multiplayer split

August 9, 2010 1 comment

Starcraft 2 is a great game, everyone seems to be saying that. There are many things that can be praised, but I believe that one of the main reasons is the split between the Single Player campaign and Multiplayer. In the original Starcraft most of the mission were basically against one or more computer opponents who simulated human players, who started with an advantage (up and running base) but were limited by AI rules (like only attacking every five minutes, only building certain units etc.). There were some special challenges, like RPGstyle ‘dungeon crawls’ with a limited number of units, but most missions where about building your base and destroying your opponent’s base. While really entertaining, this cannot compete to the ingenuity of human opponents. This is the reason that after playing online for a bit that the single player campaign seems easier than it was before. It was not really possible to change the Singe player formula because units in both game modes had to abide by the same rules.

Starcraft 2 throws that out of the water. There are two sets of rules. Single player is allowed to go as crazy as it wants without bringing the precarious Multi player balance in jeopardy, while Multiplayer is not getting unbalanced by that craziness. Suddenly there can be a day/night cycle, rising and ebbing lava, even train robberies. It allows many more and different units in Single Player that do not need to be balanced. Base building and upgrading is interesting in Multi player, because you are (re)acting based on what your opponent is doing. Even in special Singe player scenario’s it is quite easy to figure out what the AI’s attack pattern is. So Single Player has several persistent upgrades. The same goes for mercenaries: these add an enormous amount of versatility to Single Player that would be impossible to balance against in Multi player.

Anything can happen now and we still have two expansions to look forward to!

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Starcraft II: Reviewing the story of Wings of Liberty

Starcraft II is a great game both single- and multiplayer, but how is the story?

WARNING: This post contains major spoilers about Starcraft I & II’s story and campaign gameplay. This is a review, not a summary, check the great starcraft wikia site out for information about the full story and characters.

I remember the story of Starcraft as being pretty great. It started with Marshal James Raynor trying to protect his people against an unknown menace (Zerg) and thus joining the rebels led by Arcturus Mensk. The betrayal of Kerrigan by Mensk and her return as Zerg was a great plot twist (which lead Raynor to become a rebel again, this time against Mensk) and the end in which Protoss and Terran forces made a way for Tassadar’s final sacrifice was just epic in scale. Brood War was less memorable, but it did leave Kerrigan as the sole controller of the Zerg and set her up as the next major threat.

Some major points

Starcraft II starts immediately by painting a rich background. James Raynor, our hero since the very first mission of SCI, has visibly aged. Hanging around in beautifully created bar on the Mar Sara Colony he continues his campaign against Mensk right when the Zerg return. Also returning is a former comrade of Raynor’s named Tychus Findlay. Findlay is carrying a big sign saying “I’m going to totally betray you, Raynor”, which everyone except Raynor can see. Anyway, Findlay is being coerced in finding some Xel’Naga artefacts. The job is paying well, but he needs an army to perform it, while Raynor could use the cash to finance his rebellion.

Unfortunately, the artefacts are protected by Protoss fanatics and they are sought after as well by Mensk and Kerrigan herself. It turns out that Prince Arthas, correction: Prince Valerian, son of Arcturus Mensk, is doing everything he can to protect his people against the Zerg. Together the artefacts can be used to turn Kerrigan human again and so remove the ‘brain’ from the Zerg. During the campaign, Raynor is visited by Zeratul, who shows him visions of things to come: monstrous Zerg/Protoss hybrids led by some evil force called the Fallen One. And apparantly, only Kerrigan can save them, she is especially created by the Overmind for that purpose. This Fallen One is apparently also responsible for driving the Overmind to attack the Protoss in the first place. So the evil mastermind of the previous series was just an attack dog?

The crystal actually works, no plot twist, Kerrigan turns human, Findlay reveals that he has been working for Mensk all along and that he has to kill Kerrigan. Raynor shoots him in the face, because Findlay is too stupid to put his visor down. Raynor carries naked Kerrigan into the sunset. Happy end!?

Discussion

There is one thing to keep in mind while reviewing the story and that is the demand of the game that every faction is split in at least two sub-factions at any time, because we have to fight all three races during the campaign. Terran is easy: Raynor vs Mensk, Protoss has the ones that Raynor is friendly with, basically, Tassadar and Zeratul’s alliance, but there are plenty of fanatical Protoss as well and a group controlled by Zerg/Protoss Hybrids. The Zerg, however, are united under Kerrigan. So we know that something has to happen that will split the Zerg and it either happens during Wings of Liberty or early during the next chapter, Heart of the Swarm. I doubt that Kerrigan is really done with the Swarm, but it is easy now for the Big Bad to take control of most of it.

Blizzard has always been good at creating an atmosphere and they have done it again. While the characters are mostly one-dimensional and stereotypical, they stand in a rich background, while they also have enough personal dialog to give them some depth and create a bit of attachment to them. Clichés are not always bad. Starcraft II is full of them, but in a good way. Raynor excels at being the weathered, honorable leader, for example. It also helps that they are all voiced well (except one character who sounds exactly like a WoW Troll…)

The side stories contain some plot twists depending on your choices. This game is not Mass Effect. There are a few choices to make and some gave me pause. Whatever you do, you will always end at the same cut scene. However, there was no major twist in the main story at all: at first you knew that the fragments were important to everyone, but not why, then you learn that they can be used to save Kerrigan. Then you save Kerrigan with the assembled Crystal. Job done, pretty straightforward. Oh and there’s some dark, evil threat somewhere out there. The ending left me feeling ‘this is it?’, while it should have made me want to play the story of “Heart of the Swarm” right now!

Conclusion

Starcraft II has a straightforward story set against a rich background with some great cliché characters. It does pale, however, compared to the quality of the art, the missions and the gameplay. It does not detract from the fact that Starcraft II is simply a must-play game.

Finally, remember to check the TV after every single mission!

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Starcraft II: When to join multiplayer

As the launch of Starcraft 2 is only one day away, people will have to make the choice whether to start with single or multiplayer. Many competitive players are probably going to skip the whole single player campaign, while there are also plenty of people with no interest at in multiplayer. If you want to play both, there’s the dilemma of what is the best time to start multiplayer. During the first few days the leagues are still being formed, because everyone is playing his/her placement games. This means that the chance to get an unbalanced game is larger than it will be in a few weeks (or even months) when the leagues are settled. So ending up in either Platinum or Bronze league is simply not going to matter, nor is there any real prestige in getting #1 Diamond during the first evening unless you can keep that spot in the coming months.

People who have not played the beta at all should start with single player and with the special challenges that Blizzard has included to help people get into multiplayer. Anyone who has played the Beta can start whenever they want, but I am personally planning to spend the first evening on single player to avoid the hardcore players.

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Starcraft II: Surviving patch 17

I am not going to play too much Starcraft II next week, I am going to watch Day9’s King of the Beta tournament instead (while playing some MMO), which has a line up that guarantees epic battles. Not much has happened in the last week. The client does seem more stable than when the beta came up again. I am slowly getting to the point where I no longer lose games that I should win, but lose because I am too eager to end it. My worst game so far in that category was against Protoss. I had map control, he only had two bases, I had four and he burst out with ten or so Void Rays while I was eating away at his base with a mixed Corruptor / Brood Lord force. I had the resources to completely fortify my home base, or build Hatcheries literally everywhere. Instead, I watched the Broodling show, forgetting how fast charged up Void Rays (with speed upgrade even) can break down a base. My last building went down before his /facepalm for myself. And of course,  I could and should have attacked much, much earlier.

Patch 17 contains some minor tweaks, but many of those seem to add up to making Reaper rushing easier. On the other hand, I have not experienced a single Reaper rush lately. Perhaps people have learned to deal with them. Cannon rushes are rare too. On the other hand, prepare for all kinds of cheese when the game goes live,  because many people are going to want to take advantage of the lack of experience of many of the completely new players.

Terran

  • 250mm Strike Cannons can no longer deal damage to hidden targets.
  • Barracks build time decreased from 65 to 60 seconds.
  • Bunker build time decreased from 40 to 30 seconds.
  • Hellion range reverted from 6 to 5.
  • Reaper build time decreased from 45 to 40 seconds.

Faster barracks + faster bunker + faster reapers = more reaper rushes. Protoss beware.

Protoss

  • Zealot build time decreased from 38 to 33 seconds.

Less waiting for Zealots to build is nice. Unfortunately, they are worthless against Reapers.

Zerg

  • Canceling morphing Banelings now returns 75% of the cost like other morphing Zerg units.

This is just a consistancy change. Canceling morphing Banelings is not something that often has to be done anyway.

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Starcraft II: Surviving patch 16

Starcraft II Beta is finally back online. It is definetely still a Beta and there’s plenty of polishing to be done as well as some serious engine work to keep both the game and battle.net stable. I do hope they are not using skilled programmers to set up achievements, because, really, I do not care to get an achievement for watching a replay for the first time…

All profiles have been reset, of course, and I think there are still five matches to play to get ranked. However, I started with “2 games to be played” and then went on to “-2 games to be played”. I wonder what a negative game is. Between getting disconnect myself, my opponent getting disconnected and being really rusty I ended up in Bronze this time. Oh well, a long climb back up is more interesting anyway.

There was a small patch as well with only general and Zerg changes. Basically, the Ultralisk is now the Juggernaut, it cannot be stunned, mindcontrolled or slowed. This made the Infestor’s Frenzy spell worthless, so that was removed. It did get the Infested Terran back, which is a pity, since it was borderline useful while it was on the Overseer.

The major, general change is that rallied units will move instead of attack-move. This means that units go directly to where you want them to be, but it also implies that they can be killed along the way without fighting back. I think I prefer it the new way: attacking should be a conscious decision by the player.

The advice to survive patch 16: play enough to get rid of the rust in your play, but not that much that you will burn out before retail.

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We know Cataclysm is coming. Please play our game in the meanwhile.

Even if the beta for Cataclysm, World of Warcraft‘s upcoming expansion, had not started and if there had not been a great amount of information and video‘s available, then it would have been clear that something was close to happening from all the other MMO news. The WoW population may be deep in the pre-expansion boredom, but many people are still playing. This is the moment to get their interest, before they get too excited about Cataclysm. My mailbox was filled with interesting announcements and offers from other MMO’s this week.

Global Agenda removed its subscription model. Now it is just buy once and play forever. Even the first Expansion, Sand Storm, is free. This is great. There was not enough content in the game for me to subscribe, but it is so much fun in short bursts. I had taken a break from GA, because I was wondering how much I would retain of my time investment when the subscription system went live, but it is definitely on my list to play more now.

The European Warhammer Online servers are transferred from GOA to Mythic, now Bioware-Mythic. The split in publishers between US and Europe has not worked out too well in my opinion, with late patches etc. To celebrate the consolidation, every present and former GOA player will receive two weeks of free gameplay. Warhammer is still the game that I expected most from and was thus disappointed most in. It is also the only game that I gave more than one try to see if things had improved, so I’m quite happy with this free period.

Finally, Age of Conan is offering a free trial of their expansion for 10 days by e-mail. AoC still interests me. It was horrible at launch, but when I got another offer of free game time around Christmas 2009 it seemed that the game had matured quite nicely. That trial was not impressive enough to make me resubscribe, but it did make me watch out for AoC news again. So that’s another offer that I am going to take up.

If this keeps up, I shall end up with too many games to play and that will hopefully help keep the siren’s song of Cataclysm quiet.