Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void – Gameplay Over Story

 “Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void” is the perfect point of gameplay over story, which is a shame because this is a story that is trying to do a lot. The game it is most similar too is probably “Mass Effect 3” with Moebius Corp as Cerberus and Hybrids and Void entities as Reapers with an ending that isn’t really set up all that well and putting drama and rule of cool over character choices that actually make sense. The gameplay is top notch, like “Mass Effect 3” too. The one thing that puts it above “Mass Effect 3” for me though is that the character choices do make some level of sense in the end (the exception being the Epilogue) and that is where Blizzard showed themselves to be better storytellers than EA/Bioware in this instance. I’ll get into what I mean deeper into the review.

The story picks up where we left off with Amon coming into the Universe. We first follow Zeratul who witnesses his rebirth and escapes to warn Executor Artanis who is about to begin the retaking of Aiur with the Golden Fleet. Things soon go awry when Amon takes control of the Khala forcing Artanis on the run as he must unite different Protoss factions against Amon’s forces and the Golden Fleet, Amon now controls.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – I love the universe of “Starcraft” and the main campaign does such an amazing job exploring it and giving so many more layers to the Protoss as a people. We meet more factions, see just how powerful Amon is and how insidious his influence is as well as see how difficult it is for a people to change as this is the game that at the core is about the Protoss changing as a species as the only way to defeat Amon is to make an Alliance between the remaining protoss factions and defeat Amon’s armies as well as making sure he never enters into the physical realm from void.

The Transformation of the Protoss – The main arc of this game storywise is the Transformation of the Protoss. In this we see how the challenges to the Caste System and the Khala which began in the first game with the Dark Templar rejoining their Aiur breathren against the Zerg, and continues even further with a Preserver who advises Artanis and reacts negativly to all the Alliances he forms with the Nerazim (Protoss Sith Lords basically, Purifiers – AI Protoss and the Dark Templar). He constantly challenges her assumptions and shows it was the old ways that lead to the Overmind defeating them in the first place and that her holding onto the Khala is causing Amon to possess and destroy her. It is a great arc and we see them come together as one in the final fight against Amon before he can gain a body.

The Hero’s Journey of Artanis – The main journey is that of Artanis as he steps up to the mantel of leadership and must face his insecurities and guilt, as when Amon possess him he kills Zeratul before Zeratul can free him, and this is after Zeratul warned him that Aiur had already fallen to Amon and that he was going into a trap. He carries this forward and does everything can can to broker peace among the Protoss factions and within himself and new allies challenge him to become a better leader and introduce him to new perspectives that he integrates through the course of the story.

John De Lancie’s Alarak – Alarak is part of Tal’darim, the enemy Protoss introduced in “Wings of Liberty” who worship Amon and are apocalyptic in their aims. They are essentially Protoss Sith as their philosophy is based on dominance and strength and they care for nothing but the individual. Alarak is a shining example of this as he only joins with Artanis when he realizes that Amon will destroy them when his intentions are revealed so he goes to take control of the Tal’darim and bring the war to Amon. He is a hilarious character who has so much sass. Anyone he talks to, he shuts down and in the end he goes his own way as well, refusing to rebuild on Aiur and rejoin his people. He’s a punk who is powerful and fun and really shows just how diverse the Protoss are in mindset.

The Protoss Factions – There are the Purifiers who are A.I. who gained sentience and rebelled and must trust their organic counterparts again (and one hold Fenix’s memories), the Dark Templar lead by Voruzan (who really should have gotten more development in this game), the Preserver of the Spear of Adun who holds onto the old ways and history, a Phase-Smith who becomes a hero and Templar rising in his caste and Alarak, the sassy Tal’darim who is in an Alliance of convenience with our heroes. I loved clicking them and getting their perspectives in the different scenes. Each showed just how layered and complex the Protoss are a species.

Unit Choices in Battle – As you recruit different factions you can choose what units you can bring into battle. Tal’darim have damage based unit types, Aiur Protoss are about shields, Purifiers are strong units and the Dark Templar are the infiltrators. Depending on the mission different units will serve you better. This was a lot of fun and gave a different dynamic to how to go about completing missions.

Mission Variety – This game has the best mission variety out of all the different Starcraft IIs. Whether it was defending resources and moving to different gather points on a moving metal disk, stopping a base from crashing into the Dominion homeworld and having to repair and defend it, a countdown to prevent Amon from getting his body and countless others. All of them were a lot of fun and felt epic in scale.

Co-op Missions – Co-op campaigns are what kept me coming back after finishing the main campaign. In Co-op games you choose a hero and level them up as you face off against Amon’s forces. Kerrigan was the first I leveled up fully as you use her abilities that strengthen her and the unit composition of her army. Since release there have been many more released with my favorite new character being Dehaka who leads a pack of Primal Zerg. The fact that each commander is different keeps the game interesting since I haven’t really done multiplayer. I seriously recommend Co-op. It is the best example of how great the gameplay got in “Legacy of the Void.”

The Cons: Rule of Cool – One of the annoying things about this game was how often it went to “Rule of Cool,” like “Mass Effect 3” did on countless occasions when ever Cerberus was involved. The best example of this are the times that Artanis goes in alone. He is leading his entire species and he refuses to let anyone come with him. I get the Protoss are honor bound but the entire Universe is at stake. This is how the Rule of Cool can become the Rule of Stupid. To create a cool looking fight characters will do stupid things to bring about impossible battles and due to plot armor will win. I hate that type of garbage storytelling and a few of the cutscenes were just that.

The Epilogue – The epilogue is a lot of fun to play, you get to play with the Protoss, Terran and Zerg armies. First with the Protoss as you fight Narud in the Void, second the Terran as you defend Kerrigan turning into a Xel’Naga and finally as the the Zerg and Kerrigan where you break down Amon’s defenses so that Kerrigan can kill him. It is gameplay over story as there is one missing Xel’Naga who was trapped for some reason and turns Kerrigan into a Xel’Naga / God. It is so silly. The only things I liked about it was the combat and the fact that Kerrigan saw it as a way to atone for her sins as the Queen of Blades. This is the only way it worked, and I did like the afterword that Zagara as the Overqueen leading the new Swarm. Still was mostly stupid, the fight against Amon should have been the main mission given how dangerous he is. Making it an epilogue made the story that they set up in Wings of Liberty feel rushed and poorly thought out.

“Legacy of the Void,” for all of the flaws it has is well worth your time. Gameplaywise it is the best of the Trilogy and storywise has the main flaws that littered the entire Trilogy with rushed setups and failure to have payoffs. They did kill off Zeratul which for me puts it above “Wings of Liberty” in story though. This story did take risks, and the overall theme of uniting the Protoss in the main campaign was fantastic. In the end I’d rate it slightly below “Heart of the Swarm” but above “Wings of Liberty.” The Epilogue hurts the final score the most as does Rule of Cool but it is still a game that I can’t help but recommend. I haven’t played the Nova DLC but if I do that will be a future review. For now, Blizzard had a good end to their series, even if it failed to reach greatness in the final chapter/Epilogue.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

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Starcraft: Brood War Campaign Reviews – Episode 4 – The Protoss Campaign – The Survivors’ Story

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We begin the “Starcraft: Brood War Campaign Reviews” with the Protoss campaign and right where we left off at the end of “Starcraft.” The Overmind has been destroyed but the Zerg are running  rampant across Aiur.

The story begins with Judicator Aldaris wanting to stand and fight against the Zerg, but Zeratul offers an alternative as the Protoss Conclave was destroyed fighting the zerg. His alternative is to escape with the Protoss to the Dark Templar homeworld of Shakuras being lead by Zeratul and the new Executor Artanis. Fenix and Raynor defend the Warp Gate on Aiur side for them to make their escape. Once there they find the Zerg followed them through the Warp Gate. From here they find the Dark Templar they are brought to the Dark Templar Matriarch Raszagal. She works with them to wipe out the Zerg and says she forgives but will not forget what the Conclave did in persecuting her people.

From her they learn they can use a Xel’Naga Temple to destroy the Zerg on Shakuras but they need two Crystals, the Uraj and Khalis to do so. They destroy the Cerebrates guarding the Temple and Kerrigan arrives warning of a new Overmind. When the Matriarch chooses to listen to her Judicator Aldaris leaves and Artanis, Zeratul and the Templar work with Kerrigan with getting the Crystals from the United Earth Directorate (one of the new Terran threats that has arrived) and Daggoth’s Swarm and the Infant Overmind who are using one of the Crystals to help the new Overmind incubate. After getting the Crystals they return to Shakuras.

At Shakuras they learn that Aldaris has rebelled and go to take him out, but right before Zeratul and Artanis do Kerrigan kills him before he can reveal something about the Matriarch in how they have all been manipulated by Kerrigan. Kerrigan is thrown off Shakuras but promises she’ll meet them again soon.

Last is the final assault and Raszagal is acting crazy, saying all non-Protoss will be destroyed who are threats against them. Zeratul calls her on it and she calms down before the final assault and protecting the Temple from the Zerg before it activates and destroys the Zerg threat on Shakuras.

Brood War Protoss Mission Brief

Here is the assessment of the campaign:

The Pros: The Gameplay – The Gameplay is even better than before this time around, though the original missions flowed better in regards to Episode 3 of the Protoss Campaign in the “Original Starcraft.” The addition of the Dark Templar as a playable unit is fantastic though and they make the campaign even more fun as they are extremely deadly and create Dark Archons who can mind control units.

The Cinematics – The cinematics are better than the Original as well, though there are less of them. The only one we see is when Artanis and Zeratul activate the Xel’Naga Temple to destroy the Zerg that are surrounding them. It is a great scene and reminiscent of Tassadar’s Sacrifice.

The Characters

Zeratul – Zeratul is the best part of the mission still, he’s complicated and has a deep devotion to his Matriarch even if he questions her. He is also leading the Protoss from Aiur who were trying to capture and kill him in the last game. He is very much a big picture kind of character still, but not perfect as he gets used by Kerrigan to destroy some of her rival Cerebrates.

Judicator Aldaris – Aldaris is there as the warning sign, he knows what Kerrigan’s up to from the beginning but because of his pride doesn’t tell the others. This costs him his life in the end as Kerrigan kills him, but he leaves a legacy of things to come as he was the only Protoss not in Kerrigan’s pocket. He dies a hero in the end.

Fenix and Raynor – These two are best buddies and Zerg Hunters. There interactions are fun to watch as they risk all so the Protoss can escape to Shakuras, I do wish we could have seen more of them. Fenix was one of my favorite from the original game.

Kerrigan – She is a great threat in this. She manipulates everyone and there are hints she has further designs as she tells Zeratul she will see him again soon. She also is shown to have some sort of influence of the Matriarch Raszagal of the Dark Templar. We get the beginning of her plans in this mission as the end of the “Original Starcraft” had warned us about.

Okay/Good: The Ending – The Protoss are finally safe, except for the fact that Kerrigan said she would see them later. One Zerg threat dealt with, another still remains and has the upper hand…

Okay: Executor Artanis – Way too idealistic. Guy wants to be Tassadar but doesn’t have much of a character. I hope he gets development in “Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void” right now he is neutral, not much is known about him or his motivations except his idealism. Tassadar was for more interesting as he had to make choices and was an outsider among his people. Artanis is just a standard idealistic Protoss.

Matriarch Raszagal – We never know why she forgives Kerrigan but can’t forgive the Conclave as both were killing her people. This was a major plot hole and it hurts her character. She is still okay as she is the eldest of the Dark Templar and her friendship with Zeratul feels real. The problem is not knowing how deep Kerrigan’s manipulations are on her which limits her character and character development.

This is a fun campaign but not as good as the Original. The politics don’t feel as real and Aldaris just disappears before he is an enemy, Raszagal’s motivations aren’t fully explored and Artanis is a flat character. It was still fun, but the last Protoss Campaign was better. This was good though, even with those story problems.

Final Score: 8 / 10

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Starcraft: Brood War Campaign Reviews

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After finishing up the “Original Starcraft Campaign Reviews” I decided it was time to move on those of the expansion. They, like the original will be posted sporadically as this is for fun and a chance to review one of my favorite games…while at the same time seeing if the story holds up.

Blizzard has always been very good at expansions, “The Frozen Throne” of “Warcraft III” was better than the original “Warcraft III” in my opinion, and I remembered “Brood War” being better than the original Starcraft. Whether that is still the case now remains to be seen in both cases.

The characters of “Brood War” like the “Original Starcraft” are pretty amazing and part of what pulled me into the story, beyond the fun gameplay and civilizations. Blizzard has always done politics and mythology well.

After I complete the “Brood War Reviews” I’ll be doing a compare and contrast with the Original and giving them both a final score in finding which one is better. Reviewing videogames can be quite fun, especially when the storytellers are those at Blizzard. Thanks for joining me for the next adventure. Here goes the “Starcraft: Brood War Campaign Reviews.”

The Original Starcraft Campaign Reviews – Episode 3 – The Protoss Campaign – The Journey of Tassadar

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“You speak of knowledge, Judicator? You speak of experience? I have journeyed through the darkness between the most distant stars. I have beheld the births of negative-suns and borne witness to the entropy of entire realities… Unto my experience, Aldaris, all that you’ve built here on Aiur is but a fleeting dream. A dream from which your precious Conclave shall awaken, finding themselves drowned in a greater nightmare.” -Zeratul

We continue the “Original Starcraft Campaign Reviews” with the final episode in Original Starcraft. The episode picks up where the Zerg campaign left off with the Overmind established on Aiur and how the protoss try to defeat it.

The story begins with the Judicator ordering you and Fenix to protect Antioch, after your defense Tassadar appears and tells you and the Judicator that the Cerebrates control the Zerg. You as Fenix attack but are unable to defeat it as it reincarnates. Fenix is left to defend Antioch as you are asked to free Scion as Fenix falls in Antioch. There is a cinematic here of the Fall of Antioch of Fenix standing alone against the swarm.

Feeling comfortable in their power the Conclave (the Religious Order who runs the Protoss Government) asks you to hunt down Tassadar and bring him to justice. You find Tassadar on Char with Raynor and join with them in order to find and free Zeratul and his Dark Templar who are being held captive by the Zerg in an infested Terran facility. After you save him you are attacked by the Conclave and denounced for siding with the heretics as Raynor and Fenix who has been put into a Dragoon shell fight with you agains the Conclave. After a fight with the Conclave Tassadar gives himself up for justice to stop the Civil War.

After the fight Fenix and Raynor rescue Tassadar from execution with Zeratul and his people arriving at the end to facilitate the rescue and to show Judicator Aldaris how blinded he and the conclave are by tradition. For Zeratul is ancient and has seen the darkness between the stars and the full danger of what the Overmind has planned.

Next is preparation for the final assault, you, Zeratul and Fenix are tasked with killing two Cerebrates with Zeratul’s Dark Templar energy (the only thing that can kill them) to weaken the Overmind’s defenses. After you do this it is the final assault.

It is here we learn more of the mythos and the Xel’Naga quest for the perfect life form which the Overmind plans to become by consuming the Protoss and after consuming all sentient life in the Universe. Judicator Aldaris calls you to apologize as he saw how the Dark Templar destroyed the Cerebrates and only wishes that he and the Conclave had been smarter sooner as they call Tassadar the best of them. This is the last stand to stop it as it has established itself as the greatest threat. In order to defeat it Tassadar uses his Templar and Dark Templar energy to kill it after your assault destroys it’s outer shell. From here there is an awesome cinematic and we are left with the epilogue.

The epilogue says that Aiur is destroyed even though the Overmind is stopped and that the Queen of Blades Kerrigan now sees this opportunity to rise in power. Setting up “Starcraft: Brood War.”

Protoss Campaign Mission Screen

Here is the assessment of the campaign:

The Pros: The cinematography – This one has the best cinematography, largely because we get character moments…from Fenix’s fall at Antioch or Tassadar’s sacrifice to destroy the Overmind. We also see Fenix and his fleet working with Raynor and his Raiders at one point too during the quest to free Tassadar.

Gameplay: The is the most difficult campaign up to this point, which is good. It lets you feel the full threat of the Conclave and the Overmind and each mission provides unique challenges and resource management in order to defeat the larger more powerful enemy.

Judicator Aldaris – The Judicator is awesome as the voice of the Conclave, he is a traditionalist who believes in the assigned roles within Protoss society, and truly cares for Aiur and his people. We see that he is capable of growth too as he realizes he was wrong about the Dark Templar and Tassadar at the end and sends his wishes with them. Tassadar is always a counter to him throughout most of the missions as he sees the bigger picture and Zeratul is there to how just how out of his depth this character is as he has no retort against everything Zeratul has seen in his travels. I liked this character as he wasn’t a villain, he was your ally, antagonist and once again ally at the end in the fight against the Overmind.

Raynor – Joins with Tassadar to save Zeratul and later with Fenix to save Tassadar. You get the feeling that after being used by Mengsk he was looking for a higher calling and he found it in the fight to save the Universe. He has his Battlecruiser at this point too and it is great to see his friendship and respect grow through working with the Protoss. He is the only human  we’ve seen so far to do so.

Fenix – Fenix is the soldier and grunt who is one of the military leaders on Aiur. He is noble but has an open mind as he becomes friends with Raynor after fighting with him against the Conclave and the Zerg and works with the Dark Templar even though they’ve been deemed heretics by his religion. He has a great design too, in both his zealot and dragoon form.

The Overmind – We never see it’s perspective but we feel the threat of it, as well as learning of it’s quest to become Perfect by consuming the Protoss and later consuming the Universe. It is pretty awesome and gives us even more of a reason to fear and respect it than we did playing for it during the Zerg campaign. It is for this reason it’s defeat feels real and Tassadar’s sacrifice actually means something.

Zeratul – Zeratul is the dark wizard of this mission. Which is interesting since when you meet him he needs to be rescued from Kerrigan’s Zerg assault we witnessed last campaign. He is a rogue element to the protoss but always comes through. He believes that the Dark Templar need to protect the world that was once their home even though it is painful in the process. He is also the only one who can kill Cerebrates and is the one responsible for training Tassadar how to use both Dark and Light Templar energies. He is one of my favorite characters for sure. By his nature he is the refugee trying to survive, but he is able to be more as it is thanks to him they can defeat the Overmind, and sadly thanks to him the Overmind discover Auir in the first place when they shared minds when he killed his first cerebrate.

Tassadar – There is a reason I made Tassadar part of the title. This is his story. We saw him the Zerg campaign learning the ways of the Dark Templar, we saw him in the Terran campaign destroying infested planets and learn later he chose not to destroy ones that could fight back on their own…both of which got him blacklisted by the Conclave. From here he is seeking balance. He wants so badly for there to be peace on Aiur but is attacked by the Conclave up until Zeratul, Fenix and Raynor free Tassadar from them and they defeat two of the Cerebrates together. You see his sadness at what the Civil War in his people wrought and the loss of his planet of Aiur. It is for this reason you can understand his sacrifice. He cares for those who persecuted him and he isn’t perfect…as he thought any protoss could defeat the Cerebrates at first (didn’t realize until later only Dark Templar energies could) and he gives himself up for justice, which almost leads to the cost of the Universe as he is the only one who wields both Dark and Light energies.

Okay: General Duke – He appears on Char and says that it is Dominion Space. Tassadar threatens him and comes off pretty cruel as he says he maybe should have glassed some planets if there were people like General Duke around. They fight and you don’t see him again, there isn’t much there.

I can’t think of any cons to this campaign beyond Duke not getting much character time. There is politics via the Conclave versus Tassadar in the Civil War on Aiur as Aiur burns…there is the mythos of the Xel’Naga and the Overmind’s quest for perfection in order to consume all (and the fact that the Xel’Naga are not recognized as good since they were trying to create the perfect life forms (their elevating of the Protoss), and Raynor, Fenix, Tassadar, Zeratul and the Judicator are amazing characters…and the Overmind is the biggest threat. You understand why it was the end boss fight after everything it destroys in the Terran, Zerg and Protoss campaigns. It is the only consistently valid threat that has Universe changing consequences. Character actions mean something and characters change. Zeratul stands in the light, Tassadar stops running, Judicator stand with the Heretics and Jim finds a reason to fight.

Final Score for this campaign is 10 / 10. Does everything it needs to do and what I want out of a story…as well as establishing a future threat via the loss of Aiur and the rise of Kerrigan.

“En Taro Adun!”

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