Sunday, January 24, 2016

I Played: StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void

For Aiur!

I grew up playing the original StarCraft and its expansion Brood War. I can't begin to count how many hours I sunk into multiplayer, largely playing games within the game that people had made using the map editor to turn a competitive RTS into a co-op RPG or a tower defense game or something else entirely. So when StarCraft II was announced when I was in college, I was pretty excited. Well, the third part of the StarCraft II trilogy has finally come out and I've been slowly working my way through the final part, Legacy of the Void.

StarCraft II has some really tight multiplayer and I've found it immensely enjoyable to watch it played at a professional level. However, it was initially a bit of a disappointment for me because of the campaign. I can understand the change, it's much easier to gloss over many events from the previous game in order to make the story line accessible to a larger audience, but that doesn't mean I wasn't disappointed when the two principle characters, Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan, were substantially different people from the end of StarCraft's expansion. Luckily, their drama was largely wrapped up with the previous expansion pack and Legacy of the Void is free to focus on the Protoss and their struggle against the larger antagonist that has been building in the background.

Right from the start, you get exciting events for old players of StarCraft, namely the re-taking of Aiur, and the player's goal and your stakes are quickly established. The formidable skill of Blizzard's mission design team is on full display here and missions never feel stale or boring. The pre-rendered cut scenes are also gorgeous and exciting as is expected for a Blizzard game. Even down to the smallest details, such as units exploding on the game map, the tiniest details have seen loving care.

Of course, there are two problems with the game and they are unfortunately very visible. A myriad of characters join your cause throughout the campaign but they rarely get more than 2 missions to really shine and develop their characters. Even those who show up early and get more cut scenes often simply repeat the same information before eventually changing their tune off-camera. Thinking back on the game, your robotic ally is the only one who undergoes any sort of interesting development on-camera and even then most of it is discussions about his off-camera time.

The only other thing that stands out is the botched threat of the antagonist. After the early missions, you and your friends zip around the galaxy trying to recruit help to your fight, but the looming threat of destruction is never really in your face. Characters talk to you in worried voices about planets falling quiet as destruction rages across the galaxy, but you never see much of it; it's always told to you by other characters. Had we been able to see this opponent taking over the galaxy, a la Mass Effect 3's War Asset Map or something similar, the threat would've felt real. It's a simple problem of telling and not showing.

Overall, it's a solid entry into Blizzard's long running RTS series and if anyone reading this has been holding out on StarCraft II after sinking hours into the original StarCraft, it's time that you looked to fixing this oversight.

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void is out now on PC/Mac and is currently best bought as this set which contains all the campaigns: StarCraft II: The Complete Trilogy

Sunday, January 17, 2016

I Played: Creeper World 3: Arc Infinity

A challenge level in Creeper World 3. I assure you it isn't so complicated as it looks.

I stumbled onto Creeper World 3 during the recent Steam sale and I'm glad I did. It's a strategy game where you must stem the flow of the Creeper, a substance that threatens to engulf the entire map. To give you the long and the short of it, Creeper pours out of blue diamonds called Emitters slowly pooling and taking over the map with water physics. At the start of each map, you get to place your command center(s), build a network to provide yourself with power, and then use that power to build weapons and other useful tools to fight your way through the Creeper and seal the Emitters it comes from. If you'd like to see a full level and get a bit more of a breakdown on some of the tools available to you, here's a video of Quill18 playing one of the levels towards the middle of the story mode: Quill18's Let's Try Creeper World 3

Strategy games are a genre that always appeals to me because of the grand scale of the game systems, but I often find myself having trouble doing well in them. Creeper World 3 is exactly the sort of strategy game for me then, as you're able to take a leisurely pace with the levels and win in many different ways, even for someone who likes to play defensively like me. The story mode wasn't too long and the missions never felt stale with new mechanics or gimmicks showing up frequently. Once you're most of the way through the story mode, you open up extra game modes that contain more challenging levels which will really challenge your knowledge of the mechanics.

All groupings of challenge levels. There's a lot here to enjoy.
You can buy Creeper World 3: Arc Infinity from Steam or directly from the developer for $15.