Blog 651: Whispers of O’Blivion

Legacy of the Void will apparently be released on the 10th of November. Get hype?

Well, the hype train started with this strange prologue campaign that was released just a few days ago. Is it the promised land of a Rexxar-style Zeratul RPG?

I think you know the answer to that, but read on anyway. (There are spoilers for everything SC2 so far, if you care.)

Whispers of Oblivion

It’s not without precedent — Warcraft III released a demo campaign that comprised the two tutorial levels and three maps that then did not appear in the real game. Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast had a special demo mission that didn’t appear in the main game either, a little stand-alone episode.

So, top marks to Blizzard this time for actually making their demo campaign be included in the main game, so it will be playable forever and not lost to time and installation juggling. I suppose they win either way, this time — the “Starter Edition” of Starcraft II is entirely free as long as you’re online, so a little campaign demo might entice you to lay down real money for the full package. (Since I have the real game(s) I get to play offline once it’s installed. Winning!)

Only Blizzard could make the construction of a single Pylon so dramatic in the opening cinematic.
Only Blizzard could make the construction of a single Pylon so dramatic in the opening cinematic.

I know I’m only here for the campaigns anyway, or rather, the Wings of Liberty campaign at least. The first expansion pack, Heart of the Swarm, focused on the Zerg instead of the Terrans, and unfortunately did a slightly worse job of applying the same meta-game features that made the WoL campaign so good to those ravenous, thoughtless fleshbeasts.

The storyline was also simultaneously better and worse — Wings of Liberty had that nagging sense that more than half of its 30 missions are actually pointless side quests. The stuff with Tosh, Hanson, even Horner’s revolutionary missions — it’s all secondary to the artefact/prophecy end-of-the-universe plot. The revolution stuff fits in better as it gives the game its opening, its springboard into we-need-the-money into oh-that-artefact-can-do-something-amazeballs, but it is soon sidelined for, well, saving the galaxy.

Heart of the Swarm‘s plot is, of course, utter balls; but at least it’s pretty cohesive balls (in and of itself, disregarding how it seems to retcon all the Zerg lore ever). Kerrigan rebuilds the swarm, increases in power, takes revenge — Zeratul’s prophetic mumblings are relegated to a quick “keep doin’ what’chu doin’, sista” and we get back to the business of murderous fleshbeasts. Okay, there are forays into Narud’s Hybrids and so on, but these feel like more natural consequences of Kerrigan murdering everyone she doesn’t like along the way rather than asides that don’t go anywhere.

Talis is a girl Protoss and this is still not a romance sub-plot. Shut up about prophecies and give me some smooching, damn it!
Talis is a girl Protoss and this is still not a romance sub-plot. Shut up about prophecies and give me some smooching, damn it!

What does all that have to do with Whispers of Oblivion? Well, we must know our past to make sense of our present, and one of the other things I didn’t like about HotS was that it was far too easy. Initially, I wasn’t sure if it was the Zerg that are just easier to play, but then I played WoO as the Protoss and it is equally as… well, smooth. Maybe I am just outgrowing Normal, but I fear moving up to Hard because that has always gone too far in the other direction — I want something that feels like I can win it, not a hyperactive eSports curb-stomp.

Whispers of Oblivion is otherwise standard fare, a three-mission campaign comprising two melee-plus-gimmick battles and one Zeratul+Stalkers blink-fest dungeon crawl.

(Definitely not that Rexxar-style RPG we’re desperately crying out for, then.)

Is this dialogue a reference to the fact that any sufficiently large ball of units is completely unstoppable?
Is this dialogue a reference to the fact that any sufficiently large ball of units is completely unstoppable?

The first mission has you battling to rescue some captured Protoss from a facility where Hybrids are being bred; except Kerrigan and the Swarm, despite making friends with Raynor and all at the end of HotS, are supremely hostile in a way that just seems… well, unnatural. Why not “why yes Zeratul, I’ll hold the swarm back until you’ve rescued your pals, then we can beat up the Hybrids together”? Nope, they go on a rampage and you have to fight around their waves, to win the scenario before they can fight down the central lane and blow up the station.

Blizzard have kind of hamstrung themselves with the Zerg, I think — no longer are they mindless fleshbeasts that desire universal domination, now they’ve got a Strong Female Leader who has had her Heroic Redemption and (supposedly) isn’t a total psychopath anymore. Basically, you can’t use the Zerg as baddies anymore, so stop it.

(Except feral Zerg without an overmind could totally function as creeps in that Rexxar-style Zeratul RPG. Set it as part of the recolonisation of Aiur after the main campaign? Assuming they successfully retake Aiur in the campaign and it doesn’t end with the entire universe exploding.)

If they are so pro, how did they let themselves get captured, hmm?
If they are so pro, how did they let themselves get captured, hmm?

The second mission redeems itself with some truly gorgeous Tal’darim artwork. They were just normal Protoss given a muted green colour scheme in Wings of Liberty (cheap palette-swap etc etc etc), but here they’ve really gone to town. They’re now so grim and so dark, but in that most beautifully hammy 90s way — take the gold and blue of the Protoss and turn it red and black and add spikes. It’s so perfect.

(And it would introduce a whole heap of variety for characters in that Rexxar-style RPG. Replace Admiral Proudmoore’s Kul Tiras refugees with Tal’darim returning to colonise Aiur? Replace Jaina with a renegade Tal’darim who likes normal Protoss? Add Nova? The possibilities are endless. Blizzard, I’ll happily leave my job for a creative direction role.)

The gimmick this time is that vespene can only be gathered from periodic “seismic eruptions” (ooh er) rather than normal extractors. Pretty sure we’ve done that before too.


The final mission, well, no gimmicks here. It’s almost a straight retread of one of the bonus Zeratul missions from WoL — take some stalkers, blink over some gaps, avoid people that can see through invisibility, reach objective, escape through collapsing temple. It’s like they weren’t even trying.

You don’t even get a stasifying hero fight in the middle of it, despite the tremendous character model of Ma’lash the villainous Highlord. Well, Zeratul has “Void Armour” instead of “Void Prison” this time but seriously, when did prefixing anything with “void” make it cool?

Void energy, nooooo! ... Wait, Zeratul uses the Void, wouldn't he WANT this?
Void energy, nooooo! … Wait, Zeratul uses the Void, wouldn’t he WANT this?

The Verdict

So, yes, not exactly a glowing review. There’s nothing much special here except that, luckily, I do quite enjoy playing the game — so although the narrative has painted itself into a corner, the gameplay is as fun as ever, even if they’re clearly running out of gimmicks to vary the scenarios. (Maybe they could try a Rexxar-style RPG instead?)

If they can bring the campaign meta elements back to their heights in WoL, though, and since the Protoss are not ravenous fleshbeasts this should be possible, then it could still be very good. The production values and the grand space magic daftness are still things that I want out of life and still things that SC2 provides in spades… Maybe all I need to do is take the plunge and start playing on Hard.

And you tell me...

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