When I went into Game, they didn’t have any copies of Legacy of the Void on display. It seems like everyone was so caught up in Fallout 4 and its midnight launch parties that poor old SC2 got lost in the noise. When the assistant had to go and rummage in the back room for five minutes, I did wonder if I’d have to go home and — horror of horrors — purchase a digital only copy.
Luckily they did have physical boxes, not that it made a difference since I had to download the game anyway. One day, I swear Blizzard will fix their stupid installer… But until then, it’s PROTOSS TIME!
Legacy of the Void
I like ham and cheese, both in my sandwiches and in my narratives. That’s why I like the protoss — every single line of dialogue is dripping with prophetic intensity, every word uttered with absolute sincerity. Does any of it actually make sense? That’s debatable, but it sure is fun.
So where are we now? Five years after the base game was released, two years after the previous expansion pack? With all that waiting, you’d be forvigen for having high expectations. Legacy of the Void meets… some of them, maybe.
The campaign has the same underlying format as the other two. It begins with the long-awaited invasion of Aiur, but something goes wrong and poor old Artanis has to retreat with his tail between his legs — and rebuild his forces from the ground up. Fly around the galaxy, kill bad guys, reacquire all the unit types you had before, yadda yadda. Nothing new there.
The good news is that, after the fairly weak prologue, the missions are actually really good again. The protoss are a bit finicky to play in places, but the mission gimmicks don’t feel quite so forced and the challenge level is about right. Having felt that the prologue was too easy I started the Legacy of the Void campaign on Hard and struggled through the first couple of missions before I hit a roadblock and downgraded to the more comfortable Normal.
That’s not to say Normal is actually that bad, but when you factor in trying to grind for achievements as well as actually completing the mission it starts to hit the spot nicely. Towards the latter half of the campaign it starts to hot up such that gaining some achievements becomes an actual challenge!
The meta-game elements that build up between missions have undergone another overhaul to match the protoss, and instead of terran mercenaries or Kerrigan the hero you get access to four ultimate abilities from the Spear of Adun. That’s your spaceship and it has massive guns that have their own mana pool, which charges up from zero during the mission.
The abilities range from support to brutal offence, from teleporting a Pylon in with some bonus units to three massive lasers to automating your vespene refineries (where have we seen that one before?) to mass teleporting your army back to your base (that saved my bacon more than once, let me tell you). Each of the four abilities has three options based on how you assign your solarite cache to it, and beyond that there are two passive abilities — and if you’ve got an odd lump of solarite left after all that, you can use it to boost construction time and unit shields instead.
This is all good stuff but I have one problem with it — the Spear of Adun can be endlessly reconfigured between missions to suit your taste (except in the epilogue where it locks you into all the shit powers), and I don’t like that you can chop and change without cost. Why put any real thought into your ability choices when you can try-before-you-buy?
The solarite stack you acquire from bonus objectives during missions is just like the money, protoss and zerg research points of Wings of the Liberty and the zerg essence of Heart of the Swarm. It is finite, so there is still an element of balancing the books between your favourite abilities, just like when you had finite cash with which to purchase upgrades and mercenary contracts, but it is still impermanent. Choice and consequence? Hard decisions? Nah. Start again with a different suite.
I wonder if many people complained about WoL‘s permanent choices, and whether Blizzard toned them down because of such a backlash. Even HotS had a couple of permanent choices, despite how odious those “evolution” “missions” were. The campaign isn’t just a sequence of skirmish missions, though, and that is to its credit — I just wish it would embrace the RPG elements instead of poking at them and recoiling in horror. These meta-game elements, the bonus units and upgrades and the point-and-click conversations in between missions, these are what makes Starcraft II‘s campaigns literally more than the sums of their parts.
I think that there’s an element of cognitive overload with this approach, though, at least for me. Instead of spending a decent amount of time considering a single choice and then having to live with it from there on, therefore removing it from thought, you have to reconsider every choice between every mission.
The troop selections are similarly ephemeral. As you unlock a new unit type you gain access to one alternate variation of it, with a third option appearing after some later mission.
Even after the first appearance of a unit, though, the base version gets a free upgrade, which seems a bit crap — why not fold that into another currency system? Wings of Liberty‘s cash system made you choose between upgrading particular units, letting you focus on the ones you liked and sacrifice the rest. Here your units get boosted as soon as they’ve arrived without even trying.
On the plus side, you get to play with some of those amazeballs red-‘n’-spiky Tal’darim units first seen in the prologue, some brand new cool stuff, plus some classics like the Dragoon and the Dark Archon.
It’s a whole lot stronger than Heart of the Swarm but still weaker than Wings of Liberty. The various minor narratives of the protoss don’t seem to quite have enough time to breathe, perhaps begging for a few more missions so that the exposition dumps don’t appear quite so jammed in. Yes, the plot is mostly mince but apart from the finale it’s still the right kind of mince, and the protoss characters are simply much more fun to be around than the zerg ones.
I thought SC2 would be over at this point and I’d be free, but they have now announced Nova: Covert Ops which does actually sound like what I’ve been waiting for all these years. Single-hero campaign? At last! Whether the reality of the “first three missions” will match the glory of Rexxar remains to be seen, but it reassuringly looks like there’s singleplayer life left in this hunk of junk yet.