What a lovely birthday present, thanks Blizzard — you released the second pack of Nova: Covert Ops missions on the 2nd of August to commemorate me getting old!
Ahem. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the first mission pack, but by the third mission things were (mechanically at least) starting to look up. Will the three missions of the second pack drop the ball again or blast off into brilliance?
Nova: Covert Ops (Pack 2: Missions 4 to 6)
So, actually, yes, this next set of missions have picked up where the first three left off and become… pretty damn good! The scenarios are (slightly) more meaty, your tech tree fills up fast so you’re not just training a thousand of the same two units, Nova gets a little bit of her fire back in dialogue…
The first mission promises a bit more than it actually delivers, but is still a solid mission all round. The zerg are invading a tourist resort world and the Defenders of Man are defending them — except then our old favourite grim ‘n’ ridiculous Protoss faction, the Tal’darim, show up and you’ve got to take them down instead.
The dream, I suppose, was for a long four-way battle — battling the zerg, the Defenders of Man and the Tal’darim — but in reality your focus is a special Tal’darim mothership. There are four shield charging stations on the map, which need to be destroyed to stop it steamrolling into the civilians. The shields charge fairly quickly, and destroying a charger is met with immediate counter-attack before the next one comes online and the cycle repeats, so you are kept constantly on your toes.
This mission also showcases the Nova equipment choices to a meaningful degree. Well, meaningful in the sense that I made terrible terrible choices on my first attempt and it made the mission basically unwinnable. The Protoss are quite aerial, but you don’t know it’s a Protoss fight until the mission has actually started — needless to say, I gave Nova the lightsabre and a self-healing gadget, and with Banshees in the air I had absolutely zero anti-air capabilities. Second time around I loaded up on the sniper rifle and the jump-jets and things went rather more smoothly.
The second mission is much more relaxed, in that you’re not under constant threat. You face the Tal’darim again, along with swarms of infested humans, but the Tal’darim are pretty relaxed about everything and I had plenty of time to build up a steam-rolling ball of death with which to blunt any of their advances with nary a backward glance.
The really special thing I enjoyed about this mission, however, were the two micro-dungeons. While the main mission is a traditional build-base-defend-structures mission, there are two Nova-only mini-boss fights that reward you with new equipment options. The main battle pauses as you go into two little bonus areas and do your thing.
It’s not exactly the epic open-world dungeon crawl I dreamt of, and it surely wouldn’t have been that much extra effort to extend these sections with some more single-unit sneaking and shooting, but it’s a cute addition that ticks at least a few of the boxes.
And, gosh, I do love Alarak so much, so his appearance was an unexpected delight. He’s just so grim — it must be tremendous fun being his voice actor, getting to deliver these ridiculous lines in a gravelly voice dripping with overblown scorn.
Hell, I’d pay money for an Alarak campaign in the same vein as this one. While the writers don’t seem to quite “get” Nova, they can still handle Alarak’s overblown stupidity nicely.
The sixth and final mission of this pack is a Supreme Commander-style expanding map. You start off in a small area and progressing along the main quest makes the map geography expand to reveal new zerg bases.
The premise is trying to recover Nova’s wiped memories by exploring the location of her last mission, and I was somewhat hoping for more sub-sections like the previous mission, little RPG-style elements playing through “the past”. Alas, you just get cinematics of Nova and her other ghost pal worrying that their employers are a bit shady. A missed opportunity for more varied gameplay, I say, but you do get to make a choice with each one — of which zerg creatures you’ll face in the present when the memory ends.
Indeed, the map contains a small gimmick in the subway network that allows you to transport all your units safely and instantaneously between four points. It’s a nice idea, except the mission, at least on normal, isn’t so perilous that it’s particularly necessary — and nor is the map particularly large to require shortcuts. It’s like the mission is conceptually much larger but they just couldn’t be bothered actually beefing it up.
So overall, an upward trajectory and more clearly worth the money than the first three missions. It’s all traditional base-building with very slight interludes of operating covertly, so we’re straying further and further from the promise and the ideal, but at least the base building is quite satisfying, and there are enough shifts and tweaks to keep things interesting.
I guess my main problem is that everything is quite so bite-sized. Maybe it’s rose-tinted spectacles, but I felt that Wings of Liberty had bigger, chunkier missions that were much more involved. Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void seemed to eschew these in favour of smaller missions with less things happening, rarely taking more than 20 minutes to play. While I can see that working for dip-in dip-out competitive multiplayer, I feel like my base-building singleplayer should have a bit more lasting impact — it’s a bit dull to rebuild the same base and then it all be over when you’ve barely hit the top of your tech tree again, especially with “normal” difficulty being rather on the easy side but “hard” being impossible.
Ah well. Things are starting to hot up so maybe the third and final suite of missions will take us to the limit — and then maybe future mission packs will continue to improve…