Ahhh, Starcraft II is an interesting beast. I’ve never had any concern over eSports or online multiplayer, but I have huge respect for what SC2 did with its singleplayer campaigns — tossing the hyper-balanced melee factions out the window and expanding them with bonus units, configuration options and special abilities.
The things is… the meta-plot, of the Dark Voice returning to obliterate all life in the Koprulu Sector (The galaxy? The universe? It’s actually never really made clear that his ambitions are more than localised) is a bit of a mess. Like, Blizzard, you got away with that in Warcraft III because Archimonde was a literal demon — you can’t pull the same trick twice, and definitely not in such a different setting (at least not without groundwork that simply isn’t present).
Having said that, I think there are some good stories in the mix here, so maybe it’s time to do some reworking…
If I Wrote… Starcraft II
I’m going to start by saying that, overall, the terran campaign, Wings of Liberty, is actually pretty solid. Raynor’s rebellion against the tyrannical Mengsk is a clean motivation, easy to follow and get behind.
The funny thing is that you don’t need a single bit of the Dark Voice meta-plot to make a satisfying campaign out of this — drop Zeratul’s cute bonus micro-campaign and replace the de-zergification of Kerrigan with a climax of storming Mengsk’s citadel with a riled-up populace behind you and you’re golden. Things really broke down for me when the broadcast of proof of Mengsk’s villainy didn’t actually affect the plot — it’s crudely relegated to a side quest despite how it is appears to rock the foundations of the Dominion in some cinematics.
The de-zergification of Kerrigan is another thing that annoys me. Or rather, what annoys me is that within about five missions of Heart of the Swarm it has been undone (well, with some extra purple glowing bits).
I feel like there’s a whole heap of The Fear in here — I’m not the biggest Starcraft fan but I’ll concede that the Queen of Blades has an iconic silhouette (zerg-heels aside), so I get the impression the campaign simply had to get her back in shape to satisfy the die-hards. I’ve made this point in a thousand places before — if you’re going to do something and reverse it, just don’t do it at all. Either have the confidence to carry de-zerged Kerrigan all the way or find some other method to “save” her.
The more I think about SC2, the more I think they’d written themselves into a corner years ago. The zerg simply don’t make for good meta-plot carriers — while you have the terrans and the protoss getting all chummy because, well, neither of them desire to assimilate all life in the universe. The zerg cannot be reasoned with, so, yes, Kerrigan had to be made reasonable to give them a hope in hell of being useful in moving the universe forward.
On the other hand, isn’t the joy of playing zerg getting to be the bad guy just for a bit? Forgetting all the diplomacy and adventure and just murdering and eating everything in your path?
Anyway, I’m going to begin my rewrite with a bold move — you’d play zerg first. (Scream! How can you possibly start with the least relatable faction? The audience will never stand for it!)
Fart of the Swarm
According to Wings of Liberty, the zerg had been quiescent since the ending of Brood War. They took a beating, and the Dominion has pushed them continuously since then. The Queen of Blades is pushed back and back and back… and has to retreat further and further into less charted regions of space. We get a few missions of this, and then a mystery…
She finds an outlying brood… de-zerged. Zerglings turned back into Dune Runners, Hydralisks turned back into… whatever they were before. An entire planet of zerg reverted to the traditional animals that were previously assimilated. Standing over them, a Protoss… but wait! It’s a Tal’darim, one of the mysterious lost black ‘n’ red ‘n’ spiky faction. Queenie attacks, the evil protoss escape with the mysterious weapon that they just deployed, and the chase is on: she can’t suffer a weapon that can instantly wipe out the Swarm to exist, especially not with it so weakened after… whatever happened in Brood War.
She’s pure ragin’ and that is her downfall. She ends up exactly where the Tal’darim want her, where they can turn their de-zerging weapon directly on her. Unfortunately, Kerrigan is so powerful that their artefact is destroyed in the process. Silly Tal’darim! Oh well, the rest zerg are basically useless without an overmind, they can be mopped up manually.
Then we get a little Zeratul mini campaign to ease our transition. He’s been floating around space looking for trouble and he’s been watching the Tal’darim crawling out of the woodwork with growing worry, as their return would surely spell doom for the rest of dem protoss.
Using stealth and subterfuge (i.e. little RPG dungeon crawls) he penetrates deep into their space to try to ascertain their plans — and in so doing ends up at the re-humanised Kerrigan. She’s unconscious but he knows old Friend Raynor would want a piece of this, so he abandons his investigations to rescue her and carry her back to the humans…
Wings of the Liberty
I’d do the Terran campaign pretty much as it was, except without the artefact recovery missions as they’re too linked to the Dark Voice. I’d keep the little prologue where Raynor’s all “it’s time to kick this revolution into overdrive”, but set the focus directly on gaining material and support for said rebellion — make the missions to discover the old Tarsonis adjutant, with its proof of Mengsk’s rubbishness, the main plot line, instead of the artefact missions.
The spanner appears in the works when Zeratul turns up with Kerrigan just after the intro. Now while Raynor’s trying to overthrow the government, he’s harbouring the biggest mass murderer in human history — oops!
Mengsk would clearly find this out and try to use it to discredit our boy, so that’s a nice secondary source of dramatic tension. Plus, we get all the confusion of how Raynor tries to square getting his girlfriend back with her stint as the supreme leader of an all-devouring plague, and Kerrigan trying to come to terms with having been this absolute monster of which she has no memory.
Meanwhile, the remaining zerg have gone haywire with their queen forcibly removed. The Swarm lashes out all over the shop, and the Dominion’s lack of support for the refugees fleeing the tide fuels the rebellion.
The Tal’darim at this point would be making a bee-line for Protoss space, taking no prisoners on their way but not deliberately going for the terrans either. While chasing a lead into a secret lab, Raynor arrives in time to see some Tal’darim setting a hybrid free. They seem surprised when it goes berserk instead of joining them, and just let it loose. How are the Tal’darim linked to the hybrids? Hmmmmmm.
Even so, it would end with Mengsk deposed. We’ve got Raynor and Kerrigan in the same place with the same motivation so there’s no need to mess about here. I mean, come on, it’s called Wings of Liberty, can’t have a name like that and not end with glorious revolution.
Legacy of the Void Campaign of Dem Protoss
Since I’ve quietly eliminated the Dark Voice, the protoss campaign would need to be renamed. I don’t know what I’d call it. Something of (the) Something, of course.
Again, I’d probably keep a lot of Legacy of the Void‘s existing structure. The central objective of reclaiming the ancestral home planet Aiur from the feral zerg is a strong one, and the corruption/possession of half the population by villainous antics is a good way to take a powerful culture down to basics to let you re-escalate over the course of a campaign. Also, while it is maximum cheese, I do kind of love the severing of the nerve cords to escape that posession. Cut your hair, set yourself freeee!
Instead of weird shadows that don’t make any sense, though, it’d be the Tal’darim that impose the badness. Just as they had a Xel’naga artefact that allowed them to de-zerg Kerrigan before, they’ve got another one to hijack the protoss’ own global emotional connection, the Khala — they ram it straight into the surface of Aiur and before we know it, the protoss are in a full-scale civil war and the unposessed good guys need to retreat. (The dangling meta-carrot at this point being: how did the Tal’darim end up with not one but two Xel’naga artefacts with very specific purposes?)
With the terrans recovering from a successful coup they are in no position to help, so as always, Artanis and his pals have to go and round up all the cool protoss sub-factions we’ve never heard of before (and would have been hella handy in helping to not lose Aiur in the first place). While we’re at it, we need to delve into the Tal’darim properly — where have they been for so long? Why have they come back now? Only the protoss can answer these questions because the Tal’darim are their renegades.
So we take a mission or two to plunge into the dark — into Tal’darim space, which is now mostly depopulated. Zeratul explains ancient protoss history as he leads us to where he found Kerrigan, in order to chase down their artefactory. After successfully raiding the temple containing the remnants of the one wot did in Kerrigan, we learn something peculiar: it’s not ancient after all. Who in modern times has the power to manufacture Xel’naga technology? Eeek!
Enter a high priest of the Tal’darim religion, probably a retooled Alarak because he’s a glorious emo cheeseball who can switch sides and give us the insights we need.
He tells us that the Tal’darim were happily lurking in the darkness doing their black ‘n’ red ‘n’ spiky thing, when something claiming to be their god emerged and took the reins.
Alarak, being a power-hungry selfish dick, was unhappy with this, but who openly resists their own god? This creature whipped the Tal’darim into a frenzy and set them on their crusade back to protoss homeworld, first cutting off the head of the zerg by luring the Queen of Blades into their trap. Alarak remained behind to pick up the pieces with his fellow dissidents.
Is this the point where I reveal the “god” is a zerg/protoss hybrid? I do love a good ancient mystery meta-plot, I just think that SC2 pulled it too hard, too quickly and too haphazardly. After all, a grand meta-plan to eat the entire universe (not even just the Koprulu sector!!) cannot be resolved in only game two (and honestly that grand meta-plan was a bit shit, so if we just tug on the cool hybrid thread a tiny bit we can buy us a few more years and sequels to write ourselves out of this hole).
Armed with this knowledge and our new Tal’darim defector pals, we can scoot back to Aiur to stage the invasion that got side-tracked in the intro. When we face the super-hybrid masquerading as the god of the Tal’darim, it is a genuine climax and killing it does actually kill it. It’s not actually a god, just some hideously powerful creature that’s hella persuasive and has a line on some crazy technology.
Of course, it is a hybrid. So who made it? Why did it want Aiur so badly? How did it manage to build those artefacts in the Xel’naga style?
… aaaah, that’s for Starcraft III. We’ve got the finales we need here — a shattered Swarm, Kerrigan saved and back together with Raynor, and dem protoss returned to their happy home world. Factions have shuffled around a bit, but the universe has not truly been altered and we’ve still got room to do more with the hybrids once we work out some motivations for them and their manufacturers that don’t suck.