StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
I just finished StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty's story campaign, and all I want to do is crank up the difficulty and start over right now despite my clock telling me it's 1:00 AM. The battles are so varied – with new units fitting seamlessly beside returning favorites and campaign-only toys that would break multiplayer balance – allowing for interesting force compositions. The objectives are unique, challenging players to move their bases through hostile territory ahead of an advancing wall of fire or to rescue orbital-dropping allied units from behind enemy lines. All I’m interested in right now is diving right back in. The lure of attacking my problems from different directions and padding my Battle.net account with additional achievements has me hooked. It doesn't hurt that new difficulty settings change the scripting of missions, rather than just throw a few more units at you. The story is more competently executed than brilliantly conceived, but a few amazing, epic moments on top of the continuation of Raynor, Kerrigan, and Zeratul's adventures make it all worthwhile.
It's 3:00 AM and I just lost my fifth game in a row, and all I want to do is hit that Find Match button one more time. I think I've got my opening down – pushing that first barracks up a few food count in my build order was key – but I'm getting wrecked when I try to transition to a mech-based strategy when hard counters to my infantry start showing up. The classic RTS tension of trying to keep my economy growing, constantly scouting, and managing the battles themselves is perfectly captured here. The few little changes to control, like multiple building selection and unlimited unit selection, are a big difference in making the interface work for you instead of getting in your way. I've never spent so much time with an RTS without popping a vein in frustration over unit AI or pathfinding – none of those issues have appeared here at all. The gameplay is all StarCraft all the time, but with the benefit of a decade of iteration to improve it without sacrificing the pacing and impeccable balance that are its soul.
My fingers are twitching on their own and my mind is buzzing with hotkeys, control groups, and rally points as the sun comes up. I have to take a break from this lightning-fast competitive environment, but I don't have to leave StarCraft II to do it. Motivated creators have already used the powerful editing tools to create wildly different experiences within the game, and I can't wait to check them out. I can't seem to tap into this awesome potential, though, because it's hidden behind an awful backend that requires me to download a map and publish it myself before I can host a match on it. A few other terrible decisions about custom game hosting and matchmaking on Blizzard's part have me tearing my hair out in frustration, but the incoming invite from my friend to play co-op distracts me for the moment.
My god, there's a whole other set of achievements, unlockable portraits, and vanity items in co-op against the AI, plus a wide variety of maps and difficulty settings. Am I ever going to tear myself away from this game? I don't know if I even want to.
Some games contain a brilliance that is difficult to capture in words. Braid's greatness, for instance, lies in suggesting emotion to our minds and challenging us to interpret it how we will. StarCraft II is anything but that sort of enigmatic, subjective experience. This is a sublimely engineered game with a simple, elegant core design and all of the rough edges ground away.