Ten Bad Things About Starcraft II
This is going to be a rough one people. I’ll have to come up with ten bad design decisions for a game I love and have been promoting for a while now. As usual these points will be in no specific order and incomplete. The ten good things will be up on Monday and I’m sure I’ll have a much easier time writing those. Either way, let’s go.
I always assumed the story would be the highlight of the game’s single player, but it really isn’t. The game feels a bit like Dragon Age: Origins in so far as there is an overarching story that’s hardly touched except for the very beginning and the end of the campaign while all the rest is filled up with smaller missions and story arcs that have hardly anything to do with the main story around Raynor and Kerrigan. The whole thing feels as if one could directly step into the final missions after completing the first few if it wasn’t necessary to collect money and research points first.
Of the various mini-stories you can play through, only two have an actual connection to the happenings in the main story and both of these seem rather construed. It’s not bad to play through the campaign missions at any rate, but Starcraft I story material this is not.
The Hyperion is Jim Raynor’s very own Battlecruiser and your hub for all things in between missions for the most part of the game. As far as we know the ship consists of four rooms which are practically connected via the very innovative method of button travel. You can’t really move through your ship or anything, all you can do is click a button in the menu to transport you into another room. These rooms – the bridge, the armory, the cantina, and the laboratory each have exactly one main function and a lot of click-able doodads that don’t really do anything. Yeah there a few fun descriptions to be seen when clicking stuff and sometimes you even get a video. You can even talk to your crew members and see a little conversation sequence that loosely fits the current state of the campaign. The thing is that these conversations are completely non-interactive and don’t affect anything.
Don’t even get me started on the news reports on TV. These are always up-to-date with reports of your latest exploitations which is cool, but virtually all of them end in the same joke. They might as well put a huge sign in front of the TV that says “the Dominion controls the news channels and stifles any attempts to report the truth” and be done with it. It’s a good and interesting message, but do you really need to make it so blatantly obvious?
You get to make a few choices during the campaign that steer the missions you get to do. You can side with the spooky assassin spectre Tosh to lead a prison break or you can side with the ghost Nova to prevent that breakout from happening. This decision has influence on your game insofar as you get different units to use in the campaign but just as all other decisions has no influence on the overall story. I’ve been dreaming about a Mass Effect style game that uses a different method of combat for a while, and Starcraft II is a baby step into this direction. The whole things feels inspired by Mass Effect, trying to tell an actual RPG-like story but using RTS controls for the gaming elements instead of action RPG/shooter elements. It really is just a baby step though and Starcraft still has a long way to go until it can give us a real interactive experience in between missions.
Throughout the campaign you get to collect new units to build and get to research and buy upgrades for the units that you have. At a relatively early point in the game I got Hellions for example, a fast skirmish unit with a flame thrower attack that can hit multiple enemies at once if positioned correctly. In multi-player these are often used to harass the opponent’s workers while the main army is out of town. In a pinch they are also quite good at fighting light melee units such as the Zergling and the Zealot. The Hellion is a very nice addition to the arsenal of the Terran army, so naturally I started buying upgrades for my Hellions as soon as I could. Little did I know that the mission in which I got the Hellions was the only one in which it was actually good to use them. The system of giving you one new unit per mission tends to put a lot of focus on these new units so that old ones get forgotten. The Hellion suffers even worse from this because the computer enemies usually start with fully defended bases in missions which makes harassing them very inefficient. In the end you are very likely to finish most missions with a basic selection of units plus whatever special unit is new in that mission and will forget about all the other tools in your belt.
Incredibly Strong Upgrades
You don’t get enough money throughout the campaign to buy all the upgrades that are available to you. Naturally players will upgrade those units that they use most which only shoehorns them more into using those units and no others. Additionally, what’s the point in giving the player extremely strong units only to then throw more and more enemies at them to balance that? I like the general idea of upgrades and research and tailoring your force to your needs, but it doesn’t really fit into a structure of tailored and scripted missions.
Too Few Challenges
Challenges are a special type of single player mission with the goal of preparing you for multi-player fights. Challenges train such things as effectively countering enemy army composition, quickly building and defending a base, and using specialist units to defeat superior forces. These challenges are cool (in fact they’ll likely make it into Monday’s list as well) but there are only nine of them, two of which have hardly anything to do with preparation for multi-player. There are so many common game situations that could be taught in these challenges so that players don’t get roflstomped as soon as they play against other players, but Blizzard chose to restrict these to nine. Bad idea.
We knew for quite a while that Starcraft II would be split into three instalments. The first, Wings of Liberty, is what just came out and it deals pretty much exclusively with the Terran part of the game. Yeah you can play all three factions in multi-player and you get to play a little bit of Protoss during the campaign, but really it’s all about the Terrans. Now, I don’t mind at all that I get to play 20ish Terran missions now and will get about as many Protoss and Zerg missions at a later point in time (though it is true that simply a new campaign won’t make a good sales argument for the other 2 parts) but I do wonder what this will do to balance in online games. Won’t pretty much every new player start out as Terran now since that is what they know?
Only One Battle.net Character
When logging onto battle.net for the first time you get to create a profile with a name and avatar that your achievements and ratings will be bound to. This is all fine and dandy until you try getting somewhere in the ladder. I for example play at an OK platinum level with Terran but am not remotely as good with Protoss and Zerg. I would like to try out the other races on the ladder as well, but don’t really want to ruin my ranking by doing so. Now you could say that my ranking doesn’t really matter anyway and you would be right if it wasn’t for the fact that it influences who I get to play against. When I’m playing Protoss or Zerg I don’t want to fight against the (relatively) strong players that I fight as Terran and vice versa.
Aside from trying out different races, would it be so odd if I wanted to let a friend or family member play the game on my computer from time to time? Why can’t they have their own profile that they can play in the practice league with or something?
Dawn of War 2 has shown us how fights against boss type enemies in real-time strategy games can be. You can make players dodge missiles, run out of fires, use specific abilities to counter what the enemy does and so on. It seems as if the designers of Starcraft II saw these boss fights, liked them, but then failed in actually implementing them well. There are a couple of super monsters that you will meet in the campaign (including, spoiler alert, a certain female) but these generally just have a lot of life, hit very hard, and have an ability that simply kills units or buildings. Fighting them generally just means to send a huge army to attack them and maybe microing hurt units away so that they don’t get killed. In one single case I remember there was an area effect attack that you could run out of, but that’s it.
I almost got the game through digital distribution, having cancelled my pre-order when they announced that digital distribution would be available on launch day. Luckily we had an extra copy of the game lying around so that I didn’t have to buy from the Blizzard store. For some reason they want €21 more than a retail copy costs me at Amazon, a 55% increase in price. What’s up with that?
There you have it; I actually found ten bad things to say! See y’all on Monday when things get more positive.