Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void Review

Reviews
November 25, 2015 by Kevin Hovdestad

The final installment in Blizzard's three-part Starcraft sequel evolves the game

Like the smell of a campfire or the opening lines of a beloved novel, seeing anything vaguely StarCraft related instantly takes you back to your favourite memories of the Protoss, Terran, and Zerg. Those memories now span decades, even generations, as the experience that started in 1998 has new and different legs now. Whether your relationship with StarCraft is one of avid fandom, hardcore player, BarCraft attendee, or casual curiosity, Legacy of the Void – billed as the conclusion to the trilogy of games that comprise StarCraft’s sequel – hits some powerful notes, and shows promise that Blizzard is going to support and sustain the real-time strategy (RTS) genre for a long time to come.

According to Blizzard’s own internal metrics from over the years, nearly 50% of the people who purchased StarCraft II only ever played the game’s campaign – never once loading up any of its multiplayer features. Legacy of the Void seeks to change that with a more co-operative approach to multilayer content, and this new gap-bridging functionality is one of its brighter spots.
The new campaign itself, however, deserves praise. In a clever and useful first in Blizzard games, Legacy of the Void provides a much-needed “Story So Far” video that retraces the events of the franchise up to this point – a combination of old cinematics and new voiceover that quickly walks the player through what’s happened in the games they may have missed, or haven’t played in 15 years. Even as someone who played every game quite extensively, I appreciated this touch. If anything, it could have been more prominently visible, and I hope this is a lesson learned that Blizzard and even other developers take away to other franchises with a lot of cumulative storyline history.

Although the plot may sometimes leave you wanting as a player, or minor details of the experience may frustrate you (the Protoss have to ‘talk with their hands’ a lot in the cinematics, since they have no mouths to indicate when they’re speaking), the overall execution here is solid. The characters and character development are interesting, and the voice actors do an incredible job (Alarak’s voice acting is seriously out of this world). Campaign gameplay is fun, and what the missions lack in variety (excepting the awesome new movable platform mission) , they make up for with cool achievements to pursue. By the time you’re done, you’ll hopefully have gotten an engaging gameplay experience out of the campaign, and the distinct but same-y mission flavour won’t have worn you out.
One technical note that did seem like an error – this campaign is divided into three parts: a Prologue, the main campaign, and an Epilogue. Blizzard elected to make the Prologue missions available to players who pre-purchased the game digitally in advance, which is fine – but now, after the release of Legacy, to have the Prologue missions (found under the Legacy campaign) still use Heart of the Swarm design mechanics for certain abilities felt really, really off.
As alluded to earlier, when you graduate from the single player campaign, you now have a new option for playing StarCraft with your friends to ease in to multiplayer – Co-op Missions. This is the best new addition to the game. If you can’t convince a friend to come play these co-operative, campaign-styled missions with you, the game’s matchmaking service will find you a partner to play with. Replayability is a little thin right now with only five missions to choose from, but Blizzard is likely to release further missions and more characters to play them with in the months to come.

On the other side of co-op, madness multiplayer lies. The lifeblood of what made StarCraft a phenomenon in Korea and the first real ‘eSport’ was its unique, asymmetrical multiplayer, and Legacy of the Void makes some great strides at tightening the tuning and expanding the feature set for the competitive wing of the game. Each race has two new units, all of them intended to provide new counterplay; many existing units have seen minor modifications to give players more micromanagement opportunities in their games. A doubled starting worker count and reduced resources in each base also means games explode into the action faster, and the potential to pull your opponent apart piece by piece harassing multiple locations at once is much improved.
An interesting riff on the co-operative transition is the new Archon Mode, which is a reimagined Team Melee from the original StarCraft. In Archon Mode, two players share control of the same bases and army that would typically be one player’s responsibility in classic multiplayer. Equal parts learning opportunity for newer players, fun for returning fans, and new spin on a competitive option for high-level professional play, Archon Mode’s novelty feels most likely to be short-lived. In the meantime, tremendous marketing and top tier competitive matches at BlizzCon and elsewhere have helped make Archon Mode very visible to new and returning StarCraft players.

Legacy of the Void also marks the return of automated tournaments in Blizzard’s RTS design, and they have been sorely missed since we last saw them in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne in 2003. Easy to sign up for and play through, tournaments start every two hours (with few exceptions), and play out in three rounds unless you play in one of the longer format tournaments on the weekends, which run six rounds in the evenings. A simple indicator is visible whether in the game’s menus or in a game, prompting you when it is time for the tournament to begin – and, when it does, you play a series of games in an elimination format that eventually crowns a victor and rewards them with an in-game trophy. Tournament games draw from a regular matchmaking pool, and also count towards your ladder rank – so you’re not losing out on time spent trying to get your league promotion by enjoying the tournament process.
The bottom line? Blizzard has pulled off a remarkable feat and delivered a complete suite of improvements to a genre they have a dominant franchise in. Legacy of the Void sets the modern bar for real-time strategy, delivering both a compelling single player product and a best-in-class multiplayer experience in one. With plans announced for future content releases and ongoing multiplayer balance support, this could be the future that StarCraft has always deserved.

Kevin Hovdestad is a full-time video game and eSports journalist from Canada - published with IGN, GamesBeat, RockPaperShotgun, and more - whose work focuses primarily on Blizzard Entertainment franchises and how eSports can grow and succeed into the future.