For about four years, everyone’s been scrambling to reinvent the RTS. Blizzard seemed like the only company sticking with the traditional mine-resources, build-buildings, mass-units structure – presumably because they didn’t dare undermine the professional scene that sprung up around the first StarCraft.
So they siphoned all their thick, sticky innovation into the single-player for StarCraft 2, where they can stick with the old high-level rules but make more interesting missions out of them.
In fact, they got a bit carried away. I’m used to high-budget strategy games giving me a lot of special-case missions, but StarCraft 2 never stops. I spent half the game waiting for a “Make a base, go kill theirs” mission that never came. Literally every single one is a custom showcase for one particular unit, an unusual objective, a pre-built base, no base at all, or revolves around a new rule they have to teach you on the fly.
At the risk of sounding like a tiny child, I don’t like it. I like to make my own bases. I like to choose the units I like, rather than have a whole mission structured to force me to appreciate one the game wants me to use. And I don’t like new rules.
Scripting a mission around a unique scenario always involves a degree of Bullshit: Bullshit you couldn’t have seen coming, Bullshit you’re forced to do, Bullshit to stop you taking shortcuts or being clever. Blizzard are so good, so big, rich and talented, that they’re able to avoid almost all the Bullshit that scripting causes on one, maybe two missions. The rest of the time, I’m punished for doing my own thing so much that I eventually learn to just play the way the mission designer wants me to. Use the unit he tells me to. Click what he tells me to click. It works, but it’s basically a waste of my time.
The zombie-frying mission is the one I’m thinking of as an example of pretty much Bullshit-free scripting. It does dictate certain aspects of the way you play, but the New Rule is easy to grasp and has a certain intuitive logic to it. And you can build whatever works for you: any effective army is effective here. Accordingly, it’s fun.
The other one I liked was the optional mission where you play as a female Ghost, separated from but supporting a larger army. Plenty of Bullshit, but the way it turned existing RTS mechanics into puzzle logic was interesting, and the mind-control ability has so many great applications. I’ve heard the alternative mission, with Utter Tosh, is good too, but his abilities seemed less exciting to me and I didn’t get anywhere with it.
I’m also a fan of the research system between missions, and the ability to postpone some missions for ages. But both are pretty minor bonuses. Two good missions, among thirty, isn’t enough to make me want to sit through the embarrassing cutscenes.