StarCraft 2: Single-Player

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.

Train sigh

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.

Zombie Night

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.

Cutscenes

16 Replies to “StarCraft 2: Single-Player”

  1. Hit the nail on the head. You spend 90% of the game playing these new-unit missions, where they basically hand-feed you what needs doing. Granted there are a lot of clever and diverse missions.

    That doesn’t excuse the fact that almost the entire game played like what I would expected the first few introductory missions to play like.
    SPOILERS

    You spend most of the game “building” up raynor’s forces instead of moving the plot forward. If you look on wikipedia, a lot of stuff happened during SC1 and BW that was plot moving. SC2 = Raynor saves more citizens.

  2. In their defense, I assume they reserved multiplayer for the whole “build yourself from scratch” scenario. Still pisses me off how it takes you half the game to get siege tanks.

  3. But a lack of variety is what kills my interest in other RTS campaigns. “Build a base, build overwhelming numbers of the game’s most unbalanced unit, attack-move to victory.” SC2 switches the conditions up, which is surely better than the alternative. You can’t very well say you were bored in it, even if you were encouraged to do it in a specific way. It’s like how HL2 is a very well designed and greased chute towards the end goal – polish and style poured in to make a very good action romp that floods the senses… rather than a bog standard small area no different from any other, that you’re dumped in and told to kill the enemy.

    And the stories are about comparable, too.

  4. Alex, I don’t think James’ complaint is that it’s not varied–

    Actually, yes, that is the complaint. Forcing players to use a certain type of strategy can be just as bad as a lack of variety, in that you have to do it Their Way. There is something to be said for both your viewpoints, though.

  5. Yeah, it comes across as a heavily scripted campaign. I enjoyed most of it, just some really frustrating missions where you are forced to use certain units in a very specific way (which sometimes they don’t really tell you) is dead annoying (restarting some missions multiple times to “get what the hell they want me to do”), but most were generally they were done well enough to be fun.

  6. I disagree. Building a base from scratch repeatedly isn’t fun. Building the same army repeatedly and using it in the same way isn’t fun.

    Half the missions that introduce units aren’t actually centred around that unit (firebats, mauraders, vultures, goliaths, wraiths, hellions, etc), they’re just a good choice in it. Also, on almost all missions you can forget the starring unit and still play it like a game of C&C if you like. It will just feel stupid, like how most other RTS campaigns feel naturally.

  7. But if not for the single-player campaign, where would I get all the screenshots of hilarious roidmonsters giving each other their Serious Faces? That is pretty much the only aspect of the entire SC2 mediagasm that appeals to me at all.

  8. No argument from me that most RTS campaigns suck. Pretty much agree that building the same base every mission has limited entertainment value too. But mixing that in with missions where you don’t get to build one at all, and missions where the base is built for you, is just cutting something I find boring with something I find irritating and calling it variety.

    StarCraft 2’s multiplayer obviously has something going for it, but it’s pretty inaccessible to players who don’t like to micromanage to a competitive degree. I’d love to see them make a single-player game that trains us to do that well, explains the virtue of it to us, and teaches the value of mechanics like scouting and countering. Because SC2’s multiplayer actually has meaningful variety: if you’re playing well, you certainly don’t build the same base every time. And watching the pro leagues, I’m amazed at how differently every match plays out.

    It’d be great to see Blizzard leverage that for single-player, and explain it to idiots like me. Rather than ignore it and go to enormous effort to build something that has little to do with it.

  9. Oh…I thought there was a comprehensive, smoothly graduated skirmish tutorial/challenges suite. That was the whole reason I was going to pick up SC2 at some point. Well, money in my pocket.

  10. Thinking about the campaign as multiplayer training, I thought they taught micro and multitasking really quite well. By largely removing base-management from the equation they created a situation where you could focus your attention on your army. Possibly the most important thing they did was to introduce the need to leave your base early and fight using a small force. This is essential since most important battles in multiplayer involve less than a dozen units a side, and getting the most out of one guy is key. Doing this while building workers, units, supply buildings and looking after the mission objectives should hopefully teach people to multitask.

    They teach really basic countering, but not really scouting. Scouting as it is used in multiplayer can’t really apply to a structured mission. The key to scouting is seeing what buildings your opponent has built and knowing what units this will lead to, so which units need countered. When you’re attacking a fortified position and your opponent has almost every building this isn’t a viable mechanic (they do try this in the second ).

  11. Thinking about the campaign as multiplayer training, I thought they taught micro and multitasking really quite well. By largely removing base-management from the equation they created a situation where you could focus your attention on your army. Possibly the most important thing they did was to introduce the need to leave your base early and fight using a small force. This is essential since most important battles in multiplayer involve less than a dozen units a side, and getting the most out of one guy is key. Doing this while building workers, units, supply buildings and looking after the mission objectives should hopefully teach people to multitask.

    They teach really basic countering, but not really scouting. Scouting as it is used in multiplayer can’t really apply to a structured mission. The key to scouting is seeing what buildings your opponent has built and knowing what units this will lead to, so which units need countered. When you’re attacking a fortified position and your opponent has almost every building this isn’t a viable mechanic.

    Slightly worried this might have posted twice, damn phone overlays.

  12. I remember the PCG review describing the campaign as being like a puzzle game, which rings true from what I’ve played so far. I do enjoy the puzzling and the neat way time pressure is applied in a lot of cases, but it seems a shame that the multiplayer is such a different kettle of fish/zerglings – one that I am, consequently, wholly unprepared for. And I do miss missions which give you the freedom to amass a huge army and go a-stomping.

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