When Starcraft II was originally announced as a trilogy of games, people were understandably a little upset that they would have to shell out three times for their story fix. With the third game in the trilogy, Legacy of the Void, hitting shelves and adding to the already impressive sales figures of Blizzard’s modern classic, it’s probably safe to say that the fans’ ire has subsided and has been replaced by sheer joy.
After the incredibly impressive Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm chapters, featuring Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan as the respective main characters, it was always going to be a struggle for Blizzard to rest its finale on the shoulders of the Protoss’ characters of Zeratul and Artanis.
Has Blizzard succeeded? In a word: yes.
Right from the start, featuring the trademark CGI intro movie that always oozes quality, Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void brings its A-game. For those of you needing a refresher course before diving in, there’s a tutorial that runs through the basics of each species – including its own mini story to hold it together – and even a ‘story so far’ video, if the tales of Jim and the Queen of Blades have slipped your mind. This video only gives hints and minor details too, meaning that it spoils the absolute minimum for those joining the trilogy at part three, thus leaving them to go back to parts one and two and still enjoy the stories contained within.
As the Protoss attempt to reclaim their lost homeworld of Aiur, ignoring the warnings of the renegade hero Zeratul, the long-awaited battle with the evil Amon finally unfolds. In possibly the most cinematic Starcraft experience to date, the fight to save the entire universe is told with stunning storytelling that never takes time away from the base building and large-scale battles, on the contrary, its integrated into the gameplay perfectly. With the Protoss on the run, there is an understandable amount of defensive missions in Legacy of the Void, but the variety is never lessened as a result. Timed missions make an unwelcome return, but they’re few and far between, and aren’t as bad as you may expect. One particular mission even brought Diablo III to mind, such is the extent of the variety on display here.
Realtime strategy (RTS) games are notoriously difficult for new players, but Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty offered a much more accessible experience via a balanced difficulty curve and the addition of an easy mode that reduced the number of enemies in certain missions, but still provided a reasonable challenge that always felt tense in the right places but never stressful. This has continued through the trilogy and there are even options to reduce game speed in order to keep things running smoothly for those players struggling with some of the more hectic missions throughout the campaign. Before the hardcore players start complaining, this accessibility does not reduce the challenge of higher difficulties.
Building bases can be the ‘make or break’ part of RTS games, and Starcraft has always been firmly at the ‘make’ end of the spectrum, with Legacy of the Void being no exception. Managing the gathering of minerals and Vespene Gas is simple enough for anyone, but balancing that with the creation of new buildings and units, plus the use of recharging Protoss powers such as a barrage of fire from an orbiting warship, it all makes for an engaging and tense gameplay experience. Once you factor in potential attacks on your base from enemy units, as well as actually moving your own units to complete the objectives within each mission (including optional objectives for extra rewards), and the depth of the game becomes apparent. Playing on higher difficulties increases the challenge severalfold, as Zerg swarm your units and base simultaneously, their numbers overwhelming – only Starcraft II veterans need apply there.
Featuring over 20 missions, including the Whispers of Oblivion prologue (best played once familiar with the gameplay, due to its strangely higher difficulty), Starcraft II’s finale will run on for at least ten hours or more. Some of these missions can be taken on in a non-linear fashion, once you acquire the ship that acts as your mission hub. While aboard said ship, you can choose which units will be available to you during missions, swapping them out to suit the type of objectives and enemies you will encounter. This adds an extra layer of strategy to proceedings, but it isn’t so punishing that the wrong choice will lead to missions being impossible to complete. As in previous chapters, you can also speak to other characters whilst in this hub environment, furthering their stories as well as offering a deeper insight into the overall plot of Starcraft II.
The characters and ship look great on most PCs, thanks to Blizzard’s ability to be adaptable with its visuals and allow games to run well even on ageing machines. Unlike most games that are scaled down, running Legacy of the Void at 720p with low-to-medium detail settings it still looks fantastic, losing none of its grandeur thanks to its stunning art direction and some impressive tech. Units display smooth and detailed animation, even down to the tiny worker probes that take care of base building and resource management, and when the camera zooms out to the orbiting warship for that first airstrike, it really does prove the game to be another fantastic achievement for the development team. This sort of quality craftsmanship is why Warcraft III, a game released thirteen years ago, still holds up today. The same will be true of Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void in 2028.
Although its characters aren’t as compelling as Jim Raynor or Tricia Helfer’s Queen of Blades, the story is no less incredible and the gameplay is as fun and rewarding as ever. Legacy of the Void is a fitting end to the Starcraft II trilogy and proves that splitting it into three games was definitely the correct decision.
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