Love, betrayal, and insectoid alien thingies that infest you until you beg for death—StarCraft has everything that gives lasting power to any space opera. Since Blizzard's seminal real-time strategy game debuted in 1998, it has spawned an intense cult following, launched a reinvention of the global esports scene, and redefined the RTS genre simultaneously. Players fell in love with the Terrans, the Zerg, and the Protoss, and the competitive-gaming scene was never the same.
At the risk of disappointing millions of fans eager for the next installment, Blizzard released StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty 12 years later, and it was worth the wait.
Bringing Back Space Wars In All Its Glory And Horror
When Tychus Findlay puffed that cigar like a boss in the opening sequence and grunted, "Hell, it's about time," before his helmet flapped shut, he echoed the sentiments of fans of the franchise who waited 12 long years for the sequel. But the problem with creating sequels for a well-loved classic is that everything about it has to be epic. Thankfully, Wings of Liberty turned out to be one of the best games ever made in its genre, and the gameplay is a big reason why.
Regarding the fun factor, Wings of Liberty packs a punch like a Thor siege-walker. The branching storylines of the main campaign offer players essential choices regarding alliances, and the missions themselves improve upon the mechanics that made the first game so darn great. Longtime fans can relish the familiarity of the old controls plus upgrades to the units and their functions, while new players can still ease into the fresh new world and eventually get the hang of it.
The gameplay is incredibly addicting, but what makes it even more so is the fact that all three playable races have balanced strengths and weaknesses, just like its predecessor. There isn't a single strategy that wins above everything else, and despite the new units, nothing is too overpowered as every race plays differently for every player. There's also a quirky new aspect where players can hang out in the Hyperion spaceship between missions and upgrade stuff as needed.
Of course, Wings of Liberty isn't perfect—no game is. People have complained about steep learning curves, clunky commands, and disappointing graphics. The exclusion of LAN play ended LAN parties (the end of an era itself). But the compelling storyline and the new features 12 years in the making more than made up for the cons. Plus, any follow-up to a classic always deserves a chance, and with the overwhelmingly positive reception of the critically acclaimed game, it's safe to say that Wings of Liberty undoubtedly delivered.
Dominating The Esports Arena
With good gameplay comes an unforgettable legacy that people still care about ten years into its release. What StarCraft II did for gaming put RTS on the map, and its journey through the esports scene alone is worth looking back on.
Wings of Liberty was designed with professional play in mind, and Blizzard was determined to correct its sins from the past (hence the elimination of LAN play). The game was an instant hit. It practically became a national sport in South Korea and became one of the most-watched games globally. Existing and aspiring professional players alike came in droves to competitions like ESL, Major League Gaming, IGN ProLeague, North American StarLeague, Team Liquid StarCraft League, and DreamHack. The prize pools were some of the largest in the professional gaming scene, and rising stars shot even further to fame both in and out of South Korea.
Its popularity reached critical mass, although the game eventually fell from its lofty heights with the release of the Heart of the Swarm expansion in 2013. Poor developer choices, uncontrolled simultaneous competitions on weekends, a saturated scene that players grew tired of, and a particularly dull Zerg unit (R.I.P Swarm Hosts) all contributed to the game's decline in esports, which prompted Blizzard to intervene.
One such measure was the imposition of the region lock, which made for a more balanced distribution of power among top players, most of whom were Korean competitors. The region lock helped moderate the wins worldwide, leading to one of the most famous success stories of all time: Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn. With her tide of Zerglings that overwhelmed her opponent's defenses, the Canadian player bested two-time WCS Global champion Kim "sOs" Joo-yin in the grand finals of IEM Pyeongchang. Her relentless aggression dubbed the event as the first Premier championship won by a female player, effectively breaking the stigma that esports is a boys' club.
While StarCraft II's journey through esports had its ups and downs, it never faded. Today, the World Championship Series (WCS) has been retired. Blizzard is introducing the new ESL Pro Tour StarCraft II and DreamHack SC2 Masters, featuring a unique ecosystem with six international tournaments yearly. The game isn't as huge as it was in its heyday, but it still chugs along with a dedicated group of loyal fans who keep the fire burning.
Infusing Emotion Into Battle
Perhaps one of the many successful ways Blizzard gave the game lasting power is by crafting a compelling narrative that players can remember long after the campaign is 100% complete. For newbie fans and those who want to take a quick walk down memory lane, Wings of Liberty's story isn't just about mindless battles to see which race bests the other. It's a complicated mix of highs and lows for all three races, with enough twists that can make the most diehard soap opera fan gasp.
To recap, when we last left our heroes in the first game, the humans known as the Terrans were locked in an intergalactic struggle with both the swarm race called the Zerg and the technologically advanced Protoss, with varying degrees of team-ups along the way. There were civil wars, unlikely alliances formed, and the destruction of this thing called the Overmind. Still, perhaps the most important thing to know is that Terran marshal Jim Raynor fell in love with Sarah Kerrigan, who ended up mutated and rising to power as the Zerg's Queen of Blades due to a shocking betrayal that's one for the books. What ensued was a tragic love affair that trumps the fact that civilization is on the brink of destruction—at least, where Raynor is concerned.
As the flames of war burn everything in its path and chaos engulfs the galaxy, Wings of Liberty picks things up four years later, with Raynor torn between fighting the Terran Dominion and trying to restore Kerrigan's humanity. Of course, the whole thing doesn't focus solely on the relationship between the Terrans and the Zerg—there are shenanigans surrounding Xel'Naga artifacts, conflicts with the Moebius Foundation, and prophecies from a Nerazim prelate that talk about the eradication of all life as we know it. But suffice it to say that the ending, while a cliffhanger and an immediate lead-up to the Heart of the Swarm expansion pack, ties a lovely ribbon around the events between Raynor and Kerrigan during 1998's Brood War.
The Wings of Liberty single-player campaign officially became free-to-play in 2017, with free co-op commanders that players can enjoy up to level five. With this came all sorts of microtransactions like skins, voice packs, and additional co-op commanders, but it hasn't stopped old and new fans alike from supporting and enjoying the game after all these years. We're all eagerly awaiting what Blizzard has in store for us all to celebrate Wings of Liberty's 10th anniversary, but until then, we're just going to delight in revisiting where the whispers of the Zerg-Protoss hybrids all began.
What are your fondest memories from Wings of Liberty? Sound off in the comments below!