Worldbuilding is a key part of creating a successful RTS campaign story. An RTS game is compelling because as the player is commanding dozens of soldiers from his god-like view of the battlefield, the premise is that each of these “units” has a personality, a life, and an entire story behind them, as does the tileset upon which these soldiers fight. Therefore, worldbuilding is key to taking advantage of the storytelling power behind the RTS and sci-fi mediums. The Tychus suit-up cinematic is a great example of this. When the player clicks “build marine” in the UI, he is expected to believe that behind the scenes, that cinematic is what is really happening.
“Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a fictional universe. It describes a key role in the task of a fantasy writer: that of developing an imaginary setting that is coherent and possesses a history, geography, ecology, and so forth.”
If worldbuilding includes writing character backgrounds, developing settings, and fleshing out history, then what exactly isn’t world-building to a sci-fi author? It may seem like a broad definition, but it only goes to show just how important it is for developing a work of fiction. The key word in the definition of worldbuilding however, is coherent. World-building allows the player to immerse himself into a fictional universe, but in order to do so, the world needs to make logical sense and has to be consistent throughout. In order for a player to fully immerse himself into the universe, the characters must all make mostly rational decisions, and the only difference between them should be the method in which they choose to go about achieving their goals.
Worldbuilding is one of the most important tasks of a fiction writer
Wings of Liberty has been stated to be a character-driven story, but as we will see, inattention to world-building can hurt not only plot, but characters as well. The biggest detriment to Wings of Liberty’s characters is that only the player is portrayed as a competent individual. Raynor, despite his extremely small force, is able to outsmart almost every other character in the game due to his “resourcefulness”. Creating unworthy enemies like this hinders character development because character is best revealed through adversity.
We shall mostly highlight the common criticisms against Wings of Liberty’s attempts at world building. However, before we begin, there are some very important points that should be noted:
1) The criticisms offered here are not geek cherrypicking and overanalyzing. These are issues that many customers will consider as they play the game and think about them. Game developers should never assume that what they have written is “good enough” to curb the player’s suspension of disbelief so that he will will gloss over a plothole.
2) There is also a clear difference between nitpicking, and critiquing. Critiquing includes things like addressing mischaracterization and logical inconsistencies in the plot itself. Nitpicking for example, would be pointing out that Kerrigan moved from the cavern floor to the top of a cliff in the Prophecy cinematic without any sign. It is a valid nitpick of the cinematic, but ultimately irrelevant because the main idea that Kerrigan fought with Zeratul has been conveyed. Nitpicking also includes the fact that three different classes of battlecruiser in Wings of Liberty all use the same exact model. Again, we will stick to the writing itself. But even so, we still won't touch on things such as the impossiblity of the supernova and lava gimmicks, the impossibility of planets like New Folsom and Redstone, because it is beyond the scope of this article.
3) Most reviews of the Wings of Liberty story fail to separate story from gameplay and art. The singleplayer mission design was a vast improvement over Brood War’s talking heads and “systematically clear the minimap of enemy dots” gameplay, and the countless man-hours of hard work put in by the art team is immediately obvious in the game’s beautiful artwork and cinematics. The story however will be discussed separately from these things.
4) Literature is not completely subjective. If literature were totally subjective, then nobody would be able to tell the difference between amateur fanfiction and Shakespeare. People would not take classes to learn how to write better and publishers would not have objective criteria that they require their authors to meet. Simply dismissing all criticisms with “well that’s just your opinion” instead of rational discourse is dishonest and fallacious.
5) “Wait until the expansions before judging the story” is not a valid reason to withhold criticism. Clearly, if we do that, then nobody’s criticism will actually get incorporated. Also, standalone products should be judged as...well, standalone products. This is the risk Blizzard took when they decided to split StarCraft II into a trilogy. A standalone story should never need another story for it to make sense or be any good. Neither should it rely on books or various extended fiction, except as a supplement.
6) There is no such thing as gamer entitlement, or at least, it's not a valid excuse to withhold criticism. Forbes recently released an article that attempted to debunk this myth in relation to Mass Effect 3. To their credit, Blizzard has never discouraged criticism, but has only embraced it. However, some people feel that if there is something negative to say, it shouldn’t be said at all. This is simply not true. SCLegacy especially consists of some of Blizzard’s most loyal fans. We have been enjoying this game for over a decade, and will never stop loving this franchise or trying to help improve it.
By far the weakest portion of Wings of Liberty, the unfocused plot meanders between random tasks of little interest to the player. First the game sets up Mengsk as the primary enemy. Though an accurate title for the first installment would be “StarCraft II: Find the Artifacts,” the title of Wings of Liberty leads the player to believe that he will be rescuing people from the tyranny of Mengsk’s rule. This idea is then shelved only one mission into the game as Tychus shows up with the new goal of hunting for artifacts. This then is shelved three missions into the game as the Zerg invade, and the invasion becomes the new top priority. Then this is shelved yet again as the mission branches open up and Raynor is forced to choose between babysitting colonists, hunting various artifacts, making money, and trying to rebel against Mengsk in the midst of a Zerg invasion. It makes sense that Raynor needs to make cash to build up his forces to make a difference, but it also makes for an unfocused plot.
Now, a story should have a certain amount of subplots to be good at worldbuilding and establish the background. We are not saying that Wings of Liberty having subplots is wrong, just that the transition between them is jarring and incongruous. In addition, Wings of Liberty having 90% of the game consist of subplots is overkill. StarCraft vanilla for example did a good job at establishing the background through its cinematics. The campaigns had a main singular plot, and the random cinematics were just left for worldbuilding. Wings of Liberty decided to do the opposite. Have the cinematics be plot-relevant, but the actual campaign not.
Brood War had deus ex machina artifacts as well, but at least in Brood War the motivations were much more interesting than in Wings of Liberty. In Brood War, Kerrigan needed the Xel'Naga temple activated so that she could destroy her former Cerebrate allies in order to gain control of their broods. She was then forced to work with the Protoss (her former enemies), who needed it activated as well in order to save their planet. Wings of Liberty? Well, Raynor just needs some cash.
Wings of Liberty might have been better had it not been told from the perspective of a handful of rebels and their single Battlecruiser. It contrasts sharply with the epic plot points that these rebels are forced to undertake: attacking the homeworld of the Dominion, breaking open the most highly guarded prison in the sector, going up against the Fleet of the Executor, and finally invading Char. Valerian’s Dominion fleet might have realistically done any of these things however. One suggestion is to have the Terran campaign told from the perspective of Valerian instead. We could have actually influenced galactic events by fighting back the swarm and participating in Operation Burnout to clear the Sara system, instead of seeing it in ticker text on the news. The player wouldn’t have to put up with absurdities such as Raynor destroying disproportionately stronger opponents. We would have gotten a larger view of the sector since we wouldn’t have been shoehorned into experiencing the universe from a rebel ship. It would have made sense for the player to know where all the artifacts are, since Valerian owns the Moebius Foundation. And on top of all this we could have still seen Raynor towards the very end during the Char missions. It would have been far more interesting to introduce the run-down Raynor from the enemy’s propaganda perspective instead of what we got with the Heir Apparent cinematic.
Ultimately, the biggest detriment to the plot has to be the uninteresting microscopic perspective of events that the writers chose to take. In StarCraft and Brood War, you played with the de-facto leaders for each race. You influenced galactic events, and that is what a game like StarCraft is supposed to be about. There is also absolutely no reason that you can’t see how ordinary colonists are suffering under the war just because you choose to take a macroscopic perspective either. We implore the writers to reconsider having Zeratul as the main player-character in Legacy of the Void, and to use Artanis instead. Again, we can still see Zeratul in the Legacy of the Void campaign if the developers so choose, and we already played him in Wings of Liberty’s mini-campaign. Hunting crystals, chasing prophecies, and digging up artifacts as the main plot for Legacy of the Void would be a grave disappointment. Yes, there is potential interest in Zeratul “rallying the tribes” and engaging in diplomacy, but again, Artanis is better suited for this task.
Wings of Liberty's microscopic view of events stands in contrast to that of the original StarCraft
We shall begin by analyzing each character in Wings of Liberty, since it is stated to be a character-driven story.
Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia
Throughout the entire game, Raynor shows signs of serious mental instability typical of bipolar disorder. The non-linear structure of the game ensured that Raynor’s mood could never have been the same between missions. One moment Raynor is having a heart-felt moment with his crew and sharing drinks with Matt, the next mission he’s barking “follow my orders or get off my ship!” Matt also says “I’ve been cleaning up after you alot lately,” of which the player sees absolutely no evidence of beforehand.
Raynor later displays suicidal bouts of schizophrenia when Valerian’s ship warps in during Heir Apparent. Outnumbered by technologically superior Dominion battlecruisers, Raynor decides that instead of retreating, it would be a good idea to board the Buccephalus regardless of dangers such as his transport being shot out of the sky before it boards, or the fact that getting to the Emperor on his own flagship could be impossible, or that his actions endanger the rest of his crew. Again, failing to consider what the character would really do in this situation is a failure at world building, which leads to a failure in characterization. This is unacceptable for a character-driven story, and given Raynor's penchant for keeping his special bullet that he's saving for Mengsk inside an antique pistol, Raynor definitely comes off as a latent nutcase.
Upon discovering that his best friend’s suit contained a death-trap, Raynor ignored this development under the rationale that Tychus knows what he is doing and that he should be given the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, this sounds absurd. Tychus was sent to prison and clearly does not want to be in this position. He needs Raynor’s help, but Raynor does not seem to care. Tosh (the one mindreader aboard the ship) then proceeds to give Raynor several warnings that Tychus is about to betray him:
“Tread careful, Mr. Raynor. Someone on this ship is already working for Mengsk. I can feel it.”
“He's a bad, bad man that Tychus. He got a lot to hide.”
“All that jealousy and rage - he's fighting himself over something he don't want to do. You'll see.”
At this point it is patently obvious to any rational person that Tychus is about to betray Raynor and that something needs to be done. It seems that the writers were trying to create dramatic irony by revealing that Tychus was working for Mengsk in the opening cinematic, yet Raynor’s stubborn dismissal of obvious warnings ruins the entire thing. The player actually wants to do something about it, since it endangers not only Tychus, but Raynor and the rest of his crew, but again, Raynor’s schizophrenia takes hold and he ignores these warnings. Instead of helping his best friend, Raynor opted to shoot him in the face at the end of the game instead.
Genocide against Tal’Darim
Raynor is known amongst StarCraft fans as a friend of the Protoss, helping them fight the Overmind and evacuate their people on Aiur. It represents a significant hurdle in the writing process then to create conflict with Protoss in Wings of Liberty. Clearly, clever and tactful worldbuilding is required here to give the player a Protoss enemy in the Terran campaign. The faction created however, the Tal’Darim, is perhaps the worst ever designed. Generic and bland to the highest degree, the Tal’Darim do not even have a character to represent them, apart from a nameless Executor. There is zero story and character development, contributing to the “filler” feel of the Tal’Darim missions.
The Tal'Darim missions had no actual characters as antagonists.
Even worse however, is that Raynor robs and plunders this faction of their religious treasures. Made to look like a scary and fanatical religious sect, the writers assume the player won’t mind the genocide of Tal’Darim, who have thus far done no wrong or committed any obvious crime. The message here seems to be that religious fervor is bad no matter what, or that the protagonist is always in the right.
Failure to Live Up To Promise in Brood War
Raynor’s final words in StarCraft Brood War were the following: “I'll see you dead for this, Kerrigan. For Fenix and all the others who got caught between you and your mad quest for power!”
Raynor spent far more time with Fenix than he did with Kerrigan, and Valerian called Kerrigan the worst mass murderer in history. If anything, Raynor has more reason to be angry at Kerrigan than he does at Mengsk. His promise was obviously serious. So far, the original game’s story has been insulted by Raynor forgetting completely about his promise. Raynor is shown pining over Kerrigan’s portrait, and talks alot more about Mengsk's crimes than Kerrigan's. Apart from expressing interest in stopping Kerrigan’s invasion, there is no indication that Raynor actually wants to kill her.
But mainly this represents a problem because it is a wasted opportunity to create tension. Debating over whether to keep his vow from Brood War or take heed of Zeratul’s warning could have actually introduced some conflict into Raynor’s character. Instead, Zeratul’s warning was completely unnecessary, as it is clear that Raynor would have saved Kerrigan anyway. Clearly, Raynor would not choose revenge over the universe, but any dialog showing that he is conflicted would have improved the story as well as his character.
Prodigy Amongst Prodigies
Jim Raynor is a genius commander who is able to steal a victory at every turn. In the Wings of Liberty universe, the player character (Raynor) is simply a mastermind and everyone else is a notch below him. What this amounts to is a giant player-aggrandizing ego-trip. All these problems are exacerbated by the fact that Raynor's Raiders is apparently a single battlecruiser and its skeleton crew.
Here are their profiles:
Raynor is a prodigy surrounded by prodigies. Hanson was reading chemistry "tomes" at the age of six, which just sounds ridiculous. Kachinsky, having a knack for robotics, abandoned his life of wealth to go on and become a prodigy mechanic for the Hyperion. Though Hanson calls Stetmann's science expertise "nonexistent," he still singlehandedly manages to create technologies that even the Dominion doesn't appear to have, all from a shoddy battlecruiser laboratory. Swann is an overall mechanic genius and is able to create a miniature version of the Dominion’s newest superweapon in a short period of time.
All of this is childish and unrealistic. It is a failure at worldbuilding and reads more like an amateur fanfiction than an intelligent and interesting story.
Overall Unlikeable Character
The game tries to show that Raynor, despite his flaws, is still a good person. But all these failures in world building combine to create what is essentially an unlikeable character. Raynor has been shown to be mentally deranged, a bad leader, and a bad friend: clearly far from the direction the writers intended to take the character. It also isn’t helped that Raynor himself stated in the game that he is more interested in revenge against Mengsk than true justice, and proven to be more interested in saving his girlfriend than the sector itself. These character flaws were meant to enrich Raynor's character, but they still make it somewhat harder to like him.
One of the more entertaining characters in Wings of Liberty, Tychus is a rough and tumble convict whose only redemption is the sacrifices that he has made for his best friend Raynor. Raynor in return, has treated him quite poorly. But that aside, the problem with Tychus is the entire arc around which he is on the Hyperion. Mengsk freed him to spy on Raynor. It is a surprise then when Raynor commits violent acts of terror and rebellion against the Dominion while Mengsk is clueless at every turn. Tychus makes for a very poor double-agent, and the circumstances around his exact deal with Mengsk remain a mystery. Is he only there to spy on Raynor? If so then why does Raynor get away with ruining Mengsk’s reputation and slaughtering Dominion soldiers? Is Tychus only there because Mengsk knows that Raynor will have a shot at killing Kerrigan? Most fans suspect this is the case, due to him sneaking around looking for records of Kerrigan on the Hyperion, as well as the fact that he did absolutely nothing useful for Mengsk until he had a shot at Kerrigan. However, this scenario is also highly suspect it implies that Mengsk is omniscient, somehow knowing that Raynor’s single battlecruiser would get close enough to the Queen of Blades. The exact nature of the deal and the relationship between Mengsk, Tychus, and Valerian is either a mystery, or just a massive plot hole.
The writers seem to have given up on this character completely, claiming that “his story has already been told”. Instead of being a formidable and dangerous adversary, Mengsk largely takes the role of a cartoon villain in Wings of Liberty. “Curses, foiled again!” is his battle cry every time Raynor bests him. As one of the main antagonists in the game, it is a serious problem when he is portrayed as an incompetent opponent.
Right as the game begins, we see a newscast which claims that Mengsk has squandered trillions hunting down Jim Raynor. This immediately sets up Mengsk as an unworthy opponent for Raynor. In Liberation Day, we see holos of Mengsk spouting standard communist rhetoric: "Keep a close watch on your neighbors. Dissent will only slow our progress." Any individual would immediately associate this propaganda with that of a dictator. But we know that Mengsk is trying to maintain a public image of a benevolent and selfless leader, therefore Mengsk looks like a fool for even considering putting up such holoboards.
For the finale of the rebellion missions, Raynor somehow breaks through Korhal's orbital planetary defenses, and lands on Augustgrad itself, the capital city of the Dominion. Of all the things in the game, this is truly absurd. Even if he had managed to break through the orbital defenses, the rest of the Dominion, which has pulled back to defend core worlds such as Korhal, should have descended upon Raynor and annihilated the Raiders with ease. In fact, it's a wonder that Raynor did not end things right there and attack Mengsk's palace since he was already right there. It is embarrassing that Raynor was able to land on the Dominion capital with his one battlecruiser and then wreak havoc on the streets while defending the surgical strikes sent by Warfield, the Dominion’s best general. Mengsk is a truly weak and incompetent opponent to have let this happen. This victory therefore, feels like a hollow one.
Raynor's attack against UNN headquarters could have been better spent attacking Mengsk's palace.
Valerian arguably had the most potential as a character in this game, but the vast majority of it was squandered right from the get-go with his introduction in the Heir Apparent cinematic. No the problem is not that Raynor mistakes a blonde gentleman for Arcturus. The problem is, again, a deficit of good world-building culminating in a bizarre and impossible scenario.
In the cinematic, Valerian warps in with Arcturus's flagship and doesn't introduce himself like a normal person. He'd be crazy to think that Raynor wouldn't be alarmed by Mengsk's flagship, so it seems Valerian is only doing this to make a grandiose entrance. Raynor foolishly decides to board the flagship, and what happens after that time is largely a mystery. Why do the other Dominion battlecruisers not fire on them? And why wouldn't Raynor have considered that before going in if he wasn’t a suicidal schizophrenic? Why isn't Matt attempting to raise the Buccephalus or vice-versa? Is Valerian just sitting there twiddling his thumbs? What exactly is going on?
Having just Raynor and Tychus try to fight their way through Mengsk’s flagship seems absurd, as if that’s all it takes to board the Emperor’s own flagship, but many fans claim that it was more than just Raynor and Tychus who came on board. In that case, even more lives are wasted behind-the-scenes because Valerian couldn’t have introduced himself like a normal person. It feels like this whole thing should have been an entire installation type mission that was missed.
Valerian clearly has no regard for his men’s lives. Why Raynor or anybody would trust him after this display of callousness is a mystery. Even worse, we come to find that Valerian “owns” the Moebius Foundation, which means he has been funding Raynor’s violent acts of terrorism against the government that Valerian is set to inherit. This amounts to what is essentially state sponsored terrorism, and is equivalent to the idea of the United States funding Osama Bin Laden’s attack on the World Trade Center.
The editor also contains the following unused dialog from Valerian:
(haunted) I didn't anticipate her reacting so quickly. She seems to be a... fierce opponent. Perhaps we wouldn't have lost so many men if I'd--
Now ain't the time for second guessing, junior. If we survive what's next, you'll have the whole rest of your life to wallow in guilt. For now, we buck up and get 'er done.
Why this line was removed is anybody’s guess. It shows that Valerian actually cares about his men and that Kerrigan is a worthy opponent.
Warfield, like Valerian, has no regard for his men’s lives. Here is a quick recap of all the Dominion men that Raynor slaughtered:
1) The Dominion soldiers on Mar Sara.
2) The Dominion base on Mar Sara guarding the artifact.
3) The prison guards at New Folsom.
4) The Dominion guarding the trains.
5) The Dominion in the Valhalla facility.
6) The Dominion soldiers and strike teams on Korhal during Media Blitz.
7) The soldiers killed by Raynor and Tychus on the Bucephalus.
Now, the argument is not that Raynor was unjustified in attacking the Dominion, it’s that Valerian and Warfield seem to not care at all. They say absolutely nothing, and in fact, when Warfield first meets Raynor, he is more upset that Raynor is lecturing him about tactics than the fact that Raynor slaughtered his troops. It’s as if Valerian and Warfield have absolutely no pride.
Now Warfield is obviously the writers' attempt at a competent Dominion general, but again, in Wings of Liberty, it seems that only Raynor is allowed an illusion of competence just because he happens to be who we are playing as. Warfield could not defend UNN headquarters on the Dominion’s own homeworld. Raynor also had to salvage the entire invasion of Char because Warfield made the rookie mistake of doing a frontal assault. Warfield claims to have led five separate invasions against the Swarm, such as Operation Burnout. Now, while Raynor certainly has much experience fighting Zerg, he hasn’t had any experience in actually launching invasions. By all rights, Warfield should have been the expert here, yet it is he who royally screwed up the invasion, at which point Raynor comes to save the day during “Gates of Hell”.
Warfield was not succesful in his role of a competent Dominion General
A bit of a walking stereotype, it was only a matter of time before Warfield said something about being a “damn fool”. This is another example of the writers' new Hollywood-esque way of telling stories.
There are a few things we're supposed to know about Selendis:
1) She is a Protoss. Protoss have larger brains and superior intellect to that of humans, not to mention eidetic memory. This is the reason why it took them only about two millenia to rise from a stone age level and create advanced technology that could bend space and time itself to their whim.
2) As the High Executor of the Protoss Protectorate, we have to assume that when it comes to Protoss military commanders Selendis is the cream of the crop.
It is a surprise then when Selendis goes on to commit sublime acts of stupidity. The fact that the Fleet of the Executor lost in combat to Raynor and his rag-tag band of prodigies is not only insulting but makes zero sense. But that aside, let's look at some of Selendis’s quotes in the canon choice.
"If you choose to resist us, we will meet in glorious combat."
Is this really the only diplomacy that Selendis is willing to give Raynor, who four years ago risked his own life to help the khalai survivors evacuate Aiur and thus saved millions of Protoss lives? And why is combat glorious? True, Protoss have a warrior culture and many enjoy combat for the sake of combat. They are overly zealous and consider themselves superior. However, this does not give them a license to act like idiots. The main theme of the Protoss in StarCraft II is that the devastating population losses have forced them to adapt. Here are some of their major population losses:
1) The Protoss are not numerous to begin with. They are not very prolific and have started dieing out from sheer age according to an interview with Dustin Browder.
2) The Protoss were being systematically exterminated long before the Zerg arrived according to the same interview.
3) The fall of Aiur was a massive blow to their population. Aiur was the very nerve center of the Protoss empire and contained billions of Protoss. 70% of the population died just from this.
4) After the rest of the Protoss migrated to Shakuras, the population was further massacred by the broods that followed them. The Protoss had to "rebuild" their empire on Shakuras.
5) Finally, the Protoss's giant string of military defeats to the Zerg, culminating with Artanis's defeat at Omega, ensured that their military power was essentially crippled in comparison to what it was.
The Protoss are in very dire straits by the end of Brood War, and they have resorted to many tactics they would consider unconventional. From recalling weapons that they once thought were too powerful for them to use i.e. Mothership and Colossus, to using dishonorable tactics such as Phoenix Overload (when it still existed), to saving warriors from death by warping them back to a safe haven using their power suit, to saving warriors from death yet again by fitting them into Immortals, Dragoons and Stalkers, it is clear that Protoss place a high value on lives. Selendis in a way encompasses this new attitude as a newly elected official. So you would think after all this Selendis would be less willing to risk Protoss lives (a rare commodity these days) for the sake of a pissing contest. Even Raynor says it's stupid to fight each other when they should be fighting the Zerg. Selendis was developed by Christie Golden, who portrayed her as highly rational in the Dark Templar Saga books. Golden allegedly worked closely with the writers on Wings of Liberty, yet we see no evidence of this at all. The Selendis from the books would not have done this.
"Our Observers detected zerg hive spores infesting the colonists. They must be purified.
This is only true if you side with the Protoss. In the canon choice, you side with Hanson and no colonists are actually infested in-game, so Selendis is made to look like a fool for overreacting so much. If you pick the "B" choice and are forced to cull the colonists, Hanson exclaims "What?! This isn't right! I thought you were a better man than this, Jim!", despite the fact that we just did the same exact thing on Meinhoff in the previous mission and she had no problem with that.
"The only cure for zerg infestation is purification by fire. You know this to be true, James Raynor."
Now the Protoss look like fools because a Terran invented a cure during the course of several hours on some "medieval" lab on a battlecruiser.
"You are as cunning as the stories say, James Raynor. I hope your belief in these colonists will be vindicated."
Now after losing several Carriers and a Mothership, which I imagine must be expensive for the Protoss empire, Selendis is made to look like a fool yet again, all the while praising Raynor (an inferior Terran being) for his intellectual superiority.
It's almost like she thought they were engaging in some computer simulation battle instead of one where people would actually die. Why is it that so many military commanders in Wings of Liberty seem to have no regard for the lives of their men? It’s a recurring theme at this point.
Despite Kerrigan being the most powerful force in the sector, she still managed to lose every time she was encountered. All the Zerg were recalled to Char during a newcast, invalidating the excuse that Raynor had a chance only because the Swarm was too spread out all over the sector. Despite Kerrigan spewing generic threatening banter, and despite how scary the designers wanted her to feel in-game, Kerrigan still achieved virtually zero victories. With how large the sector is and how numerous the swarm is, Kerrigan could have at least captured one artifact.
It is mentioned to the player that "billions of people died" and "Kerrigan was toying with us". In Brood War, when Kerrigan actually toyed with people, we got to see how and what she actually did (force Zeratul to murder his Matriarch and help Kerrigan kill the Overmind, use Mengsk, Raynor and Fenix to beat the UED, etc.) These things drove the plot and we could see the results of her power and scheming. In Mass Effect, the Illusive Man does not need anybody to state that he is a conniving bastard. It is made plain by his actions: his willingness to run unethical experiments, condemn planets to death, and be ruthless in the pursuit of all his goals. In Wings of Liberty, simply hearing that "Kerrigan killed billions of people" or "she was toying with us" does not do much for the player. It is nothing but an information dump.
Kerrigan's enemies were all superior to her for the following reasons:
1) Kerrigan had the Swarm literally all over the sector, but could only manage to find one artifact and didn't know where to even look for the rest of them. In the meantime, the Moebius team and Valerian seems to know where every artifact is. True, they have Narud/Duran helping them, but why is it that Kerrigan could not have tracked them and stolen back an artifact at the very least given the vast armies at her disposal?
2) Kerrigan "forgot how resourceful Jim was" on Monlyth and let his small force sneak away with the artifact from under both her and the Protoss, proving once again that Raynor is a prodigy. She lets Zeratul escape in the Whispers of Doom mission as well, despite having millions of Zerg at her command. With how far he had to run, it's obvious Zeratul was a long distance from the Void seeker. We just see this kind of thing from Kerrigan again and again throughout the campaign.
3) Kerrigan shouldn’t have had obvious vulnerabilities like the Space Station which was the hub for the majority of zerg fliers, or the nydus tunnels which could be easily flooded with lava.
4) Kerrigan makes nothing but empty promises, and fails. Every. Single. Time. What is the difference between Kerrigan and the demon lords from Diablo 3 like Belial, Asmodan, and Diablo? None, they're all the same character. Raynor keeps all of his promises (except those from Brood War), but Kerrigan can't seem to keep any despite all of her power.
5) Kerrigan fails yet again when she tries to reach the Moebius data cores. She "senses" that Jim is hiding something from her, but can't find out what. Yet in the first Zeratul mission she doesn’t have this problem and straight up reads Zeratul's mind:
"if you can so easily read my mind kerrigan, you know I'll never give up!"
6) It was foolish of Kerrigan to be at ground zero when the artifact went off. If she knew what it did, why did she let herself get vaporized?
Brood War was criticized because Kerrigan easily crushed everybody, but this is more forgivable because she WAS that competent. It would be one thing if you only won while playing as her, but despite some of the other characters' plot-induced stupidity, the player does actually get outsmarted by her in both the Protoss and Terran Brood War campaign. That is why it is so incongruent that in Wings of Liberty she fails at every turn.
As a result of all this, Kerrigan made an especially weak character in Wings of Liberty. Heart of the Swarm however will provide a chance to improve this character, and perhaps even a return to form. As for the voice-acting however, the “subtle nuances” that Tricia Helfer apparently added to the voice are inconspicuously missing. Tricia added nothing to the voice of Kerrigan that Glynnis Campbell did not, other than broken continuity.
Kerrigan had power, but could not wield it properly.
Although another walking stereotype, Tosh is one of the few characters without characterization flaws. Dave Fennoy did a good job bringing this rebel pirate to life.
The only problem however, is with the story arc. After spending our time performing mundane and trivial assignments for him, we are then presented with the following choice:
A) Stick with the person who has been helping you all game and will continue helping you and your rebellion.
B) Side with Nova, an agent of your sworn enemy who just called you up five seconds ago to try and convince you that Tosh is about to betray you, with no evidence whatsoever.
Now, the only reason anybody would pick choice B is because they want to see what the other mission is like or because Nova is a hot female instead of a big burly black guy with dreadlocks. Tosh has not wronged Raynor in any way, and it’s difficult for the player to not feel like he is stabbing one of his friends in the back if he picks the B choice. It’s as if the choice was designed to not have any thought put into it. In this day and age of games with morality-based choices like Fallout, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, The writers should really aim to do better than the paltry effort seen here.
Another well-developed character, Matt Horner represented the voice of reason on the Hyperion: in particular, his urging to not ally with Valerian or attempt to board the Bucephalus while outnumbered. This character acts rationally and has definitely had some thought put into him. Combined with his faith in Raynor, good-natured attitude, and idealism, Horner made for an overall likeable character.
Overall, Swann does a decent job at being a “big fun guy”. The main problem with Swann is the lore surrounding the acquisition of units. In Brood War, there was no explanation for how you acquired new units as you proceeded through missions: they just appeared. Wings of Liberty however has an Armory which gives explanations for how you acquired the units. Therefore, unlike Brood War, it is up for critique. For example, you can assume that Raynor has old technology like the Marine, Medic, Firebat, Goliath and Wraith. That is the explanation for how you got the schematics, it is old technology. But it then raises the question of why you can’t use this tech beforehand, in the very first missions. The Vulture is old technology too, and Raynor’s signature unit, so it’s a mystery that he has to relearn how to create them from Mira Han. Ravens and Science Vessels are shown to be created through Stetmann’s research. The only problem is that the Dominion has the exact same units, and they didn’t use Stetmann’s research. This may seem like a trivial nitpick, but it has a very obvious and simple solution: don't give the Dominion access to Raynor's units.
The Thor is perhaps the worst offender. Being just another mechanical guru genius aboard the Hyperion, Swann can "modify" any machine to suit the Raiders' needs. He was born into a long line of tech-savvy miners, and even from a young age he displayed a much deeper understanding of machinery and technology than anyone else in his family’s history.
One of the recent Frontline stories established that the Thor existed before Wings of Liberty, created by the Dominion. This was retconned in Wings of Liberty. Instead we stole the Odin from the Dominion, which is essentially a giant unprecendented superweapon. The sheer amount of technical engineering and know-how required to create such a lumbering machine and have it able to stand so much punishment must have been mind boggling. We can only assume a team of scientists and engineers worked on the Odin for months. The schematics for the thing must have taken days if not weeks to merely analyze. So then the mechanical savant Swann comes in and says "Bah humbug! Forget the scale, I'll create something a damn sight more practical than that showpiece!" Try to keep in mind how nonchalant he is about miniaturizing such a gargantuan war machine. And he does it all within the span of one mission, ready to use on Korhal right away.
Though the Thor does not have the firepower and durability of the Odin, the fact that Swann basically remade the thing within the span of one mission aboard a Battlecruiser is unbelievable.
Swann is a mechanical genius.
The infamous Overmind retcon is perhaps one of the biggest issues that fans of the original game have with Wings of Liberty. The writers attempted to conceive it out of ignorance, under the premise that there was no proof that the Overmind wasn’t enslaved, as if it’s possible to prove a negative. It is the equivalent to saying that Raynor is actually a Xel’Naga who engineered all of the events of StarCraft (which would actually explain why he is an undefeatable military prodigy). Any evidence that you would find to the contrary are just a result of Raynor’s clever and devious machinations to make you think that he’s just a normal terran. Obviously such a proposition is absurd, but it cannot be proven wrong either.
And such is the case in Wings of Liberty with the “directive” that was placed upon the Overmind: that he had to attack and assimilate the Protoss. Whenever the Overmind attacked the Protoss or did anything evil, it was because he was following his directive. When he created Kerrigan, it was because he "found a loophole" around the directive. But when the Overmind had the opportunity to reveal his enslavement, he took great lengths to avoid any such loopholes.
1) When Zeratul linked minds with him in StarCraft, the Overmind conveniently hid all the information about his enslavement by the Dark Voice even though Zeratul looked like right at the Overmind’s origins, where you would expect that information to be.
2) The Cerebrates in StarCraft are actually a part of the Overmind. The death of Zasz stunned the Overmind because Zasz was a part of the Overmind. The death of the Cerebrates in the “Shadow Hunters” StarCraft mission stunned the Overmind and broods next to him again, allowing the Protoss to get close. Despite this, neither the Cerebrates nor the Cerebrate player-character seemed to notice the Overmind raging or screaming "in the prison of his mind".
It is a blatant insult to the original game to prop up the Dark Voice at the Overmind’s expense by turning him into nothing but a slave. Instead of being a Lovecraftian galactic space monster who is attempting to achieve perfection, he is just sitting there cowering in his own mind. What did the Overmind even do in the original game now? Absolutely nothing. It seems that the only action he ever undertook of his own volition was to create Kerrigan. But again, this requires convoluted loopholes to explain why he has free will in this situation but not in other situations. Also, knowing that Kerrigan is under the influence of the Dark Voice’s evil, the Overmind’s plan also requires more convoluted events to happen. First Kerrigan has to be deinfested, and second, the Overmind has to die. He is the only character to have a death wish. This character has been ruined and disgraced.
Pretty much all of his dialog from the original game is invalidated. Here is a classic line from StarCraft:
My children, the hour of our victory is at hand. For upon this world of Aiur shall we incorporate the strongest known species into our fold. Then shall we be the greatest of creation's children. We shall be...Perfect.
What he means to say instead is:
My children, the hour of our loss is at hand. For once we end up achieving our goals, it will only doom us to die at the hands of the hybrid. Actually, I don't even want to be here and I hope I get killed soon.
What is worse, the Overmind’s enslavement applies to all other Zerg as well. The Zerg are supposed to be scary, brutal, and inhuman, like a force of nature. Look at this old StarCraft cinematic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI-utH8_D-Y
It is reminiscent of the old Alien films. Are the Zerg no longer brutal and terrifying? Are they only evil because the Dark Voice is evil? This retcon goes against everything that makes the Zerg who they are supposed to be.
Rest of Crew
The rest of the crew is somewhat of a mystery. Despite splitting the game into three expansions to make the entire experience more epic, and despite Wings of Liberty having more dialog than StarCraft and Brood War combined, the minor members of the crew have not been fleshed out at all. It seems that most players refer to Kachinsky as “the guy with the earmuffs”. And who exactly are Annabelle, Bralic, Cade and Thatcher? If you asked most players, it is likely they would have absolutely no clue. It is too bad that most of the dialog for the crew consisted of banter. Though this is sort of realistic, actually approaching each crew member, Mass-Effect style, and having a conversation with them would have allowed us to get to know each one better. Instead, clicking on a crew member did not even force Raynor to get out of his seat, and the crew member would just utter an empty banality towards nobody in particular such as "Well, I do declare!" or "Man, you creepin'." This is a waste of dialog.
The one time the crew came together was during the Bar Fight cinematic. Here is the full script of what happens:
You think he's right? That I'm just gonna run out on ya?
You've got us working for the Dominion now, Commander. Taking us back to Char? It's like you're gone already.
This ain't about the Dominion. Our war's always been about savin' lives. If the zerg wipe everyone out, it's all been for nothing. So I'm going to back to Char. If you're with me, it's your choice. Just like it's always been.
Now that's the commander I've been waiting on.
Really? That’s all it took to radically change the crews’ mind? A barfight and a minor reassurance? It’s extremely sad that this is the extent of the dissension that Raynor faced with his crew. Raynor has had very few roadblocks or challenges. The early demo of the story mode gameplay showed an angry crew member actually bump into Raynor and say “Down here slummin, sir?” More things like this would have been superior to what Wings of Liberty currently has.
Can you name all of these people?
The Dark Voice
Apathetic, impersonal, and the physical incarnation of evil itself, the Dark Voice, so far, is the most uninspired character in all of StarCraft. What more is there to say about this guy? He wants everybody dead for no apparent logical reason and there isn’t going to be anything you can say to convince him otherwise. Never before has StarCraft had such an obvious morally-black character. The only defense for him is that hopefully he will be turned into an actual character in the expansions.
Mass Effect 3 also does the “everybody must team up against an unstoppable evil” theme, but it tries to justify and rationalize the reaper threat in the end. Will there be any justification for what the Dark Voice is doing? That remains to be seen. But what video game writers do not understand about these galactic cycles of death is that they are extremely provincial. The reapers in Mass Effect, as well as the hybrids in StarCraft II, ignore the fact that there are over tens of billions of other galaxies in the universe and that their actions in the Milky Way, in the grand scheme of the universe, are quite meaningless. There is very little rational reason to go about implementing such a cosmic death cycle. Mass Effect’s early explanation that the reapers “are unknowable” was perhaps better than the explanation given at the end. Either way, it is such a weak theme that relying on ignorance seems to be the best way to justify it.
Regardless of whether other sci-fi universes make use of the prophecy plot device, it does not seem like something that belongs in StarCraft. Prophecies belong in medieval universes like Warcraft because they have always been the area of mystics, gypsies and charlatans. It is an extremely weak theme and quite disappointing that the writers had to resort to it. It requires that characters put off all logical and natural actions in favor of advancing the plot towards the way the writers want it to go. Before StarCraft II was released, fans wondered how other characters were going to interact with Kerrigan now that she had backstabbed everyone and proved irrefutably that she isn’t to be trusted. Clearly, some writing magic would be required to drive an interesting story. The effort made however, is beyond lazy. The prophecy mandates that everybody has to work with Kerrigan or else the galaxy will explode. It also mandates that only a select individual is capable of stopping the coming conflict, and nobody else.
The other problem is we don’t know what the prophecy actually is.
1) Is it something that Kerrigan and Zeratul already discovered? In the very first Protoss mission Zeratul says “the foreboding prophecy weighs heavily on my heart,” and Kerrigan says “you cannot outrun the doom that awaits us all”. So it seems that they already know what the prophecy is, and are just looking for clarification.
2) Is it the fragments that Zeratul discovered in Whispers of Doom which the Preservers interpreted? It would seem so since this is the text that appears on the Ihan Crystal when you finish the Protoss missions.
3) Or is the prophecy the actual vision of “In Utter Darkness,” which was viewed by the Overmind, then viewed by Tassadar, then viewed by Zeratul, then viewed by Raynor?
It is clear that what we have in the Protoss missions are a befuddled remnant of the developers’ original vision. In fact, unused dialog from the Echoes of the Future indicates that there was no Dark Voice and no resurrection of Tassadar, which, quite honestly, would have been preferable. The Prophecy cinematic itself was intended to be much longer, which is why we don’t get to see Kerrigan actually kick Zeratul or Kerrigan get her wing blade chopped off. Very little cleanup has gone into these missions.
Population and Strength of the Dominion
Wings of Liberty seems to ignore the giant string of defeats that the Dominion suffered in Brood War. You could skip from StarCraft vanilla to Wings of Liberty, and the Dominion is in the same exact position. When the original StarCraft begins, there are three Terran factions: the Confedracy, the Kel-Morian Combine, and the Umojan Protectorate. Though the Confederacy is far more powerful than either of the factions, leading a war against either one would still be too costly. So after Tarsonis is destroyed, Mengsk consolidates the Terrans under one rule, and the Umojan Protectorate and Kel-Morian Combine are far more powerful than before by virtue of the fact that their homeworlds haven’t been annihilated. Mere weeks after this, the UED comes in and lays waste to the Dominion. Umoja and Moria are seemingly untouched. All throughout Brood War, Moria even manages to keep up its lucrative mining operations. Shortly after using the rest of his forces to fight the UED, Mengsk reestablishes the Dominion on Korhal with Kerrigan’s help. Kerrigan then backstabs him just to make sure that he cannot be as powerful as he was before. Meanwhile, while Moria may have been raided by the Zerg once for money, they are still doing nothing but raking in cash. So then Mengsk gathers the last of his men for a strike against the Zerg on Char. It sounds like he has absolutely nothing at this point because his entire fleet was created by him calling in favors and making concessions. He is destroyed yet again.
So here we are in Wings of Liberty four years later. Somehow the Dominion is still the most powerful force in the sector, Moria and Umoja did not take advantage of Mengsk’s weakness neither during Brood War or the interim, and the extended fiction shows that the Combine and the Protectorate have to avoid the Dominion and are careful to not provoke them. Mengsk also continues developing new weapons of war and creating new battlecruisers while the other two factions are quiet, so far.
The population figures for Korhal, 6 billion, are also ludicrous. Several thousand people over a period of 300 years cannot create such a large population. First Tarsonis was destroyed and “billions” of people died. Then the Zerg invaded in Wings of Liberty and “billions” more died. And Korhal still has “billions” left on it. The math simply makes no sense, especially considering that Korhal itself was nothing but a smoldering desert backwater four years ago.
Korhal's population stats are unbelievable.
A huge problem in Wings of Liberty is how it marginalizes your enemies. Antagonists should be both intelligent and a force to be reckoned with. This makes the world seem realistic and believable, and it is a key component of world-building. It is the overall successes of the enemy which make the player wonder whether he will pull through this time, and if so, at what cost. This contributed to the fact that when you played Brood War you felt like you were always in danger, which added to the immersion. In Wings of Liberty you never feel truly threatened except at the Char missions at the end.
In Brood War this is accomplished in many instances:
1) Tassadar’s challenge to Kerrigan is shown to be a diversion. In reality he distracted her from the true threat: the assassination of Zasz. This sets the Protoss up as competent adversaries who are capable of taking out key Zerg leaders, even though the Swarm is numerically superior. It is through this that Tassadar ultimately manages to destroy the Zerg Overmind itself.
2) When Kerrigan faces the UED in Episode 6 they are set up as competent enemies not simply because we just played them, but there is also a mission dedicated to simply scrounging up what Zerg warriors you have left. Simply trying to maintain control for Kerrigan is a challenge.
3) The characters that you play as themselves outright state that their enemies are worthy opponents:
You know, Executor, although we two have marched across hundreds of worlds together, I never imagined that we would be fighting on Aiur. The Zerg are indeed worthy foes.
So, the elusive Arcturus Mengsk at last. I was hoping to speak with you before we finished our business here. I am Admiral Gerard DuGalle, and I must commend you, Sir, for holding back our advance for as long as you have. You are indeed a worthy opponent.
Well, I have misjudged you, warrior. You are worthy, indeed.
This entire chain of events has been masterminded by Kerrigan, and we played right into her hands!
In StarCraft II, instead of getting this, we just get dialog reaffirming the player-character’s superiority, such as: "Finished already? You really are as good as they say Mr. Raynor.”
For those interested, here is a run-down of all the roadblocks and challenges that the player-character faced in the original StarCraft:
- Right as the game begins it is established that things do not look good for you. The government for which you work is relegating you and your colonists to the wasteland, and the superior officer which you must answer to (Duke) is a jerk.
- Raynor attempts to do the right thing by rescuing a station from the Zerg. He gets arrested.
- In order to save lives, you must trade the prestige and power of your rank as a Colonial Magistrate in lieu of a rebel by allying yourself with Mengsk.
- You find out that the government for which you work has screwed over the planets of Raynor and yourself by unleashing Zerg on them as a weapons test.
- You manage to stir up revolution and get a Confederate General to join your team. This is good.
- Turns out that Mengsk is worse than the Confedracy and used a psi emitter to commit genocide against Tarsonis. Everything you have worked for is a sham and you put a ruthless tyrant in power.
- Kerrigan, whom you have come to care for, is betrayed by Mengsk and left to die.
- You lament trusting Arcturus and do what little you can to escape with your life. This campaign has basically been a failure for you.
The Zerg are numerically superior to all other forces in the sector. They suffer fewer defeats, but this actually makes sense because they steamrolled everybody else while we play as Terrans or Protoss. After Kerrigan is born, she must work to attain her new power by raiding the Amerigo. This establishes her as very powerful. The Zerg's weakness is then made known when Tassadar tricks Kerrigan, by distracting her long enough to allow Zeratul to slay a Cerebrate. This establishes that Zeratul and Tassadar are not only intelligent adversaries, but that they are capable of taking out key Zerg leaders. It is this very ability which ultimately leads to the Overmind's demise, and it is because of this very large threat that the Overmind left Kerrigan on Char to hunt down the Dark Templar. The Zerg then succeed in invading Aiur.
- Right from the get-go, we know that the Zerg are worthy adversaries. They have just invaded our homeworld and Fenix praises them.
- Tassadar attempts to give you the key to taking out Zerg leaders, but the leaders just get reincarnated because you used the wrong energies, meaning that the victory against the cerebrate was futile.
- The Protoss rescue the province of Scion. This seems like a victory but Fenix dies in the next cinematic. Though he comes back in a dragoon, he is almost like a decoy protagonist. The victory in Scion is even more hollow when you consider that the Zerg end up decimating the planet anyway no matter what you do.
- The biggest enemy the Protoss have is themselves. The Conclave, in its pride, attempts to arrest Tassadar, and you spend several missions fighting them instead of the Zerg. This is a huge defeat for the protoss, with whom you are supposed to sympathize.
- With the help of the dark templar you manage to assassinate key zerg leaders. This stuns the Overmind and allows you to actually get close to him. Without this one weakness you would not have won.
- Your victory is pyrrhic. The Conclave is dead and cannot spare reinforcements for your last mission. Tassadar sacrifices himself. And finally, your homeworld lies in utter ruin.
Mass Effect 3 also had many ways of showing that your enemies are not pushovers. The most notable example is Kai Leng. When you first meet him, he throws dozens of obstacles in your path that force you to look for an alternate route instead of continuing on the linear path that your primary objectives set you on. From jumping up on top of your shuttle and damaging its engines to creating doctored footage of you, Kai Leng is shown to be extremely competent. Then in another mission when the player fights Kai Leng, you, the player, outright loses. An entire planet dies because you could not beat Leng, and you are forced to report back to your superiors in abject failure. Kai Leng even kills one of your squadmates from the previous game.
When has anything like this happened in Wings of Liberty? The only real defeat shown in Wings of Liberty was “In Utter Darkness,” which is an alternative reality that did not happen yet in the game world, and therefore does not count. Sure, Raynor may acknowledge that his enemies are more numerous and/or powerful, but he is always confident that he will come out on top, and indeed he does, every single time. The only time your “squadmates” die in Wings of Liberty is during non-canon choices, and it doesn’t even matter because Blizzard confirmed that your choices will never be brought up again in expansions.
Tosh's death is no loss for the player-character. Since reality shifts, Tosh is actually the bad guy in this mission who is training psychotic killers, and it seems that he was only using you when in reality it's you that is betraying him. Hanson's death was done well, but overall it is inconsequential. She made her own choice to experiment on herself, and the fact that you had to kill the infested colonists is no more Raynor's failing than the "billions" of people who died according to the news casts. The only canon death of a major character is that of Tychus, a known scumbag whose only purpose was to betray the player; it almost doesn’t count. Would the writers consider killing off Swann or Stettman in the middle of the game due to simply a failure on Raynor’s part? Instead we have dialog such as “Aww hell, not these Tal’Darim guys again. How many times do I have to steamroll them?” When what we should really have is dialog like "We need to watch our backs. These guys pose an actual threat to us and they are not incompetent morons." All throughout the game, we see nothing but examples of everyone but Raynor failing, because Raynor and his crew are all prodigies.
Chris Metzen, the VP of Creative Development at Blizzard, considers the Queen of Blades novel to be the definitive take of what happened to Raynor during the Zerg campaign. According to the novel, Raynor was down to about 40 people after he went to Char. And this is before all the other string of conflicts that the Raiders fought in during Brood War. It’s nothing but a miracle that Raynor and the Raiders are still alive in Wings of Liberty, let alone going around and stomping everybody across the sector, invading homeworlds such as Korhal and Char.
The invasion of Char itself was poorly executed by Valerian and Warfield, largely because nobody thought it would be a good idea to actually assemble the artifact BEFORE they launch the invasion. That would have saved a bit of trouble during the first two missions trying to hold off the Zerg. And at least then it would have made sense that they could even establish a landing zone and afford to go crawl around in caves or go back to outer space all the while. The fact that their entire invasion wasn’t wiped out during the second Char mission is an embarrassment for the Zerg, who are fighting on their very homeworld. Again, while the Char missions were scary, the Zerg are still portrayed as incompetent opponents.
Then we also have Orlan, a classic cartoon villain with lines such as "I'll show you what happens to double-dealing backstabbers!" Orlan is another unworthy enemy who Raynor outsmarted and steamrolled. This is largely what happens to every opponent in Wings of Liberty: the Zerg, the Protoss, Mengsk, Warfield, everybody. Raynor might complain about “lava and fire” and he might complain about being outnumbered, but the player sees absolutely no proof that Raynor is actually challenged by this.
In the original StarCraft, the Protoss were powerful, mysterious, and enigmatic. They burned entire planets, and when these guys warped in, you knew they were playing hardball. Though they did lose in the lore several times, it was not for a lack of brains, but more because of betrayal and just being straight up outnumbered. The Protoss have lost most of their gravitas and power in Wings of Liberty largely because of this. Despite their bigger brains and superior tech, they still lose out to Raynor every single time. Raynor never runs into any difficulty, and the fact that the Raiders are no larger than a capital ship is pretty insulting.
Our suggestion is to have the player-character suffer a setback once in a while, but find a new way to accomplish what he needs. A plot twist if you will. To be realistic and meaningful, an opponent should be made to seem as if he has evaluated all possible decisions, and chose the best one. Only then, when the player feels like every character is making the kind of choices that he himself could possibly make in that situation, can the player truly become immersed in the story.
Raynor's Raiders - The Best of the Best
The Wings of Liberty campaign contained a lot of humor. But as it stands, most of the jokes you find in pretty much every area of the campaign are in stark contrast to what you’d expect in a dark and realistic sci-fi universe. You can have dark war humor, but the news casts are not it. Each of them boils down to the same joke recycled over and over:
Donny: Raynor is sowing discord and chaos on the fine citizens of the Dominion. Kate?
Kate: Well, actually Donny, Raynor has helped out many people over here and...
Donny: Cut her off!
Given the fact that Mengsk is running a totalitarian government, it should be impossible for Kate to have a job there, especially after she calls out Mengsk personally via the audio from Raynor’s pirate broadcast. Instead of being fired, Kate is actually promoted.
Now, most people will say, “Hey, these newscasts are not meant to be taken seriously. It’s just a lighthearted joke!” Which is fine, except that it’s the only real look the player has at events in the StarCraft universe outside of Raynor’s single battlecruiser, another flaw of the microscopic perspective. Lighthearted jokes are meant to be shared between crewmembers and other trivial things like that. The professional news cast that every citizen in the Dominion watches is not the spot. If our only look at the StarCraft universe beyond our immediate set is a joke, then the entire campaign starts to look like a joke.
A complete discussion of the myriad retcons in Wings of Liberty is beyond the scope of this article. For the discussion of confirmed retcons, see StarCraft: Legacy’s previous article. Suffice to say, needless retcons are nothing more than a failure at world-building. Quite honestly, the only time retcons should be employed is to fix previous inconsistencies. If continuing the previously established story cannot be done without retcons, then it’s clear that continuing the story is not the goal and that a new story should be started, leaving the current one untouched. Any other course of actions represents apathy, because contrary to what most gamers believe, it is not actually that hard to create a logical extension of a story. It simply requires some research and thought put into it.
The main criticism against the artifact is that it’s a deus ex machina, a plot device designed for a very convenient purpose, in this case deinfesting Kerrigan. Broadly, the artifact appears to remove all zerg and protoss cells within its blast radius. It shouldn’t have worked on a being like Kerrigan, whose very cells were remade into zerg. It is not her chitinous plating and zerg high heels that made Kerrigan biologically zerg - it was everything about her. The artifact also seemed to leave Kerrigan’s nerve tendrils untouched for some reason.
The bigger problem however is that the writers chose to use this artifact to redeem Kerrigan instead of actual character development. It has been said that after the atrocities Kerrigan committed in Brood War, there is no way her humanity still lurked beneath. However, this is contrary to the hints left behind in Brood War. Kerrigan claimed to be “tired of the slaughter” after killing Fenix and Duke. Her weak point is also Raynor, who she always leaves alive. Perhaps through her own growth as a character, Kerrigan could have been convinced to undo the mental conditioning that the Overmind forced upon her by placing herself in a chrysalis again. Anything would have been better than just saying: bam, Kerrigan is pure evil before the artifact, and now she is good again. This is more proof that StarCraft is downgrading to an obvious black and white morality instead of the grey morality present in the original StarCraft.
Hollywood Epic Syndrome and Cheesiness
Overall, Wings of Liberty tries too hard to be “epic” some scenes, and resorts to goofyness and cheesiness in other scenes. What you have is a mishmash of contrasting tones, leaving the player confused as to what kind of game Wings of Liberty is really supposed to be.
The writers have resorted to using Hollywood-style money-shots. Take a look at some of the dialog:
“Time to kick this revolution into overdrive.”
“Whether it's blind luck or damn-fool courage - in all my years, I've never seen anything like what you two jokers have pulled off.”
“Ain't no time to be lyin' down on the job, General.”
“Boys...I hate to interrupt but...the natives are gettin' restless.”
“...because some things are just worth fighting for.”
“While the nature of his abrupt mental breakdown remains unknown, we do know that he was clad only in his socks and rumored to be in possession of Emperor Mengsk's manifesto and a pound of peanut butter.”
This is witty. This is classy. This is cool. It is also incredibly cheesy and unoriginal. The banshee landing behind Raynor as he turns around heroically and salutes. The clouds and sunshine streaming through for Raynor’s speech. This game simply does not appear like it was meant to be taken seriously. Which is totally fine, except that the game also tries hard to be epic. From the ending with sweat beading down Raynor’s face as he rescues the Queen of Blades, to the music, to the galactic threat of the hybrids, it is clear that the writers want us to think StarCraft II is epic. Red Alert 3 on the other hand has an even cheesier story than Wings of Liberty, but the writers seemed to realize this, and everything was not only far easier to overlook, but also became more enjoyable. It’s fine for a campaign to not be serious, as long as the developers themselves realize it and don’t keep telling fans how “epic” the story will be at BlizzCons.
"All in a day's work, General."
Lack of Weight in Choices
First off, it is our suggestion that the designers never allow the player to pick the actual order of missions ever again. StarCraft is not an RPG, and this “pick your mission” gimmick kills any attempts to manage tension, which simply cannot exist under such an approach. It also makes it difficult to have a coherent plot. It is largely this design decision that contributed to the “smorgasbord” feel of Wings of Liberty’s plot. It requires that all missions be random and unrelated events. There is no value in pursuing this approach in the expansions at all.
As for the choices themselves, the choices in StarCraft II were completely meaningless. They usually end up with the character either disappearing, or staying around in his niche on the Hyperion to throw out more filler dialog in later missions. The worst problem is that reality itself shifts based on the player’s choice, absolving him of all responsibility. For a choice to matter, you have to be able to make the wrong one. In StarCraft II, Raynor is not allowed to do anything sub-optimally, so this is not an option.
The Nova vs. Tosh itself is an insult to most player’s intelligence, as discussed earlier. Raynor ends up being in the right no matter what he picks. He has no reason to believe Nova's claims, but even if he picks her over Tosh, Hanson neglects to mention the fact that "Nova lied to us" about the Spectres in that story arc. As for the Hanson arc, if you side with Hanson, it turns out that the infestation was relatively minor and that the Protoss were overreacting. If you side with the Protoss, it turns out there is a full blown infestation and Hanson was the one overreacting. The universe and reality shifts based on Raynor's choice to make him look like he can do no wrong. Raynor is infallible.
The choices, after they are made, are ignored for the rest of the game. There is no reaffirmation at all. Blizzard claimed that current choice-based games like Mass Effect are not good models for an RTS and that they need time to learn how to properly create choice-based gameplay. But in reality it simply requires some effort. More specifically, any effort at all, which would have been better than what is currently in Wings of Liberty. How hard would it have been to have a group of reapers come in during a totally unrelated mission and say “Thanks for helping out our friends on New Folsom. We’ve come to throw in with your revolution”? Or how hard would it have been to actually use the Hyperion's communications terminal for something and get some credits or mercs from the grateful colonists you saved during the Hanson arc?
The dialog is the largest area for improvement in the StarCraft II trilogy, because no matter how much the plot is set in stone, the lines can always be revised. Much of it was highlighted in the “Hollywood Epic Syndrome and Cheesiness” section.
Other offending dialog includes this copy of a Warcraft 3 civilian:
“My brother went off to the mines last week. He disappeared!”
“Don't go up that road.”
“My neighbors. My family...”
This just speaks for itself. It’s completely uninspired and cheesy.
Zeratul’s self-instructions are also uncalled for:
“The banelings spew acid when they die. Stalkers, take them out from a distance!”
“This chasm is vast. It is fortunate that I can phase through the shadows to the other side!”
These types of things should be reserved for help dialogs. Zeratul is an ancient badass warrior. He does not mutter basic combat instructions to himself. In Wings of Liberty, characters are also afraid to talk for more than two sentences at a time. Here is one of Zeratul’s longest speeches:
“James Raynor...I bring tidings of doom. I have pierced the veil of the future and beheld only... oblivion. Yet one spark of hope remains. You will hold her life in your hands...And though justice demands that she die for her crimes, only she can save us.”
This is fine if you can ignore the cheesiness of “tidings of doom”. But Brood War’s dialog was much more polished. Here is what Zeratul says to Aldaris when they meet:
“You speak of knowledge, Judicator? You speak of experience? I have journeyed through the darkness between the most distant stars. I have beheld the births of negative-suns and borne witness to the entropy of entire realities... Unto my experience, Aldaris, all that you've built here on Aiur is but a fleeting dream. A dream from which your precious Conclave shall awaken, finding themselves drowned in a greater nightmare.”
Look at this verbal smackdown that Zeratul just layed down upon Aldaris. You simply do not see this caliber of dialog in Wings of Liberty.
Zeratul is a revered Protoss mystic.
Luckily it is not all doom and gloom in the StarCraft universe. For all its faults, Wings of Liberty had several interesting elements. The chemistry between Raynor and Tychus was enjoyable. Two old war buddies reunited once again is always entertaining to watch. Matt Horner and Gabriel Tosh were the most well-developed and logically consistent characters in the game. They both have the goal of taking down Mengsk. But their contrasting attitudes about why they are doing this, and the methods which they use, sets them miles apart. The mission design for the missions themselves was clearly superior to the original game. Despite being called “gimmicks” by the developers, the missions are fun no matter what you call them. And finally, the artwork shows nothing less than the culmination of the work of countless man-hours spent by some of the most talented artists in the industry. These two facets combine to make the Wings of Liberty campaign an enjoyable experience, making up for the deficit in writing.
But at the end of the day, Wings of Liberty is, unfortunately, a lazy writing attempt culminating in a juvenile piece of unintelligent sci-fi. As discussed previously, its misplaced humor, infallibility of the player-character Raynor, and hollywood-style cheesiness make it hard to treat it as the dark and gritty universe that its predecessor was. Chris Metzen praised the ending calling it a "personal story" which has taken the place of a typical guns-blazing epic cinematic ending. But the ending rang hollow with many fans, who asked themselves “Did Raynor seriously just carry a naked Kerrigan into the sunset?” A cheap “save the girl” arc simply did not work here.
Raynor’s, Horner, and Tosh’s arcs had potential. The “Better Tomorrow” cinematic was the only one in the game that attempted to convey a worthwhile theme. It is storytelling however, which is the truly important part in making a story’s themes relatable. But with the Hollywood-style writing and the lack of good world-building, Wings of Liberty fell short of what it should have been.
However, the past is the past, and it is future Blizzard games which we should look forward to. There is still a chance for the writing to redeem itself, and hopefully, make even the oldest and stubbornest StarCraft fans proud.
Article by Gradius.
This is a StarCraft: Legacy (http://sclegacy.com/) editorial.