I’ve been putting off playing StarCraft for years. Real time strategy can be intense, and videos of people making 10 moves per second made getting started seem like more work than fun. The fatal flaw in my plan is I’m a sucker for a good story, and that was ultimately what hooked me on StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void.

In the first installments of StarCraft 2, we got to experience the perspective of the Terrans and Zerg. The final episode focuses on the ancient Protoss, who have already declined and splintered toward their own destruction when faced with annihilation by a startling new enemy.

When it comes to the story StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void certainly delivers. Every once in awhile the lines or acting can get a bit cheesy, but that didn’t ruin it for me. All three races are richly developed, with their own culture, aesthetics, and way of functioning in battle. There are some big cultural and organizational differences within the Protoss, and some good characters are thrown into the mix. Blizzard does a great job of creating conflict between allies and common ground between enemies as well.

One of the nice features of the campaign is that you can change your difficulty setting mission by mission. You can also replay any of the missions on a higher or lower difficulty. This allows you to tinker around with mechanics and go for different achievements.

Your ship, the Spear of Adun, offers reconfigurable abilities and unit options that can be changed to suit the needs of individual missions. Some of these are really fun, such as the ability to freeze all your enemies in time so you can pummel them into oblivion. The options to start with extra supplies and automatically collect Vespene gas are also nice bonuses.

The campaign is a nice length. One thing to watch out for, though, is the uneven pacing at times. Sometimes missions seem too easy, only to jump drastically in difficulty when moving on to the next. This isn’t necessarily a big deal, since you can always start a mission over again with a new tactic or different difficulty setting.

Legacy of the Void also offers new cooperative options. While there aren’t as many maps here as there are in campaign mode, co-op can be pretty fun. You still get the structure and objectives of a mission so you’re not doing the same thing every time. Co-op means you get to be social as well, and having a variety of co-op buddies can make for a different experience. Joining up with a friend or stranger is seamless and quick, and letting the game randomly select a map allows extra XP and keeps you out of a rut.

Competitive multiplayer was really what I had been putting off, but it turned out to be really well made. You can start out training against the AI, but it offers precious little resistance at first. Before long you will find yourself trouncing friends and random strangers...or if you’re like me you will be the one getting trounced. One of the best features of the game is the matchmaking ratings, which make for better pairing via ability level. If you’re just starting out you won’t be paired with pros, and vice versa. For those who like a greater challenge there are still active tournaments going on daily which can be joined in-game, and you can play campaign while you’re waiting to be paired.

So what’s new in Legacy of the Void's multiplayer? We get two new units for each race. One of the cool new units for the Protoss is the Adept, a ranged foot soldier that can be used early in matches to great effect. The Zerg's new creatures include the Lurker, a mutation of the Hydralisk limited to attacking while underground. The Lurker Den, an upgrade of the Hydralisk Den, is the only new building in the game. This may not seem like a lot of new additions but, coupled with the changes to many existing units, they give players plenty of new strategic options.

Overall I was surprised how much I enjoyed this game. The intuitive interface and tutorials had me clicking along in no time, and pretty soon I was having StarCraft dreams when I went to bed, which is usually the sign I’ve been really into a game. The standalone expansion is nice for those who are first getting into StarCraft, but I do prefer to play games from the beginning. Not knowing the background story will cause you to miss out on a lot of what’s going on, and the Epilogue missions on campaign mode will be pretty difficult if you’ve never played the other races. This may or may not matter to you, depending on what you want out of the game. Fortunately Activision Blizzard offers the first two installments of WC2, as well as the original StarCraft game, all in their respective war chest collections.

I don’t have a lot of negative feedback on this game, since it’s so darn well-made. It will take noobs some time to learn the interface and get accustomed to juggling units and construction jobs. Prepare to get pummeled and to learn as you go. Loading times can be pretty long, and sometimes the graphics got blurry for me. These were pretty minor complaints, however.

I can easily recommend Legacy of the Void for a wide variety of gamers. Even those who are intimidated by strategy games will probably be able to enjoy this one, while real-time strategy pros will find plenty of challenge in the tournaments and brutal modes. I never thought I would like real time strategy games until I took the plunge with Starcraft 2, but now I want to go back and play the older stuff, as well as the Warcraft games. When my 7-year old saw me playing, he couldn’t wait to try it himself, and I was surprised at how fast he picked it up. The free parts of Starcraft 2 are a good way to give it a try with nothing lost.

Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Mac
Developer: Activision Blizzard
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
ESRB: Teen
Rating:

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