Re-posting this due to an earlier error with Posterous.
This post contains MASSIVE spoilers. It is also incredibly long, so you might want to grab a drink first. The zerg are watching. I know they are.
We have both played the original StarCraft and its expansion Brood War. We loved the original campaigns for their depressing, space opera drama that was filled with so many iconic and unpredictably tragic gaming moments. From Kerrigan’s betrayal at New Gettysburg, to her showdown with Tassadar on Char; from the Gantrithor’s sacrifice on Aiur, to Zeratul’s slaying of Razsagal on Shakuras; the counter double-crosses between Admiral Stukov and Samir Duran on Braxis, to the suicide of Gerard Dugalle after his UED’s crushing defeat. This was one of the best science-fiction video game stories ever told, carefully unraveled before you under the guise of a real-time strategy game. You were emotionally attached to each character, eager to finish the next mission just to find out what was going to happen next. In Wings, absolutely none of the above happens. And no, Findlay’s betrayal at the final cinematic does not count — it would have been too damned predictable for him to be the mole. I was really surprised that Blizzard would resort to such Captain Obvious methods of storytelling anyway. In the words of Mr Gillen: You won’t find many people hailing Starcraft 2′s narrative. The characters are lumpen, the dialogue weak and the general plot simultaneously archetypal to the point of cliche.. WHY OH WHY on earth did you have to de-infest Kerrigan? It’s a really, really lame plot ending that is completely unfaithful to the past lore of StarCraft. You’ve already established Infested Kerrigan as the Queen Bitch of the Universe. She’s wreaked destruction over many worlds and murdered billions. She even declared civil war on her own zerg swarm, hunting down the remnants of the deceased Overmind’s loyal cerebrates. And now, you’ve decided to reset her back into a human being. It makes no sense. I call this type of storytelling the art of “narrative nullification”, where you basically render everything that happened earlier in the story irrelevant. Heroes is most guilty of this. After showing us two seasons of Claire Benett protecting herself from Sylar, Tim Kring decides to make a U-turn and allow Sylar to steal her powers at the very first episode of season three. Well done, so what was the point of season one and two again? Another example: Alien 3. After the epic human vs alien showdown between Ripley and the Xenomorph Queen in Aliens, where Ripley and her space marine buddies fought tooth and nail to rescue the little girl (can’t remember her name)… the director of Alien 3 decides to kill off everyone at the start of the movie (including the little girl) except for Ripley. Great, so what was the point of freaking Aliens then? Similarly, what was the whole point of the Brood War if Kerrigan is going to end up becoming human again anyway?? I’m sorry Brian Kindrigan, but Wings of Liberty is utter rubbish. This is not good storytelling, and it’s definitely not the kind of quality Blizzard narrative that I’ve come to expect from their RTSes. A poor story could still be saved by strong characters and good single-player structure. And unfortunately, Wings fails in this aspect as well. Egon Stetmann (yes, I get the bloody Ghostbuster reference) = archetypical geeky science nerd with glasses Rory Swann = archetypical dwarven technician with robotic prosthetic Gabriel Tosh = archetypical Jamaican stereotype with voodoo magic and dreadlocks
Matt Horner (left) = ranking officer with tactical pragmatism, assists Raynor onboard the Hyperion. Also an incredibly boring character that most players just want him to die.
Kaidan Alenko (right, from Mass Effect) = ranking officer with tactical pragmatism, assists Shepard onboard the Normandy. Also an incredibly boring character that most players choose him to die.
Shani (Witcher) = hot, idealistic, and moralistic female nurse who is attracted to the male protagonist. See what I mean? The human characters in the Wings campaign are so uninspiring and uninteresting that you never get the chance to empathize with them. Valerian, the only potential lifesaver, appears far too late in the campaign to leave any sort of lasting impression. Nova — an awesome female badass — only appears for one mission (and THAT’S assuming that you chose the path to help her out), then vanishes from the story after that. I think the fundamental problem with Wings’ story is due the non-linear structure of the campaign, where you are able to choose the order of your missions. Whoever said that linearity is bad for storytelling needs to be shot in the head and dumped into a river. Tell me, what is wrong with surrendering yourself to a linear narrative, if at the end of the day it allows the storyteller to create a carefully crafted story that is good? Interactivity is overrated. The individual missions themselves feel boring at times, especially the early ones from mission 1 to mission 8. Remember the original StarCraft Terran campaign? By mission 2, you’re already building marines and firebats to fight off zerg. By mission 5, you’re learning how to use cloaked ghosts, cloaked wraiths, and dropships. It’s a carefully planned progression, where the campaign’s difficulty is ramped up for each mission as you gain access to new units. Wings is just incredibly draggy. I think Blizzard could be trying to cater to the non-RTS gamers and non-StarCraft players, by spoon-feeding and babysitting them all the way through the campaign. This is fine and dandy for attracting virgins to the series, but for the rest of us RTS veterans who grew up playing Brood War, Frozen Throne, and Dawn of War, it’s a purely unsatisfying single-player experience that never dares to shift itself to a higher gear. Blizzard are also incredibly obsessed with throwing in easter eggs and parodies every step of the way in Wings. I have nothing against easter eggs. Done correctly, they can add an entertaining burst of flavour to an otherwise “serious” narrative like the StarCraft universe. However, SC is a totally different cake altogether from a game like say, Duke Nukem 3D — a game which does not take itself seriously from the start and instead thrives on parody. Diablo? Okay, haha. Optimus Prime? Errm… okay. Tauren Space Marine? Fine. By the time I got to the Voltron and Metroid references I was already sick and tired. Once or twice is enough, Blizzard. Don’t overdo it. Of course, everything I’ve
just typed out above applies only to single-player. I’m pretty sure that SCII’s multiplayer will go on to become a huge online game and e-sports hit. But for a series that once prided itself on storytelling and lore, I’m very worried for Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void. Well done Blizzard/Kindrigan, for screwing things up yet again, the same way you royally messed up WoW’s story.