I’ve been playing RTS games for about 20 years now. One of my first games was Warcraft I on the PC. You’d think after all this time that I’d be good at them. But you’d be wrong. I love them deeply but I’ve always been somewhat terrible at them. Starcraft II is no exception to this rule. I struggle on hard difficulty (but generally steamroll normal or casual mode), and Brutal might as well not exist for me. I appreciate though that Starcraft II allows that kind of malleability for me. Each mission has 4 different difficulties you can choose from. Casual, Normal, Hard, and Brutal. The further to the right you get the more unreasonable the handicaps between you and the AI grow. Each mission also has achievements which try to inspire you to play the level a little differently or even possibly learn something new about a unit or hero that you might have otherwise missed.
These can only be collected on normal or higher but it’s not so great a hurdle to be alienating. The general formula for RTS games, at least the ones I like, is that you build a base and send out units against your enemies. This base building has been stripped from a lot of modern RTS games and I find it absolutely awful. I’m genuinely glad that Starcraft did not go this same direction. I get the desire for everything to be fast and competitive, but there is some personality that is lost for me when I’m not actively defending a base of my own design.
The main campaign is respectfully long. 19 (or so) missions of varying length that take you across the journey of the Protoss as they try to defeat the dark god Amon. Without context this shouldn’t mean much to you but it at least should help set the stage for what is to come when you play the game. The story up to now is that the Protoss and the Zerg have been mutilated and manipulated to create a new hybrid strain, which I believe is always simply called the Hybrid. It’s a pain in the ass which takes the best characteristics from both factions. Naturally the Terrans are left on the side wishing they were cool enough to be a part of the Hybrid. We can’t all be winners, I suppose.
The story isn’t complex, as I’ve mentioned before, and it doesn’t need to be. The black and white nature of the conflict is actually becoming something of a rarity in our new “everything is gray” world of storytelling. I like both and seeing a mix in my gaming life is totally welcome. If for some reason you find yourself unmoved by the single player offerings then Starcraft II is still likely for you. There are a ton of different modes to play with friends, against friends, or strangers. The maps are generally pretty well balanced and enjoyable, the three races all have their benefits and their weaknesses, and the gameplay doesn’t ever really get stagnate.
Additionally they’ve got an arcade mode where you can play custom games built by the community. Folks have made RPGs, overhead shooters, and I believe I’ve even seen a board game on there. This is cool for both builders and players alike. Unfortunately the Archon mode that they advertised is only player vs. player which makes it pointless for me. I wanted to help teach my wife the game against the AI but am left only with co-op mode. It’s not terrible but it could have been much more productive as an Archon AI mode.
The actual “mission” system for co-op is a bit lacking. It includes a few maps from the main game that you can play with a friend. The problem is that on normal a lot of these missions are >way< too hard for a new player. It's a great way to overwhelm a fresh face and turn them away from the game entirely. I'd have preferred an archon mode for the campaign as well. These missing tidbits are almost painful for me as they would have provided me with an incredible experience to share with my wife. That said the game was still worth every penny. You can now grab the entire trilogy from their website for 60 dollars or so. Easily day's worth of enjoyment if you are playing nonstop. The multiplayer is vast and some of the best in the world. The single player is fun and diverse. You'll likely never find yourself board from beginning to end. Legacy of the Void stumbles in some places, mostly in the timidness with their implementation of good ideas. But everywhere else it performs excellently. Also the cut scenes are amazing. It appears that they did most of it without CGI and its just stellar. If it is CGI its in that weird uncanny valley where it looks like in game renderings. Either way, I liked it a lot. Great game, good times to be had. If you like RTS games you won't regret playing this at all. If you don't, well, it's not a very expensive series to get into. All three games are standalones but I feel like Starcraft II is best experienced in its entirety. Starcraft II is great, I still think it could have been even greater but those improvements are potentially only a patch away.