Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why StarCraft 2 is such a disappointment

StarCraft 2 was a bit of a letdown. Here's why:

-Overuse of the “Undo” button

All three campaigns are involved in some scenario where the goal or plot requires undoing some previous accomplishment. The Terran Campaign removes Kerrigan from the Zerg Swarm (a major component of the original Zerg campaign), but the new Zerg campaign has her reinfested within five missions on-purpose. Undoing the entire first campaign undercuts player accomplishment and is primarily the result of the writers have placed themselves in a corner.

The Protoss Campaign is even worse. Not only does it undo the weight of the Zerg Invasion of Aiur (As the majority of the Zerg never left), as the survivors and refugees of the Invasion simply knock off the Zerg forces and reclaim the planet, but it then immediately undoes that in the next level. And it undoes that by undoing one of the primary differences between the Zerg and the Protoss - the villain becomes the Overmind of the Protoss.

-Cliche Writing

The original StarCraft had a number of characters that were re-written fairly dramatically. The worst rewrites were of Zeratul and Kerrigan. Zeratul went from a bitter, but wise and compassionate, renegade to a generic mystic/prophet. Kerrigan went from a genuine omnicidal, manipulative monster (the “Queen Bitch of the Universe”) to another redemption-seeker.
Worse, the “Save Kerrigan” plot is basically a rehash of the “Save Hellscream” plot of WarCraft 3. Both were rescues of mind-controlled renegade allies crucial to the victory over the “true enemy” and both allies end up killing a key agent of that enemy. (Kerrigan kills Narud and Hellscream kills Mannoroth.)

Each of these campaigns are also “small rebel group builds allies/forces to take on larger force”. In the Zerg and Protoss campaigns, this actually requires the player’s forces be separated from the bulk of the faction they lead. There is never an explanation for why Kerrigan never claimed the Zerg on Aiur, but the Protoss explanation is “the rest of the Protoss get a hive mind”.


Gameplay in StarCraft 2 steadily devolved from Wings of Liberty. While the array of different units made it possible for an array of successful strategies and approaches to be used, the Zerg Campaign begins the restrictions by denying the use of air transports - a core element of StarCraft that allows players to maneuver around obstacles or defenses and do ambushes or assaults from unexpected directions.

But it’s in the Protoss Campaign where the gameplay is most heavily restricted. Protoss missions developed a focus on defensive play and enemy armies resupplied by program code, not gameplay mechanics. While the final Terran mission had an enemy army with accelerated production and infinite resources, the final Protoss mission had an enemy army that spawns off-map, with non-existent bases that are completely out of reach. Most ridiculous, the absolute final mission has the player attack magic floating rocks, with enemy spawners scattered around the map, but idle.

The final mission of StarCraft: Brood War had the player surrounded by three enemy armies and without serious starting infrastructure. Both the player and the AI attackers all had to work their way up the tech tree to develop their advanced units. The mission forced the player to assault one army while defending against two others. The final mission of StarCraft 2 gives the player one super-elite unit and an army vs. a bunch of the aforementioned floating rocks and a handful of passive, automatically generated enemies.

The Reason

The shift from open levels with multiple options or strategies for completion to tightly-controlled levels with one scripted solution is the result of the move to cinematic gameplay, that is, writing a movie and having the player work their way through it.

The player can’t be allowed to airlift their army and bypass an enemy installation, because there are cutscenes and dialogue that have to take place. An FPS must be completed in exactly the right sequence because that’s how all the events are triggered and the enemies are spawned. The adventure game can’t have the player get items or access areas out of order, because that would create unbalanced gameplay and disrupt the story!

The focus has shifted from designing fun, challenging games with multiple solutions to easy, cinematic experiences that lead the player around by the nose, unless the game is intended to be a “sandbox”.

Technology has been it’s own nemesis here, as the advances in technology that allow for more advanced gameplay also create the opportunities for more advanced scripting. But writers and designers aren’t using the advancements to create more and better storytelling and gameplay tools, but to restrict gameplay to control the direction and flow of gameplay.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely agree. SC2 more like a Brood War expansion than an actual stand alone game. Blizzard seem more interested in keeping the game stagnated, rather than improving the gameplay mechanics. SC2 is great, for a 1998 gamer crowd that prefers easy RTS games with very limited mechanics.