With the release of Blizzard Entertainment’s Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void in late 2015 the sci-fi saga that started with Starcraft II’s predecessor Starcraft and its expansion Brood War has finally come to a grand conclusion. Starcraft II as a whole is a true sequel. Much of the gameplay remains unaltered and the single player campaigns are heavily story driven and populated primarily with characters from the first Starcraft game. It’s story is rich and its gameplay heavily steeped in conventions developed by a decade of Starcraft competitive gaming. Most of the enjoyment the average gamer receives from Starcraft II stems from these core elements and, while they are adequately self-contained within Starcraft II, the richness of the story and gameplay can only be fully experienced by gamers who have played through Starcraft and Brood War.
Starcraft, released by Blizzard Entertainment in 1998 and followed later that year by its official expansion Brood War and a mission and map pack titled Insurrection, was the start of the second major franchise that Blizzard Entertainment would develop. It followed on the heels of Blizzard’s highly successful Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (to which it was excessively and somewhat unfairly compared) and made several revolutionary additions to Blizzard’s style of gaming and to the Real-time Strategy genre as a whole. It was slow to catch on during the first few years following its release but eventually grew to become one of the most popular and influential RTS games in history.
Starcraft builds heavily on the Blizzard style of RTS mechanics for its groundwork. A central building produces worker units which harvest resources from nearby static resource nodes. The workers construct buildings and each tier of structures unlocks more structures granting the player access to more powerful units and abilities. Time and economic management are critical components to success and a heavy emphasis is placed on micromanagement of individual unit abilities and unit formations; particularly as they relate to combined arms tactics.
Beyond these basic mechanics is where Starcraft’s innovation begins to stand out. Starcraft was the first RTS to present factions that were completely different in form and function. Previous RTS titles had introduced elements that made faction styles different, but these factions still shared some units and combat options. Each faction in Starcraft has a unique unit and building roster and its own style of economic and military strategy. For example Terran workers must individually see a building through to completion while Protoss buildings are constructed autonomously and Zerg workers must be sacrificed to build a Zerg structure.
Combat between the races fluctuated heavily based on the strategies players and the AI employed for each race. Zerg units tend to be cheap and suited for mass attacks, but the Zerg just as often have to leverage their unconventional air units and special abilities to counter Terran area-of-effect attacks and Protoss special abilities. On the other hand Protoss units are by far the strongest in the game but require substantial unit diversity in most of their strategies. This exceptional degree of unit and strategy variance has kept Starcraft’s overall gameplay surprisingly balanced and perfectly suited for competitive play.
Starcraft’s storyline does not stray far from typical sci-fi stories of conflict. The game is set at the transition into the 26th century and takes place in a remote part of the Milky Way Galaxy called the Koprulu Sector. The Terran faction is composed of human exiles from Earth and makes first contact with the alien Protoss and Zerg races at the start of the game. Each race has its own campaign which comprises ten missions divided into episodes for continuity. The player takes on the role of each race’s equivalent of a generic commander and follows several characters through the missions as Starcraft’s story unfolds. The campaign’s menu screen even recommends that players complete the episodes in order. Knowledge of the story is not necessary for the player to adequately complete missions or understand the races’ mechanics, but half of Starcraft’s quality content can be summed up in its highly developed fiction.
Starcraft is nothing if not thematic and flavorful. The game’s overarching story drives the missions and develops the characters. Mission briefings feature unit portrait animations of the characters while an audio of their voice actors narrates their interactions with each other. By modern standards it’s a primitive system but the voice acting talent is well chosen and the narrative keeps the player immersed in the fictional universe.
The other half of Starcraft’s quality and the primary source of its popularity is multiplayer. Skirmish modes against the AI as well as LAN and internet multiplayer are available. Internet hosting is provided by Blizzard’s hosting service Battle.net and is a very reliable and consistent support platform. Starcraft’s AI is fairly one-dimensional and generally favors wave-expand-wave patterns that can intimidate younger players and bore experienced players. With that being said the AI is at least competent enough to use each race’s abilities properly and fully explore its tech tree and is sufficient for casual gamers to enjoy co-op LAN games.
Starcraft’s multiplayer demands little of an average internet connection. If connectivity problems arise the game provides players with a short lag timer when a connection is slow or fails, then the players may vote to kick the lagging player if the connection has not been restored. Indeed Starcraft is legendary in the multiplayer community with national tournaments held among pro-gamers annually. As mentioned before the races are well balanced and offer multiple strategies that gamers of all levels can adopt and improve upon.
Starcraft also features a comprehensive map editor with numerous customization features. Everything that the developers used to make the campaign missions (except the voice actors and their corresponding audio files) are available to a prospective designer and in its heyday thousands of custom maps were available to online players to enjoy. Starcraft’s graphics utilize 3D modelling for units and objects but the game still operates a 2D interface. The Starcraft is nevertheless very colorful with a surprising degree of unit detail which was gentle with processors of the time and no problem to even low-tier modern computers.
By this point Starcraft’s graphics, cinematics, and trigger mechanics are thoroughly outdated. However it remains a hallmark among the more advanced games of its generation and continues to provide fast paced action for competitive gamers and rich story and editing ability for casual and inventive players. Blizzard support for Starcraft remains consistent and the main game and Brood War can still be acquired online through Battle.net. Now that Starcraft II’s trilogy has been released Starcraft forms the linchpin of one of the most inventive and successful franchises’ in RTS gaming history.