With Legacy of the Void’s official release, I suppose it’s time for me to finally put a wrapping around this franchise. Note that I’m not even pretending to know what’s going to happen with its competitive scene, so I won’t touch it at great length, if at all. I don’t write with a script though so who knows by the end. Most of the things I say will be pertaining to the official game’s narrative and how it stands and falls by itself and when poised against its predecessor.
The Starcraft 2 trilogy follows primarily Jim Raynor, Sarah Kerrigan, and Artanis as the main focal point of missions and campaigns across the three games, in that order. Before I begin I suppose I should establish a context, and that shall be Brood War and its plot.
To sum up, Starcraft and Brood War’s storyline left us with a lot of betrayals, a lot of frankly destroyed worlds, lost lives, and suicidal military operations. There were displays of heroics abound, but we also played plenty as part of the Overmind Swarm and of Kerrigan the Betrayer’s following. There was only a minimal investment in character building, instead Blizzard focused the narrative on the otherworldly aspect of interstellar grand scale combat. Officially this stretched and scaled from the small-time Zerg defence, to the Confederacy Conspiracy, to the Rebellion, and then To Kerrigan’s sacrifice, and culminate that into the Terran Dominion. I’m not going to post the synopsis of the rest of the story, but it is more than eight times as large and complex. There was a lot of conflict of rebellion within the hierarchy, forcing the player and the protagonists to conspire against those of their own races in order to justify their actions despite being woefully misunderstood at times. Ignoring the typical Blizzard’s obsession with corruption, the Brood War story was fairly solid. It focused largely on large scale combat as a majority to contextualise the kind of narrative that was being given. It also has some RPG-light missions that pulled players out of their comfort zone as forced them to utilise micro. Personal side note, this is where I usually fail. The story lacked a lot of self-exposition, but we knew where every stood and how they are just by what they did (or declared to have done). It was grand, solid, and leaving the ending open for an ever more epic sequel. I have to admit, I was hyped, especially seeing how Blizzard’s next RTS, Warcraft 3, had similar styles of narrative. I waited a long time for Starcraft 2.
Now, I didn’t play Starcraft 2 until 2013, but that was because obtaining it was above my means for three years. Of course, it didn’t hamper my experience at all. I missed an entire Wings of Liberty cycle, but that was of little consequence since I have no desire to be competitive either way. The campaign was there for me whenever I wanted it, and I played its and Heart of the Swarm’s in one sitting, and multiple times afterwards for various reasons.
So let’s first cover Wings of Liberty (WoL), the Terran campaign. I won’t really harp on the naming convention for whatever, but the opening cinematic set me up some serious red flags. Jim Raynor now had hair. This may sound ridiculous, but that’s the first sign of how things going wrong. As Blizzard somehow felt necessary to pretty him up, it meant that they were going to make him the main character. We were already introduced to Jim Raynor the space cowboy, but now in an actual saloon, as out of context as possible. This was something that ended up actually sticking through the entire game. This was also where Tychus was introduced. He didn’t exactly have much of a character, just your regular Duke Nukem. They then went on to collect pieces for an ancient artefact sponsored by Valerian Mengsk, with the ultimate goal of invading Char. Along the way, Zeratul convinced Raynor that Kerrigan was the key to some greater mystery, the only one capable of saving the cycle. They ended up defeating the Swarm at the heart of Char with the help of a nearby Dominion fleet. Tychus died by Jim’s hand, and we have human Kerrigan again. Let’s take this through the motion. Jim Raynor, in this case, was our everyday American Space Cowboy. That’s almost the furthest thing I’m capable of relating to, but that isn’t a problem here. The problem was how he vowed to kill Kerrigan in order to avenge his fallen comrades in the first game, actually meaning it too, yet somehow had absolutely no aversion to having to save her in the second game. Blizzard exclaims ‘but it’s true love’. Indeed, and that’s where the heart (pardon) of the problem lies. Not only were we never given the reason as to why Kerrigan’s forces laid dormant within Char after Brood War, we were also forced to witness the fall of the Queen of Blades. Lest people forget, Kerrigan was the reigning power in the sector at the end of Brood War, having consummated unimaginable power and decimating everyone in her path. In WoL, she still seemed intent to kill everyone, but her efforts and tactics fail quite a bit short. It’s not a necessity for gameplay reasons, as we’ve played plenty of losses before in Brood War. Despite this, WoL was the least offender when it comes to this kind of nonsense.
We then have Heart of the Swarm (HotS), where we command Sarah Kerrigan herself. Escaping from a Dominion strike force, she learnt that Jim Raynor was killed in combat. At this point, she decided to destroy the Dominion in a fit of revenge. Here is where the narrative of character completely falls apart. Kerrigan post-transformation in Brood War was a heartless pragmatist, not because the Zerg influence made her that way, but because she was sick and tired of constantly being a pawn, and believed herself a bigger part. All of her actions was to amass great power in order to take the wheel of her own destiny. In HotS, she’s a crying schoolgirl whose action was roped by the rise and fall of her man. This isn’t to say that this is all she does, far from it, but this was the confirmation of the highschool love story plot of Starcraft 2. Not only was she soft to Raynor, she was pretty much a bleeding heart to pretty much every Terran involved. Suddenly she wanted no blood on her hands, a completely illogical notion considering what she had annihilated to get her where she was. At the end, she allied with Raynor to finish off Megnsk. This took place in a cinematic where she confronted the emperor at his throne, got caught by a trap, and withered in pain until Raynor comes save her. This isn’t so much as on the nose as being higher than my actual nose. Before you say I’m finding sexism in where there is none, that’s not what I’m saying. There was nothing inherently wrong with Kerrigan’s character in HotS, except for the glaring fact that it contradicted everything she was as a character in Brood War. She was no longer ruthless, practical, and macro-thinking. Here, she just reminded me of a protagonist from a random young adult’s novel, just with psionic power. It was bland and insulting, frankly.
Within this entire time line, there was a promise of ‘something more’, a ‘great evil’. This is revealed to be Amon, a fallen xel’naga. The Protoss’ main campaign in Legacy of the Void was about this. With Amon having taken control of the Khala, he acquired the main Templar fleet, forcing the Hierarch Artanis to look for unlikely allies. In this process, he gathered the protoss segments divided by the era of the Conclave back in the original StarCraft. Through the campaign, he sent a message of unity, and call for alliance in the times of darkness. Together, they take back Aiur and banished Amon back into the void. Frankly speaking, aside from the needlessly dramatic cinematic, the main LotV campaign was not bad narrative-wise. I have to admit, I got a little choked up seeing Fenix again. The main objective, unlike the previous two games, was established straight from the start. Everything you do is to work up to a final conclusion, with a sense of unison, albeit a bit too easy, shared amongst those of the same race. Cultural and traditions comes to a clash, but there was really nothing to ever come out of it. No real conflict on this front was presented as either narrative or game play, and I felt that the plot suffered. Regardless, it delivered a satisfying three-arc structure.
That was when the Epilogue happened. Despite only being three missions long and excellent in game play, it was an absolute nosedive as far as the narrative was concerned. Not only was I forced to rewatch the shoehorned romance of Kerrigan and Raynor, which was entirely too cringe inducing and has absolutely no basis in history or personality, I was plunged into the Void to witness this blatant pandering. This includes collections of homages and cameos, into introducing an entirely new significant being in Ouros, and never doing much with it. At the end of the second mission, Kerrigan finishes her absorption of the xel’naga, and becomes a flaming angel of great power. By this point, I realised I was choking up by both the aesthetic choice as well as the symbolism. This is pretty much what Mass Effect 3 was, only ten times worse. Not only was the deus-ex-machina factor too high, the fact that Kerrigan’s purity of form turned out to be a nude human female made absolutely no sense. Her zerg influence, which gave her wings and claws, combined with the xel’naga powers represented by monstrosity and tentacles resulted in this. She then went on to kill Amon, whose death realistically provide no significance. Honestly this was bad already, but was something I could live with. However, to grind in the point, Blizzard gave us an epilogue of epilogue, where Kerrigan mysteriously returned, in human form no less, just so that Raynor can get his girl and be able to spout his redneck one liner. Everyone else lived happily ever after, and it’s vomit inducing.
The transformation was clear. StarCraft went from a space epic painted red by blood and sacrifice and madness for power, actual war, to a feel good young adult novel that happens to be in space, self insert and all. In Brood War, you were a conflicting force with different ideals and motivations, struggling to preserve your own freedom and power. In LotV, you’re the happy alliance, where everyone’s fine to work together to defeat an essentially faceless villain. This is the exact Star War problem I have talked about before, where a narrative’s subtlety is so absolutely lacking and it wears its biases so black and white I can’t help but shiver. If you can sense the bitter in my tone, it’s clear that I’m not exactly trying to hide it. Not only does this series puts and rips interesting characters to shreds, its turn to humanise characters into unrealistic ideals and ‘assuming the good in everyone’ has to be the biggest cop out of that goes against everything an actual war is. A real war is characterised by its fighters and its citizens, swept by the rising tide of circumstance and hunger for control of those in power. In SC2, war is the whim of the leaders, stands and sways with them in times of conflict, and the subjects are to obey at all times without question.
At the end of the day, I’m not entirely surprised. Blizzard’s writing has always been weak, except for the 1998 – 2003 period where I’d argue Blizzard both pioneered and perfected so many quality products. Aside from that, while their lore are strong and extensive, their narrative and presentation of such has been weak and shallow. Thus, I expected LotV to leave a bad taste in my mouth. The main campaign actually placed hopes in my heart for a revitalisation, but that was shut down so hard and so bad that I think I’ll never give Blizzard a chance again. Six years of good games doesn’t deserve more than twelve years of good will, and it’s been twelve years.