Forgoing sleep - and the glory of multiplayer combat - I played through the campaign from start to finish, and then (heroically) went back for more, exploring all the optional and alternative content. Does it live up to the hype? Has the long, long wait been worth it? In short, yes. Yes it has.
I am a child of the 8-bit era, and have long held the belief that graphics do not make a game. SC2 has taught me just how wrong I was.
While the actual game play graphics are not exactly ground breaking, the creative use of lighting, and the wonderfully rich background imagery all come together to make a very well rounded experience that adds just the right amount of atmosphere - without requiring a water cooled super computer to play it.
"Does it live up to the hype? Has the long, long wait been worth it? In short, yes. Yes it has. "
But the game play graphics are only part of the picture where the campaign is concerned. The campaign is made by cut scenes and the campaign management interface, which is an explorable environment loosely in the style of old point-and-click adventures.
The cut scenes are everything I have come to expect from Blizzard, and more. While most of the cut scenes are shot using the 3D engine of the campaign management environment, they are so polished that they rank among the best I have seen in the last few years.
And then there are the pre-rendered cut scenes. Few and far between, but truly stunning. For a great example of the cinematics - without spoilers - check out the Ghosts of the Past trailer, which is a mash up of many of the in game cut scenes, both pre-rendered and otherwise.
Like the original, StarCraft 2 is a very well balanced RTS, with every unit having a counter, and both strong defensive and offensive play. But let's be honest, if you have played an RTS in the last 10 years, you pretty much know what you are in for - particularly if you played the original.
So rather than focus on the core elements of the game play, I am instead going to focus on those that add to the playability of the campaign.
Many RTS campaigns are quite dry. You build up your army and base until you are powerful enough to destroy your enemy's base. Sometimes you get the odd covert mission thrown in, but it's nothing special. SC2 tries to mix it up a bit, and (frankly) to my surprise succeeds in make each mission feel different to the last. Rather than just grinding through the missions to unlock the cinematics - like I find myself doing in most RTS campaigns - I actually found myself enjoying the challenges each mission presented.
To add a bit more spice and re-playability to the campaign, there are three interesting side features:
Unlockable Units: Through out the campaign you will have a choice of missions available to play. Each mission will generally unlock a new unit. This introduces a bit of choice and strategy at the campaign level: should I do this mission without that unit? Or should I unlock that unit first?
Mercenaries & Unit Upgrades: Each mission will also earn you credits that you can spend on unit upgrades and even on mercenaries - limited use, extremely powerful units. You will not earn enough credits during the campaign to buy every upgrade, so once again it adds some choice at the campaign level.
Technology Research: During most missions there will be optional objectives that if completed will grant you research points. There are two types of research points, Protoss and Zerg, that correspond to two tech trees. Every 5 points you earn on a tree you will be able to choose one of two upgrades. Do you want to unlock the Planetary Fortress or the ability to build flame throwing turrets? Once again - well you get the picture - choice, choice, choice!
I could rant for hours about how wonderful I found the story, the cinematics, and what awesome work Blizzard has done in all the right places - instead I will try keep it simple.
The cinematics are very well done, and a satisfying reward to completing a mission. The story is enhanced by excellent characters, wonderful voice acting, and a nice mix of humor, drama, and outright corniness.
I found the missions themselves pleasantly challenging. They took me right to the edge of swearing and keyboard smashing, but didn't push me over.
I did have issues with the patcher flooding my poor little cheap modem to death, but that was the only serious bug I ran in to. The actual game play was very polished, and apart from a few Battle.Net hiccups effecting the achievements system, I ran in to no unnecessary frustrations once I was in the game and playing.
If you are a strategy fan, or love a good story, this game is well worth the money. It falls no shorter than being one of the greatest RTS games of all time.