Does The Single-player Aspect of StarCraft II Worth Your US$59.99?

I am not that into multi-player, as far as real time strategy games are concerned.  Even if purchasing directly from Blizzard Store means spending less, Starcraft II does cost more than the average PC games today.  So, is the money well spent?

Many friends asked me: Does Starcraft II play the same way as the original game that is 12 years older, merely as a graphic update?  For a start, this sequel does play like the old game.  But in a good way.  Playing Starcraft II is like cycling.  Once you are on a bicycle, even if you have not cycled for donkey number of years, when you start paddling, it is the good old feeling once again.  If you are new to the game, there are in-game tutorial videos to guide you through.  There are also an in-game reference guide listing of all the units, what their strength and weakness are.  If you have played the original game 12 years ago, in no time, you would start labeling your units and structures, issuing build and kill orders, and building up the defence and a balanced troop – much like a second nature to you.

To say that Starcraft II plays merely like the old game in all aspects is grossly a misconception.  There is a robust achievement system that encourage you to replay each mission with a harder setting or harder goals that are clearly defined .  In turn, achievement scores are earned.  I like this aspect a lot because getting through the plot is rather easy.  Playing a beautiful game is not.  While the achievement score means little other than an overall sense of satisfaction, there are mission credits that you can spent on permanently upgrading your units and structures and hiring mercenaries to fight with you.  There are also Zerg and Protoss research points for you to unlock useful abilities.  Abilities that require you to carefully decide based on the trade offs.  If you are not that into micromanagement for instance, go for passive benefits.

Starcraft II is an accessible game (which reminds me of World of Warcraft).  On normal setting, most of the campaigns are forgiving, except the time critical ones that may require you to up your thinking and execution speed.  There are often main objectives that you must achieve in order to progress.  And there are bonus objectives that are rewarding, but not a must to complete.  If normal setting is too hard for you, you can lower it to casual.  And if normal mode is too easy for you, there is a hard mode.  And there is a brutal mode too.  Completing the entire game in brutal mode will earn you a Sarah Kerrigan online portrait (and a lot of respect from the Starcraft gamers).

There are often multiple strategies that can lead to victory.  Each campaign showcases a new unit.  I must say, I only get to use that new unit a lot on that particular campaign.  Thereafter, I usually stick with what works best for me.  In my case, air domination.  I do at times feel bad that there are so many units that I don’t get to use besides that one campaign when they were introduced.  Perhaps single-player campaigns are training ground to the multi-player games?

Another point to note is that there are rare occasions that you may make a plot related decision that opens up a new mission while closing off another.  But fear not, you get to play these alternative missions after you beat the game.  Instead of progressing the plot in a linear manner like the original Starcraft, you get to take on different mission chains in the order you prefer.  Having said that, you must complete each chain before you can head for the final plot.  In that sense, the plot is still linear.  Just that you get to – most of the time – choose which mission comes first.

It is true that majority of the time you play as a Terran.  Starcraft II is in no way lesser than the original game in terms of the number of missions.  I enjoy the deeper story and character development.  On that note, I can understand why some may wish that the story develops in parallel with the other two races – Zerg and Protoss.

I in particularly enjoy watching the cut-scenes prior and after each mission.  Good story development remains as the strength of the Starcraft franchise.  The cinematic clips are beautiful.  And you get to watch them again and again once you have unlocked them.  The music is beautiful too.  There is a jukebox and it plays some Western music as well as rock music in the 70s (I think … and my favorite track is “Raw Power”).  There is much humor in the game.  I like that anything-but-unbiased UNN news broadcast a lot.

Depending on how good you are with this genre, total play time may vary.  I am not so good at real time strategy games.  I reckon I may have spent about 20 to 30 hours to complete the game in normal mode including reloading the mission in order to try another strategy.  Now that I have completed the game, I may spend some time to collect the missing achievement points on normal mode.  Unsure if I would try the hard and brutal mode but if you do, be prepared to put aside more time and effort.

Does the game worth my US$59.99?  Without a doubt.

Starcraft II Local Retail Copy S$109 Vs US Digital Download US$59.99

Take today’s exchange rate as an example.  1 US dollar is just below 1.36 Singapore dollar.  You can do the maths and work out how much more gamers in Singapore are paying for a local copy of Starcraft II (35% extra).  I have pre-downloaded my US version directly days before the game was launched and have paid US$59.99 this morning instead of S$109.  And this is the first installment out of three.  No way I am going to get ripped off three times in a row.

Are you?

Note: You must select the US version before you begin the download. See screenshots at below.

When I first log into us.battle.net, my region is always being default to Asia. You can change it to US North America (note: Do not visit the SEA Battle.net website).

As you can see, although I am from Asia, I own a US copy.

When I first heard that Starcraft II costs S$109, I said no way.  It is selling at Amazon.com for US$59.99 (S$81).  That is a rip off.  Besides, no PC games cost that much so far in Singapore.  There is indeed another way.  Days before the July 27 launch, Starcraft II was opened for pre-download directly from Blizzard’s online store.  It took me around 7 hours to download the 7 GB game client via SingTel broadband (one reported that it would take 72 days on a StarHub network).  Blizzard has kept mummed on the price of the digital copy prior to the launch.  After the digital copy was launched on July 27 (10 am PDT), I have purchased the game key at US$59.99.

I suppose there are pros and cons of not getting a local copy.  Here is a laundry list for your consideration.

  • Digital copy does not come with a box.  I am OK not to have a box.  It takes up space and I am used to purchasing digital copies online via Steam.  If I was willing to pay more for a box, I would have imported the Collector’s Edition instead.  Besides, I am reducing the carbon footprint of PC gaming.  Good, yes?
  • US digital copy only allows you to play with the gamers within North America.  And I suppose there is a higher latency compares to logging directly onto the Singapore server.  As for me, I seldom choose the multi-player option.  I buy Starcraft II for the campaigns.  If I do want to experience playing with others, I still can.  And if I want to play with someone who has bought the Southeast Asia version, I still can.  It is because SEA gamers, as of now, are allowed to log into the US server (but not the other way round).  Why would I want to pay extra?
  • Some say support the local industry and give IAHGames the support.  I remember how they screwed up the hosting of Hellgate:London couple of years ago.  Be it as their fault or not, gamers don’t forget.  I still have the bitter taste.  If the local copy of Starcraft II was to cost the same as in America, I would not mind getting one.  Paying so much more to support a company that has failed me before?  I think not.  Some say we should be glad that Blizzard Entertainment has set up an office in Singapore and helped training the folks in IAHGames.  I have played Blizzard’s World of Warcraft on a US server for years with zero local support.  Besides the Tuesday server maintenance that happens during our prime time, I have no complain.  Donating money to IAHGames?  I think not.  But if they manage to build up a good reputation through the hosting of Battle.Net, I may re-evaluate the situation when Diablo III comes.

If you are still uncertain if Starcraft II is for you, read the game review here as I have completed the game.  Meanwhile, here is a fantastic trailer.  See it for yourself.