Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void – More is Less

Title CardFenix who? (source: Carbot Animations)

I’ve been an ardent Starcraft fan since the beginning, and one of the things that got me into the original Starcraft, before I understood the depth of game and its mechanics, was the story of its Campaign mode. For Starcraft II though… well, now that I’ve played through all three parts of its story, I suppose it’s a good time to share my feelings about it. Spoilers for all 5 Starcraft games follow.

Conclusions first: I am thoroughly disappointed. Actually, after both Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm, I wasn’t actually expecting much from Legacy of the Void‘s writing, but this is not exactly the kind of thing I want to be right about. Then again, am I? Am I just suffering from nostalgia for my Brood War days? Am I viewing the original campaigns through rose tinted glasses?

It’s true that one of the reasons I dislike the story of Starcraft II is that it departs so far from both the content and the spirit of the original. The original Starcraft was a tale of politics of betrayal, of an amoral universe where good finds victory only through sacrifice, and are more heroic for it. It wasn’t really all that complex—most of the narrative was delivered between missions between talking heads—but in its minimalism it focused on some great characters and developing them by just having them butt heads. Starcraft II has more cutscenes, shinier cinematics, but in exchanged it seems to have lost the soul of the original. What we get, instead, is almost jingoistic. ‘Hope! Freedom! Unity! Woo!’. What is this, an election campaign? And it’s not just subverting the original Starcraft thematically; they do it more overtly too. The amoral, all-consuming terror of the Overmind? No more of that, it’s just misunderstood. Raynor oath to kill Kerrigan for betraying and murdering his friend? No more of that, it’s a ‘love conquers all’ story instead. The enigmatic Xel’naga who tried to play god and instead unleashed the zerg on the galaxy? No, the Xel’naga are literal gods, and benevolent. Did Chris Metzen hate the original Starcraft. Or has he, like George Lucas, been released of his restraints and has now gone crazy?

For a closer case study, take Legacy of the Void, and its treatment of the Protoss. What were they originally? They were a socially cohesive people bound by the empathetic bond of the Khala. They organised in a rigid caste system. And they were space elves; an advanced, noble but dying race. Their colonies are lost, Aiur is in ruins, their people are dwindling. But they were going to die with dignity. This is what the Protoss were about:

But Legacy of the Void goes out to dismantle all of that. The tension between those who embraced the Khala and those rejected it? No, the Khala always sucked anyway, freedom! The functional but restrictive caste system that embodied the cohesion of their race? No, that sucked too, freedom! Dying race? No, we’re in a Golden Age now, because freedom! I understand that they wanted to keep some sort of thematic unity between all three games, but 1) Raynor’s ‘freedom’ rubbish in Wings of Liberty was poorly written too and 2) turning the Protoss from space elves into just more space Americans removes them of character. They have been stripped of everything interesting about their race. They become just psychic humans with no mouths. Okay, so their communist ways and caste system may seem anathema to the values of your audience (i.e. us), but that’s exactly what made them aliens. They had their culture, they had their history, they had their values. They were different. Take Bioware’s Dragon Age series for contrast. In that franchise, they have a race of Confucian fantasy Muslims called the Qunari, which assigns individuals roles from birth based on a form of religious law. I disagree with many things about their system, but I appreciated the characterisation, because their value differences was what made them a unique culture. Blizzard can learn from this. I know there’s an instinct to ‘humanise’ everything (even giving the Zerg a human face in Kerrigan, for example), but being easier to relate to doesn’t necessarily make anything more interesting.

Unfortunately, I think the Blizzard creative teams are stuck in the wrong mindset in general. Maybe next time I’ll talk about how the Diablo franchise has mostly lost its horror roots. I’d rather wish that Blizzard’s writers would give me something positive to talk about, though.

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