Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void is Not Very Good
While everyone else was preoccupied with Fallout 4 or Rise of the Tomb Raider last week, it seemed to quietly slip under the radar that Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void had also launched on the same day.
You’d be forgiven for not caring. I’m not sure Blizzard did either. Pushed out on the same day as arguably the biggest release of the year, with very little marketing. There was the trailer shown at Blizzcon, which is how I happened to notice the date “November 10” ( I could make an issue out of complaining about the American dating format, but this isn’t the place. ), but it didn’t seem to have been promoted much.
As one of those deviants who really isn’t fussed about Fallout any longer, and since I don’t own an Xbox One, I figured I might as well get through it. Sure, the Starcraft story has always been corny, cheesy, and not at all well-written, but I had still gotten invested over the years, and I wanted to see how it wrapped up. The title already gives away my general opinion.
I won’t be mentioning the multiplayer at all. I’ve not played or watched any of that since the launch of Heart of the Swarm, and I have no intention of getting back into it now. I’m going to be focusing entirely on the campaign and the story.
I’ll be doing this in two parts. First off is a spoiler-free section where I just talk about general things and my feelings about it. Secondly I’ll be going into heavy spoiler-territory where I rip into the story based on notes I made during my playthrough.
Let me get out of the way that I do not particularly care about the Protoss, and that might well have influenced my feelings towards Legacy of the Void. I am Zerg first-and-foremost, and Terran second.
Still, I started out fairly optimistically. I enjoyed the first mission well enough, and wondered how they’d be building on this. But already in the transition between missions 1 and 2 I was struck with a very prominent “wtf” feeling. And it didn’t really improve from there.
The main sensation I got from Legacy of the Void was one of tiredness. Not just that the formula was tired after doing three of these, but also that the developers were tired of it. “We want to do something else,” they seemed to be saying.
I don’t think anyone would argue that Blizzard have ever been good at storytelling. Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm were not good stories. But I felt they had a certain something to them. A spark of excitement, a hint of joy, some genuine care from the developers. As if they were well aware they couldn’t make it good, so they’d at least go for interesting and over-the-top. Some tongue-in-cheek adoration and a sense of humour underneath the “serious sci-fi”. Decent sci-fi shlock.
And I couldn’t feel any of that from Legacy of the Void. There was no humour left, no joy, no excitement, no care. It was just tired. Like they just wanted to get it over with so they could move on something they actually cared about. “We promised them three of these, and we have to live up to that.” Even the missions felt less diverse and inventive than either of the previous two instalments.
It honestly made me feel as much sad and disappointed as anything else. I mean, I guess I can understand it. Wings of Liberty came out in July 2010. Heart of the Swarm was March 2013. That’s a long time to keep working on essentially the same game after release, so I guess anyone could get sick of that. While you could add some new units with each expansion, and tweak gameplay balance, there wasn’t much in the way of grand changes to make or new territory to explore.
In my opinion, that could be felt in every aspect of the game. The mothership-base felt less compelling with boring characters, a lack of flavour, and a progression system that ironically felt like a step backwards. The writing and performance were more rote and unimaginative than ever, which was probably felt more keenly with nothing managing to keep me interested or invested. And the lack of variety in the missions just added to an already considerable list of issues.
In all honesty, any of these issues could have been excused on their own, or not come across as strongly, had there at least been something compelling or interesting to hold up the game in other places. But all together with little or nothing to mitigate any of them just wore me down as much as creating the thing seemed to have worn down the creators. About halfway through I just turned on God Mode and powered through to at least see how they would end the story, regardless of how dumb ( or maybe even redeeming ) it would be.
Spoiler: While I wouldn’t call it exactly redeeming, I did feel like the three-mission epilogue after the main campaign was more interesting than the whole of the main campaign put together.
Right, time to move on to the actual spoiler part of this post. SPOILER INCOMING! And all that. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Also, this is going to be excessively nerdy.
I ended up taking two full pages of notes on various things that bothered me during the playthrough, and I will be nitpicking a LOT here. There were certain points where I just felt too exasperated to even take notes, though.
Let’s start at the beginning, as that’s the usual way. I have heard that the script went through several iterations, and for a while Zeratul was intended to be the protagonist, but instead they went for Artanis, whom I had honestly forgotten even existed.
The story starts with the Protoss ready to retake Aiur, which has been lost to them since… the end of Starcraft 1? I don’t care enough to look it up, but I think it was that they defeated the Overmind, but lost their homeworld.
Just as they’re about to give the order to start the invasion, Zeratul shows up and tells them they have more important things to do, like stopping the end of the universe. However, since “nobody listens to Zeratul” might as well be Starcraft‘s motto, they of course don’t listen to him, and order the invasion to commence.
The first mission goes pretty well, with large swaths of the planet being retaken from the bands of feral Zerg that had not gone with Kerrigan, but everything goes tits up already in the cutscene between missions 1 and 2 as Amon ( that’s the big, bad Dark Xel’naga who’s trying to end the universe ) invades the Khala ( the Protoss’ network of shared memories and feelings that lets them sense eachother’s emotions, intent, and helps create a sense of unity. Their reverence for it is decidedly religious ), and somehow uses to it to take control of all the Protoss connected to it.
Already I’m just- how? How does Amon get into the Khala? Even with the later revelation that he was the one who uplifted the Protoss (???), the Khala came after he left ( unless they retconned that ), and was not a creation of his. So how did he do it???
And also! The Khala is *not* a hivemind in the same way the Zerg have, and it shouldn’t work as a means of mind-control???
And also! If he had the ability to do this, why didn’t he do it before? Why now??? Is it all because the plot wouldn’t work otherwise???
As they’re not part of the Khala, Zeratul and the other Dark Templar/Nerazhim ( the refusal to be part of the Khala is what caused the split between the Templar and the Dark Templar to begin with ) aren’t affected by this, so they rush to Artanis to cut his nerve chords because they’re what allow the Templar to be part of the Khala. No nerve chords, no Khala. They succeed, but Zeratul dies in the attempt, managing to entrust the future to Artanis with his dying breath. Because of course. One of the most iconic characters in the series staying around for the end of it? Don’t be silly!
Artanis rallies with the Dark Templar and others they’ve managed to cut the chords of, and they reactivate an ancient warship/ark ship to use in their escape. Of course the warship’s outdated systems and equipment are somehow more advanced than current technology (???).
They manage to take along one important person: An engineer who might be the only decent character in the campaign. He’s the one who gradually gets the ship back in operational order. Aboard they find among the many Protoss in stasis ( why have they been left in stasis??? ) an ancient Preserver lady who is dedicated to carrying/remembering all of Protoss history through the memories in the Khala.
She refuses to get cut from the Khala ( they made a point of mentioning they were cutting the others from the Khala before even waking them, so why didn’t they for her? Because plot??? ), claiming she has been specially trained to manage and control the Khala, and she’s not about to be possessed by Amon. The next day she gets possessed by Amon, to no one’s surprise. Sure, she manages to fight it off, but who didn’t see that coming from half a galaxy away?
Also! Artanis made a point of telling her after she had been awakened that he would end her the minute she showed a sign of possession. This turns out to be an empty threat.
More about her: She claims she has problems adapting to the modern age, apparently still living in a time long ago in her memories, when rules and customs were different to now. Though I would think she also had the memories of recent Protoss to help her? No?
Her main role in the story is basically “old woman yells at cloud”, spouting off her outdated views and protests to everything they do, at which point Artanis chastises her about how things don’t work that way any longer.
She gets possessed a couple more times before she finally cuts her connection to the Khala with a vow to become part of the present rather than the past, or something like that.
Next up I went to the Dark Templar homeworld to warn them, and of course things were going to shit there, so we picked up whomever we could, blew up the planet ( because apparently Aiur is more important and their true home??? ), and legged it.
Among them is the Dark Templar Matriarch, of course. And this character, I just-
I feel like the writers just couldn’t be arsed??? First off, she really hates Zeratul, because he’s a traitor who killed her mother. Except her mother was infested by the Zerg, and as far as I’ve understood, any Protoss would have done the same to spare their loved ones the fate of being a Zerg abomination??? AND YOU JUST BLEW UP YOUR WHOLE PLANET BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T WANT THE ZERG TO HAVE IT! WHERE WAS YOUR SENTIMENT THEN???
Her defence: “Reason has no bearing on emotion.” (???)
A little later she talks about Dark Templar society, and how they accepted and embraced their status as exiles. Yet in the next conversation when they’re talking about Zeratul and what he said, she suddenly goes “you can’t trust the word of an exile.” Lady, your level of cognitive dissonance beggars belief!
Now let’s talk about robot racism. I believe the Purifiers, the Protoss’ old, abandoned project to create a robotic army, have been mentioned in earlier games, but this is where they get brought into focus. Even though they were imprinted with the personalities of Protoss heroes, none among the Protoss really thought they were people, or worthy of respect or decent treatment. Artanis believes it though, and because everyone always does what Artanis wants, they set about freeing the Purifiers.
This comes a fair while after they went to salvage the new Purifier project, and find a prototype Purifier imprinted with the personality of Fenix, another of the Starcraft 1 characters almost no one remembers. I think it’s meant to come off that it’s talking to Fenix that convinces Artanis that Purifiers are people too, and it really doesn’t seem that hard to convince them to be nice once they finally go to free them from the prison they were put in. But along the way there’s lots of robot racism from everyone who isn’t Artanis.
Also, engineer guy discovers that the Purifiers work better in proximity. The more of them that are close to each-other, the smarter and more effective they get, because they are connected by a synthetic Khala. That Amon can’t invade, apparently.
Now, let’s talk about the Xel’naga. About halfway through the story you go to their “homeworld”, which is basically a big Borg Cube. Or Borg Spike, I suppose. Though *originally* they came from the Void, because apparently it makes sense that the first race of beings ever would get born there.
This homeworld is set in a section of space so dangerous that no ship can go there without getting shredded. Except their ship gets there without any difficulties whatsoever. So was it not actually dangerous at all? Or was it just safe because they had the coordinates? This is never explained.
On their homeworld we are told that the Xel’naga shepherd the Infinite Cycle, seeding countless universes with life. They wait until two races emerge where one is pure of body ( in this case the Zerg ), and the other is pure of mind/spirit ( the Protoss ). Then these two are merged to make a new Xel’naga. Apparently all Xel’naga look like space-Cthulhus.
Artanis meets Kerrigan when he gets inside. She says she’s been there for days, fighting Hybrids. Artanis had to go through an unlocking ritual when he arrived, because the place was locked up tight. How did Kerrigan get inside? How did the Hybrids? Did they get in, and then the door was locked behind them again? This is never explained.
Also! Why was there no sign of the Swarm anywhere when the Protoss first arrived? They just… show up in the next mission, with a huge base already having been built. Out of fucking nowhere.
When they finally get to the Xel’naga’s chamber, Artanis and Kerrigan discover the place is trashed, and all the Xel’naga are dead. Then Amon springs his trap. If he wanted them to come inside in the first place, why was he working SO DAMN HARD to stop them from getting there??? Even if I were to buy into the idea that he just wanted to get their hopes up before crushing them, he really seemed to be going through an excessive amount of effort to stop them. Because we need to have missions full of fighting and obstacles, I guess.
And when he first brought his armies in there to kill the other Xel’naga, did he just circumvent all the defences, or did he smash through them and then rebuild them afterwards? Again, this is never explained.
Then the final of the big NPC Protoss that end up on Artanis’ ship: Alarak, the ( eventual ) leader of the Tal’darim. The Tal’darim are a faction of Protoss that split off from Aiur well before the Dark Templar split. Possibly even when Amon and his cronies left the planet, as they are very devoted to him. The when of it is really never made clear.
Alarak claims that Amon has betrayed the Tal’darim, and he wants to help take Amon down, on the condition that Artanis and crew help him take over as Warlord of the Tal’Darim, so he can bring the whole faction against Amon.
I didn’t feel it was ever really made clear how or why Amon betrayed the Tal’darim. When he claimed victory, Alarak said something about how Amon had gone back on his promise to make the Tal’darim into hybrids, yet Preserver lady said that through the Khala she had sensed that Amon didn’t actually want any Protoss alive, not even the Tal’darim, he only wanted hybrids, which is why he betrayed them. So doesn’t that mean he just wanted to turn the Tal’darim into hybrids, and kill whomever was left over? If they were already helping him, knowing he wanted to end the universe and anything living in it, I don’t…
Did they actually proof-read the script?
And then Preserver lady has some things to say about the Tal’darim ( whom she apparently doesn’t remember for some reason ), mainly that Protoss turning upon their fellow Protoss was a sin that should have seen them exterminated. Yet she’s also said it was right for the Aiur Protoss to turn upon the Dark Templar and try to kill them for refusing to join the Khala, even though all they wanted was to be free. If the point was to show that she ( and by extension past Protoss ) is a hypocritical asshole, then mission accomplished.
At the end they all go to Aiur to put an end to Amon and push him back into the Void, because apparently when a Xel’naga is killed, they just go back to Void and rest for a while before coming back. Except the Xel’naga on the homeworld, whom he had killed with the Swarm, and then… also killed in the Void, I guess? This is never explained.
They start their assault by bringing down the planetary warp network so the vast Golden Fleet under Amon’s control can’t warp to the planet, but apparently it just serves to delay them, because… I guess they can warp there by their own power, but… that… takes… longer??? It is not really explained.
Amon is building himself a big, powerful hybrid body on Aiur to manifest his might. He’s apparently building it out of the remains of the Overmind and a load of Protoss bodies, probably by liquefying them or something. They have to stop him from finishing it! Except he finishes it! And then they bomb it from orbit with every weapon on every ship they have, and it takes him out. Which felt a little anti-climactic.
Then they start charging the Keystone ( the same one used to free Kerrigan’s mind ) to free all the Protoss from Amon’s control long enough to cut them from the Khala, all the while being under assault by Zerg under Amon’s control, and the Golden Fleet that has just arrived. Couldn’t they have started the charging a little earlier? I guess we wouldn’t have had a mission then.
And so ends the Protoss campaign, with Amon back in the Void plotting revenge, and the Protoss now having a unified alliance of every faction they have.
At which point we move onto the epilogue.
Kerrigan hears a voice calling her from the Void, and she gathers Artanis and Raynor to use the Xel’naga homeworld to create a portal into the Void where they can defeat Amon for good.
Inside they first find Narud ( the asshole who kept doing all sorts of experiments on making hybrids for Amon ) who it turns out is a Xel’naga himself, only not as powerful as Amon. They kill him in the Void to kill him for good, after which they find a nice Xel’naga. Too weak to fight Amon, they’ve just been hanging around the Void, guiding the Zerg and Protoss through voices in their head as best they could.
Now they want to merge with Kerrigan to create a new Xel’naga, because only a Xel’naga can kill a Xel’naga, so they need a Xel’naga to kill Amon, except they managed just fine with Narud.
Also, I thought you needed to merge a Protoss and a Zerg to make a Xel’naga, not a Xel’naga and a Zerg??? None of this makes sense.
Another reason they need to merge is that they can’t allow the Infinite Cycle to end. Yet once the merging is complete, the Xel’naga’s final independent words are “and so the Infinite Cycle ends” or something like that, and I thought “wait, is this a trap by Amon???” But no one comments on it, and things proceed as if this was what was supposed to happen, and again I question whether they actually proof-read the script.
You know how I said all Xel’naga are space-Cthulhus? When Kerrigan becomes a Xel’naga, she turns into a giant, sexy fire lady. Because… videogames???
So they beat Amon with excessive amounts of fire, which I approve of, and then it’s time for a final cutscene and a Fallout-style “and then this happened to everyone” montage of text-over-screenshot, which was actually kinda decent.
The final twist: It was Mass Effect all along! The Xel’naga are the Reapers, the Purifiers are the Geth, the Protoss are the Quarians ( they even ended up finding a way to live together in peace ), the Zerg are the Rachni, except for Kerrigan who is Commander Shephard who picked the Green ending ( or maybe the Blue ), Raynor is Garrus, and the Terrans are assholes. There’s even a poorly written and badly edited ending to cap the whole thing off.
Let’s hope this is the end of the Starcraft story, because it feels well and truly dead.