Starcraft 2 Critique Vol. II

I previously wrote about Starcraft 2 story, making some points about the fantasy aspect, some inconsistencies and the lacking in Amon. I promised I’d write an alternative and started that… but I lost all my notes. On top of that, I had only played through the game once (LotV, that is) and it was crunching through the campaign. I decided to play again, to see if things felt differently in hindsight. In fact, I shared my feelings on Twitter with #sc2crit (I’m not a master of Twitter and I only see the top tweets unfortunately) hashtag. So, below are my updated thoughts after playing the game.

In the end, it was a good adventure. Shame about the lingering sour taste

Xel’naga

One problem is Xel’naga being so hollow, uncharacteristically for Blizzard. Who are they? What is their thing? I mean, take Warcraft. It also has cosmic creators, the Titans. But they are very much stylized. They have names, they have sort of a culture, you can make something out of them. We don’t know what they do in their daily life, whether they eat vegemite or listen to goblin-pop, but we have an idea about how they operate.

Initially Xel’naga used to be a race that’s technologically advanced and experimented around. In SCII, it seems this was moved into a more primal “This is the circle of life.” zone which I’m okay with. I really like this cosmic cycle. But in the end… How do they manipulate? Is it technology? I mean their planet looks like a spaceship and they can traverse space. But they themselves just look like a lump of flesh floating around.

Let’s say that’s because of circumstances. What do they do? Are they just an interim life-form? But then how do they develop technology? How do they know about their past? They must have some kind of culture. Where is that? They aren’t “literal” gods. At least they weren’t in SC1 and even through SC2, they are more like the Goauld or rather, Ori from Stargate SG-1: They are immensely powerful compared to some races, so they look godlike. But in the end, alien life forms. So they must have some sort of structure, some way of life. But we see nothing about Xel’naga. Nothing meaningful at all.

This makes is hard to understand what happens why, how we should feel about Amon, Ouros, the cycle and about anything really regarding the meta of the plot.

Amon

Who’s this guy? What does he want? Why does he call their life cycle circle of lies or hatred or suffering, or say it’s corrupt? Is he just an egomaniac saying that to make us believe him? If so, does he have to? None of his minions seem to care about this cycle. Does he mean something else? An actual corruption? Then there is no proof. Was he wronged by this cycle somehow? No idea! He says he was created against his will but WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Sounds like teenage angst without anything else, to be honest.

Combined with the lack of information on Xel’naga, Amon just becomes a “bad guy.” You can’t feel more than that because you aren’t thrown any bones.

The Infinite Cycle

Why are Xel’naga sleeping? Aren’t they supposed to sort of disappear until the new races they created form to create new Xel’naga? If they don’t, then what’s the whole point of the cycle? Are there more sleeping Xel’naga from previous cycles? Or are they machinist beings who just start life and disappear. There was a reference like this but really just in a corner somewhere from what I remember.

Also. Help me understand this. They are slumbering while Amon (who doesn’t slumber for whatever reason) empowers the Protoss. When Khala is created, Xel’naga awaken (for whatever reason, and for other reasons™, they do not feel anything else Amon does), they find Amon. At this time he has the Overmind so he unleashes the Swarm upon them. But the other Xel’naga defeat Amon.

So, if they didn’t empower the Protoss and the Zerg to be the next candidates… why were they slumbering? Isn’t the whole idea that they experiment around to create purity of race and form? Also, at this point clearly Amon interfered. Why don’t they do something about it? And apparently Xel’naga can live after “death”, somehow “going back into the void”, which is what Amon does. What does it even mean, going back into the void? Was this a power Amon had somehow? Also, is he super stealthy that no one detects his presence?

Prophecy

Where does this prophecy come from really? If it was spread by Ouros to subtly fight Amon, I would’ve understood. However, it seems like Xel’naga foresaw… like everything. To the point that they have quite accurate pictures of Kerrigan and other major characters in their “temples”. So… who carved those?

I mean, technically for the prophecy to have happened, everything needs to happen from Amon’s interference to the Xel’naga defeating him and going away. Who knew all this? Why didn’t they do anything about it? Doesn’t Amon know about the prophecy? Why doesn’t he stop it?

Kerrigan

Why is she merging with Ouros? Isn’t it supposed to be purity of form and essence? Shouldn’t she merge with Artanis? I mean, Artanis has cut himself from Khala (and thus, taint of Amon) and kinda wields the both type of energies of his people.

Also, when they merge, why is Kerrigan the final product? Can they change shape? Is her “true” form something else?

And does this mean Amon actually won? Because technically, the cycle is disturbed. There was one Xel’naga left, he’s done for and he merged with a essence-pure being. The new Xel’naga, Kerrigan is not form+essence. She’s old Xel’naga+essence.

Void&MAGIC

This is the most annoying part, really. Going back to void. Void bolt. Void blast. Void is an extension of his will. WHAT THE HELL IS THE VOID? Also, how come there is the crystals and vespene gas in the Void? Come on.

Then Kerrigan gets a Celestial Beam when she becomes Xel’naga. I mean, okay it’s just a name for the skill, but still! It shows Blizzard’s mindset I think.

I know that we aren’t in a scientifically explainable setting but this is simply high fantasy. This is worse than Star Wars, which is something Starcraft wasn’t. It’s okay if Protoss calls Xel’naga gods. It’s not okay if Blizzard dubs them so.

Last Moment Revelation

I checked the wiki for something literally just now and I found out a different explanation of things that changes a lot. The main premise is that what Xel’naga does is what I suggested: Create life, then slumber away until a new generation is created. This explains why they slumber and the way Amon works to change the cycle.

It also adds a nice detail that the reason Protoss lost social balance (ie divergence of tribes that eventually lead to Aeon of Strife) was because Amon pushed their evolution too far. That’s actually a pretty cool explanation. Wiki also suggests Amon had other Xel’naga following him, which explains the bit in Protoss history where they attacked Xel’naga ships (ie Amon wasn’t the sole Xel’naga.)

However, it still does not explain everything. For example, seeing what Amon did with Zerg and Protoss, it makes even less sense that they didn’t do anything about the situation. Also, I don’t know where wiki took this info. The source points to an interview that seems currently inaccessible. Definitely, these aren’t referred this way in game exactly.

Positive Points

Going through the campaign wasn’t constant frustration though! I already liked the gameplay and certain things but I also noticed new things I liked, or things I hadn’t thought about before.

First of all, I hadn’t enjoyed Zeratul’s conversations much in WoL but most Protoss conversations were pretty good! They felt Protoss. The dynamics between factions and leaders were also handled well.

One thing in particular was Artanis saying: “We are finally free to become something more” and it’s true for each protoss sect. Purifiers freed from prison, Tal’darim from Amon, Nerazim and Khalai from burdens of tradition and all sects have been discovering their new identity. They moved from being stereotypes to more. This was really well done.

Something I didn’t like before turned out to be pretty cool in hindsight: Duran and the keystone. It was created to store and unleash energy. Duran manipulated people to get to where he is, take the keystone, fill it with energy and take out Kerrigan (who was Overmind’s secret weapon to defeat Amon) at the same time! He had also been building a body for his master and planned to bring him back. Not everything worked out the way he wanted, but most of it did. Unfortunately, while this was very SC1/BW Kerriganesque, it wasn’t presented well and got lost under the whole fantasy VOIIIIIIDDDDDDDD noise.

Conclusion

In the end, re-checking the story (and now with the bit from wiki) actually improved my opinion on the story overall. However, there are still big issues in Xel’naga not being fleshed out, game having too much fantasy/mysticism, Amon not being explained and finally, presentation issues within the game. I hope for the next Starcraft game, if it ever comes, Blizzard presents us a less-fantasy and more-scifi world that is fleshed out and presented better.

Gamer, gaming industry wanderer, development and design enthusiast. Current WIP: TBD

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