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So, I finally beat Legacy of the Void. Big deal right? Well, when I beat WoL and HotS, I spent a lot of time debating and praising them on forums, and in the process, said everything I had to say on them. This time, I know well enough to stay clear of said forums, but I thought that it would be nice (read: indulgent) to give my 2 cents. Or 5. Or $100 because that's how much the CE cost me roughly.
So, on that note, I'm going to ramble on gameplay and story. This shouldn't be taken as a review by any means, so, yeah:
-I'll briefly touch on multiplayer as I haven't played it since the beta. Overall, I'd call LotV a net improvement over HotS, in that the matches are faster, and feels more dynamic. I actually got up to silver, but I let go as I just couldn't keep up with other players. This isn't a slight against the game, but I'm afraid I'm just not up to snuff.
-On the flipside, Allied Commanders (no Blizz, I'm not calling them "Co-op Missions") is fun. Played one mission and failed (I suck, and my opponent was too busy taking out a pirate capital ship to attack the Void shards), but it's still fun. Frankly, anyone who's starting out SC2 for the first time, I'd recomend AC before multiplayer proper. It's not a tutorial, but it comes off as a much less steep learning curve.
-Campaign gameplay is as good as ever. Army customization is the best it's ever been. Not that WoL or HotS were slouches in this, but the ability to change units between missions grants far more flexibility than the other two had, and is all the more satisfying for it. Would have liked more unique unit designs, but I can live with that. It certainly captures the "protoss fantasy" as the devs call it, same way how mercs and evolutions capture the terran and zerg "fantasies."
-Mission design remains good. Maybe it's because I'm out of practice, but the difficulty feels far more amped up even on normal here. There were some missions that took me over 40 minutes to complete, and once we arrive on Aiur, the difficulty certainly amps up, and even more so in the epilogue. But again, not a complaint. Also, there was better story-gameplay integration here than in HotS (e.g. Warfield sending one Gorgon after another, or using meat to wake Zurvan). Here, I didn't come across anything too jarring. Well, solarite is apparently the dilithium of the StarCraft universe now, but that's minor.
-Spear of Adun powers are awesome. And the ship design is beautiful. 'Nuff said.
Ah, story. The thing I've spent the most time discussing, editing, and...fine, let's get down to it.
-First of all, touching on WoL and HotS. WoL is undoubtedly Jim Raynor's story - it touches on the terrans as a whole in terms of ideas/motifs (e.g. the TV broadcasts, Fire and Fury, Haven, etc.), but these are very much in the background. HotS is undoubtedly Kerrigan's story, but also the story of the zerg. The zerg as a whole are discussed in the SMS conversations. The primal zerg exist as a microcosm for the Swarm, and there's a "similar but different" vibe running through it. LotV goes to the other end of the spectrum - while Artanis is the protagonist, I don't know if I can say it's "his story" in the same way as the previous installments. Rather, LotV is the story of the protoss first and foremost, with the characters being secondary. Whether this is bad or good is up to personal preference, but it's a noticable shift in focus.
-In terms of tone, LotV differs. Of the SC2 trilogy, WoL is easily the most upbeat. It starts off as a space western, remains a space western up until the point where the Keystone's purpose is discovered, and enters war story/space opera towards the end. Even then, it's by far the most humorous, upbeat, and, well, 'human' of the three. HotS, on the other hand, is easily the darkest. The tone, the lighting, the cinematic style, the content (Lassara, Kerrigan killing the assassins, Mengsk's death, Warfield, etc.). It's not as alien as, say, Episode II of SC1, but the zerg are most certainly not human, since so much time is spent discussing the nature of the zerg, reinforcing their status as monstrous creatures, etc. If the theme of WoL is redemption, the theme of HotS is revenge. A darker emotion for a darker theme. So, coming on to LotV...this isn't as dark as HotS, but it's nowhere near WoL. It's what I'd call the most melencholic of the three. There's tragic moments, sure (Zeratul, Shakuras), but compare these scenes to, say, Warfield's death in HotS, or the other darker moments. They're less dark, and far more, well, melencholic. Shakuras's destruction is accepted, grieved over, and moved on from for instance. Again, whether this is good or not is up to you. For me, I have to give credit to it. Each installment of the trilogy has had its own style of tone and focus, and while LotV is easily the least personal (and arguably, 'cold') of the trilogy, in terms of tone, I think it's spot on. It's arguably the closest to the SC1 style, for better or worse. In terms of theme, I can't sum it up in one word, but it's there throughout the whole piece - need to move on, need to unify yet accept differences, the need to overcome one's personal failings. I suppose "transcendance" could be called LotV's theme, but either way, the themes/motifs are there. So again, thematically, each installment establishes itself in contrast to the others.
Moving onto the story proper now - just minor points:
-First of all, love the Tal'darim design. I've long since guessed about the nature of the Tal'darim as of WoL, and in this I was mostly validated. While the Tal'darim in WoL sparked my interest, here, they're fleshed out both aesthetically and culturally. Oh, and Alarak. If Tychus was the breakout character of WoL, and Abathur the breakout character of HotS, Alarak is the breakout character of LotV. Now we only need him in Heroes of the Storm. :)
-Though on the note of aesthetics, isn't it weird how every Khalai has blue eyes, every Nerazim has green eyes, and every Tal'darim has red eyes? Yeah, the colour scheme works well in terms of architecture and unit design (more props there), but I think this is taking things a bit far.
-Corruption of the Khala...fine, I'm down with it. It fits with his M.O. of using a species's gestalt (e.g. the zerg) against them. How easily Artanis and co. deal with its loss? Not so much. I can't help but be reminded of Lekila for instance, as to how much it affected her, and yet here we have high templar using psionic storms and controlling them. Granted, it's paid lip service, but...well...yeah. Still, the Khala's loss is given its due in terms of dialogue and Rohana's reluctance, so there's that.
-So the Spear of Adun is under the Conclave. Huh. I can understand the Conclave not using its uber weapons during SC1 (given their pig-headedness), but I can't help but ask why it's burried here, of all places, given how it destroys the area around it.
-Zeratul's death...yep, hit me in the feels. His character's come a long way, and the game does a good job of reinforcing how his death has affected those around him (Artanis, Raynor, etc.). All we need now is "en taro Zeratul!" to enter the protoss lexicon.
-Korhal does a good job of reinforcing a strength of LotV, that it's undoubtedly a protoss story. Yes, Amon's assault is affecting everyone, but the focus remains on the protoss. So pros there. And yes, good stuff in the sequence by itself. Does a good job in tone and characterization.
-Shakuras...another good job in terms of tone (yes, expect that word a lot). There's a good "similar but different" vibe here, in that once again the zerg are invading (ala Brood War), but things are worse here. Much worse. Course I have to ask what happened to Khalis and Uraj (they're stated that they can't be used, but never explained as to why), but otherwise, good. The Shadow Walk, the destruction of the planet, etc. Glad this isn't Stargate though, otherwise Aiur would have been destroyed by the blast as well.
-On the subject, Vorazun is fine as a character. Every protoss character is representative of some aspect of the protoss as a whole, and she's undoubtedly the Nerazim stand-in. I think her arc is the most minor of the lot, but it's still there (e.g. need to accept that a culture will change over time), and she's warmer towards Artanis at the end then when they first meet, so good job there.
-Ah, Fenix. The character who I like, but think receives far more love than he actually warrants. Still, seeing him, I couldn't help but smirk in joy. Yes, Fenix is back, and in a well done way as well. His arc is obvious (journey to Talandar), and he conspicuosuly identifies more with the Purifiers than at the beginning, so more good stuff. He's undoubtedly got Fenix's personality down to a pat as well.
-Come to think of it, the Keystone...seems to do everything. Well, I'm fine with that, it fits in with what I'd expect of the xel'naga. And opening up to Ulnar visually - Space Odyssey anyone?
So, Ulnar itself...hmm...
-Well, first of all, love the design. Not sure when the decision was made to not make Ulnar a planet (speaking of planets, what's the deal with the energy creatures and the planet Zeratul saw? They seem more like Amon's thing given what we learn in hindsight now, but they're never seen or mentioned. My guess is that they're used to collect protoss/zerg essence to forge hybrids, but still...), but the design itself is lovely. LotV exemplifies the difference in protoss architecture between the kindreds, and it certainly exemplifies xel'naga architecture as well. The tone (yes, that word again) is great as well.
-Artanis seems to accept Kerrigan's presence a bit quickly. Heck, even Zeratul at least attacked her on Ulaan. Still, his animosity is touched on, so there's that.
-Xel'naga stuff and the ability to communicate...sorry Jake, guess you got the short end of the stick on Nemaka. Still, again, tone is lovely - mystical, reverant, etc. It's like the prophecy missions in WoL (in a good way), and I love the sense of exploration. It's easily the mission where I was the most eager to progress. And what we learn of the xel'naga...
Well, first of all, I love the idea of the xel'naga coming from the Void. We've known since SC1 that they weren't native to the galaxy, but this is a lovely twist on the idea. The xel'naga, in this sense, are truly alien. On the other hand, the idea of seeding other universes...um...
Okay, the universe is big, okay. Very big. I don't think the xel'naga need to seed life in other universes to reinforce their nature as being alien, godlike beings to get the point across. Why not say they moved from one galaxy to the next? If the Keystone is the, um, key to Ulnar, what happens if the two species arise on different sides of the universe? What then? It's a minor gripe, and it does reinforce how ancient the xel'naga are, but it feels unnecessary. Likewise the idea of seeding life. This is actually touched on in a good way in the epilogue (more on that later), but on the other, if we accept that every lifeform in the series owes their existence to the xel'naga in one form or another, then I feel it cheapens the zerg-protoss dichotomy and the terrans' status as "badass normal" (to quote TV tropes).
-Likewise, the uplift thing being down to Amon and his ilk. Again, mixed. I feel this is absolving the xel'naga from every screwup that was previously attributed to them - not just the zerg and AoS, but also Helios for instance, or Xil. It makes the Voice in the Darkness's words seem more hollow now as we learn it wasn't really the xel'naga's fault, just Amon's. On the other hand, it's a good case of "everything you know is wrong." It's given due weight, and it gives a good sense of horror to the situation. I feel the term retcon is thrown around far too liberally, and while the xel'naga portrayal has gone from negligant scientists to originators of all life, I'm down with it. It's a revelation presented within the context of the story itself. It's an example of how to present a new understanding of history correctly in a work of fiction (GW's retcon of the necrons is an example of how not to do it for instance, as the revised history is being presented as always being true, with no in-universe revelation of the old understanding of history). Ulnar is ultimately a mixed bag, but it's a bag that stems entirely from personal feeling in regards to what we learn. But tone, aesthetics, music (heck, the music in the game as a whole is excellent) is all good.
-Speaking of Ulnar and xel'naga, I'll give more props to Amon's manner of presentation here, but I'll come back to him later.
-So, Alarak joins (yay!), the xel'naga are dead (uh-oh), Kerrigan's zerg are scattered (good, as in, it keeps the focus on the protoss), and we're at the point in the campaign where the tide turns. Characters are assembled, and it's time to kick arse and take names. Which we do. And Alarak is still awesome.
-Slayn, not too much to say. The Tal'darim seem quite happy to follow him, but it's accounted for, and hey, Alarak's a manipulative SOB that's still awesome. Come to think of it, I don't know if Alarak has an arc per se. He certainly shows depth to his character, but still, I don't know if he needs an arc. He has his goal, he's willing to do what's necessary to reach it. And Rak'Shir is fun.
-Moebius Corps is taken out. Discussing Moebius Corps as a whole, while I think "Shadow Corps" sounds cooler, it's a good case of using pre-existing material (Moebius as a whole) to generate adversaries that also fits Amon's M.O. (working through pawns). And Karax gets his due. It's the culmination of Karax's arc, and the loss of the caste system is handled well. Karax is easily the most 'normal' of the bunch, but that doesn't diminish him. He has his story, he remains useful, he starts the story in one place and ends up in another.
-Endion. A.k.a. "not Return of the Jedi." Well, RotJ is my 2nd favorite SW movie, so I'm not complaining. Overall, of all the kindreds, I think the Purifiers are the least interesting. Granted, they're only introduced in this story whereas every other kindred was established long ago, but they're handled well enough, both aesthetically and as their own faction. I think far more could be done with them in future stories, but for now, they're servicable. Oh, and "ancient robots rebel against their masters and unite with them for a final battle." Battlestar Galactica, Mass Effect...or heck, maybe Blizzard used ideas from Overwatch. 0_0
-So, Rohana looses the Khala, and it's handled well enough. Rohana has her own arc, and is fine as a character. Not sure why she's still levitating when it was previously stated that the Khala gave her that ability, but meh. It's actually quite impacting to see how her SMS model changes to account for the loss of the nerve chords. I think it's time to discuss representatives - Alarak, Talandar, and Vorazun ultimately represent the Tal'darim, Purifiers, and Nerazim respectively. Going by that, Artanis represents the Daelaam (overall group, the ideal), Karax the Khalai, and Rohana "the old." The days before those distinctions mattered (pre-Discord). HotS had similar representation ideas with the zerg characters, but it's far more pronounced in LotV, and all the stronger for it.
-So, the fleet returns to Aiur. More badass stuff from Artanis - the use of the speech being similar to the one "In Utter Darkness" didn't go unnoticed, so nice touch there. The psi-matrix is destroyed, which adds to the sense of moving on and sense of loss. Not sure how protoss structures and units continue to function, but at this point it's a minor gripe, as long as it's accounted for later.
-Last few missions are good - it's a nice repeat of the final SC mission (with Amon in the place of the Overmind), and the final defensive mission is intense (they were attacking the Keystone in the end of it - maybe I just suck though). Oh, and while I'm on the subject, I think it's time to discuss Amon. A controversial subject perhaps, but damn it, I'm not going to shirk from my opinion. And that is...Amon is not only a fascinating character, but perhaps the best example of an "adversarial character" in a SC game (not best villain, but that's another matter).
Now before I'm called everything under the sun, I'm going to try and explain why. And use the following points:
- Amon is built up over numerous installments. We get our first hint in Brood War in Dark Origin. In WoL, we glimpse at him, and can gain some insight into his intentions (which, based on WoL, I correctly guessed in accordance with LotV gives us, so go me). HotS, his presence is reduced, but we start to learn things about him, such as through Zurvan. And in LotV, we go full force, Amon's presence not only a constant, but also learn the final elements of his backstory. It's an excellent case of building up an antagonist over time. Again, while other antagonists in the series have more depth to them (e.g. Mengsk, Kerrigan), Amon is a good example of how to start small, and end big.
- Motivations and essence. I've seen people call Amon's motivations silly - "destroy everything" is essentially them reduced to their basest form. Now, a nihilistic villain can be done poorly, I'm not denying that. However, I don't think this automatically makes the foe bad, but rather, it depends on the scale. If John Doe decides that "I hate everything and want it all to end," then no one takes him seriously. However, when you enter the scale of godlike beings, I feel that it's given far more weight. So, what do we know of Amon?
Well, we know how he was supposedly forced to become a xel'naga, and that it was an ideal he held prior to actually ascending. So already we have elements of sympathy and hubris. Secondly, this is where the idea of xel'naga seeding entire universes has a payoff...how much has he seen? How many times has the cycle repeated itself for him? How long have events played out over and over? Is it not understandable to want it all to end? To become so disillusioned, that one reaches the conclusion that, to quote Doctor Who, "silence must fall?" To the average Joe, no, but when we're on this level, the concept gains far more weight and gravitas. Ultimately, it's antagonism driven by idealism - misplaced, idealism, but idealism nonetheless. The same way Morgoth is disillusioned, the same way Dark Oak is disillusioned - nihilism, as a motivation, can be done well if the character operates on a scale beyond the everyday individual. So on that note, Amon pulls it off excellently. It's been outright stated that Amon is the thematic inverse of Artanis, and the game itself reflects that. Artanis rallies those around him. Amon just wants to see it end.
- Style: Amon is an adversary in the classical style. Some may say "cliche," and fine, I understand that. It hasn't escaped anyone's notice that similarities can be drawn between Amon and Sargeras. However, I'm fine with that, because a) their M.O. is actually very different when you get down to it, b) Amon is more nihilistic while Sargeras's motivations have more in common with anarchy, and c) both derive inspiration from the same source. Lucifer. The fallen angel, rallying against the established order. Morgoth is the best example I can think of of a semi-modern work running with this concept, and Amon is an example of how to apply this concept in a sci-fi setting. He's antiquated. His manner of speech, his manner of appearance (bar the end, but more on that later). Amon is the odd one out. He's blunt, brutal, he's an outsider to the status quo which, IMO, works well.
- Antagonism: Which brings me back to the point I mentioned earlier, when we're facing Amon on Aiur. A situation similar to the Overmind. Yet Amon fights back. Amon taunts us, and he's taunted us through the entire game. The Overmind is fine as a character, but in the scope of SC1 itself, he appeared for one campaign, disappeared for the next, and existed only to be killed. I'm not saying that the Overmind should have verbally sparred, but, IMO, it's far more engaging to face an adversary who does. At least in this case.
So, moving on:
- The Khala reaches its end. I have to wonder about other Khalai who might have hesitated about cutting their nerve chords, unless Selendis and co. are really the only ones left at all. But, fine. Decent end. Zeratul gets his due, the protoss can rebuild, it's a satisfying ending.
And then there's the epilogue.
Okay, I've noticed that the epilogue has got a lot of flak, and I can see why. First, instead of the idea of touching on each race separately, it's a case of all of them coming together to defeat "the big bad." LotV stops being a protoss story at this point, and becomes something different. Second, it's easily the most esoteric section of the game. Third, there's the Kerrigan...thing. Speaking personally, I won't deny that I have issues with the epilogue, but I hardly think it's a ME3 ending 'thing' (then again I was far more sympathetic to ME3's ending than others, probably because I never actually played it). So, on that note:
-Coming together to beat Amon. Not inherantly bad in itself, but it's a shift in tone, and a shift in focus. It doesn't help that it strays near the ending of Warcraft III. Speaking personally, I don't mind too much. Blizzard's plots tend to mimic one another, but Bungie for instance is just as guilty of this and no-one seems to mind there. Secondly, the tone is very different from the ending of Reign of Chaos. Reign of Chaos was bombastic, defiant - Jaina and Thrall stand up to Archimonde without fear. The mortal races unite to face an invading force. They're on the defence. In LotV, the tone is far more subdued, the allied forces are invading, and the themes aren't quite identical. I'm not denying the similarities are there, but I wouldn't call it a carbon copy either.
-The Void. So, we've gone from understanding the Void as "the cold Void of space" to being a completely separate dimension. Um...okay. Well, I will say, the Void tileset is beautiful, in that it's truly alien. Second, like I said, I like the idea of the xel'naga coming from the Void. And yet, this feels a bit...fantasy...ish. This is subjective of course, but, yeah.
-Samir Duran/Emil Narud is back. And killed by Stukov in a very, very satisfying manner. :)
-Tassadar. And...no. No. No!!!!!
So, Tassadar never returned, he was Ouros the entire time, and...what?!
Okay, here's my gripes. First of all, I never had an issue with Tassadar returning. It fit in with the protoss ethos (spirits residing in the Khala), gave weight to his sacrifice (the idea of transcendance through combining the Void and Khala), fit in with the Anak'Sun idea, was beautifully eerie, and added a depth to the whole thing. Ouros being Tassadar derps him back to SC1 status. Not a bad place to be, all things considered, but I'm left to ask, why? Why is Ouros needed? Why is he even alive? Why does prophecy need to be explained as his mechaninations which, while not bad in itself, doesn't fit in with every other instance of prophecy in the series (e.g. Tenarsis)? Were they Ouros's doings as well? It...sigh.
Now you may be saying, "but Hawki, people have complained that Tassadar coming back is too like fantasy. Why is the Void an issue?" And to that I say, "shadup, it's my blog." I'll then go on to say "it's admittedly subjective." But Tassadar being a spirit feels far more in keeping with the protoss - the psionic-using, archon-forming, psi-bolt throwing protoss, then the Void being a separate dimension. But like I said, subjective. And moving onto Ouros himself:
-So, it's Kerrigan's destiny. Sigh...Do we need "destiny" at this point? I don't have a problem with Kerrigan becoming a xel'naga (more on that later), but "destiny?" We've just had information imparted to us that prophecy is not real, just machinations, yet "destiny" is still valid.
-Oh, and Ouros says "the infinite cycle" must continue, yet his dying words are "the infinite cycles have reached their end." Make up your damn mind!
-On the plus side, I mentioned earlier that there's a brightspot to the xel'naga being the progenitors of all life, and that's this moment. The children of the xel'naga meeting their maker. Man meeting God. The angel imagery with Kerrigan. Amon being fallen. The symbolism isn't subtle, but, IMO, it's well done. It's similar in WC3 in that the theme is the idea of mortals coming into their own/taking control of their own destiny, which is a theme echoed in Cataclysm, Diablo III, and other works (e.g. Xenoblade, I think Final Fantasy XIII? Drakey, help me out), so again, Blizzard is mimicking itself. But it still works, overall. Flawed, but servicable. Ouros certainly comes off as benevolent at least.
-On the plus side, I love the shadows of the Void, the idea of these being truly alien creatures. Not sure why they have to imitate units, but in terms of concept, I love the idea, how these are utterly alien beings to what we're used to. If you're going into the Void, you may as well go all out. The structures are well designed in terms of aesthetic as well.
-Kerrigan kills Amon in what is possibly the hardest mission of the game. I can't help but be reminded that this started off as a story of armies being the deciding factor, whereas here, it's Kerrigan. "Destiny" and all that. But overall, still servicable. And I have to point this out. Ahem:
"The game ends with a psionically powerful being slaying a creature that harkens to the C'thulu mythos. The being is killed in a burst of psionic energy that involves the sacrifice of the slayer. The slayer harkens to Abrahamic mythology in their appearance."
Did I describe Tassadar killing the Overmind, or Kerrigan killing Amon? Food for thought.
-Except Kerrigan returns...maybe. Maybe not. The ending's been left open to interpretation, so kudos there. However, I personally would have preferred a more definitive Kerrigan being dead, but, whatever. I can get behind a happy ending. And yes, I got hit in the feels, seeing that scene. Whatever you think of the content, that the SC2 trilogy begins and ends in the same place with the same characters (barring the epilogue stills and Tychus suiting up) is a parallel that can't be missed, and is well done. I personally hope Kerrigan is't a xel'naga, and Raynor isn't really with a godlike being. Raynor's like, the last character that should be there. Since we're leaving things open to interpretation, my guess is that Raynor is living his life on a world somewhere, either ready to step away from the K-sector, or with Kerrigan as a human. Because the overall theme here is the end of an era, the cycles reaching their end, life having to exist on its own. Not original, but still well done. This may be a controversial claim, but I think it has some weight to it - to quote a YouTube user, "if SC1 is the story of the fall of Sarah Kerrigan, then SC2 is the story of her redemption." Not saying I necessarily agree, but I think it has merit.
-I like the stills at the end. The Dominion artwork harkens back to SC1 with Mengsk's inaguration, except the colour scheme is different. Zagara and the zerg are now their own. Alarak departs because...well, Alarak's bloody Alarak :)
-So, epilogue. In fairness, I can see why some people dislike it. It's a shift in tone, it's a shift in focus, and it's a shift in style. But I do see it as a net positive. The symbolism is on display (even if it isn't subtle), and I actually like how positive the ending is. Yes, we know things go downhill soon with Nova Covert Ops, but for now, I can live with it. And once again, I got hit in the feels.
-So, thoughts overall. Well, LotV is solid. I still hold WoL as being superior overall, but LotV is a close second. Warts and all, the story is well done. Heck, this entire saga has been well done. I think SC2 has actually superseeded WC3 for me in terms of story, as not only does SC2 explore far more themes, but it works as a multi-part saga where each part stands on its own, not to mention that SC2 actually ends definitively, whereas WC3 has plot points that are only dealt with in WoW (e.g. Arthas). Does it have flaws? Absolutely. But to quote another YouTuber, "every work is flawed. The key to a truly great work is where the good outweighs the bad so much that you don't notice the flaws." So, at the end of the day, Team 1 gets a pat on the back from me. It's been a long journey since 1998, but one I've enjoyed, from the lows to the highs. Personally, I don't think the story needs continuation. Yes, it can, you can explore new things, but for now, it honestly feels like a proper ending to the saga. But come what may, thank you for the journey.