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Awhile ago I created a blog post based on my thoughts to part 1 of Nova Covert Ops. The post took around an hour to write, and was basically testament to the fact that it's easier to gripe than to praise. Because while I don't have the same time or energy right now to write something as long or detailed, I'll give credit where credit is due, and sum up that NCO pt. 2 is an improvement over the first, in both story and gameplay.
If NCO improves over its predecessor in one area, it's that it no longer plays like a tutorial. Oh, sure, you're introduced to new units and expected to use them (e.g. Liberators), but not forced in the same way you have to use the jetpack on mission 2, or the energy sword at the end of mission 3. I don't really have the inclination to analyze each mission in depth, but I will say that:
Mission 4: Very similar to Safe Haven, in that we have a nearly invincible mothership threatening to kill fellow terrans, and we have to take said mothership out before the time limit. That said, this was still a fun romp. Addition of the zerg helped.
Mission 5: Similar to the Bel'Shir mission in WoL, but again, has some differences that make it fresh. Most notable are the mini-dungeon sections, which I thought were a very good touch.
Mission 6: Very good touch with the ability to select zerg breeds that alters the mission in a way that serves both narative and gameplay. I actually had a bit of a flashback to Tiberium Wars (another great RTS that I reccomend) what with the ruined city and subway system serving as a means to get the edge on your foes (namely the GDI missions where you fight against Nod and later, the scrin). So I guess while EA gave us drek like Tiberian Twilight (which is a game I'm actually a bit forgiving to), StarCraft II is still going strong. Least in gameplay. Story is another matter, but all in all, well done. Missions were good, and hit the right mix of gimick aspects while also giving me leeway to approach situations how I thought it served best. Which in my case was basically creeping with siege tanks and liberators in mission 6, and screaming bloody murder in mission 5 as zerg came at me, but hey, who's complaining?
In the last blog post, I mentioned how 'sterile' NCO felt, and compared it to Overwatch. Here, the comparison isn't needed, because when you compare the two styles of universe/storytelling, NCO feels like it's come into its own. This might be attrituable to there just being more 'meat', so to speak, as we're past the prologue, and the second part in a trilogy is often where that meat comes in (well, supposedly, but that's another matter), but regardless, I think it does a good job in a number of ways:
- The story finally feels like Nova's story. Nova calls the shots, Nova is the one who's affected emotionally, Nova is the one that's being pro-active rather than reactive. True, she's reporting to Valerian, but it feels like we've hit into gear. Also helps that Reigel is...well, not fleshed out per se, but is still given some layers in his body language/style of dialogue. It's back to that old feeling of comraderie that I praise WoL for, that I felt NCO pt. 1 lacked. Shame we can't explore the Griffin, but fine, beggars can't be choosers. At the least, I think the return of news broadcasts and background humour (e.g. the New Andassar descriptions) is a substitute that is welcome.
- Alarak is here. 'Nuff said. Actually, we're seeing a lot of Alarak recently, what with Co-op Missions, Heroes of the Storm, and NCO. I've heard it suggested that a second mission pack could focus on him, but I'm not counting on that. This isn't a gripe, but my prediction that BlizzCon 2016 will be big on Diablo, and SC2 will reveal pt. 3 of the mission pack with more Co-op stuff, but that's another avenue of dicussion entirely.
- Something that I and others have brought up is that the plot is mirroring Rebel Yell, but we're seeing it from the Confederacy's point of view. Well, technically the Dominion's, but it's a role reversal that's clear. Still, I think it works well. The Defenders are using the same tactics as the Sons of Korhal, and we get to experience the frustration that I could imagine Confeds felt (based on how much they knew at least).
- Davis is a good twist, if not a great one. I think it was once said that "a good twist is where you say "I didn't see that coming, a great twist is where you say "I didn't see that coming, but in hindsight, I should have." Davis caught me offguard, but there wasn't anything to suggest that she was against the Dominion. Make of that what you will. However, the idea of a Mengsk loyalist undermining Valerian is a plot point that makes sense, so good job there.
- The ending is nice, but if Evolution is anything to go by, we can assume that Valerian remains in power, so boo. And if he doesn't, where's this 'golden age' that LotV promised?
At the end of the day, NCO is still an unnecessary sequel, but then again, sequels are unnecessary by definition unless their predecessor ended with a cliffhanger. SC2 was a necessary sequel to Brood War plot-wise, NCO isn't a necessary sequel to LotV, and at worst, potentially undermines its ending. It hasn't. Not yet at least. But at the least, it's still a net positive, though if we're ranking SC2 installments by story, it would still go WoL>LotV>HotS>NCO, for me. Whatever HotS's flaws, it does make up for them with its themes and character introspection. Unlike the previous three, I can't think of a 'theme' for NCO. And fine, not every installment in a series has to have a theme (e.g. Star Trek 2009 is my #4 Star Trek movie, but it's one of only two that doesn't have a theme in the series for me), but, yeah. Decent, but still unnecessary sequel.
But at the least, credit where credit is due, it's a step up from pt. 1 all around.