Some sequels radically reinvent what has come before; others simply buff up a formula that already soars. To suggest that Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty does only the latter and not the former would be to sell short the fresh ideas and exciting gameplay that makes this superb real-time strategy sequel so enjoyable. This package delivers more than simple fun–it serves up incredible amounts of variety, from the cinematic and multifaceted campaign to the competitive and tightly balanced multiplayer. You might scoff at the fact that the game only includes a single campaign and, perhaps, at the high price point (the game retails at $59.99; $10 higher than the average PC game). But these are nitpicks, forgivable quibbles in a high-quality game that provides plenty of bang for the buck. Starcraft II is the natural next step for the series: it both embraces and updates the core components that made the first game a huge hit while layering on important features that give the game endless replay value, both online and off. This is one of the finest real-time strategy games in years, and whether you’re new to the genre or have been studying Protoss build orders for the past decade, there’s something here to delight you.
The campaign is the first of many of these delights. You may have heard that Starcraft II features only a single campaign: that of the human faction known as the Terrans. One of the game’s few disappointments is that the other two factions–the Protoss and the Zerg–don’t get their day in the sun, so if you’re a newcomer who wants to prove your superiority (or inferiority) online, don’t expect the campaign to prepare you for the potential onslaught. But the campaign is hardly a one-note wonder, offering loads of variety, including an entire set of missions that divulges important story elements from an entirely different perspective. Yet even outside of those devious missions, you accomplish diverse and interesting tasks throughout the story. In one early mission, lava periodically rises onto the mainland, posing a threat to any units not positioned on high ground. In another, an exploding sun causes a deadly wall of flame to steadily push you across the map. From one mission to the next, there’s an intriguing new development that keeps you devoted to seeing what surprise is waiting for you next.