Story in StarCaft 2

I guess there are Spoilers coming up but seriously, don’t bother. Having finished the campaign of StarCraft 2, I can now safely say that the game features a very disappointing story. The characters are incredibly clichéd and poorly fleshed-out. Some of the writing is amazingly dull and hollow. Here is a taste I recently found on the forums:

Good Guy: “Its aint over yet you son-of-a-bitch!” (fires a gun at a TV screen showing an interview of the bad guy)

Matt: “I don’t trust that guy…” (about Tychus)

Tychus: “I don’t trust that guy…” (about the Specter guy)

Good Guy: “At some point we have to choose who we are.”

“You can’t fight fate!” “Why do you run from your fate?” “It is the fate of the world…”

There is barely any conflict between the characters. Somehow everybody wants roughly the same thing (kill the Zerg, kill the evil dudes). If there is a conflict after all, it’s contrived and artificial. They suddenly pull out another character out of nowhere (Nova says hi) who just happens to present a neat 2-choice dilemma on a golden platter. Or suddenly the crew is against you. And then there is a bar fight, you do an inspirational speech and suddenly everything is back OK again. Wait! What was that bar fight for again? The entire plot is solved by a blatant Deus-Ex-Machina – “that mysterious thing you were doing the whole time for money? Yeah, that will magically undo all the things that tormented your protagonist all the time”. Isn’t the point of a tormenting past the fact that you can’t change it? Doesn’t character growth mean to deal with this past?

A good indicator is the humor. The game frequently features TV broadcasts with two reporters. It’s supposed to show in an ironic fashion how the corrupt government is controlling the media. The female reporter tries to present a truthful view of the situation in which the rebels (you) tend save the day. The other reporter cuts her off or re-interprets the events so that the rebels appear as the bad guys. It comes off as incredibly ham-fisted and gets old after the second sequence… but there are more than 10 of these.

StarCraft had much less story than StarCraft II but StarCraft: Broodwar, the expansion achieved the same effect through a cheesy Starship Troopers-style propaganda report. It was much more subtle and amusing.

Of course it’s not all that bad. There are some promising attempts. I liked some of the scenes between the protagonist and a female researcher. Sadly it never goes anywhere. I also laughed out loud at a couple of well-placed self-referential blurbs in some of the dialogue during missions: “No rush” or “Terrible, terrible damage”. But all in all, it’s rather forgetable.

But wait, I did praise the story part some time ago, didn’t I? Yes, and I still stand by it. The structure in which the story is presented is a welcome innovation with a lot of potential. It just wasn’t used by Blizzard to do anything good.

But then the first game didn’t have exceptional story either. Actually, no Blizzard game was ever known for exceptional good writing. What makes StarCraft 2 still an extremely compelling game is the polished game-play, comprehensive multi-player structure and especially the varied, well thought-out single-player missions. On the other hand – good writing wouldn’t sabotage any of these. And this time Blizzard can’t really excuse themselves by a lack of resources or time. Let’s see if they will be able to turns things around with the next two installments. Until then, I’ll just skip the cut-scenes.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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