StarCraft 2’s Tough Choices Are Missed Opportunities

Posted by on September 23, 2010 - 7 Comments »

This article contains spoilers and lore discussion to StarCraft 2’s campaign.

Numerous critics have heralded StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty’s campaign as the greatest thing since sliced bread.  While I personally think that’s going to far – sliced meat? – the campaign was one of the most entertaining experiences of the summer.  As is Blizzard’s wont, the company borrowed numerous ideas from previous titles, gave them the old Blizzard spit-shine polish and claimed the outcome as its own.  I call this method “Butterfly Development.”  Ideologically, it’s simple.  Blizzard takes a caterpillar of an idea, puts it and its developers in a cocoon for a few months (years), and a beautiful butterfly pops out.

One of the ideas that Blizzard introduced its fanbase to is choice, specifically moral dilemmas.  Any gamer can tell you that difficult decisions have been around for some time, epitomized by Lionhead Studios and BioWare products, but it’s never entered Blizzard’s project to any substantial degree.  Richard Bartle pointed out Blizzard’s folly in Wrath of the Lich King with “The Art of Persuasion.”  This was a crucial juncture in a player’s career.  Blizzard could have forced us to ponder our actions as we made a difficult choice.  Instead, nearly everyone went ahead and zapped the Beryl Sorcerer into submissions because that was the only way we’d receive experience.  Blizzard learned its lesson for SC2, delivering two clearly defined dilemmas.  Once again, the company failed to make them memorable because there’s no long-lasting impact.  Just a means to an end.

Decision 1: Dr. Ariel Hanson vs. Selendis
Upon completing “Outbreak,” players are lead into their first choice.  

With a zerg infestation running rampant on Haven, we can decide to oppose Selendis, a protoss leader sent to purify the planet, and attempt to save the colonists (again).  Alternatively, we can attempt to save the uninfected colonists (again) while we go in guns-a-blazin’ to destroy any zerg we find.  Naturally, such an affront to the protoss, who want to purify the planet from the safety of space, will not go over well.

The setup is perfect.  We can decide to be a ruthless, by-the-book leader and eradicate the few to (potentially) save the many, or we can fight for every life as if it was our own.  Unfortunately, no matter the choice, the ramifications of the decision disappears after the following cutscene.  Whether Hanson crosses her DNA with that of a zerg is irrelevant.  Either way, she’s gone, out of our life as a possible love interest or supporter.  Selendis is either upset at our decision, or supportive of it.  Yet we never see the protoss leader again.  As far as Wings of Liberty campaign is concerned, the support or rebuke is never touched upon again by anyone.

Decision 2: Nova Terra vs. Gabriel Tosh
After gathering terrazine gas for “Welcome to the Jungle,” players are contacted by Nova Terra, a Dominion ghost, who explains that Tosh is using the recently acquired gas to fuel his and other spectres’ addiction to the substance.  Raynor is left having to trust a member of the Dominion and assault Tosh or back the man that’s clearly been hiding things from him.

Blizzard simply threw in the towel for this mission.  The developer does not consider both outcomes canon, at least not at the same time.  It was mentioned on the bonus DVD that Tosh’s death at the hands of Nova when siding with the ghost is actually an alternate storyline.  That’s upsetting, but even more so is the complete disregard for the extended universe and those that follow it.  Nova Terra has an incredibly rich background.  She was created as the protagonist for the StarCraft: Ghost.  Although that game was canceled, her beginnings were detailed in the tie-in novel that came out before the project was shelved.  After her upbringing, her story becomes intertwined with Gabriel Tosh during their training at the Ghost Academy.  Did you know that they were lovers?  Wouldn’t that have made their stories so much more interesting and the choice more cumbersome to select?  There is a lot of history between the two, all of it swept under the rug when it could have been a memorable turning point.

The addition of morality and choice to the StarCraft universe is a good one.  It not only adds flavor to the main tale, but extends the game itself by enabling branching storylines.  Blizzard did a fantastic job allowing players to participate in either side, while still definitively selecting one (cutscenes are missed). And for that, the company should be applauded.  However, these choices needed more meaning — to impact the game and the campaign in a greater way than an unlocked unit, trinket in the cantina and a crew member with a few quotes.  Bring Hanson back to save us in a later mission if we rescue her people, or have Selendis rain support down from the skies.  The story can branch and meet back at the same juncture if it’s done well (StarCraft 2: Choose Your Own Adventure).