First StarCraft II Single Player Campaign Hands-On (Now Spoiler-Free!)

Blizzard offered a day-long hands-on demo of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, the first chapter in the StarCraft II trilogy. We played about a third of the game and we'd like to tell you about it—minus the spoilers.

While there wasn't much in the way of massive story revelations in what we played—we were just getting access to some of the Terran vehicles by the end of our demo—there are some key characters that spoiler-phobic StarCraft fans may want to experience only for themselves. That's what this post is for.

Feeling brave? Then read our full, potentially spoiler-laden in-depth write-up of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, just watch out for details on who said what, who's killing who, and details on some of Jim Raynor's new pals. If you'd like to keep it plot-point free, read on for our abridged impressions and a blow-by-blow account of our time at Blizzard.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty opens in a bar. Rendered in real-time, the opening cinematic starts intimately, with Jim Raynor drinking alone, his only company a Zerg skull mounted on the wall behind him and a jukebox that plays two kinds of music—country and Western. All the songs seem to be about drinking or the having Zerg blues. There may be a fly or two on the wall. He's at a run down watering hole, Joey Ray's, watching the news.

He's the subject of that night's intergalactic newscast. He sneers at the screen, happier to be boozing.

In between Jim's monologue and the broadcast, the player can interact with portions of Joey Ray's bar, anything that glows with a bright outline when moused over. Have a drink. Listen to music. Reflect on the previous Zerg war by clicking on the mounted Hydralisk skull. Interact with old friends who might stop by. Or click on the nearby cork board, see a bit of history on the Terrans.

That mechanic gives StarCraft II's single-player campaign a bit of an adventure game feel, even if most of what the game offers during these moments is atmosphere and small doses of narrative. These moments replace the talking head intermissions from the original StarCraft.

And thankfully, as these moments in Joey Ray's and, later, on board the Battlecruiser Hyperion, make StarCraft II feel less like a cycle of missions and briefings, and something more interactive.

From Joey Ray's bar and the bridge of the Hyperion, Raynor and his allies are briefed on whatever mission they face next. Some are missions of mercy, some are simply to refresh Raynor's bank account. All of those mission briefings are directed well, with expert voice over work and attention to detail, like the spot-on lip synching.

Those early missions are simple. Most are an introduction to the world of StarCraft II, its units and its technology. It starts off small, with Raynor controlling a small squadron of Marines, but it quickly grows. Raynor adds Firebats, Medics, Marauders, Hellions and more to his arsenal, adding new units mission-by-mission.

Those missions range from guarding a small group of refugees, to building out and defending a large Terran base, to mining a lava-scorched planet, its previous mining colony leaving behind mineral-rich deposits.

Blizzard is mixing up those missions with secondary objectives and level-specific achievements, usually about three per chapter. These include completely wiping out a Zerg infestation while following a convoy and finishing missions on hardcore levels of difficulty. Many are easy to accomplish on a first play through. Others will require serious dedication and frequent quick saves.

Missions also make Raynor money, which can be spent on new technology. Many Terran units and buildings have two available upgrades that can be purchased in the Hyperion's armory. These include things like the ability to research Stimpacks—permanently—for your Marines and Marauders, and a fire suppression system that prevents Terran buildings from catching fire and slowly destroying themselves.

Speaking of infantry, fans of the original StarCraft's amusing sound bites delivered by click-harassed units will be well served. There are some great one-liners here, but some of those bits of dialogue seem to be recycled from the original games.

In the Hyperion's armory, you'll have access to plenty of units, technology and buildings that didn't make the multiplayer cut. This makes StarCraft II's single-player campaign much more than a series of mission-based levels using multiplayer style rules.

(For a list of every upgrade that we saw during our playthrough at Blizzard, refer to this post.)

Beyond the bridge and armory, the Hyperion has two additional areas players can visit.

The ship's lab and cantina present other opportunities to make and spend money, respectively. Blizzard's Dustin Browder says that the lab portion of the ship is still undergoing some refinement. Browder didn't sound too thrilled with the current implementation of that section of the ship, saying that the reconnaissance and research missions just weren't that much fun yet.

We wouldn't know. Those mission were locked out of our demo. All we could do in the lab was chat with the pimply faced scientist Stetmann and review research objectives. These were just cash-in opportunities to learn more about Zerg evolution or Protoss shield technology. These side missions may offer some variety and an injection of funds, but we won't know what they'll look like for a while.

The last section of the ship, the cantina, is multi-faceted. You'll be able to catch up on intergalactic news, chat with the NPC crew of the Hyperion, ogle holographic strippers, play games and hire mercenaries.

The cantina is home to a mercenary agent, hiring special units that you can deploy once per mission.

Those mercs, which come at a cost, obviously, are somewhat like the hero units Blizzard introduced in Warcraft III. More powerful than your stock infantry unit, they can be deployed from the structure at which you'd normally build a Marine, Marauder or Firebat. These extra strength "elite" soldiers are good to have around, as they can help fortify a budding squadron.

Based on the seven missions we played, the proceeds Raynor nets from completing a mission usually amounts to two to three technology upgrades or the hiring of mercenary squad and one upgrade. Some of the game's greedier missions earn Raynor's team more money than the more charitable ones.

Fortunately, both the materialistic and merciful missions are a hell of a lot of fun.

One section that we played consisted of Raynor's forces trying to earn as much cash as quickly as possible. Farming for minerals and gas isn't the draw here, it's the defense against regular waves of enemies and the cyclical flooding of the planet with lava. Add to that the fact that players must be mindful of their own spending—all those minerals go into one pool of funds—and the multi-tasking required gets, well, about as fun as multi-tasking gets.

Another change to the standard formula was a spooky night and day cycle that had us on the hunt for enemies during the day, retreating to base at night, as hordes of enemies would attack only after dark.

Throughout these missions, Blizzard spices up the action with unique, single-player campaign-only units, just for fun.

We racked up about 7 hours of play time with StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, revisiting some missions on harder difficulties, some just to satisfy a completionist itch. Reaching that mark put us about a third of the way through the single-player campaign in terms of mission count—there were 26 missions mentioned in the build we played.

But in terms of how that ultimately plays out in terms of what one can do in single-player, when including splitting story arcs, research missions in the lab and replaying levels on higher difficulty for extra achievements, remains to be seen. StarCraft II's single-player mode looks meaty, far more robust in terms of scope and presentation than what we were expecting.

StarCraft II's units and structures feel much more broad in their scope than what we've seen in the game's multiplayer mode—all those upgrades would be nothing short of impossible to balance. It's clear that Blizzard is heavily investing in both single and multiplayer for Wings of Liberty. The storytelling in the Terran campaign is expert, with plenty to dig deep into should players want to hear every single word of spoken dialogue, through which bits and pieces of backstory are delivered.

The decision to split StarCraft II into three separate campaigns was, obviously, concerning. But the amount of content that Blizzard appears to be packing into the first third of that trilogy allays most of those concerns. There's an incredible amount of game here.

Now we just want to see how they're going to do this for the Zerg. Do they even have bars?