The StarCraft II trilogy follows a similar trajectory to that of The Lord Of The Rings films. Both The Fellowship Of The Ring and Wings Of Liberty drew in an established fan base seeking a grand update to a genre-defining work while delivering a spectacular first installment that helped expand on that appeal. While important to their stories, the second portion of both series’ were their weakest, and while the final contribution doesn’t quite reach the highs of the series’ beginning, and necessarily devotes a lot of time to epilogue, Legacy Of The Void is just as satisfying as Return Of The King.
With Wings Of Liberty following the Terrans (humans) and Heart Of The Swarm devoted to the Zerg (an insectoid alien hive-mind), Legacy Of The Void turns the focus to the series’ third race: the Protoss. A society of technologically advanced and devout psychic aliens, the Protoss have been responsible for some of the most noble and heroic deeds in the series. They continue to live up to that reputation as they head into the final confrontation with Amon, an ancient alien who’s been manipulating all three races with the intent of enslaving them and destroying all life in the universe.
There are a few prologue missions that connect the events of Heart Of The Swarm to the happenings of Legacy Of The Void (if you haven’t played StarCraft II in a while, you might want to warm up before diving right in as neither expansion offers the handholding reminder of how to play that you’ll get in the base campaign), but after those, the action heats up and doesn’t slow. It’s a far cry from the humor and cast of weird characters that made Wings Of Liberty so good, since the Protoss are a rather dignified lot thrust into a grave situation, but the conflicts and relationships that develop between your crew are certainly more satisfying than the ones found in Heart Of The Swarm.
Legacy Of The Void also abandons Heart Of The Swarm’s focus on leveling up a special hero unit among your larger battalion and instead sticks to the army building the game does best. Players also get the choice to use a variety of systems on their mothership to make things easier, whether that involves blowing up enemies from orbit or letting you quickly drop in reinforcements. The campaign’s levels continue to have delightful variety, ranging from a brutal mission to hold onto a base as an endless Zerg army swarms in to backing up the Terrans when their puny minds are fried by the psychic energy of Amon’s minions.
StarCraft has endured for so long not for its campaign but for its multiplayer appeal, and Legacy Of The Void enhances that with an entirely new option beyond the standard player-versus-player or player-versus-computer matches. New cooperative missions allow two players to band together and complete a mission that more closely mirrors those of the campaign mode than the standard multiplayer goal of “destroy all the enemies’ bases.” Players assume the role of a special commander character and build up their armies to fulfill objectives, such as destroying a number of enemy ships before they can escape the map. Bonus tasks, like protecting allied vessels while they gather data, give additional experience points you can use to unlock new abilities for the next match.
Your choice of leader and the mission at hand have a dramatic effect on your army-building strategy, which has the admirable result of breaking players out of tried and true strategies that they’ve may have adopted over the years—though each faction’s smattering of new units shakes these up, too. The co-op mode also provides a better way for less competitive players to share the game with friends than joining them for a relatively mindless slaughter of computer-controlled armies. Blizzard has already pledged to keep rolling out new missions, which, combined with the mode’s match-to-match levelling up system that opens up new army units and abilities, promises to make this Legacy Of The Void’s most lasting contribution.
You can also join a buddy in Archon mode, where both of you control the same army in a face-off against an opposing duo. It’s an interesting idea, but in practice, it’s proof that two heads aren’t always better than one. Unless you’re very in tune with your ally, you’re likely to find some serious frustration caused by pointlessly duplicating your efforts, if not a tendency to outright trip over each other.
A good trilogy is a hard thing to pull off. Far more common than success stories like Return Of The King are third installments like The Dark Knight Rises or The Godfather Part III, where the series ends with a fizzle rather than a bang. Legacy Of The Void rises to this trilogy-concluding challenge. It closes the door on a story that started 17 years ago but opens new ones of its own with a multiplayer mode that has the promise to live on for years to come.