Editor's note: Given StarCraft 2's split between single-player and multiplayer - and the different demands made by both modes - we're splitting our impressions, leading with this piece by Paul Dean on the campaign. We'll be following up with a feature on the multiplayer in the near future.
The protoss finally have their turn. Those that must construct additional pylons have waited more than five years now for their own StarCraft 2 campaign - an unfortunate side effect that comes with splitting the story across three parts. But here we are, at the very end, and that brings with it some different expectations. Not only will Legacy of the Void conclude a story that first began in 1998, but this is also Blizzard's last chance to show players what a StarCraft 2 campaign can achieve.
The Protoss replace the Zerg as the focus of StarCraft 2's final expansion, Legacy of the Void, and if you're as careless and lazy a StarCraft player as I am in single-player, that means you're going to have to unlearn some very questionable behaviour. I played through most of Heart of the Swarm's campaign leaning on F2 rather heavily: I'd mass my slithering, rupturing, chittering horrors, and then I'd fling them directly at the next objective marker as one. It's a stupid, wasteful approach, and it only really worked on the lower difficulty settings, but it was fun and it felt appropriate. The Zerg are rabid, frenzied, drooling monsters. At least they were when I was in charge.
For around two years of my gaming life I was obsessed with Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. I got decent at it too, hovering around Platinum League with occasional forays into Diamond - the Koreans were hardly quaking in their boots, but I could hold my own at a reasonable level. More importantly I loved Starcraft 2. I watched it all the time, followed the tournaments and the Korean GSL, and studied the strategies of players I especially admired. After a while I moved onto other things, then 2013's Heart of the Swarm pulled me right back in - new units being the most obvious draw, but the shaking up of a tired metagame being the real secret sauce.
For hundreds of thousands of people StarCraft 2 is an ultra hardcore competitive multiplayer game built for eSports and little else. For them playing and hopefully winning ranked matches is all that matters.
Were you ever a normal gamer?
Last night, outside GAME's flagship store on Oxford Street, London, hundreds of PC gamers queued to buy Blizzard's real-time strategy sequel StarCraft II. It wasn't exactly chaos - more like orderly enthusiasm - but it was fun nonetheless.
Sitting in an office in the memorabilia-filled halls of Blizzard's nerve-centre in southern California, Rob Pardo is unassuming, chirpy and sincere - a manner which belies the fact that this is unquestionably one of the most influential men in the games business.
It's probably not deliberate, but Blizzard seems determined to drive home just how inadequate I am as a gamer. Within minutes of arriving at the company's imposing Southern California base - the giant statue of an orc riding a wolf in the courtyard is under renovation by a team of builders, it transpires - I'm seated in a private cinema to watch some StarCraft II matches in progress.
Peculiar bedfellows, perhaps? There was always going to be a clash somewhere in this year's Coming Attractions as we sorted our way through 12 categories, but you could argue there's more that unites fighting and strategy than divides them. Both are about trying to take maximum of advantage of your opposition's weaknesses, both reward patience, concentration and consideration, and as of Red Alert 3 both have a thing for impractical women's clothing.
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Mike Morhaime is the chief executive of Blizzard Entertainment, co-founded with his college buddies Allen Adham and Frank Pearce under the name Silicon & Synapse in 1991. Over the next 17 years it built a formidable name for itself in real-time strategy (Warcraft and StarCraft), action RPG (Diablo), and more recently massively multiplayer gaming, with World of Warcraft, the proverbial golden egg that has brought in 10 million subscribers. Blizzard is known for its perfectionism, its lengthy, iterative development process, its early embrace of online multiplayer gaming, and its staunch support of the PC and even Mac as gaming platforms.
With Battle.net, Diablo and WOW behind them, it's probably fair to suggest that PC gamers have spent more millions of hours on Blizzard's games than any other company's. Which is mental. With that in mind, we recently spent an hour chatting to three team leads on the original, now all working inside Blizzard on StarCraft II.
Art is important to Blizzard. The offices of the World of Warcraft developer, currently working on RTS sequel StarCraft II, are plastered with it. Vivid, colourful and extravagant concept art is hung everywhere. The offices even have a curator, part of whose job description is to ensure that huge floor-to-ceiling pieces are displayed around the campus. One such piece is in the canteen - a jolly painting of drinking dwarves by Samwise Didier.
StarCraft II is fast. Really, really fast. But lead designer Dustin Browder talks faster. The bald-headed, sharp-eyed veteran of Command & Conquer titles, hired in by Blizzard to take command of this sequel to its decade-old real-time strategy warhorse, jumps into questions halfway through and peppers you with rattling bursts of ideas and arguments. It's like he's involved in a constant game of StarCraft II in his head, where precision, pre-emption, and speed of execution are absolutely everything.