WARNING - Under the Dominion Articles of Allegiance, I'm obligated to inform of potential SPOILERS related not only to this DLC, but the based expansion (Legacy of the Void), additional StarCraft-verse material and even books. Read by your self-discretion and risk.
It's a few years since the EndWar. Aiur was reclaimed. An alien would-be god is dead. Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan are off the picture, peace is among Protoss and Terrans for the first time, the Zerg are on their lone corner, and everyone seems to be living happily ever after. Well, just not Emperor Valerian Mengsk, Admiral Matt Horner and the remainder of the Terran Dominion... Typical.
I'm DeltaCadimus, your beloved reviewer, and if there's something 'The Force Awakens' clearly taught us (Besides that virtually kitbashing three Star Wars films in one works fine), is that just because the big evil is done for, it doesn't mean all other problems just vanish into thin air. The aliens have calmed down, a bit, but the humans... Oh, the humans... This is the Nova mini-campaign DLC for Legacy of the Void, and just from the previews and what was delivered, what I can safely declare, now, is that I guess Heart of the Swarm was simply Wings of Liberty's hangover. *Ba Dum Tss*
Talking about DLC is pretty much like picking peanut butter (No, I'm not making any funny remarks of the latest Overwatch short, [P.S. That was awesome]). Some labels are the créme-de-la-créme, others are just downright mandatorily forgettable. Because of companies like EA, Ubisoft, THQ and others, DLC almost became like a synonimous to blasphemy, especially when it comes down to a single skin or animation being charged twice it's worth. I tire of using these examples I used before, but they are about the best and the only ones I have: Warhammer: Total War had locked an entire core faction, that should be included in the game, to be unlocked in pre-launch sales so to get an early profit. Star Wars: Battlefront has expensive editions which merely unlock a couple of Season Passes, weapons that can be unlocked across the game (i.e. Han Solo's Blaster and Ion Grenades) and a few victory dance animations. And Batman: Arkham Knight released some side-character campaigns that feel more like mini-games, the only exception worth mentioning being the Season of Infamy collection, for it's story.
Fortunately, the rule of 'an exception to each rule' goes out strong, at times, and these times we're often rewarded with much more than what we paid for. Stuff like the expansion to Anno 2070, the 'Cold, Cold Heart' DLC for Arkham Origins... And now Nova Covert Ops.
You heard it right, kids, this DLC, though just being the first third, IS worth buying. Not only that, it makes you want to buy it, a very rare instance and a much more profitable strategy than 'buy this because it's cool' or 'it's needed to progress'. And for the cheap investiment of the three-part bundle I've pre-bought, I'm thinking, for the first time, that this DLC should've been charged more, for the involved persons' efforts in it! Yes, this is the purest insanity I'll speak on the web, but this DLC deserved to be expensive.
Story and a bit of a Conspiracy Nut
The resume of the story, above, virtually sets about what's going on. But while Nova at least appeared a bit in WoL and HotS, she was mysteriously absent in LotV, even prior to the final fight. That's because she's just woke up in an unknown facility without any memory of the assignment that brought her there as well as the current situation. What she finds out is that the Dominion is at a crisis, as the Zerg inexplicably have resumed their attacks against humanity, while Valerian's rule is also challenged by a separate paramilitary force, the Defenders of Man, claiming to protect humanity but openly defying the Dominion that helped saved a whole universe at a big expense. It's up to Nova, fighting for her life, to escape her captivity, remember and complete her original mission all the while uncovering a dangerous conspiracy that, as per obligatory cliché, could mean the end of the Dominion that saved and recruited her in the past. All while also exploring parts of Nova's backstory (Made already exposed by the number of books and comics) and her past life and connections.
The plot, as you expected, is about as standard 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' and 'Mission Impossible' as you can get - You have the lone operative (Or not so lonely, given you can command other soldiers) being forced to survive on her own, aided by her government or not, the smokescreen organization and the real threat behind it, the shady plot, the past getting in the middle of it, intentional or not and you have the battles in between. But what's apparent, judging by the first missions, is that what actually matters is the execution and not the planning, and here it happens to actually work. This is something that takes a character that I didn't even find that interesting, even with the books and comics dedicated to her, and puts to work what 'StarCraft: Ghost' kind of attempted, but was cancelled because obviously the story, no matter how detached from StarCraft II it was, would be a troubling game changer. Here, it makes sense to carry on from her point of view because the main story is done for and there are other possibilities to explore, even classic ones we've already seen in the first game.
I say this based on the very setting that the DLC establishes, in which 'Emperor Valerian struggles to address a resurgence in Zerg attacks'. Call me a conspiracy theory nutjob, but this far easier to deduce even prior to the release - let's consider, in a logical sense, how this is out of place, especially for the Zerg Swarm: Even though it was a few years since LotV, this is a force that just came out of an apocalyptic war and was too depleted and exhausted in numbers and resources to simply start to pick up a fight with the Dominion or even the Protoss shortly after. And the Swarm is definitely different from what the Dominion faced when Arcturus was in charge, where they attacked Terran colonies indiscriminately and infested and killed whole populations. This Swarm definitely sounds one that'd only react if it were ever provoked or worse, lured. This leads to the obvious, semi-spoiler conclusion: Through Psi-Emitters or some similar gimmick, the Zerg attacks are being manufactured, pretty much in the same style Arcturus did against the Confederacy. History repeating itself.
In a way, this also links to the informations Raynor exposed back in WoL, as the recordings prove two things: That Arcturus had found a way to lure Zerg where he wanted, the Psi-Emitters and Ghosts, and he used it to destroy an enemy right at the head and take over everything. With these informations made public, especially the Emitters, anyone with the resources could manufacture it and use it as a weapon. And the convenient disappearance of multiple Ghosts, not just Nova, lends further strength to this theory.
And, lastly, because there's little info, yet, the convenient formation of the 'Defenders of Man', pretty much like the Sons of Korhal. Are they the obvious villains and culprits behind the Zerg attacks, in an ironic sense of history repeating itself? They definitely could be, or even not, maybe they're just a smokescreen to the real villains, or maybe they were a true reaction to the Dominion's difficulty in handling the Zerg, and are merely being used as either convenient useful tools or scapegoats by using people within their ranks. Now, this last one would be fun to explore because even if they didn't do it and the Dominion is innocent, there'll always be the divide between these groups because one has true intentions but no power, but the other has power but dubious intentions and there's the famous 'Who watches the Watchmen' thing. This is sort of the divide that the upcoming 'CA: Civil War' movie pretends to explore, and the gray zone that's actually difficult to figure out. But hey, they can still be the real responsible for all needless deaths across the Sector, maybe they have the intention of taking down Valerian and taking over, but until the whole scene is exposed, it all remains in theory, and that's what's best in these sort of stories, you know the villain will show up and you'll fight and defeat him, but you don't know whom he clearly is or his motivations.
Conspiracy theories aside, since it's a Nova campaign, a flurry of new characters, solely Terran, are introduced, along with the old comebacks like Swann, Valerian and Horner. One in particular I could safely bet should be included, taking from the novel's universe, is Malcolm 'Mal' Kelerchian, the wrangler. Not only does he play a core part in Nova's backstory, given he 'recruited' her for the Ghost Program, but also serves as a semi-sidekick, being a pilot, a former detective and being able to recognize and bring in other telepaths for the Dominion ('Teeps' in the Starcraft slang). As for Tosh, he could be alive or not, but definitely we'll need a final answer on the WoL choices dilemma. But given Blizzard stated they'd personally go for the option-A route (Meaning Raynor saved Haven from the Protoss and helped Tosh bust New Folsom), I'd bet he'll be, if only a chaotic third-party ally, like Catwoman to Batman in Arkham City.
Since I've mentioned the 'Captain America' movies, one could safely assume that while this is not the 'dream dreamy' Covert Ops gameplay you'd expect, but remember, it's just a third of the way, and a lot can happen from here to there. But the way it's done makes you look like you're actually playing a stealth agent (With a few additions I'm sure EivindL would wish he delayed his Amber Sun campaign), at least on the installation scenery, while on the macro set you look like you're actually playing as the Dominion SHIELD. Not only you have Siege Tanks capable of jumping up and down cliffs, but also Reapers which can set up Spider Mines and even Stimpacks that actually *heal* soldiers instead of taking a few damage as a price for the attack speed boost. There are also other fun additions like installation-meant infantry, flame turret obstacles and even a minigame are presented in so much content for so few maps. But hey, Whispers of Oblivion, the Zeratul prologue campaign to LotV, also gave a lot more than we expected, so we're okay with that.
The levels themselves, except the first one, have a special feel to them, almost reminding me of Mental Omega, one of my favorite and highly recommended Red Alert 2 mods/campaigns, but in a good way - Not only your macro, but your micro skills are somewhat put to the test, like how you'll use Nova to an extent (Fortunately not as unbalanced as Kerrigan was...), how well can you sneak in without killing anyone, how can you clean a bonus objective with only Reapers and Nova in a jetpack or how well and quickly can you clean positions without having to depend on Nukes.
Speaking of new additions, we also get a flurry of new doodads and assets we didn't think would be that *gigantic*. Installation cliffs, an iceworld almost like Braxis (Though it's not, why not make it a cool cameo while you're at it, Blizzard!?), and even Tarsonis, with it's own bridges, destroyed buildings and even interiors. It seems half of a work is done for a modder to make the un-destroyed versions and thus already plan his own version of Rebel Yell. There are also a plenty of new skins for both the Nova faction units, winter skins we didn't see since the glory days of WarCraft II, and new portraits to play with. StarCraft II, you can feel, is literally pushing it's boundaries to become bigger and bigger and even better. And if the Nova DLC already gave us this sweet flurry, I wonder what the next DLC (No, I'm resisting my fanboy side, here!) will bring up...
Well, where else can I go from there? It's only three missions, but the plot is sure to thicken up and what we have here will keep us entertained enough 'til the launch of the second trio of missions. But the way it was done here, geez, what can I say but 'Strap on the seatbelt, 'coz it's pitching to be a hell of a ride'.
NOTE - 3.75/5, only because it's incomplete. The remainder I'll leave when the other two episodes are available, then I can do a more thorough review with more content.
Funny you're mentioning Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That movie is a great example for another important lesson: A story should never rely too heavily on former entries. It should be brave enough to do its own thing.
We all love Starcraft: Brood War because it was all fresh and new (that and it was a very character-driven story). On the other hand, some people hate Starcraft II because it isn't really offering anything new and is being hold back by the remaining plot points of the first game.
The overall Amon plot was used as a catalyst to push the story forward and still involve the old characters.This undermined the otherwise promising character-driven story arcs of Raynor taking revenge on Mengsk and Kerrigan trying to redeem herself.
To be honest, I think the Protoss saving the galaxy from Amon is totally in-character for them, so LotV could've been a strong end point - but then the Epilogue happened.
Starcraft II was too much of a direct sequel (Wings of Liberty takes place a mere four years after Brood War), whereas The Force Awakens has a 30-year gap which allows for a new world setup, new characters and new conflicts - while not going overboard with the cameos. It is, for all intents and purposes, a new story, a new journey.
Nova: Covert Ops is the same, it's all new. Nova is more or less a new character to the player, the enemy faction is new, your hero group (Dominion Covert Ops) is new. The Dominion as such is familiar enough, but with Valerian struggling to maintain power, even that faction's future is uncertain.
Only the world/universe is familiar, but otherwise it's a new, self-contained story and not just a sequel.
Damn, I concur, your review makes me want to buy this.
Too bad that when I watched mission playthrough story-wise it seemed to stick to blizzards now favorite "player empowerment trip" approach. And I just can't stomach it anymore. But I'm sure it's gonna be a great experience for those who want to feel strong, awesome and important.
i pretty much assumed tosh's ppl are the evil ones in this campaign. if i will be right i definitly wont buy it.
This scares me because it's a very real possibility. It'd put a damp on the story, but I can totally imagine Blizzard going "hey let's grab back that old character, it'll be a nice reappearance!". They need to come up with more new, strong characters that can stand on their own, like they did in LotV.
Either way, I just bought it. What changed my mind was all the good reviews, coupled with me remembering that for what it's worth, WoL, HotS and LotV still have some of the best and most enjoyable gameplay out there that I've witnessed in the past few years. I mean - worst case scenario I'll just enjoy myself again for a couple of hours.
I thought it was fun. New stuff all around - mechanics, skins, Battletoads, etc. Not to sound like an asshole, but the price point was never a concern of mine so I was willing to just buy it and if it turned out not great I wasn't really out much. Regardless, it was enjoyable... three maps are three maps and they were neat. I'm not sure how much more can really be said about such a small amount of content.
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I liked the DLC a lot, and will be looking forward to the remaining parts. The stealth parts were amazing. Wish those features existed while I was making my campaigns. I can't really think of anything bad to say to about it, really. It's fun, well-paced, and you get a lot of cool toys. The storyline is darker, which is nice, and Nova is a great main that should have her due in the universe now.
A few of us had a relatively big discussion in this thread a long time ago, and some valid points were raised in Blizzard's defense. I feel like Blizzard is likely still overcharging somewhat, but at a cost of 15 bucks for all 9 missions things are looking a lot less dramatic than I originally thought they'd be. I suppose I'll see whether it was worth the money when I finish the missions...
Well, I would never say that price point shouldn't be a concern for others, only myself. Maybe I was just confused to the purpose of this essay-length review if not to best lay out more information for others to decide whether to spend their money or not.
All I can say is that if money is not the reason to avoid these mission packs, then I personally advocate for them because they were fun to play. There are also some lore snobs who consider their experience ruined by things not gameplay related at all, whether it's in these mission packs or new Co-op commanders (and that's fine, more power to them). I suppose it's all about what you value and I value playability/enjoyment over pretty much anything else unless there are very jarring continuity errors or the price is bizarrely too high.