It's been 17 years since the original launch of StarCraft, the seminal real-time strategy game that both revolutionised competitive gaming and went on to spawn some of the world's most popular games, like Dota and League of Legends. In the next few months, or maybe years — this is Blizzard, after all — that long journey will finally be over.
For those of us who have been with StarCraft since the beginning, that's a crazy thought. We first met Raynor, Kerrigan, and Zeratul way back in 1998, when Clinton was still in office and Will Smith had just released the equally seminal track Gettin' Jiggy wit It. Now, nearly two decades later, as we approach the launch of the third and final StarCraft II game, Legacy of the Void, it's time to accept that this might be the last we ever see of our favourite disgraced marine, psychopathic zerg queen, and moody dark templar.
"This is the resolution of 17 years of story-telling," Tim Morten, lead producer on the game, told me during an interview at E3 in Los Angeles earlier this month. He wanted to make it clear that, although every previous StarCraft game has ended with a cliffhanger of some sort, this is it. This is the finale.
"It's the end of this story," he said. "Could there be arcs that involve [these characters] in the future? Anything's possible. But we didn't want to cop out with the 'to be continued' - this is a resolution to this story."
Legacy of the Void, which has no release date yet but will likely be out either this year or in early 2016, will tie up all of the teases and hints Blizzard has been dropping for years and years now. We'll finally find out what the deal is with Amon, and the Xel'Naga, and the hybrids. Maybe we'll finally get a full explanation for Duran/Narud. Hopefully we'll get to see more amazing Kerrigan/Raynor one-liners.
The folks at Blizzard, for their part, are promising something really special.
"This story is super epic," said lead story designer Matt Morris. "Obviously everyone's gonna say that about their game, but this one, this one's got some teeth in it and I think this is something people are gonna remember eight, 10, 20 years from now."
It will all start with a prologue called Whispers of Oblivion — a free three-mission story that bridges Legacy with the last expansion, 2013's Heart of the Swarm. This prologue will explain what Zeratul has been up to over the past few years, and it will be free for everyone. You can get early access if you pre-purchase Legacy — a compelling reason to not listen to Luke, if you have faith that the game won't be broken when it ships. (Given that both previous SCII games have been excellent, polished games, I'm not too worried about Legacy of the Void going the way of Arkham Knight.)
I had a chance to play the first mission of Whispers of Oblivion at E3 earlier this month — well, most of it, until I hit a blue screen of death, which is not unusual for an E3 demo — and I can confirm that it is indeed StarCraft! You're tasked with building a base, forming an army, and rescuing templar from terran prisons (while avoiding Kerrigan's zerg swarm). The mission I saw didn't stand out much, but it was fun as hell, because, well, StarCraft is fun as hell.
Incredibly, the folks behind StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void say despite the fact that it's been 17 years, they're still maintaining the original vision that Blizzard writer Chris Metzen and crew dreamed up way back in the mid-90s. For the most part, they say, they're going to hit the same story beats that have been planned for two decades. "The big-picture stuff has been pretty clear — we havent moved off that," said Morris. "[Although] he journey, getting to the point has changed over time."
And now we're almost there. The story's almost over. Ultimately, the single-player legacy of StarCraft could come down to one final expansion with a fitting name. I asked Blizzard: are you guys feeling the pressure? Is it stressful to have to put the bow on such a huge, sprawling, highly-anticipated story?
"I wouldn't say it's as much pressure as, there's a little bit of bittersweetness," Morten said. "Having gone through the arc with these characters, being wrapped up in the story. It's not as much pressure as it is emotion."