The Starcraft 2 Trilogy followed the various Heroes of the Terran, Zerg and Protoss Empires as they fought the Universe threatening evil of Amon who was fortold by the Xel'Naga prophecies. The trilogy concluded with the defeat of the Big Bad Amon, which wrapped up the epic story of the Starcraft Universe which began so many decades ago.
However, Blizzard wasn't content to finish off the journey without one last final farewell in the form of three DLCs (released in 2016 and now purchasable in a single pack) in the for of Nova: Convert Ops. It is a final love letter to fans from the development team as well as an exploration of the extreme limits of the Starcraft 2 game engine.
The game is set in the years following the epic main trilogy, with the Terran Emperor Valerian Mengsk trying to hold the Empire together amid widespread dissent from internal factions resisting peace and alien integration under a "weak" ruler. All the Heroes from the original trilogy have passed on and the era belongs to new heroes.
You are introduced to your avatar, Nova the Terran Ghost Assassin, waking up in a weird scientific facility, it is a bit of strange place... but as there appears to be something a bit off about the whole affair. In many ways, the beginning cut-scene does resemble the beginning of Kerrigan's (The Zerg Queen of Blades) campaign, however, in Kerrigan's case she was in full control of her faculties and powers....
... when this message flashes across Nova's AR Vision, it is time to cause mayhem, escape and figure out what the hell is going on! So begins the last episode in the epic Saga!
Soon after the escape, you report back in to the Terran Empire... who promptly inform you that you have been missing for an extended period of time, and sighted causing terrorist acts of war across the Empire. So begins the last episode in the epic Saga!
The opening tutorial mission (The Escape) introduces some of Nova's skill set and lays the ground work for how the game will play out in the rest of the DLCs. In previous campaigns of Starcraft 2, there has been a bit of differing emphasis on the Heroes versus the faction units. The Zerg campaign and Epilogue placed an emphasis on the Hero units in the gameplay whilst the Terran and Protoss campaigns had a larger emphasis on the faction units.
Covert Ops, as possibly hinted at in the name, places a huge emphasis and focus upon Nova as the Hero unit with the game playing out more like a top down RPG than a traditional RTS game. That said, it isn't quite as hardcore as a true RPG and it still retains the roots of the RTS genre in later missions.
Covert Ops really does push the limits of the Starcraft 2 game engine, and you can tell that the development team had a good team of pushing the old warhorse to the extremes. Missions like this motorcycle escape is completely alien to the Starcraft 2 formula, and when the boss fights are thrown in, you can see some hints of old retro games like Contra popping in there!
That said, there is only so much that you can modify a game engine beyond what it was designed to do.... so, for much of the game, you will be in the familiar territory of the Starcraft 2 experience. However, there is very little in the way of base building... which is a nice change, as the base building in Starcraft 2 was always a bit limited and pretty linear in any case.
Before each mission, you are presented with a bit of a Intelligence report which should lead you down the path of which Equipment and Unit Upgrades you should equip. Unlike previous campaigns, your upgrades aren't hard wired with each selection, instead the unit upgrades are modular and interchangeable between units whilst Nova's equipment is dependent only upon available equipment slots.
Every Equipment selection changes the various powers and attributes that Nova has available to her. Certain upgrades make her a Stealth machine, whilst others focus on Tanking abilities or Charges for ability use. Likewise, different weapon selections can turn her from a close combat Ninja to a long ranged Sniper. The way that you equip her will depend both upon your preferred play-style and your reaction to the Intelligence Report.
Unit Upgrades change the attributes of the units that are equipped with the modular pieces. These can range from passive bonuses through to some interesting upgrades that significantly alter the tactics and deployment of those units. My favourite upgrade was the jump jets attached to Siege Tanks, allowing them to jump to otherwise inaccessible locations which gave them immunity to normal melee ground units in addition to vastly increased range.
Although all of this modularity is supposed to guide you to optimal mission equipment and upgrades, in practice you are more likely to find a preferred equipment and upgrade set and then just stick to it. The game isn't so challenging that you need to get every last minute advantage over the enemy, and so it becomes more of a pain in the arse to swap things around before every single mission!
Visuals, Sound and Performance
As I have mentioned in the previous campaign reviews of the Starcraft 2 trilogy, the game engine is pretty ancient by modern standards. The in-game viewpoint is too close to the battlefield and the zooming is pretty much non-existent in comparison to games of today. The actual in game assets aren't really anything to write home about either... but the big plus is that the game will run on pretty much most hardware (laptop or otherwise...) with a dedicated GPU. I would even hazard a guess that even a modern integrated GPU from Intel or AMD would do the trick (but don't take my word for it... it is just a guess...).
However, the cut scenes and the space soap story is the real reason to play... and in that case, the cut-scenes still look great!... and the story is as cheesy as it always was!
Nova: Covert Ops is the final love letter from the Blizzard team to their legion of Starcraft 2 fans. There isn't anything really radically new from the extended Starcraft 2 experience, but in many ways, it is just a nice warm farewell to the game which continues to be a fan favourite in the eSports sphere (especially in Korea).
It is a touching way to finish the saga, and a must play for those of us who started the Starcraft journey so many decades ago!
Played at 1080p (144Hz) on:
Intel BX80662I76700 Core i7-6700 Prozessor (3,4GHz)
6GB EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 SC GAMING
Ballistix Sport LT 16GB DDR4
Samsung 960 EVO M.2 512GB
S4 Mini Case (NFC Systems)
Splinterlands (aka the best blockchain game out there!)
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