If there exist two genres that are quintessentially PC affairs, it’s the RTS and the Western RPG. However, they’re seen as entirely different beasts, and as such, there aren’t as many fans of both genres as you might think. Enter StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, which adds many small WRPG enhancements to the RTS mix. Surprisingly, while they don’t alter the core gameplay very much, they do add appeal for fans of both genres, making strides towards reconciling the two genres.
Anyone who was playing PC RPGs during the late 1990s knows the formula for creating a world and user interface. The environments were made up of several interconnected maps that display from an almost-overhead viewpoint with a mouse-based control system that allows you to send characters to different ends of the map to do different things simultaneously. Almost every computer RPG worked like this, from Baldur’s Gate to Planescape: Torment. Looking at the RTS with this in mind, it becomes obvious that they are very nearly mechanically identical from the controls to the map structure. In essence, you are doing the same thing in two different genres.
The differences are where many people start to polarize and favor one over the other. The WRPG emphasize character building and dialogue while the RTS focuses on pure strategy. Wings of Liberty looks to merge the two in small but meaningful ways. There is now a between-mission hub where you can talk to NPCs if you wish, revealing small details about the person and the relationship with the main character. As well, the mission structure is now more open. Instead of a linear campaign, you now have choices between several missions. At the end of each mission, you are rewarded with money and research points that can be used to upgrade specific units. In a way, it echoes Mass Effect 2’s simplified mission-based experience system almost perfectly.
In the end, StarCraft 2 is still very much an RTS. However, it does provide some much-needed variety between missions and allows for world-building that isn’t seen as much in the genre, something that very much appeals to the RPG fan. And while these enhancements don’t end up creating a full-fledged merger of the two genres, with Heart of the Swarm introducing Hero characters that level up, the day may soon come when this type of fusion is fully realized.