StarCraft 2 released the first episode of its expansion, Nova Covert Ops, last week.  As promised it featured three missions continuing the story of Nova Terra, a Ghost agent for the Terran Dominion.  The story this time involves Nova waking up in a strange installation with no memory of how she got there and a warning inside of her visor that the people who are pretending to employ her are actually trying to kill her.  After escaping she rejoins the Terran Dominion and learns that she has been named a traitor working with the terrorist group The Defenders of Man who are attempting to undermine Emperor Mengsk’s rule while rogue groups of Zerg attack Terran worlds for no apparent reason.

The mission pack has a fair amount of variety and is as fun as the three previous installments of StarCraft 2 but one can’t help but feel somewhat underwhelmed by how quickly it’s over, particularly after spending $7.49.  Now, in fairness, Blizzard have done their level best to stretch those three missions out as much as possible.  The first mission in the pack is an installation mission that turns into a Vulture bike escape mission mini game, the second mission is a more traditional base building mission, and the third is practically two in one with a base building section and then a separate installation.  The unit customization returns as well as the ability to customize Nova’s weaponry, gear, and abilities.  But the story barely gets going and even the most casual of StarCraft players can finish it in only a couple of hours.

NOV - 01

There are some cynics in the StarCraft fandom who have been bitter about Blizzard’s release strategy ever since it was announced that StarCraft 2 would be released in installments.  Even when the three installments were released and proved to be epic in size and scope these detractors cried foul, claiming that the company was trying to nickel and dime its fanbase.  The gaming community has been rightly incensed by some shady practices on the part of game developers that are using things like early access, downloadable content, and season passes to essentially hold ransom content which should rightfully be in the basic retailer package.  A lot of gamers simply see episodic content or the like and assume this is another company taking advantage of their fandom to take their money rather than earn it.

The gaming community has been rightly incensed by some shady practices on the part of game developers that are using things like early access, downloadable content, and season passes to essentially hold ransom content which should rightfully be in the basic retailer package.  A lot of gamers simply see episodic content or the like and assume this is another company taking advantage of their fandom to take their money rather than earn it.

The difference between what many other studios — including AAA developers — have done and what Blizzard has done is that Blizzard has not withheld any content.  The gaps between installments of StarCraft 2 were long, with a little under two years between Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm and nearly three until Legacy of the Void.  The long development times speak to a company that values quality over short turnover times.  StarCraft 2 may have split its game into three segments but those three segments individually were bigger than most RTS games before them.

And that brings us back to Nova Covert Ops.  $7.49 is a lot of money for three missions, even when they are technically five missions, but it seems pretty clear that Blizzard wants fans to spring for the $14.99 bundle which is a pretty reasonable deal for 9 missions (and the other six will likely be similarly stretched out.)  $14.99 is a more than fair price for an expansion pack, and that’s what Nova Covert Ops is.  The episodic nature is likely meant to gauge interest from fans for further explorations within this universe (or at least this game genre), to get content to the players at a faster turnaround than Blizzard’s usually glacial production schedule (so far the only thing to suffer from this is the lack of one of Blizzard’s trademark breathtaking cinematics), and to help secure funding for the completed expansion as it’s being made.  It’s that last part that will likely turn away some fans who live in fear of vaporware and that’s likely why Blizzard is offering each individual pack at $7.49 a pop.

NOV - 02

Nova Covert Ops likely wouldn’t even exist without this model and it’s an interesting new way to get more content for a game that has already finished up its run.  Not only does this model bring fans more StarCraft 2 but it can help introduce new characters and story elements that will build a solid foundation for a potential StarCraft 3 since most of the characters and threats of the first game have been either killed off or neutralized.  It’s a nice way to feed content to the fans while they wait for the next installment unlike that interminable wait between 1999 and 2010.

This is new territory for Blizzard and for RTS games but the company hasn’t given their fans a reason to mistrust them on this front.  Nova feels spare but this problem will likely be nonexistent when all three packs are released.  Nova Covert Ops Mission Pack 2 is set to release on or before Dec. 1 2016.