Things start off a little rocky with the first set of Nova Covert Ops missions, the StarCraft II story-based expansion from Blizzard. As you’re given control of Nova, after waking up with a severe case of videogame amnesia, you have to escape from a Dominion prison using some very basic stealth. The sort of stuff that only really amounts to staying outside of clearly defined fields of vision for certain enemy units. And then using the odd snipe or backstab skill to dispatch foe after foe. It’s all very simplistic and fun, but once you get to the bit where you control a Raptor attack vehicle on a highway and simply click on bits of tarmac to dodge traffic and attack incoming enemy vehicles, there’s an odd sense of playing something that feels, well, a little cheap. More fan-made mod than something that could sit alongside the great campaign missions that make up the three separate StarCraft II games.
That’s not to say that the early parts of Nova Covert Ops are bad, the introductory cinematic, voice acting, and music are all wonderful. It’s just that the first mission doesn’t compare favourably to the similarly themed missions seen in other StarCraft games. A fact that can arguably be attributed to it also serving as a tutorial of sorts. One that just so happens to make up a third of the overall Mission Pack. But even so, Nova Covert Ops is still a fantastic StarCraft II experience. Thanks mainly to the exceptional quality of the two missions that follow, which cement this expansion as what it really is. A new Terran campaign, one centred on Nova and not the exploits of Jimmy Raynor, Kerrigan, and the usual gang.
The story, which becomes genuinely engaging and tense towards the end of this fairly short taste, is set sometime after the climactic events of the StarCraft II trilogy, and sees a new threat emerge of the Zerg/Evil Terran Separatist variety. With the Terran-based Wings of Liberty released all the way back in 2011, it’s great to see all the advancements made over the years with the subsequent releases of Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void show up here. And not just with the the improved visuals.
Being in control of a Ghost unit and having access to nuclear strikes and other stealth-based skills, feels somewhat refreshing after spending considerable campaign time with the Protoss and Zerg. And the level of confidence on display with the two missions where you control not only Nova but also Terran forces, are a testament to the mission design skills at Blizzard. And how they continuously manage to create fun, engaging, and over the top sci-fi scenarios to play around in. The missions on offer here also throw you in the deep end in terms of complexity and skill required, which is great because they kind of need to cater to those that have played through all of StarCraft II.
But, with only three missions so far (and there’ll only be three per Mission Pack), this is merely a taste of what the overall Nova Covert Ops campaign will offer. Meaning you’re only getting about two hours or so of stuff to do. Following in the structure defined by Wings of Liberty and then perfected by Legacy of the Void, certain upgrades, applicable to different units and Nova herself, will fundamentally change how each mission plays out and the sorts of strategies you’ll need to employ. So there is a layer of being able to go back and replay certain missions. By giving Siege Tanks a quasi-rocket jump ability, you can set them on the tops of cliffs and set up defensive lines reminiscent of tower defence-style games. Or you can give the rocket jump ability to Hellbats and turn their flamethrower ability into a jump-in-and-melt-hordes-of-Zerg one. It’s all great stuff, but even the replay value will benefit when more missions are released.
So, even though the first Mission Pack for Nova Covert Ops can be boiled down to two great missions and one average introduction, the future is bright for StarCraft II story-based content. The fact that Nova Covert Ops exists, and serves as a new Terran campaign, make it more than just a simple bit of additional content. By continuing the StarCraft II story, with the same impeccable production design seen in the full games, Blizzard has all but ensured that Legacy of the Void was in no way the end of the great strategy series.