StarCraft II: Nova Covert Ops, Chapter 1

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Investigate a mysterious terrorist group and their plan for mankind.

PC Release: March 29, 2016

By Ian Coppock

What’s this? There’s more StarCraft II content floating around out there? Ian, I thought you said Legacy of the Void was the final chapter? I thought that it was the end-all for the StarCraft II trilogy? So did I, but Blizzard has decided to release new stories in the StarCraft universe to keep us engaged with the series. This year they’re going to release a series of episodes focusing on the human character Nova Terra, and a new threat she’ll have to combat post-Legacy of the Void. The first episode in this new story was released about a month ago; let’s see how it holds up good ole scrutiny.

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Nova Covert Ops is a series of StarCraft II episodes set long after StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void. In that game, the entire universe was imperiled by the return of the dark god Amon, and the Protoss rose up to pave the way for his demise. I won’t spoil, but obviously if we’re reviewing a new story after all that, it follows that not everything went to shit. Just wanted to point that out before anyone accuses me of spilling too many beans.

Anyway, Nova Covert Ops is set four years after Legacy of the Void. The central character of the story is Nova Terra, a psychic covert operative in the employ of the Terran Dominion. Nova is a complicated character in the world of video games; she was set to star in a third-person shooter called StarCraft: Ghost in the early 2000s, but Blizzard canceled the project and focused on releasing World of Warcraft. Though Ghost never came out, Blizzard decided to save the character, and now Nova gets her long-delayed moment in the sun.

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Nova is the Terran Dominion’s most accomplished covert operative and a deadly assassin.

In the months preceding Nova Covert Ops, a clandestine organization called the Defenders of Man crops up on the Dominion’s radar. Emperor Valerian Mengsk sends Nova in to investigate, but she vanishes outside a Defenders compound and is listed as MIA.

Months later, Nova wakes up with amnesia and is addressed as “agent” by a Defenders of Man admin. With the help of a few other incarcerated operatives, Nova breaks out of the Defenders’ custody and returns to Dominion space, intent on figuring out what the group is up to.

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The phrase “detective work” usually brings a magnifying glass to mind. With Nova, it’s a sniper rifle.

Nova’s return to the Dominion has come at an uncertain time. There have been reports of Zerg attacks on outlying human colonies, and the populace is becoming fearful of a third human-Zerg war. Emperor Valerian believes that the return of the Zerg could be tied up with the rise of the Defenders of Man, whose central point seems to be that he is a boy-king too young and too unwise to defend humanity.

After helping the Dominion repel a Zerg incursion, Nova is entrusted with finding and destroying the Defenders of Man. To that end, Valerian assigns her a Dominion spymaster named Riegel, as well as the Griffin, a black ops frigate designed for stealth. Now at the helm of her own starship and a small but deadly contingent of special ops soldiers, Nova jets off into the stars after the Defenders of Man.

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Oooooh, I LIKE that!

In case it wasn’t obvious by now, the Nova Covert Ops missions are a human campaign. Nova’s cutting-edge task force is committed to her mission, and each unit receives a sleek black ops makeover (though this change is purely cosmetic).

Between each mission, you can purchase upgrades for your troops that improve their performance on the battlefield; equipping your infantry with scopes will increase your units’ range of fire, and so on. You get to pick these upgrades between missions, but you can only apply them to one group of soldiers at a time. Curious, isn’t it? We’re working for the biggest human military in history, but we have to pass around the armor-piercing bullets? Which class of soldier gets to receive bacon?

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Nova’s combat group is a cut above the rank-and-file. You can get equipment that normal Dominion troops only dream of.

Like Kerrigan in StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Nova is a playable unit who fights alongside her soldiers. She can shoot guns with the best of ’em and them teleport away if the battle gets too hairy. Nova has her own armory replete with sniper rifles, shotguns, jetpacks, all kinds of crazy gadgets. Whether you prefer playing as a silent sniper or a rip-roaring shotgunner, you can customize Nova to match your playstyle.

Now; all of this customization sounds awesome, but the issue with it is that Chapter 1 of this Covert Ops business… only has three missions! Thus far you only get two chances to upgrade your forces and their commander. It says “three missions” right on the package, I know, but we have yet to see this system reach its full potential. Hopefully it will be fleshed out in subsequent episodes, but for now it remains embryonic.

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Sniper rifle, turbojet jumpsuit, Camelbak… okay I’m ready!

Even though Nova Covert Ops only has three missions so far, I’m pleased to announce that they’re all far and away better designed than in Legacy of the Void. Legacy‘s underwhelming, military might-based maps were a far cry from the creativity we saw in Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm, but Nova Covert Ops is here to put StarCraft II back on track.

Two of the three missions in Chapter 1 are a mix of conventional real-time strategy combat, and linear levels featuring Nova going solo. In these latter areas, Nova’s left to explore Defenders of Man facilities by herself, but she’s hardly imperiled without her troops to back her up. Nova’s a Ghost agent, so she can turn invisible and use a few psychic powers. Her sniper rifle and grenades can make short work of human foes, but watch out for traps. Defenders of Man bases are loaded with enough security cameras and wall-mounted flamethrowers to give even the Dominion’s best agent pause.

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Oh I can’t wait for summer barbecue!

It’s important that Nova Covert Ops contains these sequences. I had my doubts at first that this would feel like StarCraft II and not Diablo III, but aren’t we playing a secret agent, here? Having played through these levels, I have no qualms about seeing more of them in future updates. Blizzard even created a high-speed highway chase right out of an action movie to further reinforce the spy-thriller theme.

Purists need not worry, though; Nova Covert Ops has plenty of conventional real-time strategy content where you build bases and train units just like the good ole days. There’s one fun level where you have to fend off a two-pronged Zerg invasion from atop a mountain fortress, showing that StarCraft II is getting its mojo back when it comes to innovative level design.

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Nothing says covert ops like gray on top of dark gray.

Right now, the overall plot of Nova Covert Ops is in its infancy. We barely get a glimpse at the bigger picture before Chapter 1 is over and we’re stuck waiting for a few months until the release of Chapter 2. Having said that, the story does bear some promise. Nova is written as an assertive and innovative female protagonist in a medium sorely lacking either type of character, though I don’t understand why she doesn’t wear a helmet.

We also get a few fleeting glimpses of the StarCraft universe post-Amon. Nova Covert Ops bears the responsibility of making the stakes feel high after a galaxy-wide invasion by an evil god, and thus far it’s a responsibility still in the making.

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Nova’s off to a good start as an interesting character.

Even though Nova Covert Ops bears some promising signs, like a blend of stealth and strategy gameplay and a character who gets her long-overdue spotlight, I wouldn’t recommend picking this up quite yet. The narrative has been sewn, but it has yet to grow into something fully worth your time and money. On top of that, there are only three levels, and I finished Chapter 1 in about an hour.

So yeah, hold off on buying this until future updates are made. I will continue to review new chapters of Nova Covert Ops as they are released. It’ll be interesting to see if Blizzard will be able to capture the same sense of urgency and scale with Nova Covert Ops as they did with their main series, but right now it’s too early to tell.

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You can buy StarCraft II: Nova Covert Opts, Chapter 1 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

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