Disclaimer: Just because this might be considered a "negative" assessment of Starcraft 2, don't be fooled. I freaking love the game. It's probably the most excited about a game I've been in a while. Playing with friends is a blast, the single-player campaign kept me entertained throughout the whole experience, and I can see myself playing it from now until the expansion (Heart of the Swarm) comes out. This is just an assessment of Starcraft 2's story in relation to Starcraft 1 and Brood War.
Why Starcraft 2 Ruined Jim Raynor
Jim Raynor, for those who don't know, is essentially the "main character" (amongst a veritable throng of main characters) representing the Terran race in the Starcraft cannon. Raynor is an all-around likeable guy throughout. He was a small-town marshal on the also small-town planet of Mar Sara, who gets swept away by dreams of rebellion and freedom by revolutionary Arcturus Mengsk. However, as Mengsk's tactics grow more and more questionable (luring the ferocious alien Zerg to Terran worlds that oppose Mengsk and allowing the aliens to wipe out the populations), Raynor and his girlfriend Kerrigan begin to question Mengk's true loyalties. The final breaking point is when Mengsk abandons Kerrigan to the Zerg during a mission, which results in Jim fighting through Mengsk and becoming a renegade. Mengsk then becomes emperor of the Terrans and embarks on a plan to destroy not just the Zerg and Protoss, but Raynor as well.
Shortly after, Kerrigan is revealed to be not dead, but instead taken by the Zerg and changed to be their star warrior. Granted, this doesn't please Raynor much, but he knows better at that point than to fight her.
The thing about Raynor in both Starcraft 1 and Brood War is the fact that you are never really "alone" with him enough to see what makes him tick. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. It becomes a staple of Starcraft storylines that, should the crap really hit the fan, Raynor often shows up to help the good-guys overcome. During the Zerg invasion of the Protoss homeworld of Auer, Raynor shows up to help simply because he's become friends with some of the Protoss. This is despite the Protoss higher council wanting him to help them; Raynor just does the right thing when needed. At the beginning of Brood War, when Auer is collapsing on itself and the Protoss are warping to the Dark Templar world to escape, Raynor courageously volunteers (with his Protoss friend Fenix) to stay back on the ruined world of Auer to close the gate behind the fleeing Protoss.
So while Raynor often shows up to help during the worst of times, you don't really ever get to see what makes him tick. He's the "Gandalf" character of the Starcraft universe: you don't know how he has this army, or how he knows to be in a certain place in a certain time, but you certainly know he will be there if crap really gets ugly. Because of that, he has both an aura of mystery and a huge deal of respect and badassary (yes, that's now a word). Even when Fenix is killed in Brood War (by Kerrigan, of all people), and awful things keep happing to Raynor, he still puts on a good face and keeps coming back to the fight. In a game rife with characters who aren't what they seem, and where nearly every "good" character has some terrible dark underlying goal or flaw, Jim Raynor really steals the show.
And then, they made Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty
First off, what the crap happened to him? The left is his portrait from Starcraft and Brood war. You get to know this guy. You like this guy. And on the right (and in the title image) is the "new" Jim Raynor, complete with voice actor. That doesn't even look like the same person!
Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty focuses completely around Jim Raynor, to the effect that you are Jim Raynor (being a faceless "commander" in RTS games just isn't cool anymore). In it, you start with Raynor, four years past Brood War, drinking in a backwash bar and dreaming of a revolution. Well, pretty soon that revolution kicks off, and away Raynor goes on his epic adventure to extract revenge on Mengsk. Of course, Kerrigan (who has been surprisingly absent since Brood War), decides to show up in the middle, and prophetic Protoss revelations about the upcoming end of the universe don't make things easy. It's a quality popcorn plot, that hits all the right notes with regard to the plot itself, and also administering substantial fan-service complete with cliffhanger ending.
And it completely ruins everything I ever liked about Raynor, and what made him the centerpiece of my Starcraft experiences.
Let's go back to saying Raynor is like Gandalf. In Lord of the Rings, there was a very good reason Tolkien didn't go into detail about Gandalf's past. He doesn't even go into detail about his amazing resurrection, magic, or...well, anything. Gandalf is Gandalf because he must be: he's one part plot-device and one part mysterious badass. Explaining Gandalf would take away an integral part of what Gandalf is. It would completely destroy the character.
Back to Raynor. We all know he does good things for good people. But what happens when you are Raynor? Wouldn't that just be a magical adventure, roaming the galaxy helping people, getting revenge on Mengsk, that jerk you wanted to kill since the first part of the very first game? Trying to help Kerrigan?
Well, no. Actually, it kind of sucks. Not only sucks, but it ruins Raynor.
Here's the thing: going around randomly helping people just...isn't very exciting. Not only that, in terms of a story-driven game, it seems rather pointless. Two major story arches just open and close during this game, and since the ending decisions are so dramatic, I can't see any of these characters ever returning. So what was their point? To gain new units, sure, but what else? To show us more of Jim's character? Well...it doesn't. It just shows that he goes from place to place, helping whoever will ask him for help and then continue on. What's the point? It makes Raynor seem like the biggest "gopher" ever. Where was this revolutionary, this guy who would "Save the galaxy at any cost?" Instead I'm gathering artifacts that may-or-may-not have some attachment with the overall plot, saying colonists for whatever reason (and ignoring all the others), and helping some psycho Ghost. Why is this?
But that isn't the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that Gandalf bit. Jim in Starcraft 1 was an enigma, and because he was an enigma it let your mind go CRAZY about how totally awesome he must be. Planet hopping? Friend to both Protoss, Terran, and a personal stake against the Zerg? Betrayed countless times, but still gets back on his feet and fights? That's awesome!
But Jim in SC2 isn't like that. It starts with him drunk in a bar, wooing over a picture of un-Zerged Kerrigan like a cliche. He initiates the "rebellion," sure, but he hardly seems completely in charge. He fights with his companions, gets in lame slumps, and constantly dwells on the past. While I knew Jim couldn't ever live up to the expectations I'd made for him, it's like Blizzard just took the "generic put-down hero" out of every other story and applied it to Raynor. Why?
This problem, the saturation of Jim with disappointment and cliche, ruined the game for me, and in so doing almost ruined the Starcraft story. Here's how bad it was: when I first got the game, I was super pumped about the single player. However, after about four missions, I quit it for the multiplayer. I had to force myself to get back into the story, because I heard the ending was crazy (it was). But come on...I waited over ten years to get back to this story, and it was so poor that after about five missions I stopped caring? Something is wrong here.
Blizzard saved themselves because, as stated, the Wings of Liberty ending is just so completely crazy that everybody is going to get the expansion just to see what the heck happens in the universe. But I'm now more interested in the universe, not in the characters. Raynor, the mystical, roaming badass of the first game is gone. There's some new guy with his name and his past, but it isn't the same.
RIP Starcraft's Jim Raynor. I'd say I hardly knew you, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Now, I have no idea who Jim Raynor is.