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StarCraft II: Whispers of Oblivion: Everything You Need to Know

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void will end the epic saga of StarCraft that has been unfolding for the last 17 years. If you simply can't wait until winter 2015/2016 for Legacy of the Void, check out Blizzard's prologue campaign, Whispers of Oblivion, in the meantime.

While Whispers of Oblivion isn't very long, it has two big things going for it: It's a ton of fun, and it's absolutely free. Players who preorder Legacy of the Void can play it right now, while others will have to wait — but either way, the three-mission prologue is available at no cost.

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If you've already played through Whispers of Oblivion on every difficulty, written your own strategy guide and spent every free hour on fan forums debating where the story goes from here, there's not much to do but wait until Legacy of the Void comes out. But for newcomers — or those that need a refresher — read on for some useful information about Whispers of Oblivion and how to best enjoy it.

What is Whispers of Oblivion?

Whispers of Oblivion is a free three-mission campaign from Blizzard that acts as a prologue to its upcoming real-time strategy game StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void. For those who have never played it before, StarCraft II tells a story of a futuristic war among three intergalactic factions: the human Terrans, the insectoid Zerg and the telepathic Protoss. In Whispers of Oblivion, players take control of the Protoss race and its most recognizable hero, Zeratul.

How can I get Whispers of Oblivion?

Right now, the only way to get Whispers of Oblivion is to prepurchase a copy of Legacy of the Void from Blizzard's website. This will give you early access to the missions. If you prefer to hold off on preordering the game, you can get the missions later this year, when they'll be available to everyone. Blizzard has not given a solid release date yet, but if the game stays on track for a winter release, late summer or fall sounds like a reasonable bet.

How long is the campaign?

Whispers of Oblivion takes place over the course of three missions: Dark Whispers, The Reckoning, and Ghosts in the Fog. On Normal difficulty, the whole campaign will take 1 to 2 hours for most players to complete.

How difficult is the campaign?

Despite being free for all players, Whispers of Oblivion is actually aimed at people who already have some familiarity with StarCraft gameplay. The missions are not extremely difficult, but you do need a working knowledge of how to play the Protoss race, as you hit the ground running in the first mission. You have access to most units and technologies right from the get-go, and you'll be under a time limit, to boot. Those who don't want to risk losing can turn the difficulty down to Casual, though, while veterans can boost it up to Hard or Brutal.

What are some tips for playing the Protoss?

For newer players, the Protoss might seem intimidating at first — they're slower and requires more resources up front than either the Terrans or the Zerg, and they're architecturally complicated. However, with a little practice, the Protoss can quickly become a force to be reckoned with, as long as you're willing to give your base a little time to grow.

There are two important things to know about Protoss buildings. The first is that, once you summon them, they will build automatically. Second, they require power. Unlike Terran supply depots or Zerg overlords, Protoss pylons increase the number of units you can support but also provide power to nearby buildings. A building without a pylon nearby won't do anything. As such, build lots of pylons, build them early and build them to overlap.

Except for basic melee warriors, Protoss units need a lot of vespene gas. Set up refineries as early as possible, and harvest two (or more) at once, if you can. Upgrading units is expensive, but it's worthwhile — especially shields, since every unit and building has shields. Protoss units and buildings cannot heal, but their shields will regenerate over time, giving them an extra chance to survive future skirmishes.

Although you'll need to construct new buildings to access different types of units, most ground units come from a military structure called a Gateway, whereas most air units come from a Stargate. As such, it's to your advantage to build multiple Gateways and Stargates, especially since Protoss units take a long time to summon.

In terms of army makeup, there are lots of different ways to play. You can sink your resources into upgrading ground units and dish out a lot of damage with the basic Zealot — a fast warrior with two energy swords — and complement them with Stalkers, robotic ranged units that don't cost too much vespene. Or, you could hoard your resources for nearly unstoppable, enormous units like the hulking Colossi or airborne Carriers. Zealots and Stalkers usually make a solid backbone for an army, to be complemented by heavier units later on.

Keep in mind that this advice all goes out the window for high-level multiplayer, which requires a very different mind-set and approach to resource management and army construction.

Is Whispers of Oblivion any good?

I enjoyed the three new missions, and was very happy to spend an afternoon refamiliarizing myself with both the story and gameplay of StarCraft II. It's not very long, and the story teasers raise more questions than they answer, but Whispers of Oblivion is a nice apéritif while we wait for the more substantial Legacy of the Void. If you're going to grab Legacy of the Void anyway when it comes out, consider preordering it for instant access. Otherwise, the missions will be free for all players sooner rather than later

What's the story so far?

StarCraft has one of the most complex (and potentially convoluted) stories in modern gaming, and the only way to get the full narrative is to play all of the games leading up to Legacy of the Void (not to mention the truckload of books and comics to read). Still, if Whispers of Oblivion is your first taste of StarCraft lore, here's what's been happening up until this point:

In the original StarCraft, space pirate Jim Raynor teams up with politico Arcturus Mengsk and his adjutant Sarah Kerrigan to overthrow a corrupt galactic government. When Mengsk betrays them and leaves Kerrigan to die, Raynor swears revenge. Meanwhile, the Protoss, under the direction of High Templar Tassadar and Dark Templar Zeratul, take on the Zerg swarm and Sarah Kerrigan, reconstituted as the Zerg Queen of Blades. In the end, Raynor and Tassadar work together to defeat the Overmind controlling the Zerg swarm, Tassadar sacrifices himself and Kerrigan escapes.

The story continues in Brood War. As Kerrigan tries to unite the Zerg under her control, she encounters a Terran fleet sent from Earth, under the control of Gerard DuGalle and Alexei Stukov, to retake the sector from Mengsk. Pulling the strings is Samir Duran, a shape-shifter who manipulates each side for his own purposes. Kerrigan tracks Duran to a remote world, where she learns of a terrible secret: a Zerg/Protoss hybrid that serves an ancient race called the Xel'naga. Kerrigan eventually triumphs, taking control of the Zerg and ousting the Earth forces from her corner of space.

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Wings of Liberty picks up a few years later, as Raynor, now the commander of a small rebel fleet, seeks to depose Mengsk once and for all. Raynor crosses swords with Terran, Zerg and Protoss forces as he steals Mengsk's technology and disrupts communications but ultimately must join forces with Mengsk's military for a risky proposition: rescuing Sarah Kerrigan from Zerg control. With the help of an ancient artifact, Raynor succeeds in turning Kerrigan human once more but has to abandon his regicidal plans in order to rebuild his forces.

In Heart of the Swarm, the focus shifts to the Zerg forces. When Raynor appears to be killed in action by Mengsk's forces, Kerrigan swears revenge, and returns to the Zerg to rally her army. There, she meets up with Stukov, who did not die during the Brood War but rather became part of the Zerg swarm. With Stukov's help, Kerrigan reintegrates herself with the swarm, becoming the Queen of Blades once more. When Kerrigan discovers that Raynor is still alive, the two of them team up to defeat Mengsk once and for all — but the galactic war continues.

Without spoiling anything, Whispers of Oblivion picks up some time after StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. Zeratul seeks to stop Amon, a dark god who has been reborn into the galaxy. The story begins when Zeratul lands at a Terran research facility to gather information but finds that Kerrigan has ambitions of her own for the location. Whispers of Oblivion will lead into Legacy of the Void, which will finally bring the story, 17 years in the making, to a conclusion.

Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.