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StarCraft II: Whispers of Oblivion Challenges Protoss Players

LOS ANGELES – Robert Heinlein once remarked that "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch," but the famed sci-fi author remained silent on the issue of free StarCraft II mini-expansions. Whispers of Oblivion is a three-mission prologue campaign for the upcoming Legacy of the Void expansion, and you won't have to pay a penny for it. Better still: Whispers of Oblivion is incredibly enjoyable.

At E3 2015, I met with developers from Blizzard to discuss the upcoming mission pack. Then, I got to play through Dark Whispers, the first of three missions, for myself. The tried-and-true StarCraft II gameplay is back in full force, and the mission is challenging enough to test even veteran players.

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StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty let players take control of the human Terran faction of sci-fi soldiers. The first expansion, Heart of the Swarm, focused on the insectoid Zerg. As such, Legacy of the Void will focus on the Protoss: an ancient race of telepathic, technologically advanced warriors. The Protoss seek to stop the return of Amon, a fell entity capable of wiping out all three intergalactic empires.

Whispers of Oblivion focuses on Zeratul, a Protoss Dark Templar who has been trying to warn the galaxy's sentient races of the coming menace ever since the first StarCraft. In Dark Whispers, he travels to a remote planet to rescue a number of Protoss captives caught between a Terran outpost and a Zerg army.

I started off with a fairly bare-bones Protoss base and only a handful of sword-wielding Zealots and robotic Stalkers to defend it. Experienced Protoss players already know the drill: resource-gathering drones can summon new buildings into existence, buildings and units have shields that recharge over time and each building requires a nearby power core in order to function.

The Protoss are a challenging race to master, and it's fitting that Blizzard saved them for the last expansion. I asked the developers what the difficulty curve in Whispers of Oblivion would be like. They replied that it would be easier than the last few missions of Heart of the Swarm, but the missions are intended for experienced players, and not as a Protoss tutorial.

I can vouch for this firsthand. My goal was to liberate a contingent of captured Protoss soldiers. In order to do so, I had to gather resources, build up a powerful army and trash a few Terran bases. That may sound simple enough, but there was one hitch: an army of Zerg led by none other than Sarah Kerrigan, the hero-turned-villain-turned-hero of Brood War and Heart of the Swarm. Believe me, that's no small hitch.

Dark Whisper became a race against time. I had to defend my base from Terran attacks, push forward to rescue the Protoss and avoid the relentless march of the Zerg. This kind of three-way animosity is where StarCraft shines, and Dark Whisper is mission design at its best. My success rested on rescuing the Protoss before Kerrigan obliterated the Terrans, and what resulted was a 20-minute balancing act of building up my base, replenishing my troops and pressing the attack.

Whispers of Oblivion is shaping up to be a great prologue, but that's not surprising, given Blizzard's pedigree. Releasing it for free, though, is an incredibly smart move on Blizzard's part. It ain't exactly a free lunch, as Heinlein might say; after all, it may convince more than a few people to pick up Legacy of the Void.

On the other hand, if you're going to buy Legacy of the Void anyway, preordering the game will give you access to the missions a little earlier than the general public. Neither Whispers of Oblivion nor Legacy of the Void have release dates yet, save for "when they're ready."

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+.