Everyone’s favorite story about humans, aliens, those other aliens, and those other, other aliens finally came to an end with last month’s release of StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void. StarCraft II’s plot matters to a lot of people (myself included), and it’s because its characters, who are mostly fleshed out by pre and post-game briefings, made the story worth seeing, even if you thought the whole thing felt like a contrived combination of Starship Troopers and Warhammer 40K. It’s produced some truly memorable characters, and the ten best of them deserve nothing less than to be ranked in order.
Artanis displays all of the traits necessary to be a leader: the strength of conviction needed to carry out plans when all of the options at hand look murky, and the open-minded nature of someone who understands that existence is about learning new things, not proving your old habits. In StarCraft, Artanis was one of the few Protoss connected to the Khala (a sort of communal state of mind that allows everyone in it to share thoughts and feelings) who was willing to work with the Dark Templar (a contingent who shuttered their connection to it). By Legacy of the Void, Artanis has everything he needs to make the right decision to destroy the Zerg, but instead chooses pride, and spends the rest of the game carrying the burden of his decision. It’s a strong start, and shows that true strength comes from learning from our mistakes rather than avoiding them.
Edmund Duke isn’t exactly StarCraft’s most important character. He’s an underling of the Dominion, both before and after Arcturus Mengsk’s takeover, and he generally carries a snarling, dismissive and downright shitty disposition. But he’s got a great cartoonish Southern accent, and that alone has made him one of the characters from the original StarCraft I most vividly remember. I find myself thinking about and quoting the line “I’m a general, for god’s sake!” more often than I care to admit, and when I watch the above clip where he chews scenery back and forth with Alexei Stukov (who carries a thick Russian accent), I can’t help but smile.
It’s unfortunate that Raszagal, Matriarch of the Dark Templar, ended up as a plot device to further Zeratul’s revenge against Kerrigan, a way to make the circumstances of the StarCraft: Brood War campaign seem more dire. In a game lacking more than one powerful woman, Raszagal was almost a necessity, and made her case for being one of the best new characters in Brood War in the scant few minutes she got in the limelight. Her dialogue and voice acting weren’t always great, but her position as Matriarch was one of the ways Blizzard showed the Protoss were a distinct race of advanced aliens, and she portrayed an aura of someone not to trifled with.
You don’t get your entire race to turn you into a farewell in the likes of “go with God” without doing something right. “En taro Tassadar” means “Honor to Tassadar,” and he earned this by saving the Protoss (and humans, for that matter), from the Zerg Overmind, sacrificing himself and his enormous ship in the process. Like most Protoss, he was honorbound, and saw his commitment to the end. Even after all these years of being dead, he’s popular enough among fans to earn him a spot on Heroes of the Storm’s roster, so in a way, his messianic sacrifice is honored among humans (or Terrans, as they’re called in StarCraft) as well.
StarCraft still revels in the nostalgia of its past, to the point where many of the newer characters just don’t have the appeal of older favorites. Abathur is one of the few exceptions. His succinct speech patterns, single-minded dedication to making the Zerg armies stronger, and combination of insect and human attributes (putting your hands together in contemplation seems like a distinctly human feature, no?) made him one of the most appealing new characters in all of StarCraft II. And that you got to laugh at the antics of someone who in no resembled a human being speaks to how strong his dialogue was.
Zeratul is StarCraft’s resident cool, brooding character, but I think most of his fandom mischaracterizes him because of his aesthetic design. Rather than being the powerful dark character everyone might want him to be, he’s really StarCraft’s Deckard Cain, forever speaking of prophecies that would help everyone in the universe resolve their problems much more quickly if they would simply listen to him. Few people do, and they all regret it. In that sense, he is one of the series’ most tragic characters, and his old-man charm (captured with vigor by Jack Ritschel in the original game) have made him a character just about anyone can like.
James Raynor is certainly one of the most familiar character in the StarCraft universe, one of the few characters most people who haven’t even played the games might know of. He’s suffered the loss of the love of his life to an alien species because of the actions of his boss at the time, only to have that same love become his biggest nemesis after that same alien species infested her and turned her into one of their own. It’s a story everyone can relate to, and while it’s clear that Raynor has this huge chip on his shoulder, he carries it with aplomb, cracking jokes in the direst situations without making any of them feel forced or inappropriate.
Samir Duran (or Dr. Narud, or whatever you’d like to call him) has worked against and with almost every faction in the StarCraft universe, changing appearance and behavior to gain the trust of anyone he needs to, all to further the plans of his master, Amon, who plans to destroy humanity by creating Zerg/Protoss hybrids. He displays the confidence of a real mastermind, and though his role in StarCraft II was painfully minor, the seeds he sowed throughout both games have had huge ramifications on the universe, making him the series’ most important villain.
Arcturus Mengsk isn’t the series’ most powerful villain, but he’s most definitely its best. In the original StarCraft, the combination of his role as maniacal rebel-turned-dictator, his incredible speeches and dialogue, and James Harper’s spot-on voice acting (also including a minor Southern drawl) made you care about his personal and political conflict with Raynor and Kerrigan more than the fate of the galaxy. He represented the ruthlessness of StarCraft’s Wild West space odyssey, where those who aren’t eking out a living are thriving on the backs of everyone else. He’s a charismatic heel, the kind you absolutely adore hating, and he’s one of the series’ defining characters.
Sarah Kerrigan means everything to StarCraft. She’s the series’ most fleshed-out character, and is a testament to Blizzard’s writing crew, who can create meaningful storylines when they’re not caught up their own lore. She’s everything that distinguishes the series from the sci-fi tropes it so heavily clings to: a villain who turns an event that could have easily lead to a life of victimhood (being kidnapped by aliens) into a strength, going on to play the political and military game better than anyone else. She clawed her way up into the pecking order by working with and betraying a number of people, and displays a cunning and ruthlessness to achieve her own goals, potential love interests be damned. She oscillates between good guy and bad constantly, putting her in dark-grey territory—which is where the series has always been at its best.
Suriel Vazquez is a freelance writer who’d like to thank Shoryuken.com for having a ton of useful information about the event on a single page. He’s written for Paste, GamesBeat, Playboy, and several others. You can follow him on Twitter.