Heart of the Swarm, the second in the StarCraft II trilogy of games, had me amped from the moment I heard its title announced. StarCraft is a franchise that prides itself on cutting-edge gameplay, great graphics, and terrific storylines. Sure, there are plenty out there who are only into the StarCraft series for the strong and often extremely challenging multiplayer aspect. Afterall, the first game in the series coined and added the phrase “zerging” to the gamer’s lexicon. These multiplayer-only gamers might not care about campaigns or storylines. Thankfully, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is robust enough to satiate the appetites of both kinds of RTS gamers. Me, I wanted to hear more about the Queen Of Blades, Kerrigan!
The Opening Cinematic:
I mean, holy crap, right? When they released the opening cinematic, I wanted the game right then and there – no more waiting. Kerrigan, no longer the Queen Of Blades, laid out on some medical table in a Terran facility! Anyone who finished StarCraft II: Wings of Lberty saw Jim Raynor carrying a human-looking, naked Kerrigan off into the sunset, so the Queen Of Blades getting her humanity back isn’t a spoiler at all, but her becoming a lab rat? And what did the dream mean? And how about that squished marine or the battlecruiser crashing? Without giving anything away, the storyline is great fun. It is a tad predictable in some spots, but terrific otherwise and the cinematics are so visually-stunning that goosebumps often stop by to watch.
New weapons of war also debut in Heart of the Swarm’s multiplayer, including new units such as Terran Hellbats, Zerg Swarm Hosts, and Protoss Tempests, while certain existing units from Wings of Liberty will be updated with new capabilities. New features will enhance the game experience, including group and clan systems; unranked matchmaking; Global Play, enabling players to battle others in different regions around the world; additional stat tracking; user interface improvements; an enhanced physics system, for more visceral looking battles; multiplayer replays, to watch replays with friends; a leveling system that gives Heart of the Swarm players a new way to earn customization options for their online profiles; and much more.
- An all-new, Zerg-based campaign, that focuses on Kerrigan, the erstwhile ‘Queen of Blades’
- Access to approximately 20 new missions
- The release of new StarCraft II units and new maps
- Improvements to Battle.net, including StarCraft Marketplace, timed to coincide with the release of Heart of the Swarm
- New multiplayer options, including group and clan systems, unranked matchmaking, global play enabling players to battle others in different regions around the world, multiplayer replays, additional stat tracking, and others
- A leveling system that gives Heart of the Swarm players a new way to earn customization options for their online profiles
- PC and Mac system compatibility ensures that everyone can play
I dove into the game like an eager puppy with a new chew toy. I watched opening cinematic, started my new campaign, and didn’t stop for about 10 hours with the exception of a small chunk of time where I wolfed some food down and stretch my legs to keep from getting blood clots. This was my life for three days, just add in two visits to the gym. My eyes are still a bit tender from staring at the screen for so many hours at a time. The “just one more mission” excuse went by the wayside quickly as I knew only double vision and mental exhaustion would send me to bed to just wake with a start the next morning and settle in at the computer. My back is sore and I will no doubt spend the weekend convalescing, but it was worth it. First though, I must tell you why…
StarCraft and StarCraft II have, pretty much, set the bar for all other real-time strategy games to follow in terms of mechanics and gameplay. There are some RTS games where story is paramount, and these games often boil down to micromanaging an economy. Others barely have a story – in some cases, there is no real tale except “blue versus red” with battle over management in play. Still, others have almost no management and play is barely present in order just to tell a story. In all honesty, these will all appeal to a certain type of gamer and make them plenty happy. The trick with StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is that it gives you the option to do any or all of these as much as you want in one game. It has a balance of them all as its natural state but you can by play the style and settings make the game fit you, instead of adapting to the game’s. Heart of the Swarm maintains the series legacy while at the same time upping the ante.
For example, besides having the usual weapons, vehicles, and building upgrades through research, there are additional customizations that are permanent. You might be given the choice to make zerglings explode into mini zerglings upon death or make it so that zerglings can jump up plateaus – you can only pick one and, once you pick, that is it from then on. At the same time, your zerglings have a choice of three upgrades that will increase attack, defense, or health and can be changed before each mission for whatever conditions you expect them to be in. All your battle units have both the permanent as well as changeable traits that can really impact your gameplay and mission success. Kerrigan doesn’t get the permanent traits but, instead, gets ever-increasing choices of upgrades as she levels, which can be changed at the beginning of any mission. By the times she is fully leveled the number of choices are staggering.
Some might be concerned about the fact that there are only 2 new missions if they only play the campaign mode. The campaign missions are long and the possibility of playing through using different trait and upgrade choices makes them highly re-playable If a person is more of a multiplayer gamer, then they have nothing to worry about as the game comes with a multiplayer trainer to make sure a player has their game up to par before even getting into actual PvP. Additionally, there are ranked, unranked, and ability matching systems to try to make the most of your online experience. There will probably still be some trolls who fudge their abilities tests on purpose so they can stomp on newbies but, hopefully, with the system in place this will be less common. The only player who might feel a little shorted is the storyline player because, once played through, the storyline doesn’t really change. Also, there isn’t an option to make moral choices for the characters, which is probably the only thing lacking in the game. Most deep storylines in games these days have the player make choices which send the player down different paths like the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. In this case, Blizzard decided they have a story they want to tell with this franchise and it will be one story over several games. It is a great story, so personally I have no problem with that. Missions allow for some degree of choice, you can let a ton of enemies live in a rush to the objective or you can take your time and wipe them from the map if you want. Personally, I like to take my time and build an armada, but for the sake of reviewing a few times I did make a race through enemy lines to my objective.
Blizzard Special Editions:
I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the things you get from the Heart of the Swarm special editions because they don’t just enhance your StarCraft experience. I picked up the digital deluxe edition so that I could get a baneling battle pet for World of Warcraft, character wings, special banner symbols for Diablo 3, and special portraits and decals for StarCraft online play. The physical collector’s editions included such things as a mouse pad, art book and soundtrack as well as the aforementioned digital benefits. The thing to consider is a special edition of any of these three Blizzard titles comes with items for the other two making the investment effect more of your Blizzard gaming universe.
My eyes are even more bleary and my back more sore, but I have a smile on my face as I get ready to spend a couple days in bed recovering watching television. I will occasionally play some low concentration games on the PC and finish up some iOS review titles I need to wrap up. I am by no means done with Heart of The Swarm – I WILL play it again and maybe again and I will suffer zergings online while I build my armadas and, maybe, on occasion make a move that catches my opponent off-guard. I may not be the fastest-clicking player in StarCraft, but I am crafty and wily – a play style that should never be underestimated and that I will continue to hone as I play this well crafted game.