Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Review

Heart of the Swarm

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm has been out for roughly two weeks, and having been a Starcraft fanatic dating back to somewhere around 1998, I picked it up the day it came out. Over the period of about 48 hours I devoured the 20 new missions on Hard mode, and over the past week or so I have been going back over the missions on various difficulties attempting to collect the various campaign achievements. For those of you that have not yet played the game, and are concerned about spoilers I will say this: the game is a ton of fun and I highly recommend you pick it up. Even if you recently doled out the money to play some DRM ridden piece of garbage EA has put out, *cough* SimCity *cough*, I’d say you should pay out the 40 bucks to update that copy of Wings of Liberty you haven’t touched in months. That said, I’d stop reading now if you’re not looking to be spoiled, because I’m going to discuss a bunch of the events of Heart of the Swarm in detail. Here’s the official trailer if you’d like some eye-candy before you go.

!!!!SPOILER ALERT AHOY! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!

We pick up the story in what seems like a few weeks, to perhaps a few months, after the events of Wings of Liberty. Raynor and his crew have taken Kerrigan to a safe location, and begun exploratory testing into what abilities she has retained since the Xel’Naga artifact has de-Zergified her. She apparently cannot remember any of the events from when she was the Queen of Blades, but she has retained most of her psionic abilities.  She also seems to be able to exert control over nearby Zerg, but she is no where near as good at it as she was before.

I begin to get apprehensive at this point, because the first few missions seem to play out a predictable, cliched storyline.  This sort of writing has been the hallmark of Blizzard games recently, including both Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty and Diablo 3. Forgettable characters carrying out predictable actions, taking us along a ride towards a blatantly obvious ending. Wings of Liberty was particularly insulting, because it seemed they had forgotten past storylines, or didn’t intend to pay off plot points from the previous games. For example, you pretty much play from Jim Raynor’s point of view throughout the entirety of WoL, but he never once mentions his old Protoss buddy Fenix, who Kerrigan later went on to kill in Brood War. You would think that might come up at some point.

Abathur

“Spin strands backwards? No. Zergling inside out. Inefficient.”  -Abathur

Anyway, after the first few missions I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The plot isn’t by any means Academy Award worthy, but it was definitely better than expected. I liked a lot of the underlings Kerrigan picked up over the course of the campaign, Abathur being my favorite. Despite being extremely straight forward dialogue-wise, Abathur was remarkably endearing. He speaks only what is necessary to get his point across, as he is charged with genetically altering the Swarm to be as efficient as possible. Emotions, not being something that generally helps efficiency, are alien to him throughout most of the campaign, and when he does show a semblance of anger or fear it really sends a message to the player. Some of the underlings, like Dehaka, are a little one dimensional (“Essence essence essence essence essence essence” -Dhaka), but I really feel most of them are are a noticeable improvement from the characters in Wings of Liberty.

I was literally giddy when one of the mission briefings included a teaser from a blacked out portrait with a Russian accent. Alexei Stukov was one of my favorite characters from the Brood War campaign, and it was well known by most hardcore fans that despite being shot and “killed” during the events of BW, that he was later infested by an unknown entity and brought back to life.  This may have seemed like a lame twist to a lot of the fan-dom, but after waiting 10 years to see some sort of pay off to this story line, I was REALLY excited, and so happy to see a more relate-able character join Kerrigan in leading the Swarm. The only downside  to this arc was during the missions where Kerrigan and Stukov teamed up to take down Dr. Narud, who apparently was making Protoss/Zerg hybrids for the Dominion. It’s been pretty blatantly obvious that, since the events of the last campaign, Dr. Narud is in fact Samir Duran from Brood War, but SOMEHOW neither Kerrigan (who worked closely with Duran) or Stukov (who was ultimately shot and “killed” by him) manage to put two and two together to reveal who Narud really is. This is supremely irritating, but ultimately I have high hopes that Blizzard will pay this off in the next campaign.

Kerrigan gains new abilities as she levels up over time.

Kerrigan gains new abilities as she levels up.

The missions themselves are really well put together, and a lot of fun. They do deviate from the standard “build and destroy” missions that were a staple of the original Starcraft game, and fans of the Warcraft series will see a number of similarities to the way Kerrigan levels up to the way heroes leveled up in Warcraft 3. The missions are, on the whole, much easier than any previous version of the game. I’ve played through all of them on Hard myself, and I am going through the campaign again on Brutal. While I may lose a mission here or there on Brutal, overall if you’re at all competent at Starcraft you’ll have no problems progressing through the campaign.  I did enjoy the evolution dynamic they introduce, which in most respects echoes the Terran upgrade dynamic from WoL. The game also allows you to change around Kerrigan’s abilities and the Swarm’s evolution upgrades when you play through the missions a second time in the Master Archive, which has made re-playing the missions to get the achievements a lot more fun. Overall I’m a fan of all the changes, but I was a fan of the Warcraft series. Hardcore Starcraft fans who didn’t take a liking to Warcraft 3 may disagree with me.

Last, but not least, the multiplier support for Starcraft remains top notch. Blizzard still fails to really deliver on all cylinders the way other E-Sports developers do, but the new multiplayer units introduced in HotS seem to be providing a more exciting, fast paced gaming experience at all levels of play. If you have a chance watch the recent MLG Dallas  matchup of Bomber vs Goswer. It’s one of the most entertaining games of Starcraft I’ve ever seen, and TotalBiscuit and Incontrol’s casting was hilarious. You will not regret spending the hour watching, I guarantee it.

In my opinion, Blizzard really delivered with Heart of the Swarm. The story was better, the gameplay was excellent, and I’m jazzed to start playing multiplayer again as soon as I’ve earned all the campaign achievements. At a $40.00 price point it’s well worth the investment, as a lot of $50-$60 games fall way short of what Blizzard delivers with HotS. I am a VERY happy customer.

Infested Kerrigan

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2 comments on “Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Review
  1. I would have liked a terran and a protos mission – much like they did in WoL

    • Agreed. I did enjoy the Terran mission with the Hyperion, but it wasn’t a true Terran mission in the strictest sense of the word. Also, it was EXTREMELY easy.

      Was also disappointed they didn’t have some mission packs examining the new multiplayer units for other races. In WoL they had some mastery missions that allowed you to get the nuances of nearly all the units in the game, in HotS you sort of are left to your own devices in this respect.

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