- Involving story with Zerg campaign
- Multiple improvements to multiplayer gameplay
- Great fun with the Evolution Pit in campaign mode
- Tricia Helfer sounds hot as Kerrigan
- Campaign too easy
- Slight story inconsistencies
- Can’t stop playing. Kiss goodbye to your girl/boyfriend
For what seems like an absolute eternity, Blizzard has finally brought us the Zerg expansion aptly named Heart of the Swarm for StarCraft 2. As a Zerg player, this was particularly special to me; the story continues from where Wings of Liberty left off and concentrates on the Queen of Blades herself, Kerrigan. For anyone new to StarCraft 2, it is an absolute must to play Wings of Liberty first, which sets the story with Terran forces battling with the Zerg. But the campaign is just the tip of the evolutionary lair, as the multiplayer aspect has been revamped considerably which will completely change how you play competitively.
Before we delve into multiplayer mechanics, the StarCraft lore unfolds dramatically in this expansion. Without wanting to spoil too much, Jim Raynor does make an obvious return but the character development of Kerrigan is the greater spire and the centerpiece of the campaign. With the brood in disarray with rebel brood mother factions, the natural leader is of course Kerrigan to reunite the swarm to its former glory. As you metabolic boost your way through the missions, modifications are unlocked via Evolution Pit missions. With the help of the delightfully egotistical Abathur, each type of Zerg unit can be evolved with new DNA strands to improve combat ability. These involve visiting various planets containing primitive life forms with unique abilities. Gathering their essences produces an upgrade path for each unit, but you must choose which path to take. Two options are given in each mission, demonstrating the effectiveness of each upgrade. I absolutely love these upgrades, the multiplayer game would be broken so badly if they were ever implemented, such is the power available to you. Unfortunately. you can only choose one per unit to use for the rest of your missions. However, upon completion of the campaign, all upgrade options are unlocked if you wanted to replay certain missions at a harder difficulty level with tweaked upgrades. Personally speaking, the game is much easier to complete than Wings of Liberty; on Brutal difficulty, Wings was almost impossible to finish. With Heart of the Swarm, a recommendation of Hard difficulty would be appropriate for StarCraft 2 veterans with the Brutal difficulty not beyond abductive reach.
As you progress, certain characters appear on board the Leviathan, the hive and base of operations for Kerrigan. Talking to them reveals what the Zerg were and what they will become. Other characters also make a welcome return which I won’t spoil for you, suffice it to say you will get a smile or two from their appearance. In addition to unit upgrades, Kerrigan can also unlock powerful skills as she levels up. By completing bonus objectives for each mission, additional levels can be acquired. Quite frankly, she is a walking death machine when levelled. On a certain mission, I was able to solo three Battlecruisers and four Thors with Kerrigan alone, very useful when your armies are split between different engagements. Other hero units can be used throughout the course of your thirst for revenge with their own set of skills; cliff jumping seems to be a popular theme skill wise and one of my personal favourites.
The cutscenes are truly fantastic, the opening sequence alone is enough to make any Zerg fan fungal with joy. I would say that Blizzard completely ignored the supply cap for the opening cinematic, there’s an endless amount of Banelings and Zerglings with all your favourites such as the behemoth Ultralisk. Oh look more Terrans, it’s nom time! My only gripe with the campaign, as amazing as it was to see the story develop, is that it was too easy even on Hard difficulty. The story itself has some slightly inconsistency and lack certain logic, but I am scraping at the bottom of a carapace here by nitpicking on these. At face value, it is still an epic tale which will undoubtedly reach it’s dramatic conclusion in Legacy of the Void, the Protoss campaign expansion. Blizzard informed the world that the last expansion will not take as long to develop; personally the two year wait nearly killed me so this can only be a good thing.
Now for the multiplayer aspects. The mechanics involved has been completely revamped from Wings of Liberty, with additional units available for Terran, Protoss and Zerg. There has been great discussions on these units and upgrades, with some saying that the Terran options are too powerful or that the Zerg is too weak. I will put my hand up and say I am guilty of such calls; having seen some of these tactics in action during various matches, I was caught off guard on how to deal with these. As seen at the Major League Gaming finals recently for Heart of the Swarm with Life (Zerg) vs Flash (Terran), anything is possible with Life crowned as the Heart of the Swarm champion. Suffice it to say, Life is the best Zerg player in the world right now at the tender age of 16, and managed to thwart many effective Terran tactics introduced by Heart of the Swarm, such as boosted Medivac drops with marine harrassment and invisible Widow Mine impacts against ground and air. Zerg does lack anti-air options unlike Terran and Protoss (Void Rays and the new Oracle unit is highly irritating), but the game is just too early to make any balance adjustments. With time, there maybe some slight tweaks to balance but it would be foolish for Blizzard to make changes this early in the game. I still hate Widow Mines though, especially against Zerglings. However, there is nothing more satisfying than using a Viper to pull a Medivac towards your mass of Mutalisks. We may have less air superiority as Zerg, but we do have some jammy git abilities. Also Hydralisks are no longer useless and the DPS en masse on creep is difficult to stop.
The AI in multiplayer has been improved considerably, especially practicing on your own. Along with the defacto difficulty levels, you can also change the way the AI plays such as tech straight to air, rush and so on. With each playstyle, you can hone your skills and develop different strategies for when you come to play competitively. Now for the biggest feature of all for multiplayer; with the replay and resume function you can reload any replay and change your actions at any point in the game. For example, if you lose terribly at a pivotal point, you can load up the replay and change your tactics at any given time with the AI reacting accordingly to the changes you made. This was demonstrated at the Heart of the Swarm launch party in Korea, whereby two pro-gamers duked it out and the loser was able to reload to the point where he thought he lost the match. Blizzard has done considerable work to replicate human gameplay in the AI and now provides a much more challenging experience.
To summarise, with the campaign and all the changes to the multiplayer, you can understand why it took Blizzard two years. StarCraft 2 is a very refined and sensitive creature, as every slight change has significant consequences to the metagame. With so many introductions with units and the huge fanbase that surrounds StarCraft (over 160,000 people watched the MLG final Heart of the Swarm stream), things could have ended badly but in this case Blizzard have taken great care with their prized IP. It is a worthy expansion to Wings of Liberty, in fact it could be classed as a whole new game and should be picked up immediately for any StarCraft 2 fanatics.