Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Review (PC)
Imagine if you will a long forgotten Baneling, burrowed amongst a Terran base, ever awaiting its moment of explosive release. This was my feeling until I got my hands on StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm.
Although this review will predominantly cover the single player campaign I just wanted to get a word in about the multiplayer content in Heart of the Swarm. Not much has changed in the overall dynamic of the game, a few new units have been added to each army which opens some new tactics and tightens up some of the weaknesses the armies had, a bunch of maps have also been added that will give players a breath of fresh air. Apart from that however, not much is different and only time will tell how this expansion will affect the multiplayer content and which units will be getting the Nerfbat in the future from Blizzard.
Picking up the story from the end of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, we find Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan reunited within the walls of a research facility run by Valerian Mengsk. Tests are being conducted on Kerrigan to determine if any skills still remain from her time as Queen of Blades. Raynor however is desperately trying to convince her to leave everything behind and go with him. What appears to be merely minutes after the decision has been made to up and run, the facility is attacked – albeit inevitably, by Dominion forces, and the couple are then once again torn apart. Now Kerrigan must take back control of The Swarm and use any means possible to find Raynor.
The stories for both parts of StarCraft II have been particularly strong thus far. The characters have been well rounded and for the most part loveable. However some dialog between characters (in particular Terran) can lead you to believe that you are actually watching some cheesy B movie. Fortunately though, if one liners from big men in power armour cause an uncomfortable cringe, you will be glad to know that for the vast majority of the game you will instead be surrounded by some rather austere Zerg characters. While this does solve the issue of cringe-worthy dialog, the underlying feeling that perhaps a sprinkle of cheese is exactly what the story needs remained with me throughout the campaign.
Upon starting out there is a brief tutorial of the Zerg which thankfully assumes that you have played Wings of Liberty and doesn’t go into too much detail on the basics. After the completion of the tutorial and 12 hours, 20 campaign missions, and countless infestations later, I felt that StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm had brought back a flicker of hope to the ‘expansion title’. In recent years, the amount of content included in an expansion has been consistently diminishing. I had initially put this change down to a nostalgic effect – like when you swear that your favourite chocolate bar had once been much larger than the meagre specimen you just devoured in two bites. Evidently however this has not been the case.
Needless to say, Heart of the Swarm feels like it is packed to the brim with some excellent and really exciting content. One thing in particular that is heavily emphasised is the use of heroes. Kerrigan appears in most campaign missions on the field from start to finish, which is brilliant. She is an incredibly fun and versatile hero, who not only gets to mash enemies into a bloody pulp, but also gets to appeal to your inner RPG enthusiast as you can complete bonus objectives to gain levels and customize her abilities. There is only one slight niggle with this, and that is more often than not Kerrigan can feel quite overpowered. She can maul her way through hordes of enemies using just one ability, and while this isn’t a massive problem it can create the feeling of a cheap win. This is however something that will likely change either in different difficulty settings or in time, through balancing.
Along with Kerrigan’s customisation options there are of course options for your units too. Unlike in Wings of Liberty however, there is no monetary reward for completing missions, so buying new upgrades for your Swarm has been morphed into something quite a bit better. Now each unit has a selection of three upgrades which don’t need to be unlocked and can be changed at any time between missions, allowing you to chop and change your army as you please. This is what the swarm should feel like, constantly evolving and adapting to any situation thrown at it.
Another more permanent set of upgrades can also be unlocked for your units in the form of optional evolution missions. These are mini, objective-based missions where you must assimilate the essence of a creature into The Swarm. This allows you to trial two different ability strains for each of your units. All the evolution missions follow the same pattern; you gather the essence of a creature with your basic unit and are then tasked with destroying something whilst making use of your newly acquired ability. You can do this for each unit and pick which strain you wish to keep and which you wish to discard. Although it did begin to feel rather monotonous by around the third evolution mission, the evolutions are an interesting addition to the upgrade structure for units. Some of the strains did however feel a bit gimmicky and would’ve most likely provided little to no tactical advantage, making some of the choices pretty one sided.
Much like in Wings of Liberty you are asked to select which planets you travel to for missions. However in Heart of the Swarm you instead spend multiple missions at that chosen planet. This gives a great sense of progression as you gather new units for The Swarm and completed multiple missions against the antagonist of that world. This tactic really does add further depth to the story, as it creates these kind of mini-stories amongst the over-arcing plot. It allows for you to really know your enemy for each planet and gives a great sense of satisfaction as you chip away at their defences one base at a time until you are eventually knocking on their front door. Once you had broken through to the final mission there was at times even boss encounters which was an excellent way to make use of Kerrigan and show her advancement.
Overall Heart of the Swarm has certainly left an unhealthy level of excitement behind with me and I am now sorely longing for the next title of the series. So if you are a fan of the StarCraft series or even if you only at times, take a tickling fancy for an RTS, I cannot recommend StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm highly enough. If you aren’t a fan of RTS or the series in general, there have been few times as good as this to get into it!
8 adorable zerglings out of 10