I’ll admit it, it was a little tough knowing that Activision/Blizzard was going to split up the new StarCraft series, and even tougher having to wait nearly three years for the second installment after finishing up Wings of Liberty back in 2010. But the wait is finally over, and fans have plenty to be excited about in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm. Featuring a completely revamped interface, along with plenty of new units and features this just might be Blizzard’s best entry in the franchise yet and packs more than enough to keep them busy until the final chapter of the series is released.
The story picks up not long after where Wings of Liberty left off, with a now-human Sarah Kerrigan stripped of most of her powers and memories from when she was the Queen of Blades, the brutal leader of the bug-like Zerg. Of course, that soon changes as some dire circumstances force her to once again take up the mantle as Queen of the Zerg and exact revenge on the infamous antagonist Arcturus Mengsk. It now falls on you to help her and her swarm through more than 20 missions to succeed in taking Mengsk down, die trying, and possibly both.
As Wings of Liberty focused on the Terrans, this time the Zerg are the primary race here, though you’ll occasionally play as both (as well as the Protoss) at certain times. Controlling your army is now even more fun and balanced than it was in Wings of Liberty thanks to a user-interface that’s been completely redesigned. Many of the newer units seem to be a blend of older units (such as the Terran Hellbat unit being combined with the Hellion to make a transformable mecha suit / vehicle hybrid), which helps simplify and make controlling them easier than ever.
While some are sure to be disappointed in realizing some of their old favorites are missing in action, the new changes allow novice players to make and control units easier, while hardcore veterans will most likely see a nice boost to their actions-per-minute (or APM’s) as they crank out waves of units using hotkeys and a single button to highlight all of their attack units to dominate everything on the screen. While it still takes a bit of getting used to the Zerg’s confusing reproductive cycle to make structures and units, you’ll be duking it out with the best of them once you get a feel for it.
One of the biggest changes here is the RPG-like upgrade system the Zerg uses in campaign mode. Kerrigan herself actually earns experience points while on missions and can access new abilities when she reaches a certain level. For example, when she reaches level five, she might be able to choose from an increased single or multiple target damage upgrade. Then there’s three upgrades you can choose from for your Zerg units when you visit your engineer of sorts named Abathur (which for the record has to be my favorite character on here so far, as I love the way he talks. For example, when asked about what he does, he replies with “Look at flesh. See only potential. Strands, sequences, twisting, separating, joining.”).
Usually the upgrades are a choice between enhancing movement, combat or spawning speed, which can also be changed at any time you visit the upgrade screen. As an added bonus, you can also unlock bonus missions that will let select from two permanent upgrades that radically change the look, skills and animation of each unit. A good example would be choosing to either mutate the Zerglings into winged insects that can leap cliffs, or mutate them into faster spawning units that will overwhelm the enemy like no other. These fun new additions make Heart of the Swarm a lot more fun and interesting to play, while also feeling worlds different from Wings of Liberty.
The graphics may have a dated look to them, but I found them to be just perfect, especially with all the action that happens on screen. There’s also tons of detail, from the nice lighting/shadow effects, the fluid animations of the unit portraits and the units themselves, to the shiny, slimy look of the Zerg, you’ll more often than not find yourself smiling at all the little details and hidden Easter eggs as you play (don’t forget to double, triple, and quad-click everything). The voices are also spot-on, though Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) voicing Kerrigan is spotty in some parts. And like I said above, Abathur’s voice is just awesome. Overall, the voices and sound effects are well done and serve to pull you deeper into the StarCraft universe.
And what would StarCraft 2 be without new multiplayer goodies? This is where most players will be spending the majority of their time in, as online play has always been the key point of the franchise and Blizzard hasn’t disappointed. Besides the addition of new maps, gameplay modes and ranked matches, gamers will be happy to know that its now possible to play against other players worldwide. And there’s always new content and tournaments around the corner to keep gamers busy for quite some time. Those who’ve been playing since Wings of Liberty and that game’s frequent updates will be instantly at home here Blizzard
While it took nearly three years to get here, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is an expansion set that was worth the wait and picks up where Wings of Liberty left off. Blizzard listened to fans’ concerns and crafted a superior experience this time around, and with a redesigned interface and feel, loads of new units and gameplay modes, awesome characters, story and some of the best online multiplayer yet, there’s plenty of Zerg rush action to keep fans busy until the final chapter, Legacy of the Void, is released and beyond. Like most fans of the series, I’m just hoping it doesn’t take another three years for them to conclude this trilogy. Until then, log onto Battle.net and explore one of the deepest and most addictive RTS adventures ever created.