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Retroactive Posts: Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

May 8, 2013

(Originally posted on April 4th, 2013)

*Spoiler alert!*
There will potentially be campaign storyline spoilers for Wings of Liberty in this article.

hotsboxartStarcraft 2: Heart of the Swam

What’s Good:
-Typically high Blizzard production value.
-Mutating new strands of existing Zerg in the campaign makes for compelling choices.
-Kerrigan is a likable anti-hero.
-Campaign missions rarely have you doing the same thing twice, with some even offering things like boss encounters.
-The multiplayer leveling system puts less emphasis on farming achievements and more emphasis on simply playing your favorite race.
-The handful of new units for multiplayer offer potential for all-new strategies.

What’s Bad:
-The manner in which Blizzard streams you the expansion data (even when buying the disc-based version) is a colossal bummer, especially for those of us with awful internet connections.
-The campaign storyline, while well done from a gameplay standpoint, doesn’t do anything exciting or new with it’s story-telling.

If I were to give it a rating: 3 out of 5

Other thoughts:
Heart of the Swarm is a fantastic game. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many other RTS games that seep the same amount of polish that Blizzard is able to cram into their releases. If you’re even vaguely interested in real time strategy (like me), or a grizzled veteran wishing to once again climb the matchmaking ladder, I cannot imagine HotS will leave you indifferent.

That being said, I found the game quite frustrating to play, and mostly in the campaign. This frustration wasn’t stemmed from any sort of imbalance or lack of polish or shoddy design, but because every new mission and every new cinematic was a test of patience.
This is because even if you purchase the disc-based version of the expansion, the disc included will only install the version of Wings of Liberty right up to the release of HotS. This means you’re still forced to download (or stream in) the remaining 5+ gigs of content.
I know I’m probably a fringe case, and I’m sure Blizzard assumes 90+% of their players have a beefy enough broadband connection to handle the task (which is probably the case), but it took ~2 days of downloading to grab those 5+ gigs on my crappy connection, and any attempts I made at playing multiplayer or campaign before it was finished were greeted with breaks to download missing files. Especially tedious were the campaign’s cinematics. Since these were being streamed in, they were in awful quality and paused to buffer every few seconds.
Problems like these are precisely the reason I sought to bypass the download process by purchasing the disc version. Do not make my mistake. Once the game is downloaded and ready to go, HotS is a blast. But it took me 2 days. To be clear, I would normally place the blame on my connection, but I took the extra step of going to a brick and mortar store to buy the game on the disc to avoid the download process just to discover the disc version is pointless. I don’t quite understand why they didn’t put all of the expansion’s data files on the expansion disc.

Anyway.

Following the events of Wings of Liberty, HotS continues the overarching storyline from Kerrigan’s point of view. Stripped from her status as Queen of Blades, but still retaining the ability to control the Zerg, she is being held by her Terran rescuers, but locked up like a bug in a jar. This is until the Dominion attacks, leaving the protagonists separated, and giving Kerrigan ample motivation to fall back into to her old ways.
What follows is a perfectly serviceable narrative, but one that doesn’t do anything surprising or all too exciting. Kerrigan is a likable protagonist, and her interactions with her Zerg aides are worth sitting through, but the story that is told here probably shouldn’t be considered the main draw of the campaign.
Instead would be the manner in which Blizzard continues to change up the game’s mission design from mission to mission. It’s a rare thing to see a traditional “build a base and overrun the enemy base” mission, and instead you’re given objectives that have you either infiltrating a Protoss ship as a single symbiote to consume its denizens and become an unstoppable legion, or you’ll be tasked to defend a specific point on the map from oncoming attacks from multiple sides among others. The mission design is almost always something new and interesting, and you’re given numerous opportunities to tackle them in different ways in order to either accomplish the side-tasks (offering additional levels for Kerrigan) or go for achievements.
Outside of missions, you’re able to travel around your Zerg mothership adventure-game style, talking to your Zerg aides and applying upgrades to Kerrigan herself, or the Zerg forces she commands.
Kerrigan will accompany her ground forces in most missions, and the active or passive abilities she unlocks while leveling make for tremendous boons to her army. Especially the ones you’ll be unlocking later on.
Her forces themselves can be altered to be more proficient in different ways as well as soon as you unlock their use in missions. You’re able to swap between three separate buffs at will, but only between missions.
After each handful of missions you’re also given the chance to undergo an Evolution Mission, which drastically alters the abilities of your units. These buffs are permanent, but much more meaningful than the others. An early example would be choosing between making your Zerglings able to hop up and down walls and leap over short distances to attack, or having them spawn 3 per egg (instead of 2) at no additional cost, and with a shorter spawn time.
The upgrades all seem viable, and choosing which evolution to take for your unit in question is almost always a tough choice.
Gone are the choices presented in Wings of Liberty that presented new sets of missions or locked you out of others, but I didn’t miss that stuff all that much. A simple, linear progression worked perfectly fine.

I’m sure a good number of people won’t even bother with the campaign though, and while this is unfortunate, they’ll be greeted by the same great multiplayer WoL provided, but with a couple new units per race, a few new tilesets and maps, and a new leveling system.
The new units range from the Widow Mine on the Terran side, which burrows itself in the ground and shoots up heavily damaging mines to anyone unfortunate to walk near it, to the Zerg Viper, which is a flying caster unit capable of tugging a unit across the field or spit a blinding cloud over ranged forces to drastically reduce their attack range, to the Protoss’ Oracle, a scouting and worker-harassing flyer.
I’m not the best person to tell whether these new units are balanced or not, but they do appear to serve appealing purposes, offering new offensive or defensive options to areas which may have given a specific race issues before.
Heart of the Swarm contains some new tile-sets for its multiplayer map environments, but it never presents you with a list or marker informing you which ones they are. I know the snow tile-set is new, but aside from the maps utilizing it, I have no idea which maps are new and which ones were included with Wings of Liberty.
Some of the new maps contain a new map feature: collapsible rock formations, which, once knocked down, create the destructible debris introduced in Wings of Liberty. These seem like an interesting inclusion, as they give you the ability to temporarily cut off sections of the map.
Once you’ve completed a match, you’ve given a chunk of experience points for your chosen race. This experience is earned by building units, spending resources, and destroying your enemy, and unlocks new profile portraits, decals for your bases, and a small number of alternate unit models and dance animations. It’s a pleasant change from having to farm achievements in Wings of Liberty, but at the end of the day, the XP system doesn’t do much aside from give you a loose understanding for how much your teammates or opponents have played multiplayer.

All in all, once all is said and done, Heart of the Swarm is a great expansion, with the only potential game-breaker being the unfortunate manner in which you’re forced to download the game (and again, even if you buy the disc version).
The story isn’t the most compelling thing you’ll see, but if you prefer the Zerg like I do, it gives you a good excuse to use them outside of multiplayer.

From → Games

2 Comments
  1. I still remember playing the first StarCraft and that was the first computer game I ever played. I might have to check it out and give it a try again.

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