Gaming Review: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Females in gaming are somewhat of an epic, and even after sitting and thinking, two females jump out to me more than almost every other one in existence – Lara Croft and Sarah Kerrigan. It may be because of the games I played when I was younger, but even putting that aside, Sarah is, by far, the strongest female that I can think of. Known by several names, such as the Queen of Blades and Queen Bitch of the Universe, the second instalment in Starcraft II focuses entirely on her.

As anyone versed in Blizzard’s RTS epic, Starcraft is actually something many games dream of becoming. It has a ridiculously large following, both offline and online, and in some countries, the game is actually considered to be a sport. With tens of thousands of people playing it every single day, there’s no doubt that it’s a success. This game, Heart of the Swarm, is an expansion pack on the existing game, featuring a handful of new units and a whole new campaign to play, and a new menu interface to streamline playing games against other people. As such, i’ll talk about the campaign, then the multiplayer, and then wrap my thoughts up at the end.

The actual campaign this time around is a pretty basic one, focusing almost entirely on Kerrigan’s storyline after the events of Wings of Liberty, which i’m not going into detail of because spoilers and the like. It’s all about her own little quest for revenge and how she wants nothing more than to rip Mengsk off his throne on the dominion and destroy him. It’s basic and straightforward, and no matter how many single player missions they throw in, they can’t hide the fact that a very small amount of work went into the story.

In fact, the only times the story shines are when it’s doing something different. Be it looking inside the mind of the Zerg and understanding how they work, or focusing on a fascinating element that they brought in in the way of the Primal Zerg, or just getting on with all that build-up which will hopefully pay off when the final installment comes out. In that sense, it may be best to think of this game as the bridge that’s used to tie up a loose end or two and to get Kerrigan and the Zerg from Point A to Point B.

The actual missions aren’t as boring as the story, though. Kerrigan takes the front-line on the battlefield in all the missions, and she can become an incredibly powerful unit for you to control. She levels up by completing bonus objectives in the level, and as she levels up, she unlocks new abilities. You can chose between letting her have increased regeneration and an extra 200 life, or an ability that deals 300 damage to a target. Things like this create an incredible amount of customization that you can go into, so it just sucks that the best abilities are pretty evident to most players. The customization also comes in the form of mutations, where you can mutate members of the swarm to grow and evolve. Things like the famous Zergling can evolve in two ways, and the way you chose is permanent, so you need to think carefully about it. You can give it the ability  to train almost instantly and hatch three out of an egg instead of two, or you can give them increased attack and a jumping ability. Little decisions like these really give you the impression that you are in control of the swarm and that you are the swarm, and it’s a really nice touch.

The gameplay in the missions is wonderful for an RTS. The whole “build-up and destroy the enemy base” is something that happens a lot in these kind of games, so it’s a relief that only a handful of them actually do this. Some of them involve collecting eggs which are dotted around the landscape, getting Kerrigan from Point A to Point B, growing a Brood Mother on a Protoss Ship and taking it over, and my personal favorite is where you take control of the Hyperion and assault a starport. They’re varied and they change constantly, and they’re not often that boring. There aren’t many of the “Hold out for x amount of time” missions like the first game, but there aren’t any Protoss or Terran missions either, which would have been nice to see.

So, enough about the single-player. We all want to hear about the multiplayer, and how that handles. I mean, Starcraft is popular enough to be a sport, after all. Much like the Wings of Liberty game, each race has a unit or two added in, and hardly any of the campaign units carry across. We can always hope for them all to be included in Legacy of the Void, but it might not happen. The Zerg have units which are designed to help them deal with siege and units that have camped themselves into a perfect defensive position. When you think about the Zerg and their weaknesses, this makes perfect sense, and it’s only a bonus that the units can also double for defense, which is another thing they sorely lack. The Terran haven’t been changed much, with a new unit called the Hellbat being able to morph from the Hellion. It functions as a primary combat unit, very similar to the Firebat of old games. They also have a stealth mine which they can field, which helps their already incredible defense.

Finally, the Protoss, and they havn’t been changed much. They were promised a unit that focuses in resource harassment  and it just sucks that the abilities which would have made the unit so much better have been taken away. Instead, the Oracle takes the job of a versatile scout that can also attack, but it’s probably just that I don’t know how to use it very well yet. They also have the Tempest, a long-rage Siege Ship that boasts a powerful attack to assist the Protoss in their air-game. The Tempests are about as useful as the Immortals or the Collossi, and are actually a brilliant addition to the game, and with Mothership Core’s making Motherships easier to field, they’ve been given some sort of an air game outside of the Phoenix and Void Ray.

All in all, it’s a pretty great expansion. It doesn’t remove the balance of the original game whilst giving all the races an additional use in battle and constantly expanding what they can all do, and it delivers the second campaign. I didn’t enjoy this campaign as much as the first, but that’s because it was an incredibly odd one, with one goal being played out and none of the plot twists and turns that i’ve come to expect. There’s a lot that I want from Legacy of the Void, however, but the primary thing is not to leave it another three years until it’s released…as that would just annoy me all over again.


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