Hands on with Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm 
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Gavin Mannion
January 22, 2013 at 10:01 am

A Blizzard sign covered in snow, how apt

Last week I was lucky enough to be flown over to Versailles in France to get some exclusive hands on time with the upcoming second part of StarCraft 2, Heart of the Swarm. While the multiplayer beta is already in full swing this gave us some time to check out the single player and get some inside information about what shall soon be coming to the StarCraft 2 universe.

First up we were ferried into the boardroom to chat to the Production Director, Chris Sigaty, and Senior Art Director, Sam Dider.

Grumpy and Happy?

Then we got treated to the first ever viewing of the incredible Star Craft 2: Heart of the Swarm trailer which if I’ve been able to find it in time is embedded right below.

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After which we jumped right into what has changed in Heart of the Swarm and why you are going to want to pick up a copy as soon as it’s available.

The campaign is entirely focussed on Kerrigan, Queen of the Blades. This time around Kerrigan is seeking to get revenge over Mengsk for his betrayal. So your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to rebuild Kerrigan’s power while exploring the galaxy and re-uniting the swarm.

There is an underlying distrust between the lead Zerg characters and Kerrigan however as she is now more human and far less violent than she was previously. She no longer kills for thrills and has compassion for the enemy that the Zerg find unsettling. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the campaign.

Unlike in Wings of Liberty this time you will play as Kerrigan in virtually every stage and with that comes  the new ability to level up your hero. The more XP your character earns the more powers she gets to unlock. You can then choose which powers to arm her with before each level.

This is the Kerrigan statue outside the studio

You are able to swap and change her powers before every level so you don’t need to worry about which paths you choose. One such power, for example,  is the ability to automatically spawn zerglings at your home base every 10 seconds for no cost.

But really that’s not the coolest part of the single player campaign; the part that I thoroughly loved was the ability to mutate your core creatures to give them extra abilities. Unlike Kerrigan’s powers though these mutations are permanent and you only get one chance to pick them.

However to make the choice easier you are given 2 training levels to try out each variant of the mutation. For example the first mutation you are offered is for the zerglings. You can either choose to give your zerglings leaping power which allows them to pounce on the enemy from a distance and jump up cliffs – all while also increasing their general attack power. Or you could choose to decrease their spawn time to virtually instant and to spawn 3 zerglings at once from one larva.

I replayed the first level twice with each mutation and both offered an entirely different experience on the level. This will  add a fair bit of replayability to the campaign section of Heart of the Swarm. As an aside I chose the instant spawning zerglings on my first play through and I honestly think that was the better choice.

See the zerglings with wings?

The campaign will come in a bit shorter than Wings of Liberty with 20 stages planned – excluding the mutation training stages – but as mentioned before the ability to mutate means you will likely replay the campaign at least twice to see how the different options change the game.

We were then lead away to some banks of PC’s to give the game a go ourselves. The hands-on section had 3 levels for us to try out offering 3 different play styles to get to grips with. In the first stage you (Kerrigan), are dropped on a frozen planet with a few zerglings to look for a lost brood.

You quickly find out that this planet is subject to flash freezing which freezes all your characters into place for a brief moment of time. However the local wildlife appears immune to this so your evolution chamber master, Abathar, instructs you to collect the essence from a few of these creature.

He then injects this essence into the swarm to enhance your abilities and make you immune to the freezing storms. This becomes the essence of this campaign as you come up against the Protoss who are not immune to the storms but otherwise nearly overwhelmingly outnumber you. During the warm periods you hunker down in your base growing your armies and then as soon as the storm hits you rush out to take out as many of the Protoss units and structures as you can before they thaw out and hit back.

Kerriganingame

There is a story behind the campaign but I’m not going to go into that; if you want to know then it would be easy enough to Google and find out. It’s nothing secret – I just don’t like ruining stories.

The next stage is based around you needing to stop Protoss shuttles from escaping through the portals. These shuttles are blasting off from different bases and heading towards random portals while the Protoss are also mounting attacks on your base. It’s a great introduction to fighting on multiple fronts while still launching raids into the enemy bases to try and limit their attacks.

The third and final level was the most unusual. You use a captive Protoss warrior as a host for your queen larva. The warrior is then transported to a Protoss ship and you then consume the warrior and begin sneaking around the ship consuming organic material to grow and spawn Zerglings to take over the ship from the inside out.

It’s a break from the usual stealth or protect missions and while my notes hated the idea at the beginning of the level I ended up thoroughly enjoying it –  and as long as they don’t throw too many of those into the mix we should be in for a good time.

I played through on casual the first time, because I’m useless at Starcraft, and then randomly tried the other levels at different difficulty settings. The change in difficulty makes a huge difference and even though I knew the stage like the back of my hand I was completely unable to conquer it on Brutal. However the journalist from Greece found it pretty easy on Brutal and thought it should be harder… but he appeared to be the only one with that opinion.

That brings us to the end of my single player experience. We were also given some new exciting information about the multiplayer aspects but this is a big enough wall of text. Look out for that story in a couple of minutes.

I'm cranky, arrogant and ever so amazingly annoying but when you get to know me you will also realise I'm honest and incredibly good at describing myself... now pass me that beer