StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm review
Much has happened since the end of Wings of Liberty. With old friends buried and Kerrigan missing a great deal of her memories, things aren’t really looking up for Raynor’s Raiders and his allies. Mengsk is out for blood, determined to wipe Kerrigan out in her weakened state.
Do you really know the Zerg?
The Zerg have always been a near faceless organisation, with the closest thing to interaction being between the talkative cerebrates of old. Heart of the Swarm changes that, as Kerrigan reclaims the broods and finds powerful allies from her previous time as the Queen of Blades. Izsha remembers much about the Queen of Blades, offering useful insight and information about a time that Kerrigan can’t remember. Za’Gara is a powerful and ambitious broodmother, a type of Zerg the Queen of Blades made to tend to the countless Swarm. The oddest organism, as it calls itself, is Abathur. This highly intelligent and succinct to the point of losing sentence structure creature is the mastermind behind the evolution of the Swarm. Abathur consumes essence and harvests sequences, finding new methods of improving the Swarm, changing it as its goals are altered. It is through these characters, with a few others along the way, that you are offered a chance to see how the Swarm operates and how things were when Kerrigan was Queen of Blades.
Be the heart of the Swarm
Kerrigan has gone through a lot. Her faithful followers are often confused by her emotions, her odd methodologies of not killing everything that is not Zerg. Though they don’t understand it, most come to respect or at least be wary of the power this somehow grants their queen. Our anti-heroine is in conflict with so many emotions and tough decisions, making Heart of the Swarm character driven, a welcome surprise considering that these organisms are all part of a hive mind. Kerrigan is bent on one goal and she modifies the Swarm to ensure she can achieve it. But is she hurting or strengthening the Zerg with her meddling?
Zerg in overdrive
In similar fashion to Wings of Liberty, you spend a lot of time improving your units well beyond normal capabilities. Between Kerrigan levelling up into a near unstoppable force and your ability to tailor the Swarm to your needs and play style, don’t expect much of a challenge on normal. Every unit you reintegrate into the Swarm can be mutated by Abathur. These mutations can be changed between missions, allowing you to adapt as missions require it. Zerglings can either get extra armour (a scary, scary concept), improved attack speeds or improved movement speed from the get go. These modifications can be further enhanced by completing special Evolution Missions for Abathur, who then shows you two possible changes you can introduce. These changes are drastic and permanent, completely changing the way you utilise units. They are also, oddly, always either green or purple. Purple Banelings can climb cliffs and launch themselves at foes, allowing them to get past your Zerglings and Roaches to where they need to be. Green Banelings explode and spawn two smaller versions, which do less damage, but still add extra punch versus hardened targets. This also makes Banelings dying before reaching the enemy less of an issue, as it will split and still do some damage, hopefully. This does add longevity to the campaign, as there are two very distinct methods to use all of your units. Maybe I will try making them all green next time. If you don’t want to start the campaign from the beginning a new master archive allows you to tweak decisions before you jump into the level of your choice.
But that’s not all
So much can be said about the multiplayer of this game. Blizzard has put a lot of effort into making Heart of the Swarm appealing to the eSports community. One of the best ways to do this? Get
fresh meat more players interested in the multiplayer aspect of the game. Because the gameplay is so vastly different, a training mode allows you to learn the differences between single player and multiplayer in a safe AI populated zone. Various objectives appear, detailing how to maximise resource production and grow a healthy army. Your supply counter will glow if you are close to running out and various pop-ups will chastise you for building a supply depot too early in the game, or if one of your unit production facilities is standing idle, wasting valuable time. At the most basic level, multiple technologies and units are locked out, forcing you to focus on the basics at normal speed. These restrictions continue until level 3, where you are playing with no unit restrictions at the game’s fastest speed setting. Once you are past this section and on your way to delving into multiplayer, you can either do it all again as a different race, or move onto a series of test games versus the AI. Over three games, the AI will judge how skilled you are, increasing or decreasing difficulty depending on how you fare. So by now you have learnt how to get a base up and running in pretty good time, without having someone arrive to stomp your base. Which might have included them leaving their Zerglings in a pattern that says n00b on top of the ashes of your base.
During all this, you might notice that you have been earning EXP for everything you have done. Even when playing against AI, you are gaining EXP with the race you are playing, with decals, new portraits and even dance animations being dangled in front of you like a great tasty steak. This not only creates a sense of accomplishment, besides the joy of eventually beating another human, but creates a happy environment for the achievement hunters, the OCD and the dedicated. Additions like unranked play, being able to make groups or clans and the mind-bending ability to resume a game from a replay all add a new dimension to the online component of the game.
Now, I am no expert, but HotS has really changed the metagame for online play, as new units and changes are wont to do. The Protoss have the early game Mothership Core, which offers both amazing abilities and flying vision, something that could land you in trouble if they can see where you built buildings on the edge of the high ground. I’m hoping that the Protoss siege air unit, the Tempest, really gets a chance to shine. Reapers have lost their building-destroying charges and now have an out of combat health regeneration, allowing them to harass and disappear again and again. Hellbats offer Terran players something similar to a Firebat, straight from the factory. These guys also work well with the MMM (Marines, Marauders and Medivacs) play because they can be healed by your Medivacs. The Zerg have changed the way Ultralisks enter the fray and the new Swarm Host offers small Locusts to lay siege from a distance. A new caster unit, the flying Viper, can reduce enemy attack range or yank a unit towards the Viper, into a vulnerable position.
Whether you are playing it for the single player story, to crush your enemies in multiplayer or both, Heart of the Swarm is a powerful addition to the StarCraft franchise. Often the second instalment in a trilogy is the weakest, setting the field for the climax. While Heart of the Swarm definitely sets the groundwork for the next game, it doesn’t do it in a cheap way that leaves you frustrated and cursing at where the game decided to end. Kerrigan stole my heart and made me understand the Swarm. Now my eyes are focused on the Void.
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm was reviewed by Garth Holden on a PC