I’m going to start this out in possibly the most unprofessional way I can think of and admit that I really wasn’t a fan of StarCraft coming into this review. Now, that’s not to say that I thought it was a bad game, and I didn’t even really have a negative thing to say about it, but I simply hadn’t given the game the time to even have an opinion on it.
I played the first one way back when, but I had other RTS games that commanded my admiration. Once StarCraft II was released, I kept saying I would pick it up eventually, but I never actually got around to buying it. Be it due to laziness, an ever growing backlog, or simply the fact that I was intimidated by the caliber of player StarCraft II draws in, I never found the time to try it out. And so, I was elated when I found out that I was going to be tasked with reviewing StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. I could finally scratch it off my gaming bucket list, and after my time spent with the title, I only have one thing left to say: “What in the hell took me so long?”
Heart of the Swarm picks up the StarCraft II story right where Wings of Liberty left off. Sarah Kerrigan is alive and back home, the Zerg threat has all been eliminated and the Terran army is ready to continue being intergalactic ass kickers. However, that would make a fairly boring story if that’s all there was, and Blizzard made sure that things were primed to fall apart within the first twenty minutes of gameplay. It doesn’t take long for Kerrigan to reprise her role as the Queen of Blades and she is soon tasked with rebuilding the Swarm for her own personal war.
The storytelling is top notch this go-round. In between missions, you’ll be offered the chance to converse with your shipmates, and I think this is where the campaign really shines. Listening to the Zerg tell their story and explain their rationale, it honestly gave me a sense of connection to the Swarm. The voice acting for the Zerg characters is fantastic, too, and everyone involved really gives off a solid performance.
Unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same for the human characters, but I’m not sure if that’s a result of the voice acting or the dialogue. While listening to the Zerg or Protoss characters speak sounded natural (well, as natural as you can get in this type of environment), the humans sounded as if they would have fit right in with any number of cheesy 80s action films. It’s not horrible by any extent, but it really pales in comparison to the stellar dialogue from some of the Zerg characters.
The missions themselves may not be well received by extremely well versed players, but as a newcomer to the franchise they were damn near perfect for what I needed. The story gradually introduces you to more advanced tactics and units for the Zerg army, all the while keeping Kerrigan on the battle field as a hero unit. Fans of Warcraft III will instantly feel right at home with her presence in their armies, and her skills become invaluable when trying to turn the tide of battle.
The focus is more often on building up your base and putting out a more powerful army, but the game is rarely as simple as that. Most of the missions focused around some distinct quirk, such as having to collect eggs or feeding a legendary monster the remains of some of the local creeps. It really does a fantastic job of telling the narrative, while keeping the play varied enough to keep the player interested.
As the story progresses, you’ll be able to play a few optional “evolution missions,” which allow you to choose between two very distinct iterations of each unit. The changes are permanent, but very rarely did I find myself struggling over my decision, since it was often a matter of picking out which one suited my personal play style most.
Of course, talking only about the single player content found in Heart of the Swarm is exactly like getting a well done steak from an upper class steakhouse. Sure, you could do it, but you will be deservedly mocked for your poor decision making skills.
Fans of the series will find a few new units and some noticeable tweaks to others when they hop online. While the community hasn’t had enough time to figure out the best way to put all of these new toys, there’s plenty of variation here that has the potential to wreak havoc on the standard strategies in play.
The Zerg now have access to the Viper, which can drag the enemy units in for a quick beat down, or they can use a gas cloud to knock some of your enemy’s troops out of action for a bit. The Terrans now have access to a rocket mine that can add a new layer to base defense, as well the Hellbat transformation for the Hellion to help secure air superiority. The Protoss possibly have the biggest game changer here, as the new Mothership Core can pull off a Mass Recall, potentially saving their entire army from a quick defeat. Anyone with some experience playing StarCraft II will tell you how tightly refined the community is, and adding these new tricks to the player’s arsenal could drastically change things up.
Luckily, Blizzard has also tried to lower the time investment needed before being able to play against other people, and the new tutorial system is absolutely fantastic for bringing players up to speed. The new “Take Command” system allows you to try your hand with a different strategy during a selected scenario, and is an invaluable tool for those players looking to figure out what works for them.
This really is a tricky game to review. Expansion packs are hard sells to people who don’t already own the core product, and when the core product is StarCraft II, I have to wonder if there are really even that many people still on the fence about this. However, it’s worth noting that StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm does everything right, and manages to improve on an already impressive product in almost every sense. If you’re able to overlook the sometimes cheesy storytelling, the campaign alone could be considered the investment. This is a stellar piece of old-school RTS gaming, and if you even have a passing interest in the series it should be on your short list of games to pick up this season.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game that was provided to us for review purposes.