It’s been three years since Blizzard’s highly anticipated release of StarCraft II and Raynor & company are back in this Zerg infested installment. For those real time strategy (RTS) fans who’ve been living under a rock, Heart of the Swarm is the second of two planned expansion packs for 2010′s StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Each expansion focusing on the other two of the game’s playable factions. Heart of the Swarm focuses on the Zerg race and their human-zerg hybrid leader Sarah Kerrigan; the plot moves forward right were StarCraft II left off. Lucky for players, Blizzard put just as much heart and soul into this expansion as they did with Wings of Liberty. While the game itself hasn’t changed much, there are enough refinements and new units added to improve the overall experience for StarCraft II.
Being an expansion to Wings of Liberty, it’s expected that you won’t be getting as many missions as the core game, but each mission does feature interesting objectives and new units that give the story that thoroughly satisfying feeling. Missions at their core are what one would expect from an RTS, scouting, combat, resource collecting, etc. but just like in the previous game, there’s never anything quite as easy as “build a base and go wipe the map clean”. Each level has some interesting restrictions or specific elements that force you to manage things like time or units, they effectively vary up the gameplay throughout the single player. For seasoned players, or RTS aficionados, the campaign isn’t all that difficult on normal and easy is almost a walk in the park; doesn’t hinder the game in anyway though, the campaign is still just as much fun as the last. Blizzard has tweaked some things just enough to make some of the gameplay feel different. For example, no more will you have to guide workers to gather resources, they go about their gathering with little supervision. Once created, they just go to the nearest crystal and go to town; saved me some unnecessary management.
You can upgrade units throughout the game with perks that can be tailored to fit your own unique play style. Want to have Zerglings attack faster or be able to jump over cliffs? You can get your choice. Essentially, you’ll be able to improve speed, attack power, defense, and even discover new abilities that will make your Zerg swarm devastating. You’ll earn these enhancements throughout the campaign but only get to keep one of the two options they throw you. In a pretty slick move on their part, they have you complete a very short mission with each of the power-ups before you decide on which to keep. Kerrigan can also be upgraded with perks and boy oh boy can they cause some serious damage. She has her own upgrade system where you earn more upgrade points by completing missions and side missions throughout the campaign. You’ll want to use Kerrigan as much as possible as her attacks are quite powerful. Don’t worry about her death though as she will re-spawn at your main base after a while. The single-player campaign is linear, which is to be expected of an RTS game, but playing through it is still a blast. The story is still entertaining and felt like it included more cut scenes over StarCraft II. This in turn helped break up the missions and gave you a breather from some of the tense missions.
StarCraft’s big hook has always been the multiplayer experience and Heart of the Swarm’s contribution to the StarCraft II multiplayer gives this mode a shot in the arm. It’s the inclusion of new units and balancing that breathes life in this three-year-old title. The Terrans have access to new defensive capabilities with the explosive booby traps they call Widow Mines. They provide a mess of a situation for oncoming enemies while the new Hellbat transformation for the Hellion give the Terrans a stronger line for close combat. The Zerg have the new Vipers, a flying unit, which can be modified with upgrades while the Protoss have the Oracle units. These units are very useful when you need to sabotage enemy mining operations. Overall the competition is still tough and the ranking ladders are still there.
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is more of what players want, StarCraft. There are other RTS games out there but StarCraft II is the king, or should I say queen, and is still one of the best there is.
A download code was provided by Blizzard Entertainment for review purposes