Starcraft 2 – Heart of the Swarm is the expansion to the critically acclaimed Starcraft 2 – Wings of Liberty. In the single player of Heart of the Swarm you take control of the nightmarish Zerg. The constantly evolving alien arthropods which operate together as one telepathic hive mind with a desire to seek, destroy and consume. The game has 20 missions (+7 smaller bonus missions) as opposed to the 29 in Wings of Liberty. But much of Blizzards focus has been on the multi-player side of the game. In multi-player you can play as all three races, Zerg, Terran (Human) or Protoss (Psionic Alien). The multi-player features new units, maps and interface changes.
I found single player disappointing. The story had no real bite and the dialogue and plot were poor. The same was true of Wings of Liberty. The gritty brutal realism of the old Brood War was absent. The characters weren’t so interesting and some of their motivations were confusing.
One of the things which really annoyed me is how the story kept trying to morally justify the characters actions. For example at one point Kerrigan pulls the swarm back from a bunch of wounded marines after having slaughtered hundreds of them unnecessarily I just couldn’t get behind her character in the same way as the old queen of blades who was evil, cunning and totally ruthless. She had no problem in infesting marines in the way this Kerrigan does. It’s perhaps not surprising then that the best character is the one not bothered by ethics. Abathor is the mastermind of creating new Zerg strains. He is obsessed with perfection.
Blizzard went to extreme lengths to try and portray Kerrigan and Raynor as the good guys and Mengsk (The head of the Terrans) as the bad guy. It was totally unnecessary. The writers really lost their way here. The story almost felt like it had been made for a younger audience. Most disappointing of all old characters felt like a pale comparison of their former selves and barring Abathor there were no new decent new ones. Very little was made of the history characters have with each other (except for one mention of Fenix)
There were some nice ideas. You learn about the origin of the Zerg, which was great, and the story was somewhat saved by Blizzards incredible cinematics which seemed to have all the darkness and realism the rest of the game lacked.
Newer players may not mind so much. Older players will feel very disappointed.
The missions themselves are much better. They are for the most part fun and well designed. One thing I didn’t like was a lot of the missions have some sort of time limit. It’s fine to have a few missions like this but sometimes you want to sit back experiment and explore the game. The installation missions felt a bit too linear. There were some really good missions though, my favourite was wear you fight on a Protoss ship. Another more minor complaint is that the game was too easy. Blizzard does a great job off offering four difficulty settings but veteran players will not be challenged by even the hardest setting. Another gripe is the fewer number of missions compared to Wings of Liberty.
The Zerg interface lacks the ship like feel of the Hyperion but the game does excel at feeling Zergy. Upgrading and evolving your units by completing bonus missions was a great addition.
Given Blizzard has been developing this expansion for almost three years I really expected something more. However the reason for some of the shortcomings are probably because of Blizzards focus on multi-player.
Once again Blizzard has proved themselves the masters of the art of balancing. The game is already close to being balanced and Blizzard is constantly watching and updating. The game doesn’t play as differently to Wings of Liberty as you might think but at first glance the new units really seemed to have added something.
Blizzard has talked a lot about slimming down the ‘ball of death’. In Wings of Liberty it was common for players to mass their units in one large ball. This led to a lot of posturing and huge battles where it was often difficult to see what was going on. Blizzard has done a great job. Bringing back mines for Terran was an excellent idea. The game already feels more enjoyable both to play and watch. In many cases action is now constant with battles going on all over the map. Games between professional gamers are already looking more interesting. Better skilled players also seem to be better able to differentiate themselves from weaker players.
New Multiplayer Units
Widow Mine – A mine which reloads and keeps going off. Hits air and ground
Hellbat – Upgrade of the hellion making it much tougher
Swarm Host – A unit which burrows in the ground and spawns and unlimited number of units
Viper – A new casting units which has a host of useful spells such as abduct which pulls in enemy units and blinding cloud which reduces ranged units to 1 range.
Oracle – A new flying Protoss spell caster. It can also create detection and has a devastating attack against workers.
Tempest – A new capital ship which has a very long range and big damage but slow rate of fire
Mothership Core – A new flying unit with a host of abilities such as recalling units, slowing enemy units down and turning buildings into powerful defensive structures. Can upgrade to a full Mothership
Changes have also been made to some existing units.
Blizzard has also had added a host of excellent new features to multiplayer. You can now watch replays with friends and even pick up in the middle of old games. There are new maps as you would expect. You can now save multiplayer games to protect against a loss of connection. There have been major changes to the game editor and you can even play against players in other regions. Blizzard has also added a new leveling system.
Blizzard nailed multi-player. They’ve got the balance of everything just right. The new features are great for the most part. The story of single player was a real disappointment and almost feels like an afterthought. The script and story writers need to get it together. Nevertheless the missions were fun and Blizzards cinematics were superb as always.
Luckily Blizzard got multiplayer, the most important thing, right. Most players will probably spend a lot more time on multi-player. If your just planning to only play single player the expensive price for an expansion isn’t worth it. if you plan on playing a decent amount of multi-player it is.
Single Player 6/10 Multiplayer 10/10 Overall 8.5/10