I am not afraid to admit that I had an unhealthy addiction to the original StarCraft. It was the first real RTS I had ever gotten into, and to this day I still consider it the best of all time. When Wings of Liberty hit back in 2010 (has it really been three years already?), you can imagine my excitement since there hadn’t been a new StarCraft game in nearly a decade. As these stories go, my PC wasn’t able to run the title at maximum efficiency, thus leaving a sour taste in my mouth, and I never really got back into the series. Heart of the Swarm changes all of that. I now have a solid gaming PC, my thirst for StarCraft is back and I have once again fallen down the rabbit hole that could easily eat up a large chunk of my year.
Heart of the Swarm is somewhat of an anomaly in gaming today. Very seldom do we see proper expansion packs as opposed to trickled-out DLC over time. It has been three years, and this is the first real “new” content the game has seen. This is something that I was more accustomed to during the big-box PC days, but has fallen out of practice in today’s world of instant micro-transactions. It feels fresh. It feels good, and Heart of the Swarm delivers enough new content to warrant that $40, so it was definitely worth the wait.
The campaign in Heart of the Swarm feels like the Zerg equivalent of Wings of Liberty, which is what I assume they set out to achieve. The 20+ missions are all well designed, and the story, while entirely cliché most of the time, does a nice job of pushing things forward. Focus is on Kerrigan and her allegiance to the Zerg. The events at the end of Wings of Liberty are short-lived, and things quickly see her back at the helm of the Swarm. Most of it falls under the category of predictable, but it remains entertaining. Plus, few will dispute that Blizzard is one of the best at crafting CGI cut scenes. The opening cinematic is an exercise in pure, unadulterated fan service, and it is glorious.
The structure is similar to the original game. There is a main hub area where Kerrigan can converse with various members of her crew, learn strategies and choose upgrades. She will almost always accompany units in battle during the missions, and gain levels that open up new powers along the way. Switching between these perks is simple and effective, giving players a chance to tailor their experience to fit the mission at hand. Units can also be evolved over the course of the campaign, giving them unique abilities. It is a cool progression, and the mission design is well constructed. I never felt like I was doing the same stuff over and over, plus there are some truly epic moments throughout.
The entire interface has also undergone changes to compensate for the new addition I would love to know how long the core game will be viable without the expansion. It seems Blizzard knows that StarCraft players will likely purchase the new expansion, as the entire main screen has changed to house the new content (and most likely the third, and final expansion).
Interfaces for online have been completely revamped, and if you are like me and haven’t touched the game since it was released, there are a lot of new items to get accustomed to. I like that there is now a way to play skirmishes against similar-skill opponents, which have no effect on your ladder ranking. This allows for a more practice type environment to get used to the new units and all of the tweaks that Blizzard has introduced since the game came out.
Heart of the Swarm looks fantastic. As I mentioned, when the Wings of Liberty arrived, I didn’t have the hardware muscle to run it properly. Now I am maxing out settings with only minor hints of slowdown when I rack up around 500-600 units onscreen at once. Playing as Zerg, that did crop up a few times, but it was almost like a note of how incredible my damage was. The rest of the time, I kept a steady 60 FPS. I also loved the varied environments of the campaign. Lots of creepy areas mixed with volcanic and lush jungle environments kept things interesting. Sound is well done, with some solid voice performances. I really liked Kerrigan’s voice, even if the dialogue was rudimentary. My favorite character is easily Abathur, the upgrade maestro. His dry, direct dialogue reminds me of HK-47 from the classic Knights of the Old Republic. The music also continues its excellence in both scope and design.
No discussion can be made about StarCraft without mention of its online portion. Probably the most competitive game in the world, this series has spawned so many leagues and competitions that jumping into it on an entry level is downright terrifying. I can remember sinking hundreds of hours into the original game and still being demolished. The tactics and strategies devised are simply amazing, and truly speak to the balance for which the series has become known. Heart of the Swarm delivers plenty to give players a swift kick in the pants, especially thanks to the nuances delivered by the new units.
There are a total of seven new units spread across the three races, and only time will tell how they truly affect the balance of the game. The Terrans have received the Hellbat, a callback to the classic Firebat unit that can now be healed by Medivacs. They also get the Widow Mine, which remind me of hidden explosives laid by Vultures in the original game. They can be used both offensively and defensively to good measure. Terran was probably the most advanced race when it came to multiplayer, so it is nice to see their units focus more on features as opposed to new tactics.
Protoss gain the most, with three new units. The first is the Mothership Core, which is an early air unit that really helps players protect their base from rush tactics. It can also be used to recall troops, detect cloaked enemies and eventually upgrade into the new version of Mothership, which uses Time Warp as opposed to Vortex. The second is another air unit called Tempest. This is a large ship that does massive damage against other flyers. It is most effective against Battle Cruisers, Brood Lords, etc. It has massive range and can attack enemies far out in front of it. It is a good unit to bring up the rear of an attack. Finally, the Protoss get Oracle, a very fast offensive unit good for scouting and hit and run tactics.
Lastly, we have the Zerg, which gain two new units for this expansion. The first is the Viper, and it is essentially the new Defiler. It is a ranged distraction unit with no direct attack abilities. It is great to bring them in with an army of Hydralisks or Zerglings to create confusion. The Zerg also get the Swarm Host, which serves as the race’s Siege Tank. This unit can burrow into the ground and release several spawns (known as Locusts) that attack nearby enemies.
It is impossible to tell how all these additions will affect the multiplayer experience in the long run, but it does give current players something to digest right now. So far, it seems that Blizzard continues their excellence in balancing, though I am sure exploits will be found, and units will be tweaked over time. Let’s just hope that the next campaign segment doesn’t take this long to hit shelves. The expansion pack is a dying breed, but Blizzard remains one of the few companies able to pull it off. I am glad to see Heart of the Swarm reinvigorating players so much, myself included. The new content clearly justifies the price tag, making this a mandatory purchase for players of the series.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.
- Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77I Deluxe
- Liquid Cooling: Origin Frostbyte 120 Liquid Cooling
- Processor: Intel i7 3770K with Professional Origin PC Overclocking
- Memory: Corsair 8GB 1600 Mghz Vengeance
- Graphics Card: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670