With almost three years between Wings of Liberty and StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, expectations have been high that the expansion would deliver an entertaining campaigning and improve the multiplayer experience for all. The fast-selling expansion that is Heart of the Swarm has done with gusto, providing fans of the series a dramatic package with gorgeous cutscenes, consistently fun gameplay and a satisfying campaign.
The aforementioned campaign will take players through Sarah Kerrigan’s quest to both regain control of the swarm and, in a nice role-reversal from Wings of Liberty, will feature Sarah attempting to secure the safety of popular rebel Jim Raynor. Blizzard made the first several missions very friendly for those not accustomed playing as zerg, so veterans of the race may feel a little bored as concepts like creep, overlords, evolution strategies and proper zerg macro in general are slowly introduced. Though there are plenty of straightforward battle and defense missions, Blizzard have also added a few satisfyingly different levels, like one where an infested Protoss leads to an entire ship being overrun by the ever-growing zerg parasite, or controlling the Hyperion Battleship through space-warfare.
Of course, just as Jim Raynor was used throughout the first campaign, Kerrigan is used in the second – and completing objectives will allow gamers to level up her abilities during the off-mission chats. Over the course of the campaign, she’s guaranteed to go from a moderately powerful hero unit to a seemingly unstoppable force of brutality – a theme that accurately fits what the new and improved zerg swarm should resemble during the campaign’s final, glorious stages. Blizzard have also done a great job on the cutscenes, providing some truly entertaining fighting sequences that make gamers feel like they’re watching an animated movie.
Kerrigan must regain control of renegade broods to rebuild a newer, stronger Swarm.
As more and more enemies fall to the swarm, players will travel from planet to planet from Kerrigan’s living command warship known as the Leviathan. Throughout the campaign, players get the chance to upgrade units in a choice between two upgraded strains of genetics. While this feature was in Wings of Liberty, the expansion improves upon it by giving ‘test missions’ where the player actually gets to see both in action before deciding – it’s a great idea, and one that adds a lot to both the enjoyment level of selecting, and the overall length of the campaign itself.
The multiplayer introduces a few new units to each new race, and fans worrying about balancing issues needn’t waste time on such things- there’s a reason why Blizzard takes so long with expansions. Units like the swarm host or widow mine allow for new strategies in online play, but all units have their own respective drawbacks as well. The hosts can’t defend themselves whilst mobile, and widow mines can damage friendly units – all of these new units reqcquire that special amount of macro and care throughout combat if they’re to be used successfully.
It’s very easy to transition from the first game’s multiplayer into the second, as they’re not ultimately that different. Heart of the Swarm introduces several bug fixes and feels more like a big Battle.Net update rather than a new game, but it is known that the expansion focused on the campaign and, truthfully, the multiplayer doesn’t need much changing. It’s an addictive experience that will leave competitive gamers, and the popular e-sports scene, coming back for more. Gameplay is virtually bug-free at this point, and the consistency of Blizzard’s servers is something that SimCity could take inspiration from.
It’s clear that the two years of polish have paid of in a bug-free, entertaining and challenging experience. Fans of the series will likely plow through the campaign with due haste, and newer gamers – if they jump right into multiplayer – will have a blast learning the ropes and spending their time in bronze league.
Ultimately, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm presents a very enjoyable and well designed campaign, which advances the plot to the point where Legacy of the Void is due to feature one what may be the most exciting showdown in the series to date. Introducing plenty of new campaign-only zerg (and one or two new multiplayer units for all races), Heart of the Swarm is a thoroughly enjoyable product that stands up the reputation of the series. While it doesn’t advance the game on a level that the Brood War expansion did to the original StarCraft, fans of the series will find themselves easily sucked back into online play shortly after beating the campaign – it’s clear the Sarah Kerrigan-based expansion is a nicely polished heart-throb.
StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is available now on PC and Mac.
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