Weekend Flashback Review – StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

Originally Posted March 30th, 2013

StarCraft 2 released it’s third and final expansion during the end of 2015, and I’ve yet to pick it up and play. What I did play a lot of was Heart of the Swarm, even getting into Platinum in the League Multiplayer game, able to beat out some opponents in the Diamond League. It was great fun when it finally clicked, and I still try to follow StarCraft tournaments to this day. It was the first game that I really enjoyed watching as an E-Sport and it mostly stemmed from this review.

The second part of StarCraft II is here in the form of Heart of the Swarm, the Zerg campaign of Blizzard’s sci-fi RTS. This expansion, in addition to a new singleplayer campaign, brings in new multiplayer Units and many tweaks to make gameplay even tighter, as well as some general user-interface changes to the menu. It’s all for the better, and makes the StarCraft II experience all the sweeter.

The campaign follows Sarah Kerrigan immediately after the events of Wings of Liberty; having been recently returned to her human form, she plans to head home with Jim Raynor all the while as scheming in her head to finally destroy Emperor Mengst. The set up for the campaign is good, and there are many different events that are compelling and interesting to follow through.

The issue is, that as well as the story is told (and it’s told very well) it feels a little less well written. Comparisons could be made to various impactful events in Blizzard’s WarCraft series, and in the round it’s largely the same tale albeit with different setting and characters. This is unfortunate, as there is near limitless scope for ingenuity in storytelling within the confines of the StarCraft universe, it just seems like the writers got stuck repeating the same story beats, leaving every thing a little bit predictable, although still fun and enjoyable to see through to the end.

Speaking of the presentation, the game is still fantastic. Tweaks and improvements have been made and characters seem more detailed with  animations that are more fluid. The UI has also had some subtle enhancements that impact game play in a positive way, especially for newcomers to how StarCraft works at its core. Above your main structure (in this case, the Hatchery) and Gas Extractors, an icon now informs you how many workers are currently harvesting minerals, and the amount needed for full efficiency. It’s a useful little addition that I personally am thankful of, as I never knew previously the exact number I needed to get the most out of my resource management and it makes learning the ropes of the multiplayer all the more approachable. There is also the addition of a “select all army” function and, during the campaign, a hot-key to select each hero unit on that mission. This becomes extremely important as Kerrigan, and other heroes, have special abilities that you’ll want to use often.

These abilities can be changed from the menu screens outside of mission. From the start, you get a choice of two different columns of passive and active abilities to apply to Kerrigan. These can either enhance her power, or improve general effectiveness of your army as a whole. Later on in the game, a third column is unlocked that expands your choices even further, making for some complex tactical some decisions. Added to that, each of your core units has different ways to evolve. Not only the option of three key changes that you can implement at any time, but a specific choice for each that stays permanent for the rest of your campaign. These evolutions are usually two unique abilities that significantly change the way your unit plays. Thankfully, you can test each one in an Evolution Mission before making your choice. Most of these are easy to choose from as they’ll fit your specific play style, but some seem so effective that it isn’t so simple. It’s a great way to mix things up in the campaign; opens the game up for customisation and works extremely well. Not to mention the ability to make Banelings jump to your enemies is absolutely joyful.

The campaign itself lasts a solid amount of time, though does feel occasionally like it’s purely a set up for the final chapter of the game, Legacy of the Void. However, you do get a lot of pay off to the story. There are also multiple achievements and bonus objectives to go through once you’ve played a mission, extending playtime significantly, and of course there’s always the challenge of the harder difficulty settings that will unlock more portraits for your character.

On the multiplayer side matters are slightly different. There are new units, of course, and the changes for the game have been known for a while, as players in the beta helped balance everything to keep it as tight and fair as possible. You still have a placement series of games to put you into an appropriate league for your skill and it all works rather well. It’s still quite hard to jump into if you’re not used to the micromanagement formula that the pro’s have been using since the Brood War days, but it’s getting easier.

There’s also the new menu option to try different games created by the community; dubbed, The Arcade, where games like StarJeweled and Auir Chef now live. There is a myriad of different genres and game types to play here. Searching by specific name and genre mean that if you’re looking for the most popular Tower Defence game, you’ll find it pretty quickly. There’s also a very interesting “Fun or Not” option which puts you in a newly added game type to test it out and vote on whether or not it’s any good. It’s a great way to showcase the community’s finest maps and ideas that will obviously. It’s where the DOTA game-type originated after all, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next big thing could spring up in here.

There’s a lot to talk about in Heart of the Swarm, and it’s added a lot of fundamental upgrades to the base game. It’s a great release, and it’s something fans of the RTS genre should be eager to play.

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