When Blizzard announced that StarCraft II would be divided into three games, one for each race, the gaming community was a bit preemptive in casting a suspicious eye. Respectfully so. Blizzard doesn’t rush its games, and as such, it can be years before we even hear the word “sequel” from the company. Remember the wait for Diablo III? Yet, with StarCraft II we have received two quality games in a three year span. Luckily, the last three years have flown by for StarCraft players, much in part due to the solid content and re-playability found in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Multiple playthroughs, multiple seasons, and leagues to compete in — and lets not forget user-generated content — make it an excellent package. This continues with StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Expansion Pack featuring Sarah Kerrigan and the Zerg campaign.
The story begins immediately after StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Kerrigan the Queen of Blades is no longer the psychotic evil Zerg manipulator. Instead, she appears more human, but with advanced abilities from her days as the Zerg leader. Heart of the Swarm follows Kerrigan and her struggle to find her humanity, while also trying to regain control of the Zerg. The story is a bit melodramatic and predictable, but players will engulf themselves in the lore with each telegraphed plot twist. There’s everything from love, betrayal to revenge in Heart of the Swarm. The game ends a bit too abruptly, which is probably due to the fact that there will be another expansion (it’s slightly shorter than Wings of Liberty with only 20 missions instead of 30). The ending, however, increases the anticipation for what is sure to be an amazing conclusion when StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void is released.
StarCraft veterans will likely notice Heart of the Swarm‘s easy campaign. The reason for such ease stems from the fact that you’re in full control of Kerrigan and her ever-increasing abilities (which includes respawning after dying on the battlefield). It hearkens back to WarCraft III’s hero characters with strong and unique abilities. I was able to fly through the campaign on normal difficulty in less than 12 hours, so I recommend that anyone familiar with StarCraft play on a higher difficulty setting. That said, the campaign has a few missions that are uncharacteristically difficult. There are also boss battles, which are a decent change of pace, but aren’t really interesting. One boss battle demands you dodge fireballs hurled at you by a worm-like enemy. It was really straightforward. The location of each shot is shown to you and you have to effectively dodge it to then counter with your own attack. It’s nothing innovative, but it’s a good addition.
The missions do vary in design — they’re not all simple build-an-army-and-destroy-the-opposing-army sorties. Some missions take the MOBA approach, which pays homage to the increasingly popular League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2. Another mission has you extracting Zerglings from eggs scattered around the map. Each mission also has bonus objectives. There are also evolution missions which allow you to improve units by completing them. For example, there’s a mission that grants you the ability to instantly spawn Zerglings and spawn three per egg instead of two.
There’s another mission which makes you choose between Roaches that spawn mini-Roaches, or Roaches that slow enemies’ movement speed and rate of fire. These missions also serve as great tutorials for each unit. You never have to worry about the single-player game becoming stale as the missions vary quite a bit. What makes it even more engaging is the fact that you choose which planet to visit, meaning no playthrough will be the same. It’s also up to you to choose what upgrades are important. These upgrades often had me stopping to fully understand how I’d be able to use them in my overall strategy. It’s a great way to give players choices, while also making them think about their strategy.
This is a beautiful RTS when running on high graphical settings. The planets all look amazing — some are lush and full of small jungles, others are fiery, full of volcanic lava spewing brightly. However, my favorites are the icy snow maps that were sadly missing from Wings of Liberty. These maps all have the appropriate weather effects you’d expect like footprints left behind on snow and sand. Sadly, if you’re running the game on low graphics it’ll be hard to enjoy these new maps. However, you’ll still be able to enjoy the gorgeous single-player cutscenes that will surely excite any onlooker.
RTS games might not be the most welcoming games due to the high difficulty. StarCraft II does an excellent job at helping newcomers with in-depth tutorials. These tutorials teach you each unit’s strengths and weaknesses and also offer strategies. For example, you will learn that the Protoss unit Colossus is great against Zerglings and Marines, while Banelings are adept at dispatching Marines and enemy barricades. It’s important that beginners take the time to learn the in and outs of each race. StarCraft, although welcoming, isn’t a game you can just pick up and play.
The multiplayer is what will likely keep you logging in hours and hours at a time. But be warned: Prepare to lose, prepare for anguish, and overall, prepare to learn. But don’t let this discourage you. Players who are willing to become students of the game will be rewarded. This means you have to put time into the game even when you’re away from it — watch videos, read strategies, watch matches and learn build orders. Victory in StarCraft II is easily one of the most satisfying feelings you’ll ever experience in a game. To win you have to work harder than your opponent, out-think your opponent. Winning is a mental exercise.
I recommend staying in the practice league for as long as possible in order to hone your skills. It’s a bit slow-paced, but you’ll gain a valuable understanding of how StarCraft II works. This also gives you an opportunity to try each race and experiment, without having losses count against you. After you leave the practice league you’ll play a series of matches that will determine the league you’ll be placed in. This a wonderful idea since it allows you to play players of similar ability to you. Winning more matches moves you up in your league ladder and ultimately into a league. Blizzard does an amazing job making sure you’re constantly challenged and improving. StarCraft never allows itself to become dull.
Picking a race and learning its ins and outs is what makes StarCraft shine. Players who love to build massive armies will love playing as Zerg, while more defensive minded players will probably enjoy playing as Terran. Terran players will turtle their resources most of the time and attack in waves. While players looking for a challenge will likely enjoy mastering the technological intricacies introduced by the Protoss. Each race plays distinctively, so it’ll be a long time before you master each one.
StarCraft II appears balanced at the moment. That is until the more advanced players experiment and really crack the game open. But it’s awesome seeing new units rip through old strategies. My favorite new unit, the Zerg Viper, worked wonders against players trying to use old Siege Tank and Marine tactics from Wings of Liberty. Additions like these show how the expansion has created new strategies and options.
It’s hard to put a handle on the multiplayer suite since balancing patches might arrive. This doesn’t mean the game has any glaring imbalances, it’s Blizzards way of making sure things remain fresh and competitive. If competition isn’t your forte there is a ton of user generated content for you to enjoy.
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is an excellent expansion to one of the greatest RTS games ever created. If you’re an RTS fan, you will feel right at home. StarCraft II‘s magic lies in how it guides players and teaches. Its accessibility will attract new players to a genre that is unforgiving and punishing, while also being brutally unforgiving. The game is nothing short of amazing and will surely keep players busy until Legacy of the Void is released.
StarCraft II Minimum PC System Requirements
- OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8 (updated with the latest Service Packs)
- Processor: Intel Pentium D or AMD Athlon 64 X2
- Memory: 1.5 GB RAM
- Graphics: 256 MB Video Memory with Shader 3.0 support, ATI Radeon X850XT / NVIDEA GeForce 7600GT, DirectX 9.0c
- Hard Drive: 20 GB HDD
You can buy StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm at Amazon.com for $39.96.