In an age of endless $15 DLC packs, a true expansion is difficult to come by. However, this is not stopping Blizzard as they stick with their tried and true formula and release the first expansion for Starcraft 2 worldwide: Heart of the Swarm. This Zerg based expansion is exciting, fun, and extremely story driven, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
Although the game has only been out since Tuesday, being the hardcore (read: dedicated) gamer that I am, I have managed to play through the game once already (on Hard difficulty, mind you). I have not had a chance to dive into the multiplayer aspect of the game just; this review will be focusing mainly on the campaign.
The best part about the campaign is that it allows us to jump right into the action without the fear of being “6-pooled” by our enemy. You start off with a quick story that fills us in from the events that concluded Wings of Liberty to the start of Heart of the Swarm. In the story, we take control of Kerrigan, former Queen of Blades, but now just a human with a Zerg-inspired hairdo. She’s been reunited with her long lost love, rebellious ranger Jim Raynor, but almost as soon as they’re together, they’re torn apart once more.
From here, the Kerrigan-era begins. Without spoiling anything, events go down that put her on the front lines as the head of the Zerg army, seeking revenge against Arcturus Mengske for turning her into the Queen of Blades – and this involves reuniting with new and old allies alike
Little has change mechanically with the game, but one thing to note is that the game is a little more “noob” friendly. Your workers auto-mine at the start of the game and there is even a counter that tells you when you have the optimal amount of miners at a base. Also, selecting F2 will select your ENTIRE army. The F2 key is a stretch for most gamers, but this does help if you lose track of your army. F1 will also select your idle workers to help you keep them busy. Whether or not these features exist in the PvP-Multiplayer, I am unsure, but it would make things more interesting (and probably anger a few Koreans).
In between your missions, we are again gifted with an interesting upgrade system that intertwines the story with modifications to your units (making some of them [see Baneling]extremely overpowered). You can have some conversations with your creepy swarm buddies living inside your ship.
The main theme that we focus on, however, is the “evolution” of your units. Each unit you unlock (as the story progresses) will have three upgrades to choose from, mainly focusing on attack speed, armor or movement. You can only pick one at a time, but you are not limited to the amount of times you can switch between them.
The second branch to this is a permanent evolution for a specific unit. As the game goes on, you will get what is called an “evolution mission” which essentially just shows off the two new “strains” you can weave into your Zerg units. For example, Zerglings can either evolve wings and be given the ability to jump up and down cliffs, or remain the same, but spawn in threes and in half the time. A Roach can be given the ability to spawn two mini-Roaches when it kills a unit, or slow the enemies attack speed by a huge amount. The choices can sometimes be hard, but it definitely puts a unique twist to the game. The evolution missions mentioned earlier allow you to “try before you buy” because these upgrades are permanent, meaning you can’t go back.
Kerrigan, which is playable on every mission, also has her own evolutionary tree where she can unlock abilities for herself, such as a psionic blast (single target nuke), leap strike (powerful ranged attack), a heal and so on. Or she can go with items that help with base management, like instantly spawning Overlords and faster spreading creep tumors. Like the unit evolutions, none of these are permanent and you can switch them around between missions. This fixes the problem from Wings of Liberty where if you picked a wrong tech tree, you were out of luck.
Now you can be the judge if you think the game is too short or not, but after only being out since Tuesday, I have already completed the campaign on Hard (I will go back for Brutal here soon). Regardless of the length, the story was great and Kerrigan was an awesome lead. Even though we have controlled her before, we never spent too much time with her. It was interesting to see her go from Queen of Blades to her human form. Without spoiling anything, the story gets super intense and will keep you engaged the whole way through.