Platform: Windows PC
Reviewed by Jonathan Bester
Developed and Published by Blizzard Entertainment comes one of the most anticipated expansion packs of the decade. It is the continuation of a title released in 2010. The title? StarCraft 2. Warning: If you haven’t played the previous titles in the series, you may find that this review contains spoilers, if you don’t wish to spoil Heart of the Swarm for yourself, please save reading this review until you have completed the previous games in the series.
Blizzard Entertainment has become synonymous with the real-time strategy genre, and for several years has dominated in this area. Its flagship title, Warcraft has been the real-time strategy game of choice for more than two decades and with the introduction of the original Starcraft in 1998, things only escalated from there.
A universe was created where it wasn’t just about opposing factions battling it out on a couple of continents, players were taken out into the wild blue yonder. Players were immersed in a war stretching out across multiple planets across the universe, with not two, but three opposing races. Each race with a rich and bountiful back-story that kept the player enthralled for hours on end.
The three races in question were the Terran, human colonists taking their first steps out into the unknown, colonising planets and trying to find a foothold in an otherwise unknown place. Secondly, the Zerg, a race of biologically engineered aliens with a central “hivemind” that controlled every individual member of the race with its thoughts, and of course lastly, a race of technologically advanced aliens known as the Protoss.
For many years these three factions have been engaged in a war which strives to reach a conclusion bordering on the epic. Continuing on from the events depicted in Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm focuses on the aftermath of the restoration of Kerrigan to human-form. However, due to her prolonged time in the state of Queen of Blades, some of the effects still remain, such as the ability to control the Zerg. This ability, although somewhat diminished allows her to assert herself as a force to be reckoned with.
Heart of the Swarm takes the player on a journey unlike what has been seen in previous StarCraft titles. It takes on the form of an RPG, in that the focus of the story is on Kerrigan herself and her development as a character.
The majority of missions see Kerrigan having to perform certain tasks in order to grow in power. Such missions as destroy Terran facilities, to free allies are dominant during the campaign. Through these missions the story is carried through with a brisk pace and the player will feel very satisfied with the progress made in this expansion pack. Simply put, due to the transformation back to human form with the Xel’naga device, retains her self control and will even though she slowly but surely returns to her Zerg form. The fact that she is in firm control serves to add only more emotion to the story, which is a welcome addition to the Zerg campaign.
In the original Starcraft, the Zerg campaign, through its challenges could be seen as mindless fun. With the introduction of the human element, there are a lot of ramifications to take into account and it only serves to add to the overall value of the campaign. Kerrigan feels more in control than ever.
In addition to the main story line, there is a new element that has been introduced. The evolution chamber on board your flagship vessel has an NPC that allows you to further develop, using DNA splicing, and your existing unlocked units. This is done using two methods. The first is through a multi-tiered special ability area. In this area you are able to make your Zerglings faster, hatch faster, and many more. The other method is through Evolution missions, which allows you to play two new DNA modification variants and inevitably see which would better suit your playing style. Some examples are: Choose whether your Ultralisk emits an erosive spore as it runs which kills anything/anyone who comes in contact with it, or have an Ultralisk that automatically regenerates when it is killed. Each and every unit in the game has an Evolution mission which allows for various strains to be created. It adds a unique dynamic to the playing style and the fact that you can test drive each strain before making up your mind is in this reviewer’s mind, something that is very welcome.
Some familiar faces make a return in the main campaign which you will recognise not only from Wings of Liberty, but also from the original Starcraft. They do not feel like they are forced into the story at all, and only serves to add value. The greater overarching story-arc introduced in Wings of Liberty also makes an appearance in Heart of the Swarm, albeit not as pronounced as in the previous instalment.
Graphically, Heart of the Swarm still uses the same engine as was introduced in Wings of Liberty, and even though the engine is more than 2 years old, it still looks good. Something that particularly struck me as awesome from Wings of Liberty was the exceptionally well done cut scenes and it would appear that they have only been improved in Heart of the Swarm. The fact that the cut scenes are so beautifully rendered, only serves to improve the story tenfold. With the introduction of new units and the improvement of others, the graphical additions are very welcome. The graphical user interface of the Zerg is probably one of the best I have seen in a RTS game, and this is very apparent when, sound effects and all the GUI tends to “grow” onto the screen. It is really something to behold.
From an audio perspective, Heart of the Swarm is very well put together. The sound track at its core feels like StarCraft, and does not deviate at all from what we have come to know and love. Heart of the Swarm, being a Zerg campaign, has very Zerg-like music as an ambient backdrop to Kerrigan’s story and fits well with the overarching flow of everything. The voice acting as always is superb, and if there is one thing that can be appreciated is that Blizzard knows how to pick the best people for the job. With some returning and others not (Kerrigan has a new voice actress), it does not diminish the game in any way or form.
Gameplay remains largely unchanged even from original StarCraft days; however, the dynamics have been upped in accordance with the Heart of the Swarm storyline. As mentioned above you can collect “essence” or DNA strands to further evolve your Zerg units to give you more of an edge in battle. At one point you can even control the Hyperion, Jim Raynor’s flagship from Wings of Liberty, in a space battle, which really changes things up a bit. All in all Heart of the Swarm’s gameplay dynamic feels natural and fun.
On a Multiplayer front, StarCraft 2 has received quite a few tweaks to enable more fair play. This includes unit removals and additions to all three races, and tweaks to existing units. Aside from these tweaks Multiplayer remains largely unchanged.
I spent quite a few days with Heart of the Swarm and my overall experience with the title was quite a pleasant one. There were happy moments, and there were shocking moments, but none of the technical elements contributed to the latter. I feel that the overarching story is moving to a head now and that Legacy of the Void is set to provide an epic conclusion to StarCraft 2. If you are an ardent StarCraft 2 player, then Heart of the Swarm is a must have. If you are new to the series, I highly recommend this title (get the other games first though).
Lasting Appeal: 10/10