Starcraft 2, Heart of the Swarm: A Review
This is a little known fact, but I absolutely love strategy games despite having played very few of them. I adored them right from the start, becoming enthusiastic about the genre with Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II, and while that may be a movie-licensed game it taught me a great deal about strategy, the lore of the franchise and how different armies can be. Then I moved onto Halo Wars using my little experience in strategy and learnt more of how objective-based play could turn the tables in campaign; it wasn't just about building bases and destroying the enemy but capturing places, finding key objects and holding out for as long as possible. From there on I played an assortment of RTS and turn-based games though none have felt more familiar than Starcraft 2.
Having never played the orginal Starcraft or its expansion(s), I have to say that I was nervous about learning of the lore, current events and how things played out, but I was pleasantly surprised. For one thing, the campaign is one of the best told stories I've seen in an RTS game, and interacting with key characters of the games is a joy. Not to mention kicking cans and spitting in ashtrays whilst listening to "Zerg, Shotgun and You". But would you believe it gets better?
Heart of the Swarm is the long-awaited expansion for Starcraft 2, otherwise thought to be a sidequel or even Starcraft 3. Set during the events of the SC2 campaign, players can now take control of Kerrigan AKA The Queen of Blades and her nefarious and single-minded Zerg armies! Released in March 12th 2013, HotS (as it's commonly and officially shortened down to) acts as the second part to the 3-part tale set in the Starcraft 2 universe. The 3rd expansion which saw very little attention in 2008 - Legacy of the Void - will focus on the Protoss army.
Please note that my memory is a little hazy in some areas so I might not be able to recall the events, and I'm also much farther in the HotS campaign than the Wings of Liberty one. I also apologise if I seem bias toward a particular army, or if I call out "YES, MY QUEEN" from time to time. So, let's leap hive-minds first into my Heart of the Swarm review!
The story takes place around the time when the The Queen of Blades, leader of the Zerg has been sighted and is after the alien artefacts believed to be of Protoss origin. Not long after she is taken in and given the chance to have her humanity returned to her, and is Jim Raynor's full responsibility. Things to well for the most part, until she is given the offer (or rather order) to control the Zerg and use it against the Terrans' enemies. The tutorial's pretty good and I like how it introduces the Zerlings, building using larvae and drones, and the purpose of Overlords. If you've never played a Zerg before, I'd recommend getting the expansion pack and playing a good 10 minutes of its campaign. Believe me, it's worth it.
You then decide to go renegade and start spawning more Zerglings to destroy everything in the facility as well as rescue even more in containment. Without killing anyone, you explain that it was you who chose not to kill, but only to prove that the Zerg do not screw around. Mengsk - the antagonist of SC2 - sends soldiers to attack and destroy the Zerg while its Queen is still there (or abduct her for their own gain). Raynor and Kerrigan must fight off the Dominion forces, giving you the first chance to control a Hero unit: Sarah Kerrigan herself.
Not long after this your mission is to rescue Jim Raynor who has apparently been killed. All you know for sure is that he's been taken, because.... well.... why'd you wanna kill a guy like that? As Kerrigan you have to conquer the planets of the galaxy that hold Dominion forces, Protoss and liberate the Zerg from broodmothers who wish to become the new leader of all Zerg. Those who don't join the brood by showing their worth shall be slaughtered by the Zerg-Human fist.
My thoughts? FANTASTIC! The game finally shows me what Kerrigan - the Queen of Blades - is doing and how she goes about it. Only once or twice have I seen the Zerg in action, and their tactics and forces were pitiful at best. But in Heart of the Swarm, I feel far more powerful and actually have an army (rather than a handful of squads) at my command.
Kerrigan herself is a great character, adapting slowly but surely to returning to the Swarm. She's agressive and will gladly speak her mind, using her powers against Human and Zerg to demonstrate that she's not to be meddled or argued with. She stays in character which is a nice change from the recent events in *cough*World of Warcraft*cough*, as she rarely shows a glimmer of mercy and uses the Swarm's full potential to her advantage.
Another thing I like about the game is how dialogue scenes are woven together, one example of which is when Kerrigan talks to the broodmother on her ship about "Vision". She talks tactics, strategy, about humans and their ways, and how they have overcome both Protoss and Zerg alike because of them. I also love the cast and there's some names I recognise but can't recall from where (Brian Bloom as Matt Horner; Steve Blum as Abathur....), and the voice acting itself is fantastic. My favourite voices have to be those of Stukov, Abathur, Izsha and Kerrigan herself. Oh, and you just love to hate Abathur.
My warning (and biggest complaint) about the gameplay is that if you didn't like Wings of Liberty due to the mission objectives, you might want to turn back now. If there's one thing I didn't like about HotS, it was the fact that there are very few (and far between) "destroy the enemy base, plain and simple" missions. I remember the closest thing I did to that was stopping the Primal Zerg - which by the way are awesome -, or the first Broodmother you encounter who tries to steal all the Baneling eggs. And if that doesn't remind you of the Culling of Stratholme from WC3, you can expect to miss so many more "rip-offs" from Diablo and Warcraft in this.
Before and after each mission you get to stay in the Hub to look at the different areas of it. In Wings of Liberty you had the laboratory, the Cantina, the deck and the armoury, all of which had different things to do. Now you have the Evolution pit, which allows you to upgrade troops and change their passive abilities, as well as do "evolution missions"; you can also go to the "Kerrigan", which allows you to use "Kerrigan levels" to unlock new abilities and passives; or you can just sit out on the deck and look at the planet you're on. Unfortunately once you're on a planet you can't leave until you're done with all the questchains there, but you can choose between two planets when you're done. You can also have conversations with everyone like you could before, only this time they actually lead to achievements and can help you understand the Zerg and the current missions more clearly. That's a plus in my books.
Controlling the Swarm
Taking direct command over the Zerg is far superior to how I first imagined it. Plus, it's also completely different, though that may or may not be a good thing. Building bases sure is different, as your drones (which were birthed from larvae) turn into--, sorry, evolve into the buildings. It's like an SCV suddenly transforming or blood-sacrificing himself to erect a Barracks from the ground. Drones can also gather nearby Vespene Gas and Minerals, which for those who need to be enlightened, are the resources you'll need to train troops, upgrade "buildings" (I use speech marks because they're biological beings spurting out your forces, not exactly rock and concrete). Your lavae will depend on how much Supply you have, the maximum amount of which can be increased by training more Overlords.
Your primary force will be the Zerglings, often compared with the World of Warcraft demon, the Felhunter due to the ways they look and move. These little fellas have become quite famous, so much so they were around before the word "meme" was invented. In fact, if you Google "Zerg Rush", you even get to shoot down a load of Zerglings attacking your results. Om nom nom!
As the game progresses you'll also be using different Zerg units like Roaches (ranged, attacking ground and air units), the acidic Banelings, Queens and more! Heart of the Swarm added two new units, though unfortunately I can't quite remember what they were. However every unit will feel different when you get to give them new passive abilities and even evolution missions, which will grant them new powers!
Each level has a new mission, and despite Kerrigan being able to complete most objectives, you will still need different units to do the job. Things like taking out aerial convoys will require ranged attackers; defending bases will require Spore Lords (sentries that send out mini-soldiers to attack those in the radius); and sometimes you might want Zerglings to swamp an entire battalion heading to you and your Lair. Kerrigan is strong on her own, but she is not immortal.
Keybinds and mouse controls are rather simple to remember, giving this game high marks in.... well, control. Left clicking highlights a unit, while click-'n'-dragging allows you to highlight those in the box. Right clicking allows you to move to a location, and A+Left-clicking goes to a location and attacks anything on the way there. Whenever you're building something or using abilities, you can also press things like "B" for Barracks or "L" for Lair, though sometimes it might just be a letter in the thing you want, and not the first of its name. It's also very hard to transition from playing a Terran army and trying to remember the names of the new buildings. "What's the Zerg equivilant of an Engineering Bay?! What's the keybind for Lair?! HOW DO I MAKE CREEP?!"
It gets frustrating.
Thoughts on the Zerg?
Sorry about before, I'm still trying to get used to strategy game reviewing. Only done it with Warcraft, admittedly. Anyway, my thoughts on the Zerg are positive, as cinematics and dialogue shows that they really are unstoppable and have the potential to take out most of the known planets. Zerg also evolve near instantly if they're "primal" (Primal Zerg are those uncontrolled by the Queen, which makes for a spectacular questline), making them a very deadly enemy and going to show that evolution has no limits.
But the Zerg are also very vulnerable, and you have to wonder how it must feel to be sent to your inevitable doom because you can easily be replaced? The tactic of Zerg rush is simply making thousands of Zerglings and sending them to fight head-on because they're cheap and efficient. And what for? If they can't conquer the universe, which Kerrigan says herself, then what is all the fighting for? Why do they even exist? To be a blight to others? To give them a purpose? It's pretty deep, and I'm still piddling in the shallow-end.
I'm still trying to get accustomed to the Zerg army and I need to face the fact that I probably won't play as them in a Multiplayer match. They're great and all, but there's a few mechanics I've yet to get used to. Things like only being able to build on Creep (that black-brown stuff that surrounds the Zerg bases), trying to remember which buildings do what and which forces are capable of what. Overall I'm impressed by the fluency of the tutorials and how easy it is to get into taking over the minds of millions of Zerg.
Graphics and Soundtrack
I've little to say on this however I've got to admit, I never thought Blizzard cared so much for people on low-end computers. WoW I can understand is their main earner, but Starcraft is still a beauty on the lowest settings, and I can bag around 20-30 frames from cinematics at times. It may not seem much to be impressed by, but I'm glad I can play one of the most renowned strategy games I know and still have the satisfaction of making around nearly 200 Zerglings without crashing once.
The soundtrack is alright whenever I hear it, but for the most part it's not there to kick you in the genitals when you need it most. There's few heartpounding tracks that make you get your strategy freak on (or the Jazz, or whatever you call it), but when it's there, it's good.
Overall this game did more than grab my attention. I'm not the biggest StarCraft fan out there and I never will be, though I will give those who love the franchise that extra bit more admiration and respect now that I've seen what they have. And this is only the beginning, as I've yet to play the Arcade, the multiplayer, unlock the animations and dances, the skins, the achievements, the avatars, and complete the current campaigns and the challenges! There's a lot of work to be done and plenty of time to do it! Do I recommend this expansion? Certainly, so much so that I recommend you supersize it and get the Collector's Edition too!
I give this expansion an EIGHT OUT OF NINE, as well as the "More bang for your buck" accolade, because it certainly gives as much as the base game, and perhaps more! I'll be seeing you guys on the battlefield some time soon! But first, I've gotta give my life for the Swarm! FOR THE QUEEN!