StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Review

Get ready to become and feel the Swarm.

StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is finally unleashed and its fantastic. Heart of the Swarm is the first expansion for the highly anticipated Blizzard’s strategy game StarCraft 2 which features the Zerg Campaign and new multiplayer units for each race. So is the first expansion feels like a top notch Blizzard quality game? It sure does! We’ll discuss story elements (spoiler-free), campaign content and difficulty, addition of the new multiplayer units and just the expansion as a whole and where the series will be going next.

Story, Characters:

StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm starts right where StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty ended, those who have finished the first game know what’s going on and those who didn’t can go read it about it somewhere else if they don’t care about spoilers. However, to give you a general idea, you take control of Sarah Kerrigan as the Swarm Queen.  Sarah Kerrigan’s main mission is revenge, but this will require a lot of sacrifices and things that she normally won’t do. Kerrigan knows what she truly wants, she’s smart, bossy and most of all very determined when it comes to her goals. Keriggan connects with players by her fascinating facial expressions, voice acting, feelings, emotions and of course her thirst for vengeance. She has probably become one of my favorite female lead characters in video games after playing StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm.

Let’s talk about other characters and Zerg in general for a moment. As you go through the single-player campaign you will be meeting new Zerg characters throughout your adventure. At first, it was a bit hard to see how anyone would fall in love with ugly creatures like Zerg, but Blizzard has done an amazing job at making Zerg grow on the player and make them interesting.

One of my favorite characters is Abathur, Abathur is a Zerg who resides in the evolution chamber in between the missions of the game. He is responsible for providing new mutations/evolution for your Zerg units as you progress through-out the campaign. The way he talks and how he comes off is flattering, making his personality truly unique and interesting thanks to phenomenal voice acting that Blizzard has always provided over the years.

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In between every mission you can click on the Zerg characters to engage in conversations, just like how StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty did in it’s campaign. If you want to learn more about the background story, personal stories of the characters and even achievements that require you to find something about a certain character. They conversations are usually not that long, they’re interesting for the most part and some of them are also humorous.

As I was playing through the campaign the tension of the story kept building up and I wanted to play more and more until the end to see how the the game unfolds. The occasional and awesome cinematics build up great suspense and excitement at the same time as you come across important parts of the story. There are a lot of plot twists and things that you may or may not expect, each player is different, but a lot of things have definitely caught me by surprise.

StarCraft has a lot to live up to considering that the franchise has already went through 4 games in total, it’s an expensive and rich universe that many gamers love across the entire globe. Heart of the Swarm has a lot of emotional moments throughout its campaign course, some people may not like it, some won’t care and some will love it. I personally thought it was great experience all throughout. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next in StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void which is the next and final expansion which will be focusing on another alien race called Protoss.

Zerg Campaign:

StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm’s single-player campaign is purely epic. From the start of the game’s first mission to the end everything was well executed, fun to play through and did not feel annoying. Each mission was unique in one way or another, one mission you’re defending someone or something, while in another you’re racing against the clock to get to a certain point and then building a base and getting your army ready for a full blown assault on enemy’s base.

However, I think one of my favorite new things that were introduced to the game as a whole are actual boss fights. Without spoiling anything, I will say that Blizzard has implemented boss mechanics into the game, as you can imagine, the bosses have a health bar, attacking patterns and clues that you have to look out for. You have to properly control and time your units to dodge attacks that are incoming in order to stay alive, the boss fights themselves were fun and did not feel cheap or gimmicky in any way.

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Heart of the Swarm also introduces RPG elements to the game and leveling for your main character Sarah Keriggan. As you progress through the missions and complete secondary objectives you will be earning levels. Keriggan has a whole set of different tiers with multiple skills that she can use. One of my favorite skills that you can use in the game is the Leaping Strike that let’s you jump on enemy units/structures from a far distant and hit them for high amounts of damage. Leaping Strike also let’s you climb up the cliffs and down, so if there are enemy units that your army can’t reach then feel free to leap strike at them.

Another useful skill is the Kinetic Blast. Kinetic Blast does instant damage to an enemy target from a distance, its very useful against heavy armored units and defensive structures that need to be taken out as soon as possible. There are ton of skills to choose from. If you want Kerrigan to be more of a support hero then you have the complete freedom to do so by picking more supportive skills as opposed to offensive or defensive. You can also play with your army combination/strategy to best complement Kerrigan’s abilities if you wish. The player is allowed to switch skills out only in between the missions in the Leviathan.

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Blizzard has also added mini missions called Evolution Missions. Evolution Missions are designed for the evolution of your Zerg units as you progress throughout the campaign. These missions get unlocked at certain points throughout the game’s story, before you start an actual mission it will tell you what rewards you get for completing it and sometimes you get rewarded with Evolution Mission as an unlock. Once you have unlocked a Evolution Mission you can go to your Evolution Chamber in the Leviathan. (Leviathan is you Zerg’s main ship where Sarah Kerrigan and her Swarm do their base operations and set out on missions, similar to Jim Raynor’s ship Hyperion that was in StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty).

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In the Evolution Chamber you can see all of your unlocked units, their evolution (if you have completed any) and mutations that they have received. These evolution missions also act as demos and tutorials to your newly evolved units. They don’t take long to complete and get you comfortable with your newly evolved unit.

For example the Zerglings can evolve into Raptor strain or Swarmling strain, Raptor strain allows the Zerglings to jump up and down on cliffs, leap over objects/buildings,  40% increase in their attack speed and do 2 more points of damage. Swarmlings spawn almost instantly from your hive and come in packs of 3 instead of 2 for the same price of minerals. The Evolution Mission lets the player test both of the types, once the players are done with the mission they will be forced to pick one out of the two available evolutions permanently.

Not only do these missions add a little bit of varied content to the campaign, but they also break up the pace a little bit as your playing throughout the main missions. There are evolution missions to be unlocked for every single unit that the Zerg has to offer. This is a great way of making Zerg more interesting, it makes sense for the race and it’s fun to see original creatures evolve into something else with new abilities.

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Paying credits to evolve Zerg units would be very weird so I am happy that Blizzard has went with the evolution way instead, because Zerg are organic alien race as opposed to the human Terran who spend cash to make their armor/guns better in StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty. I am now curios to see what Blizzard will be doing for the Protoss race in StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void as far as the upgrade system goes.

Multiplayer and Units:

StarCraft is one of the most popular games in E-Sports thanks to it’s amazing balance between each of the 3 races, fantastic flawless gameplay and of course the community itself that loves the game and appreciates. With the addition of the Heart of the Swarm, the expansion adds 2 new units to Terran and Zerg, while Protoss get 3. This brings the total number of  7 brand new units for the online competition  It may not seem like a lot, but just adding something new to the multiplayer can easily tip the game unbalanced, the developers have to be very careful when it comes to implementing anything new when it comes to E-Sports. There is a lot of pressure from professional players due to the fact that they’re used to playing the game a certain way.

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Zerg Units:

Majority of the new units were created for more crowd control, for example one of the new flying Zerg unit called Viper. Vipers can pull enemies off cliffs or unreachable platforms on to the battlefield so your army can eliminate them, they may also spit acid cloud on enemies which limits their vision and they cannot attack anyone from range and are forced to combat them in melee. If properly used, these units can cause major damage to your opponent in multiplayer.

The Zerg have also received a new siege unit called Swarm Host. Swarm Host is a unit that burrows underground and spawns locusts that have a limited time to live before they die out on their own. Swarm Host is fantastic for defense, you can set them up on ramp and just have them spawn locusts non-stop every 15 seconds after the cooldown is off. They look cool and totally fit the Zerg race, players can also use them offensively if they wish to destroy enemy defenses from a distance without engaging directly.

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Terran Units:

The Terran get Hellbat and Widow Mine unit. Hellbat is a unit that can transform between hellion and a firebat. This unit replaces the Hellion since it can already transform into one. The Hellion is a lot faster when it comes to traveling speeds but its attacks is a lot weaker. Hellbat on the other hand walks very slow, however, it can take more of a beating and its range of fire is wider and stronger as opposed to the Hellion.

Widow Mine can only attack when it’s burrowed underground. Once burrowed underground it will be able to send out missiles towards enemy’s army once they get close in proximity of the mine. Its an interesting unit that can be used both offensively or defensively in different situations.  You can set them up right on the ramp next to your base to destroy oncoming enemy units to defend yourself or try using them offensively by baiting someone in  to the Widow Mines.

Protoss Units:

Protoss have Oracles, Tempest and Mothership Core as their brand new units. Oracles have 3 different abilities, for the most part they’re air support units. Revelation can be cast on an enemy unit in close range, this will allow you too see what the enemy unit sees, so this is a cheap way to spy on someone’s base if you can cast it without getting killed in time. Envision is their second ability that casts on themselves, after the Oracle becomes envisioned, they become detectors. The last ability is Pulsar Beam, it can be activated on/off and it’s a range attack skill that is good to use against light enemy ground units such as zerglings, marines or zealots.

Tempest are anti-air units that were given to the Protoss to Counter the Zerg’s Mutalisks in StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty. Tempest do a ton of splash damage and can easily kill packs of Mutalisks and other air units in the game. Tempest may also shoot ground units, however, their attacks don’t do as much damage and there is no splash damage either.

Mothership Core is another brand new addition for the Protoss. This unit has 3 abilities that can be used in defensive or offensive ways. Photon Overcharge lets you turn your Nexus into a giant defending photon cannon with a big range that is almost equal to a Terran’s siege tank and damage of 2 photon cannons combined. It’s extremely useful for defending your expansions, however, you have to use it wisely because it costs a lot of energy to use and it can only be applied for 60 seconds, this is best used during enemy attacks.

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Second ability is Mass Recall, Mass Recall let’s you teleport your units to your Nexus. If you have a big pack of Stalkers or Zealots for example you can use Mass Recall and click on them to teleport them back to Nexus. Last, but not least is the Time Warp ability. Time Warp creates a bubble on top of the enemies, the bubbles make the enemy units walk and attack slower as opposed to normal speed, great for tactical advantage during fights.

However, if you want to be any good in the multiplayer and get your feet wet in the competitive play, then get ready for a lot of failures, practices and strategy tests over and over again. This is what StarCraft multiplayer has always been about, learning new things, practicing them and then applying them to a real battle and be ready to counter act if necessary. With the addition of 6 brand new units across the 3 races get ready for long nights of online gaming sessions.

Overall Verdict

StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is great, it packs an epic single-player Zerg Campaign, awesome characters with deep personalities, great soundtrack, phenomenal voice acting, graphical engine improvements and it continues to be the top of the line real-time strategy online competitive sport as it always was with the addition of 7 new multiplayer units. The start of the story was a great beginning and already exciting all way throughout the entire campaign, I was on the edge of my seat to see what happens next.

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The additions of boss mechanics, Evolution Missions and RPG elements made the game a little bit more than just a regular real-time strategy game. Tons of new achievements to hunt down and things to do. Multiplayer will be continued and gamers will start fiddling with new tactics day and night during their long hour online sessions.  The execution of this expansion was perfect, the only problem with it, is that there is not enough of it. I cannot wait too see where StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void will take us next in the StarCraft universe, kudos to Blizzard.

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The game was reviewed on the PC.

The Good

Thrilling campaign, great story and characters, new multiplayer units open up new strategies, tons of new achievements, introduction of boss mechanics is fantastic, Evolution Missions are a cool addition, deep and engrossing competitive online play

The bad

None

FINAL VERDICT

Blizzard has outdone themselves in this fascinating Single-Player Campaign experience. StarCraft has a great universe and they have definitely made a good use of it in Heart of the Swarm. Heart of the Swarm triumphs the previous campaign Wings of Liberty in my opinion on every level and I cannot wait to see what they're doing with Legacy of the Void next. The expansion also complements the multiplayer side of things with 2 new units for each race, balance changes and maps.


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