Thursday, October 2, 2014

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm Review

I've been waiting for you... FRIENDS!
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Release Date: 12 March 2013
  • Time played: 11 hours

I'm a fan of Starcraft lore and before you say it, remember that a wise Protoss said, "this is not Warcraft in space! It's much more sophisticated. I know it's not 3D!" Oh wait, it is 3D now but anyway, you catch my drift. Sure the original Starcraft seemed like a sci-fi skin for Warcraft II but it turns out that the story and lore built around the game was fantastic. The Space Western feel to the game was perfect and this was a few years before the TV series Firefly was released (although around the same time as Space Western anime Cowboy Bebop). Each of the three sides in the game played quite differently too which was a rarity in RTSs up to that point - usually you'd have two sides with very similar units in terms of stats.

So when the first episode of Starcraft II, Wings of Liberty was released in 2010 it was a no-brainer to get it and I had a blast playing it: it managed score a 9/10 on this very blog. What was controversial though is that Blizzard would release two more campaigns of content (the Zerg and Protoss campaigns) later on and at extra cost. With the original Starcraft you managed to get three campaigns for the price of one game so some fans (including myself) felt a bit miffed about this. Thankfully, Blizzard didn't charge full price for Heart of the Swarm and you actually have more missions in the campaign when compared to the campaigns in the original Starcraft so it wasn't too bad. Consequently, I managed to convince myself to get the next game since after all, I needed to see what happened next in the Starcraft universe, despite my reservations on the admission fee.

Plot (3/5)
In Heart of the Swarm you'll mainly play the role of Sarah Kerrigan and the story starts shortly after the events in Wings of Liberty. Kerrigan, Raynor and Valerian are at a remote research facility when it is somehow discovered by the Dominion and attacked. During the assault Raynor is left behind and eventually reported to be dead. Consumed with rage, Kerrigan decides that she will get her revenge on Arcturus Mengsk, no matter the cost.

The plot in this episode isn't quite as interesting as Wings of Liberty mainly because you get to converse with the Zerg for most of the game (talking to beings that aren't meant to have any personality to begin with tends to do that) and the major plot is this love story between Kerrigan and Raynor - very cliché.

On the plus side, there are various missions throughout the campaign where you bump into old friends (and enemies) and the lore of Starcraft is expanded as a result. So if you're a fan of Starcraft lore you'll still want to play this, just be wary of all the unnecessary filler with respect to Kerrigan and Raynor's relationship (which apparently is a bit of a retcon if you read this pretty good article about why the Heart of the Swarm plot is flawed).

Gameplay (4/5)
There isn't too much change in terms of gameplay except for some new units which I couldn't even bother checking out (I don't really play multiplayer that much). Just as it was in Wings of Liberty, the gameplay hasn't changed too much from the original formula introduced in Starcraft, besides the addition of role-playing elements in the single player campaign. In between missions, you're able to talk to various characters to gain insight and additional back story. You're also able to complete evolution missions where you can test out potential mutations for your units and then choose which one to use for your forces. As you progress through the game, it's not only units you'll be able to evolve but Kerrigan as well with a whole bunch of abilities to pick from. Ultimately, this makes the single player campaign very easy, especially if you're like me and love a good ol' Zergling rush. I managed to pick upgrades that allowed the Hives to automatically spawn extra zerglings and most maps were a simple matter of spamming as many zerglings as possible to overwhelm the enemy's ground troops with Kerrigan backing them up in terms of air support.

Nothing like a good ol' zergling rush

Sound (3/5)
You've still got the professional voice actors you had from Wings of Liberty and most of it's pretty good. However, while I think Tricia Helfer wasn't a bad choice for Kerrigan in Wings of Liberty I'm not so sure that's the case in Heart of the Swarm. Helfer is definitely convincing enough as the menacing and vindictive Queen of Blades but her voice acting as human Kerrigan doesn't have the same emotion or warmth that Glynnis Talken brought to Kerrigan's character in the original Starcraft.

Music (5/5)
As it was with Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm has an astounding soundtrack befitting an epic space opera. Glenn Stafford was again the lead composer of the soundtrack but had several collaborators such as Derek Duke, Neal Acree, Russell Brower, Jason Hayes and Cris Velasco. The music was performed by the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra, which is appropriate considering it's a sci-fi game after all.

Graphics (3/5)
It's been about 3 years between the release of Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm and nothing's really changed in terms of the graphics - although why would they when this is technically an expansion pack? The graphics for Wings of Liberty looked old in 2010 so the graphics are definitely looking old in Heart of the Swarm. However, the cutscenes are another story, with Blizzard being one of the best in the business when it comes to creating them (only Square Enix is as good if not better).

Replay (2/5)
I enjoyed the single player campaign of Heart of the Swarm, not as much as Wings of Liberty but the Zerg campaign never tended to be my favourite anyway. There's the usual plethora of single-player challenges, achievements to collect and of course multiplayer, but like in Wings of Liberty, I was never really attracted by these modes and I'm really in it just for the story.

Polish (5/5)
I've been playing Heart of the Swarm on and off over the past year so there may have been originally some minor bugs but no serious ones come to mind. They probably ironed out a good deal of them over the couple of years Wings of Liberty was around.

Score – 8/10

The characters aren't as likeable or interesting in this chapter of Starcraft II and the clichéd love story is a bit of a disappointment but there's still plenty of Starcraft lore for fans to sink their teeth into. Overall, the gameplay remains fun if you're into the traditional style of RTSs but if you're not a fan of Starcraft (because you've never played it or you've played it and don't like the mechanics), Heart of the Swarm is unlikely to change your mind.

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm website ]

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