Does Heart of the Swarm live up to Starcraft’s standards? – SC2: Heart of the Swarm Review

Normally I’d say Blizzard’s standards, but we all know what happened to Diablo 3 which was utterly disgraceful & permanently damaging to the franchise.

So, how does Heart of the Swarm do compared to the original Starcraft & Wings of Liberty?

The Campaign – Spoiler Warning –

 You start right where you left off in Wings of Liberty, after rescuing Sarah Kerrigan, formerly transformed by the Zerg into Queen of Blades.

Queen-of-BladesThis time around you’ll be following Sarah Kerrigan, the human form of the Queen of Blades. Sarah wakes up in a facility not too far from planet Char, the main zerg world which got invaded by Raynor’s Raiders & half of the Imperial Fleet in an attempt to make the Queen of Blades human again. Jim Raynor & Sarah Kerrigan are finally together again, and were planning to escape from the facility to reunite with Raynor’s Raiders, but they get seperated as the Dominion Fleet arrives in an attempt to retrieve Sarah Kerrigan.

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Sarah scouts around the planet where Jim Raynor was left abandoned, but couldn’t find him. When she was trying  to contact him via radio, she hears through the TV that Jim Raynor had been captured & executed by the Emperor Mengsk’s Dominion forces. Being completely crushed in the terrifying news, she seeks to have revenge on Mengsk. Sarah gathers the all of the Zerg forces in the planet & proceeds to go to the Zerg homeworld, Char to assemble all of her forces so she can start to invade the Dominion homeworlds.

As Sarah & her Swarm proceeds into the Dominion space, she slowly starts realizing that the Queen of Blades was planning to mass up her brood against an ancient god, a Xel’Naga named Amon who seeks to destroy all Human, Zerg & Protoss to create the perfect living unit: The Hybrid.

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Lore aside, how is the gameplay?

If I were to tell about the campaign gameplay in a nutshell, I’d say it’s a never ending roller coaster. But even a roller coaster gets boring after some time. I spent a total of ~30 hours completing the Wings of Liberty campaign the first time I played it, I spent 8 hours on the last mission on brutal difficulty. That wasn’t the case with Heart of the Swarm, I completed the entire campaign on brutal, in a total of 8 hours. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good campaign but it’s way too easy compared to Wings of Liberty & Brood War.

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SC2 2013-03-20 06-27-03-11Most of the campaign is spent finding out about your past as Queen of Blades, evolving & adapting your swarm, seek vengeance to your enemies & investigate about Amon, an ancient Xel’Naga god’s return.

There wasn’t much information about Amon in Wings of Liberty & Heart of the Swarm, but he had a hand in the early evolution of all 3 races. Legacy of the Void, the next expansion in the franchise is going to be focused on the ancient Xel’Naga god Amon, who seeks to destroy humanity, the Zerg & Protoss.

“As I was your beginning – so shall I be… your end.”

The Multiplayer

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The new additions to each faction changes up the metagame in Starcraft II, old tactics are getting torn apart by the new ones & people are starting to adapt.

List of major changes in Heart of the Swarm:

Terran_BattleHellion

Terran:

  • Hellions can now transform into a Battle Hellion, granting it more health & armor in exchange of slower movement speed.
  • Spider Mines have been added, these little things can burrow into the ground & deal massive splash damage to any nearby enemies.
  • Thors can now change between anti-air & anti-ground weapons.
    Medivacs can activate engine boosters, giving them 70% increased movement speed for a few seconds.

Protoss_TempestProtoss:

  • Tempests have been added, a long range capital ship dealing massive damage to large targets.
    • Oracles have been added, a low health flyer with high damage output & detection.
  • The Mothership has been revamped, you can get an early game version of the Mothership, called Mothership core. A fast moving air unit with low damage capable of recalling your army, transform your Nexus into a long-range cannon & creates a warp field slowing the enemy movement speed by 50%.

SwarmHost-BZerg:

  • Swarm Hosts have been added, a slow moving siege unit that spawns free Locusts when burrowed.
    Vipers have been added, a flying caster with very low health. The Viper can abduct an enemy unit and drag it onto itself, it can also consume a friendly structure for energy & create a blinding cloud, making all ranged units near-useless in a small area.
  • Hydralisks have been tweaked, giving them more health & faster movement speed, making them much more viable than in Wings of Liberty.
  • Mutalisks have been tweaked, giving them increased movement speed & faster health regeneration.

The new units & tweaks have completely shaken up the competitive multiplayer experience, making it much more intensive & faster paced than Wings of Liberty’s competitive scene. A new set of maps have been released for the expansion & they’ve finally established clan support for the game (Which still needs some work).

SC2 2013-03-19 20-26-41-41 They’ve also introduced a leveling system in the multiplayer, as you gain levels you will get different unit skins & player portraits. The levels doesn’t change anything when it comes to competitiveness, so that’s a good thing.

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Blizzard still needs to work on advertising the modding scene of Starcraft 2, currently there’s only ~10 custom games that are being played by people, the rest of the custom maps aren’t able to get any further than the lobby because of the rushed custom games system. The majority of Warcraft 3’s games were custom maps like DotA, Island Defense & Tower Defense maps, this is sadly not the case with Starcraft 2 due to the horrible system.

The good:

Puts more life into Starcraft 2 in terms of competitiveness & multiplayer replayability
Well-balanced at launch
Roller coaster-feeling campaign
Interesting Lore
Physics engine

The bad:

Counter-intuitive menu & UI
Poor clan support
Still no LAN mode
Campaign is very short & easy when compared to Wings of Liberty
Near-non existent modding scene

Conclusion:

Heart of the Swarm is definitely a fun expansion, the campaign alone is enough reason to buy the game if you want a quick dive into some fun, don’t expect anything hard when compared to Wings of Liberty though.  The multiplayer is a big time-sink that never gets old, but the skill ceiling is much higher when compared to other eSports games like League of Legends, DotA 2 & Call of Duty. (lol.)

The modding scene still disappoints in performance in Heart of the Swarm. The problem isn’t the modders & mapmakers, it’s the counter-intuitive UI of the Arcade. LAN mode is still missing which turned out to be a big issue in last week’s MLG tournament. Clans and groups have been added, but they feel rushed.

Bonus video!

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