Heart of the Swarm

I played Starcraft like crazy all those years ago, but I was highly sceptical of Starcraft 2 (still bought it though) and stopped playing it shortly after finishing the campaign. Like a brand-addled moth to a flame, I purchased the Heart of the Swarm expansion shortly after release, finished the campaign, and put the game down.

There’s a sentiment that Blizzard has lots its mojo, with Starcraft 2 failing to become a giant e-sport and Diablo 3 failing to retain players longer term. I don’t follow this stuff anymore so I can’t much speak to it, but this impression certainly feels accurate to me – I bought the games due to their brand (positive memories of the predecessor games many years ago, and Blizzard’s reputation for making slick experiences), but my interest in them (and the chatter about them) disappeared very quickly.

Anyway, Heart of the Swarm is a solid campaign packed with interesting, unusual missions. You get to infiltrate a Protoss ship with a Zerg larva and slowly take it over, you fight a series of monstrous Zerg bosses, you infest a space station and turn its facilities against the defenders. None of the missions are a multiplayer-style build-base-destroy-enemy-base scenario, there’s always something to spice things up, often a side objective that gives you more upgrade points. The campaign boasts many, many powerful upgrades – each unit has 3 to pick before each mission and a permanent upgrade (pick 1 of 2). Kerrigan has increasingly powerful special abilities that turn her into a one woman army.

One weakness is that the build tree departs significantly from multiplayer – Queens don’t spawn larvae (avoiding pointless micromanagement), Brood Lords evolve from Mutalisks, and Swarm Hosts aren’t cloaked in the campaign, which confused the heck out of me when I went to try single battles. The other thing is that the campaign is very easy – for the entire game, no enemy ever used cloaked units or attacked with a high-level assault group. You can get units that scale cliffs, but cliffs are never a strategic issue; you can get long-ranged units, but are never forced into a significant long-range fight. I got by without using Banelings, Lurkers, Infestors, or Brood Lords at all; supposedly you can smash through the game on the hardest difficulty spamming low-level units. I was also a bit disappointed how trigger-based the campaign opponents were – it constructs a more interesting scenario, but I don’t like enemy units appearing out of nowhere or there being no infrastructure to disrupt. Additionally, most missions were timed so that you had to rush through them.

The storyline wasn’t as annoying as I had feared, though it was rushed and shallow. The identity of the Starcraft 2 antagonist is revealed, though I still can’t reconcile that with the original story. Additionally Samir Duran receives a ridiculously superficial treatment. Infuriatingly, you don’t get to play the Terrans or Protoss in the campaign (I still don’t know what new units they received, as I don’t play them multiplayer). Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer replaces Glynnis Talken as Kerrigan – this caused much fan grief, as there was little reason for the change but for the former’s larger profile. Frank Welker is in there too, but he didn’t kick anyone out.

In multiplayer, Heart of the Swarm gives the Zerg the Swarm Host and the Corruptor. The former is a ground unit that burrows and continually spawns short-lived attackers – it’s supposed to be a siege unit but it seems a heck of a lot worse (or at least harder to use) than the Terran Siege Tank. From some online commentary it sounds like to need to micromanage them closely to take advantage of the burrowing – and given the Zerg are the most micro-heavy side I have little interest. The Corruptor is a flying caster created to fill a particular niche – which is the kind of overengineered design I dislike. As a caster it also requires a bunch of micro.

Anyway, I don’t know if I’ll boot the game up again – I remember the campaign missions fondly, but have little impetus to go achievement-chasing (a valuable immunity in this over-gamified world). If I had the leisure time of a student I’d try out the map editor, but I don’t.

So what do I think? Heart of the Swarm is decent if you’re after the campaign, but unless you’re a 200+ APM multiplayer fiend looking for the twist of 6 (I think) new units, don’t expect to play it too much after finishing the game.

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