March 15, 2013
To start off, Heart of the Swarm does a fantastic job of tying up all the loose ends from Wings of Liberty, with one or two exceptions. This is mostly due to the on-going three part nature of the story, but it does help in providing anticipation for the third and final instalment, Legacy of the Void.
The campaign will leave gamers feeling satisfied because it does something a bit different this time round. Unlike most typical real time strategy games, where missions follow a similar structure, Heart of the Swarm's campaign always features something completely unique objective-wise and this is very refreshing.
The same could be said about Wings of Liberty, but this time it feels like the developers were really pushing it. They want to show what players can do with the map editor later on, by setting up different ways to play. It's hard to go into detail with this, without adding spoilers, but it really does keep the game fun throughout and makes it very hard to put down.
With Wings of Liberty the focus was on the Terran race. This time the game covers the role of the Zerg. To accommodate for this, there are a few major changes this time round, namely that most missions see the addition of a hero unit. This is rather neat, because for the most part this unit is fully customisable as the campaign progresses, allowing various options to be changed/adapted any point. You can also customise several of the Zerg unit types, so you can use different upgrades. This is especially useful on the harder difficulties.
It's also great that there's more of a focus on teaching this time around. The whole campaign has a lot of tutorial-like elements that encourage players to learn more advanced strategies or just helping to enforce good tactical play. These usually aren't overbearing in any shape or form, but it does feel like the normal difficulty is a bit more hand held than it should have been. Fortunately both the hard and brutal difficulties offer an exponentially harder challenge for even the most veteran players.
On top of the overall campaign, there are also seven additional missions. This compliments the main missions very well as they allow for permanent changes to the core Zerg units. These changes are quite significant in the grand scheme of things, so players can feel a bit more in tune with their choices and decisions.
The story itself is also delivered through impressive cutscenes and in-between mission conversations. It works effectively at keeping players engaged without becoming too dialogue heavy, and no one mission feels like it's adding filler to the overall story. Fans of the series, as well as newcomers, will certainly be hard pushed to find any major complaints or gripes about the way it is delivered.
Gameplay hasn't seen any major changes since the adaptations to Wings of Liberty through Battle.net. The UI remains clean and simple to use, but hotkey usage and mouse control through macro/micro remains extremely core to the success of a player, particularly in the multiplayer component.
There are one or two new additions which are quite helpful, such as a the ability to see the hero unit's health in the top left at all times, and new waypoints for the attack move command are noticeable on the actual battlefield. Aside from that, returning players will feel right at home with the interface and anyone else will find it very comfortable and easy to pick up, especially in the way that the campaign eases players into it.
Graphically things haven't changed that much either. It's still looking up to date enough, but there haven't been many significant changes. Perhaps the most noticeable change comes with the introduction of better physics. It can be quite rewarding to see the effects on display, but other than that it's mostly all effects through liquids, particles etc. The sound quality also manages to maintain itself in the same manner.
Now, onto what's perhaps the meat of the experience - the multiplayer. There have been a few changes with regards to units, but the majority of it will be very familiar to previous players. With the exception of a slew of new maps available to battle across, the rest of the changes are mostly due to the new Battle.net updates, which allow a variety of different ways to play. It means you can fight against AI or human opponents and there's now a leveling up system that allows various unlockables for dedicated play.
Even though multiplayer is such a huge part of StarCraft, what Heart of the Swarm mostly brings to the tables lies within its campaign. There are about 12 hours of missions, with the ability to earn additional achievements afterwards and adapt previously selected abilities to replay each in a more tactical manner.
Very little bad can actually be said about this expansion for StarCraft 2. The story alone is enough to keep players entertained and the uniqueness of each mission is extremely satisfying. The multiplayer component isn't vastly different in terms of experience, but the adaptations are refreshing enough. The only gripe with the game is that normal difficulty feels a little bit too spoon-fed and the evolution missions are glorified tutorials which often feel unnecessary. However on the whole the game should not be missed, as it's thoroughly enjoyable throughout and ends the same way it starts, with an excitement to see what happens next. Roll on Legacy of the Void.Editor's Choice