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StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Review: Vengeance Belongs To Kerrigan
It’s been fifteen years since we first met Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan. Since we first heard their story and saw their relationship grow. Since we realized that no matter how much they cared for each other there was not a great chance that Jim and Sarah would become Jim and Sarah. They have run the gamut in their time together, we’ve seen them start as colleagues, saw them turn into reluctant enemies, and finally lovers only to be torn apart. And after being separated for so long StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty reunited them. Now in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, we continue with the story of the Queen of Blades, Sarah Kerrigan.
I don’t want to spoil the story in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm so let’s summarize it in a way that won’t have StarCraft fan boys string me up. The Terran Dominion is coming hard for Kerrigan, it sucks to be Jim Raynor, and Kerrigan is coming for Emperor Mengsk with righteous anger and furious vengeance.
StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is really Sarah Kerrigan’s story. Kerrigan has been cleansed of a lot of what made her the Queen of Blades but not all. She’s been returned to humanity after the Xel’naga artifact has wiped out Char. Now except for Raynor she’s faces a humanity that wants her to pay for all the lives she’s taken as Queen of the Zerg. And the Emperor is more than willing to grant the masses their wish. However, Kerrigan is not weak, for within her lies the power of the Zerg. And nothing ends until Mengsk is dead.
Sarah Kerrigan is a strong character, and one to be admired. She’s been our heroine, the villain that we wanted to save, the damsel, and now the anti-heroine. As you play through StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, Kerrigan’s character is really easy to connect with and it’s interesting to see how she further evolves. How she’s processing her actions, what’s she’s dealing with. We see deeper into Kerrigan in a way that we were denied when she was the Queen of Blades. It’s not that she does anything particularly surprising; if you’ve played StarCraft then you understand what her motivation is. But it’s how she goes about it. This isn’t the Sarah Kerrigan that we met fifteen years ago… This is a new person, a combination of two sides of the woman that we know. And there are little details throughout StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm to show us those changes. One great example is her weapon use, in the beginning Kerrigan is the most human that she’ll ever be in the story, as such she uses the ghost sniper rifle. But the more she gets in touch with the part of her that is Zerg, the more you’ll her use psionic abilities and the surviving swarm themselves.
Gameplay in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is incredibly polished. Kerrigan is really powerful and the game doesn’t let you forget it. She has a max level of 70, and she’ll gain them not by killing creatures, but by completing objectives. Kerrigan’s strength isn’t going to come to through for grinding. In order to advance her you’ll have to complete missions and bonus missions. Once you unlock her higher levels you’ll get access to different customization options. Do you want her to replenish her mana quickly? Or you can choose a strong auto attack. The choice of what you want your Kerrigan to be is up to you. The best part is that you aren’t bound to any particular load out. Experimentation is okay since you aren’t locked in and you’ll be able to change the load out after every mission. There is no penalty, so go ahead and play around with the options that you have at your disposal.
You can also access other customizable options in the Evolution Pit. And it’s here that you’ll meet a brand new character, Abathur. However the Evolution Pit isn’t always accessible, you can only come in after certain missions. When you complete these missions you’ll be able to give some of your primary units’ one of three bonuses. And once again you’re not bound to any of these decisions. And there are also Evolution Missions, once you unlock them, which are short and optional. Once you complete an Evolution Mission you’ll be able to specialize you core troops. A word of warning though, these customizations will be permanent. So for example, you can give the Zerglings the ability to hatch three instantly, or scale cliffs and pounce at enemies. Careful thinking is required here, because you’ll have to consider the needs of the troops. Once again, these changes are permanent.
The maps in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm looks amazing and are different enough to make things pretty interesting. It’s not just about hatching you army and defeating whoever is dumb enough to get in Kerrigan’s way. You’ll have other things to do, like capturing and holding points, infiltrating ships, racing to complete a task before an enemy does, and of course the side missions. One mission that people are raving about in the forums has you start out as a Zerg parasite, and take a host. Once you do that, you’ll build a biomass, become a brood mother, create Zerglings, and use them to climb through the vents and open doors for you. It’s being compared to Aliens, and I happen to agree. Even though you’re fighting on behalf of Kerrigan, there was something very sinister about the whole thing and I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Oh yes, and there are boss battles throughout the game.
With all there is to do in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, it’s easy to forget that this is an expansion. The whole campaign can be completed in 12-15 hours. There are 27 levels in the game, but it’s the plot that you’ll stay for. The dialogue is great, and of course being Blizzard there are puns that will make you want to hurt someone. In fact let me indulge you, there is an achievement which is called “Biomass Effect”. Hah, I see what you did there Blizzard. Bravo. Anyway, there are different difficulty settings if you’re looking for a challenge, and a lot of achievements.
Each race gets an upgrade with new units, both for you to use and defend against. And there’s an ease to the multiplayer that makes it pretty easy to adapt to. For example, workers will harvest automatically. And buildings attached to your workers will have a number above it to show X/X type stats. Say 3/10 workers at a Zerg hatchery. It lets you know that in order to get more bang for your buck you need to train more workers. It’ll also be above the gas refineries.
But keep in mind, that beginner friendly doesn’t mean you can let your guard down once you’re in multiplayer. StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm isn’t in the mood to play around with you. Blizzard has a bunch of new options: including group replay viewing, and making the overseer feature more customizable. It’s like watching a baseball game except things are going to hell around you. Then there’s the new take control feature. It’s a really interesting addition to Heart of the Swarm. During the replay you can ‘take control’ of any team you choose and see if you could have done it better. Then if you press the F2 button you’ll be able to select all the non-swarm workers to attack and go out in a blaze of glory. Everything else in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm multiplayer is a lot like Wings of Liberty (which was amazing) for those of you coming back it should be easy to get into the swing of things.
Wings of Liberty left off with a cliffhanger that drove me crazy for a long time, and happily StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm more than delivered on the promise of that game. Yes, the expansion did take a long time to come out but the result is more than worth it. We’ve had some bad PC releases recently and being able to play a game where there are no major bugs or glitches. One that works the way it should, one where I didn’t have to wait almost two weeks in order to play it is incredibly gratifying. If you recall this is the same company behind the Diablo 3 disaster (which still doesn’t have PvP). StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is polished, and a technically wonderful game. My only negative would be that we still don’t know the ending to Kerrigan or Raynor’s story. While we waiting for the next installment into the series, I liked learning more of the Zerg, and getting into Sarah Kerrigan’s head. This is the expansion that StarCraft fans have been waiting for.
Long live Sarah Kerrigan, The Queen of Blades…Long may she reign.
(Note: StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm was reviewed after 20 hours of gameplay on the PC. This copy was purchased by the reviewer.)