Welcome back readers. Today we’re covering one of the more popular games on the market, but it’s from a series I’ve always held dear, and thus couldn’t ignore. Read on for the second installment in Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm.
In HotS, you play as Sarah Kerrigan, the former Queen of Blades and ruler of the Swarm. She eventually decides that what she needs more than anything is to revisit her old boss Emperor Mengsk, preferably with a large army of Zerg at her back, in hope of getting the vengeance she has been waiting for all these years.
That said, the Swarm has not taken well to the loss of its leader. The remaining broods are scattered and weak, and not all are willing to come back to Kerrigan’s side. Thus begins a journey to rebuild the Swarm’s power as well as Kerrigan’s own strength, spanning across several interesting planets with varied missions. The story… it works, but didn’t have any noticeable effect on me personally. It is interesting to see Kerrigan justify her actions, even as she knows that she’s running straight back into villain territory.
The environments look great, even if I played the game on low settings. The new units and variations are also really good looking… well, maybe that’s not the best choice of words for the Zerg faction, vicious little things… Anyway the the graphical quality is great, and the art direction is solid. No complaints there.
One of the much touted mechanics is the ability to control Sarah Kerrigan on missions. She plays like a hero from Warcraft III, gaining better stats and abilities as you progress through the game. Players even get a couple options for each step up in power, and can switch between abilities between missions so you don’t feel trapped in whatever you chose. The Zerg upgrades work similarly except for special unit evolutions where you’re forced to choose 1 of 2 branches. At least you get a demonstration of each before being asked to lock in on those choices. The customization makes it feel like your Swarm as much as it is hers, and controlling Kerrigan is fun, to put it simply.
Now, as in WoL, most stages also give an interesting new unit that does anything from making the mission slightly easier to making defeat nearly impossible. This is as good a strategy as it was then, a fun way of introducing players to new units and the mechanics they operate on. I’m glad they kept it.
Positive points aside, the game could still use some tweaking. For starters, there are a ridiculous number of missions that put the player under time pressure. Nearly every objective needs to be completed now or terrible things will happen and you will lose. Wings Of Liberty was more forgiving on this score, giving the player more opportunities to catch their breath and experiment with different strategies, not just the one the current stage is trying to enforce. All the usual trappings come out: The resource race, the enemy that can arbitrarily be killed by only one thing, or the old standby known as the timer leading to death or other misfortune.
Frankly, it’s exhausting. And it doesn’t help that the Zerg require large amounts of micromanagement to use properly. In between battles, you need to spread creep so your units can move around the battlefield faster. You need to keep checking back to your hatcheries to see if you can build another batch of units yet, as time is wasted if you have a full load of larva but aren’t morphing them into anything. You also need to peel away drones to make new buildings while also building more drones to replace them in the resource harvesting. I know I’m not the best RTS player, but it feels overwhelming on Normal Difficulty. Now admittedly it feels worse than it is, as I’ve yet to actually lose a mission, but that constant pressure on the player can be frustrating. The game chooses when you get to attack and defend in many cases, robbing players of a sense of agency.
Overall, the game is still a high-quality title, the sort we’ve come to expect from Blizzard Entertainment. Heart of the Swarm is available as a digital download for $20.