This is a review of the single player campaign. I’ve never been very good at the multiplayer so I would be a poor judge of the new content. We will have a separate review for that aspect of the game posted soon.
When Blizzard originally announced that Starcraft 2 was going to be split into a trilogy, there was an uproar. Screams of betrayal and accusations were aplenty. Wings of Liberty was a noble start but in terms of story, but I felt like it could have been much better. While it was in no way a bad story, it felt like an average beginning to a trilogy. Heart of the Swarm, on the other hand, just seemed to hit all the right notes.
From the unit animations and physics, to the way the environments interact and the cutscene quality, the presentation and overall visuals received a massive overall. Small details in the cutscenes like hair and skin just look much better. They even touched up the details on the creep like how it interacts with hills and gave it a more oozy and fleshy look. Overall, the quality was a huge improvement over Wings of Liberty.
The gameplay remains much the same this time around but there a few major changes to the campaign. While Wings of Liberty focused on a more mercenary theme with money management and buying upgrades, Heart of the Swarm introduces some light RPG elements. Unlike with Raynor in Wings of Liberty, Kerrigan is playable in every mission and comes with perks of her own. Completing main and bonus objectives during a mission will grant Kerrigan levels. As she gain levels, not only does Kerrigan’s power increase but she gains access to new abilities. You can freely choose which abilities to equip in between missions. These range from passive damage buffs to the ability to call in a group of zerg reinforcements. Think of it as an improved version of the heroes from Warcraft 3. You can breeze through the easier difficulties without much micromanagement but on Hard and Brutal, you’ll need to think ahead and decide which abilities will suit the next mission.
Going along with the leveling system, you can also complete bonus missions which allow you to upgrade and evolve your units. Every unit has three different upgrades which, like Kerrigan’s abilities, can be changed between missions. Adding to this, you periodically gain access to evolution missions which allow you to permanently evolve units. These evolutions range from new abilities to increased strength. For example, the zergling has two evolutions, the raptor and swarmling. The raptor grants increased damage and the ability to jump up and down cliffs. The swarmling creates 3 zerglings from a single egg and the morph time is instant. Unfortunately, these can’t be switched once you choose an evolution so you’ll have to thibk carefully about your style of play.
If there are any complaints it’s that the missions don’t feel very different from its predecessor. The game occasionally mixes things up with boss fights that involve some on the fly thinking but, overall, the missions feel very status quo.
In terms of story, it had a proper mix of cheese and seriousness. It’s easy to dismiss some of the dialogue as cringe worthy. While Raynor and Kerrigan share some cliché scenes that involve kissing and comparing shooting a rifle to riding a bike, they also share some serious scenes that really tie the over arching story together. In particular, one scene near the end of the game has some serious heart tugging potential.
I was originally skeptical about Starcraft 2 being a trilogy but if Heart of the Swarm is a sign of things to come, then bring on Legacy of the Void!