After how well Wings of Liberty set up the base multiplayer game and started the campaign arc of StarCraft II, there were some doubts on how well the Zerg campaign would progress. With Kerrigan more or less human at the conclusion of the first game, who would lead the Zerg? It didn't seem like the Zerg campaign could possibly have as much character as the Terran one did or be as epic. Thankfully, that line of thinking couldn't have been more wrong.
At the onset of Heart of the Swarm, the plot and gameplay of the campaign are pretty straightforward, with Kerrigan being treated as a lab rat as she can still control the Zerg despite her more human appearance. However, very early on, Kerrigan is separated from Raynor and must control the Zerg to survive and gain enough strength to find Raynor. It is hard to write a ton about the plot without giving away spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are a few interesting twists along the way and no one has a smooth ride.
Once Kerrigan is back in control of some Zerg forces, the meat of the campaign gets underway. Much as the Terran campaign did for its forces, the Zerg campaign in Heart of the Swarm also serves as a graceful introduction to playing as the Zerg. Missions are often structured to showcase a particular unit's abilities that you previous couldn't access, and that helps you learn about the unit's usefulness without focusing an entire mission on it. For example, in one mission, you learn about infestors and how they possess units and subdue enemy forces, but you must field the rest of your army to complete your objectives.
The missions often stray from the boring "build a base, kill the enemy" types. In one mission, you'll worry about expanding to claim powerful antiair structures and take out massive destroyers overhead before they reach your forces. In others, you have to quickly strike at a Terran base while their shields are down or destroy a series of Protoss ships that are trying to reach warp gates. In a few missions, there are even boss fights, with the full package of health bars at the top of the screen and attack patterns to dodge. Their inclusion feels a little on the cheesy side, though it's more entertaining than detrimental.
Unit evolution is handled differently than it was in the Terran campaign. Rather than gaining funds and purchasing upgrades, each Zerg unit has three options from the get-go and can be switched out between missions. You may want your Zerglings to move fast for one mission and then decide you want them to attack more quickly the next. At key points in the campaign, units also get evolution missions that allow you to permanently change your unit. For instance, you can upgrade the Zerglings to Raptors so that they leap over cliffs and toward enemies, or you can upgrade them to Swarmlings that hatch in triplets and have a two-second gestation time. To some extent, this also lets you tailor your units to your play style. In this example, you may like the more mobile Zerglings, or you may like the ability to quickly field of ton of them instead.
Kerrigan evolves over time, gaining levels via the completion of main and optional objectives during nearly every mission. As you level up, you can access different tiers of abilities, and out of every tier, you can select one ability for Kerrigan's use (with the exception of the starting tier, which lets you pick two). These abilities range from attack skills for Kerrigan, such as chain lightning or a flying leap, or passive upgrades, such as making drones hatch in pairs or extractors no longer require drones to harvest gas. These abilities can be swapped between missions, so if you decide you don't like one, you can pick a different one from the tier. As Kerrigan levels up, she also gains more health, and her attacks do more damage.
This is important, as Kerrigan is often available for you to control in missions. She is a powerful unit but susceptible to getting taken out, but in most missions, this isn't a failure condition and she simply respawns later at the hatchery. Thus, much of your fighting is still conducted with a conventional army, but Kerrigan's abilities are incredibly powerful when used properly and can bust a problematic defensive line. Other hero units also make appearances, and at times, Kerrigan needs to be protected, so you must use these other units to help.
However, the Zerg campaign never becomes as epic as the Terran one. Though Kerrigan gets a share of allies that speak to her between missions, there isn't as much in the way of character development for any of them. You'll still watch their cut scenes between your various conquests, but you do it out of a sense of completion rather than of genuinely caring about what might be said. Some feel like big characters in a nonexistent second act, with hints of buildup during the game that never pays off.
The multiplayer side has seen some overhauls, but this patch was released regardless of whether or not you purchased Heart of the Swarm. The boat hasn't been rocked too heavily, with each of the three sides getting two or three new units and a slew of new maps hitting the official rosters. There have also been numerous upgrades to the Battle.net interface, including support for clans and the ability to resume gameplay from at any point in a watched replay. Think you could have come back from that defeat? Go back and try something different. The interface has seen a significant reduction of clutter, and it's overall much easier to use. Again, these are improvements that all StarCraft II players have received, but they're worth mentioning.
Fans of Zerg forces take note, as StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm proves that they can take center stage just as well as the Terran forces. While the additions to the multiplayer are more low-key than what is added in the single-player portion, the new Zerg campaign is an incredibly complementary addition to the overall StarCraft II package. Not only does it help the novice Zerg wrangler learn his forces, but the missions are also presented in a way that feels fresh. Realistically, if you own Wings of Liberty and enjoyed it, you should pick up Heart of the Swarm — not because it is more of the same, but because it's not.
Reviewed on: Intel i5 2500k, 8gb RAM, nVidia GTX 660 Ti
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