This week Blizzard released their much awaited sequel to StarCraft II. The Heart Of The Swarm puts the player in control of the Zerg horde as Sarah Kerrigan takes the forces on a rampage across space and time. Her love for Jim Raynor sets the tone for this game, which I am happy to say is bloody marvelous.
I don’t often handle reviews for Kitguru, but I am such a fan of this series that I had to jump in and claim it for my own. At the start of the game we are re-introduced to Sarah, who has been de-Zergified thanks to the Xel-Naga device we had to collect in the previous Wings Of Liberty campaign. She is still an incredibly powerful physic, but her hotness is now tentacle free and encased in a skin tight jumpsuit, reminiscent of Mass Effect.
The first hour of this game is a glorified tutorial and an excellent basis to build the characters into fully fledged 3d entities. While I have read that some people feel the script is tosh, I really do think Sarah Kerrigan is one of the more interesting fantasy characters we have enjoyed in recent years. Some of her dialogue is clearly tongue in cheek as she amuses herself with the ‘holier than thou’ approach from some of the Terran leaders.
Things take a turn for the worse when her love Jim Raynor is apparently killed by their mutual enemy, the leader of the Terran dominion, Arcturus Mengsk. Mengsk is lovingly portrayed as a complete bastard with little regard for anything apart from this own perverted, twisted view of justice. Few tears will be shed when he meets his maker.
Sarah Kerrigan subsequently flips out and decides that her abilities are best used when rampaging against the pompous Terran leaders, a view I would share with her. The Terrans in the game really do get on my nerves and I always had a fondness for the Zerg who don’t spend a lot of time debating politics or the ‘rights and wrongs’ of annihilating a planet. Just the way it should be.
Sarah soon lands the help of the Zerg leaders who rally around their former Queen Of Blades. The game really is so polished it is hard to find fault, I didn’t find a single glitch or bug when playing for the last week. I did get a crash with an Nvidia 660ti although a quick driver update seemed to cure it.
Graphically the game can be played on a wide variety of hardware, from a lower end video card, right to the ultimate flagship models. There are many settings to tweak. and a handy frame rate counter available in a ‘live’ state from the menu button bottom right. You won’t need an ultra high end system to enjoy this game, but those people with an expensive GPU can crank the eye candy for added visual impact throughout.
Blizzard have tweaked the multiplayer elements dramatically which will force many of the online gamers to relearn unit strengths and weaknesses. There are new units for each side and an enhanced training mode for multiplayer and a new social interface which really should have been included in the first game.
You can now drop into a replay and try again, useful for high level training. There are also upgrades to the editor map which I haven’t had time to completely learn, but it looks powerful. I did find the Terrans seemed quite powerful, thanks to the overpowered Med-evacs, but Blizzard have a habit of tweaking the game via patches over the coming months.
The single player campaign is a thoroughly enjoyable blast and in my humble view much superior to Wings Of Liberty. Blizzard have opted for a delicate blend of dropping the player into a mission, but giving them some grounding on the new units. It isn’t too intrusive, but some gamers may find it slightly irritating. After the fifth planet in the game, you will have access to all the Zerg units, and there are many. We like how Blizzard have added the F2 key as a ‘select every single unit for a mass attack’. Very useful in a difficult situation, although it will leave your base unguarded if you haven’t planted some defense units into the infected ground.
Before each mission Sarah will be able to interact with a few of the key Zerg characters and even some foes she may taken from the battlefield for one reason or another. Some of them die as the game progresses which adds to the feeling of never knowing what is going to happen next.
Sarah can upgrade her own abilities and those of her troops at certain times in the game, inside the mouth of her intergalactic Zerg vessel, the Leviathan.
One of the more interesting Zerg personalities is Abathur, a Gigeresque style creature who loves to experiment on the units. His work can actually greatly improve the main units … adding new attack abilities, such as the ability to fly, or run faster, acid breathe or many many combat mutations. For every unit, you get to pick from one of two new abilities, after playing the ‘evolution missions’. These are not related to the main missions, but are quite fun, and impossible to fail. They introduce the gamer to the two abilities and then offer you the choice of which you prefer.
As well as these ‘one time’ mutations, the main units also get one of three main characteristic changes, which can be altered as many times as you want, between missions. These are generally related to attack, defense or armour bonuses.
Sarah Kerrigan by the end of the game will be incredibly powerful, although even in the early stages she can still take on a small army by herself. She is a massively flexible unit which can be used for support and specifically damaging one of the more powerful enemy units with her special attacks.
Again, I need to point out the presentation in this game. The movie sequences for instance are simply stunning and we love the Blizzard approach to creating artwork. They do employ some wonderfully talented artists. The background story is rewarding if you put the time into listening to all of the dialogue. Those die hard fans who have read the books, comics and online material will certainly enjoy the new plot arc. You don’t need to be a StarCraft history fanboy to get a lot from the game, but it can help put some of the conversation topics into perspective.
Special mention needs to go to the voice actors who really deliver killer performances throughout. Sure, its cheesy, but it works really well. I love Sarah’s violent approach to conversation, which often involves a fist fight or shoving the other creature into a wall head first. Subtlety is not her strong point. We love her for that.
As an RTS game I think most people would find Heart Of The Swarm very enjoyable to play, even if they aren’t generally a fan of fantasy environments. The units are inventive and beautifully animated and the characters are entertaining and often amusing. Building a base to launch an attack is as polished as you would expect from Blizzard. I enjoyed the game from the start to the finish and now will spend some time online getting my ass handed to me by young kids in various countries.