Heart of the Swarm is the first of two expansions that renowned developer Blizzard Entertainment has planned for the hit Real Time Strategy game, Starcraft II. The story started in 2010 with the launch of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. As a planned trilogy of games, Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm was released mid-2013, and the finale (Legacy of the Void) is still in production.
Spoiler alert ahead for those who haven’t played the first game, Heart of the Swarm takes place after the events in Wings of Liberty, in which Sarah Kerrigan was restored to her human form and was rescued by the protagonist Jim Raynor. Wings of Liberty had 29 playable missions for its campaign, and Heart of the Swarm adds 20 missions, along with 7 evolution missions which are meant to allow the player to upgrade units.
There are three races you can play as in skirmishes—the Terrans, the Protoss, and the Zerg. However, where the first part of the trilogy focused on Jim Raynor and the Terran Race, Heart of the Swarm’s campaign focuses on Sarah Kerrigan and the Zerg race. This campaign, as well as the one before it, is fairly solid. As long as you can look past some of the plot holes, the campaign is enjoyable, and the cast is loveable. The missions themselves are diverse, which make playing through them fun, and at times challenging. That being said, there is a difference in the learning curves for the campaign and multiplayer.
When you start off the campaign, you quickly get the hang of the game and basic functions, and the main challenge comes from the objectives themselves. Multiplayer however, is another beast. Thankfully, Starcraft II has an extremely robust offline skirmish mode that can allow you to practice and prepare yourself for the real opponents. You start off with a three-part tutorial, with each part increasing in the amount of things shown to you as well as the difficulty. Once completed, the game will determine what skill level you’re at, and when you go into a skirmish mode, it’ll place you against bots of that corresponding skill. Based on how well you do against those bots, the game will either lower or raise their difficulty. You can play 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 skirmishes against bots, to further boost your skills before heading to online multiplayer.
The online community of Starcraft II is filled with some crazy good players, so it’s likely you’ll get demolished in your first few times on the battlefield. But like Dota 2 (albeit difference genres), which also has a steep learning curve, it’s all about determination and practice. If players are determined and stick to the game long enough, eventually they’ll achieve their first sweet victory, with more to follow.
Starcraft II (both Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm) features some of the best Real Time Strategy gameplay seen in the gaming world. Players control multiple units as opposed to one single character, and are essentially in charge of managing an entire army. Harvest resources, use those resources to build structures, and use those structures to build units, upgrade units, and build defensive structures to defend your base while you’re off destroying the enemy’s base. Yeah. It’s quite a bit to take in.
Each part taken individually isn’t so bad. Collecting resources is easy, you just need to assign worker drones to the resource site and have them go from there to your base. Building structures isn’t that bad either—all you need to do is have enough resources available, assign the structure to a worker, and then select the space in which your structure will be built. But when you have to manage all of that at once, all while trying to not get destroyed, you’ll soon learn that insane levels of micromanaging skills are needed.
Luckily, Starcraft II’s gameplay helps with that. The ability to smoothly pan over the map, and snap to important areas helps to keep you on your game. Being able to assign units to different groups and then hot key them for quick control is a much beloved feature.
Graphically, Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm is beautiful. You can zoom in to ground level to get a close up visual of your units and structures, but for the most part, you’ll find that most of your time will be spent at a farther distance from the ground, to give your more visibility of the world around you. Being that this game can potentially see hundreds of units on the screen at one time, Starcraft II can at times be heavy on your CPU and GPU, but as long as you have a decently powerful gaming computer, there should not be much of an issue.
As for differences in Heart of the Swarm from Wings of Liberty, the new expansion brought about new units for each of the three races, some units were removed, and other existing units received modifications, either to buff or debuff them. The game is always being updated however, and it’s also likely that Starcraft II will see more changes in units when their final installment in the trilogy, Legacy of the Void, is released.
Finally, I suppose the last thing to mention is how much replay value this game has. There’s a good chance that people won’t stick around with this game for its campaign. Those who do, however, wouldn’t be doing so without reason. The missions can be replayed on higher difficulties, and have bonus objectives that force you to change-up your strategy to achieve. But what will really keep people around is its outstanding multiplayer. For beginners, playing with the bots provides enough fun and challenge. But once you’ve mastered the offline arena, moving online increased that fun and challenge, even if it also increases frustration while doing so.
I should also mention that Starcraft II is a pretty popular esport, with many competitions being held. So for those players who’ve conquered both offline and online, they can move to the pro leagues. But this doesn’t only benefit those hardcore gamers, as these competitions are streamed, and give beginner and intermediate players a chance to watch more advanced players, and learn new strategies.
All in all, Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm is a good game/expansion. The base game, Wings of Liberty is already worth the purchase, with a solid campaign and amazing gameplay mechanics. Heart of the Swarm fits somewhere between just an expansion and a standalone game, and is definitely worth the buy for those who enjoyed the first part.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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