Review: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

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Date: Friday, June 14th, 2013, 08:23
Category: Review, Software, Software

The space opera that is StarCraft continues in fine style.

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, the latest installment in Blizzard’s epic StarCraft real-time strategy series, has been out for a while now, reflects a fairly major overhaul in its unit progression, achievement and multiplayer systems. Picking up where StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty left off, the story hones in on Sarah Kerrigan, who, under the protection of Jim Raynor, is attempting to resolve being human again after her transformation into the Queen of Blades and the overall conflict against Emperor Mengsk’s Dominion forces.

Like any space opera, the plot grounds itself in tragic elements, Kerrigan witnessing Raynor’s death at the hands of Mengsk’s forces, allying herself once again with the now-scattered Zerg and working to reunite the Swarm as a tool for vengeance. Not a bad start within the first few missions of the game and Blizzard’s classic strong voice acting and marquee-level cut scenes continue to tell a great, relatable story to its audience.


Send in enough flying units to take down powerful defenders like the Terran Thor unit.

Send in enough flying units to take down powerful defenders like the Terran Thor unit.


If there’s one thing that makes Heart of the Swarm work, it’s an easier approachability than Wings of Liberty offered – and flustered some players with. Unlike Wings of Liberty, unit upgrades aren’t hooked into a currency system and are therefore easier to earn and work with. Unit upgrades can also be switched prior to the beginning of each mission, meaning you aren’t completely locked into a given upgrade once your choice has been made. This comes as a welcome change and it’s fun to experiment with alternate upgrades to see what works best in different situations.

Still, it’s the sheer joy of a Zerg-focused StarCraft game that sells Heart of the Swarm. Here, you’re greeted with the fully awesome disgustingness of the insect/reptilian armies you’ll happily grow, spawn and mutate to defend your nest and annihilate your enemies with. From gruesome-yet-fun “Splortch!!!” sounds as your units emerge from their cocoons to the sounds of your multi-legged units skittering and/or oozing their way towards battle, there’s the unassailable enjoyment of creating and fighting with the most disgusting army in any real-time strategy game.


When in doubt, send everything you've got.

When in doubt, send everything you’ve got.


Heart of the Swarm doesn’t provide a massive graphical update over Heart of the Swarm, but it’s still noticeable. Where Wings of Liberty sometimes chugged along slowly on my late-2011 MacBook Pro, Heart of the Swarm ran briskly, complete with detailed characters and fluid animation. Whatever Blizzard did under the hood of the game, it worked and the title still features all the terrific slime, gore, fangs and ooze you’d expect from the Zerg, even with the resolution turned down to more minimal levels.

It was the new multiplayer features that caught my eye when Heart of the Swarm was in development, Blizzard offering new and altered units and abilities. Even though there’s something of a learning curve with the new stuff, Blizzard came through and delivered, new units such as the Viper allowing you to literally pull your opponent’s high-value units out of a cluster and drag it towards your forces to be quickly attacked and torn apart. Upgraded mine units allow you to create a defensive line where needed and Blizzard has incorporated something of an “arcade” feel to its revised multiplayer gameplay, the program visibly awarding experience points for actions such as gathering resources, building units and defeating enemy units. It’s a small thing, but it brings back a sort of action-based/arcade feel to even standard multiplayer gameplay and makes achievements that much more fun to work towards.


The new Zerg Abomination unit can slug it out with even the toughest ground defenders.

The new Zerg Abomination unit can slug it out with even the toughest ground defenders.


Top this off with new game modes, new customer maps and a better means of sorting players by appropriate player and skill level and the Heart of the Swarm can stand on its own as a multiplayer-only title should you choose to ignore the core campaign. Battle.net, Blizzard’s multiplayer gaming service, has improved dramatically over the years and the only limitations are occasional downtimes for server upgrades and perhaps how your Internet connection happens to be behaving at that point in time.

If there are points of contention to deal with with Heart of the Swarm, they come in the form of some familiar points of conflict gamers have had with Blizzard in recent years. Blizzard has disabled Local Area Network multiplayer gameplay, which is meant as a piracy-prevention technique, but also removes what would literally be the fastest form of multiplayer gameplay available to a group of players. This, combined with the fact that, once activated and hooked into an activation code, players are unable to resell their used copies of Heart of the Swarm down the line. Perhaps Blizzard will figure out a way around this or a more moderate fix, but it still feels like a heavy-handed approach to copy protection. Finally, Blizzard has instituted a requirement that single player achievements can only be earned (and recorded) if the account has logged into Battle.net. Granted, this isn’t as draconian as Blizzard’s requirement that players always be logged into Battle.net even during single player gameplay in Diablo 3 and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, but there’s still a sense that you’d like to just open the game and polish off a few single player missions in your free time without having to log into the server.


Send Reaper units after space-based enemies to help keep the Hyperion safe in side missions.

Send Reaper units after space-based enemies to help keep the Hyperion safe in side missions.


Game companies have always had a hard time incorporating replay value into single player campaigns and Heart of the Swarm suffers from some of this, but not to a deal-breaking extent. There’s a fair amount of challenge involved with the Normal difficulty – which makes the game fun – and the game’s challenge scales well with each level of difficulty you attempt, but absolute die-hards have cited that the game could be more challenging in its most difficult modes. This comes down to personal taste and Wings of Liberty had some more definitive storyline and plot-based choices that added to the title’s replay value, but there’s still enough challenge and variety to be found in Heart of the Swarm’s multiplayer game modes to keep you coming back for more.


There's nothing like sweet, sweet StarCraft victory. And explosions to go along with it.

There’s nothing like sweet, sweet StarCraft victory. And explosions to go along with it.


In conclusion, Heart of the Swarm adds a solid contribution to the space opera story that the “StarCraft” franchise is known for, some nice core engine and gameplay improvements and is just as fun as an RTS fan would expect the latest installment of StarCraft to be. The assortment of new units make the single and multiplayer modes that much more fun and it’s cool to go back, look over the new units and develop new offensive and defensive techniques to use based on the new tools available to you. Yes, Blizzard creates its own foibles thanks to its current (and somewhat ever-changing) privacy-prevention techniques, but there’s also the sense that they might be able to eventually arrive at a set of methods that both players and the company can live with. Heart of the Swarm isn’t perfect, but the good more than outweighs the bad, it’s what the next chapter of StarCraft needed to be and the joy of playing – and conquering – with the Zerg is everything you could have hoped for.

Minimum System Requirements:
- Mac OS X 10.7 or later
- Intel Core 2 Duo or faster processor
- NVIDIA GeForce 9400M or ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro or better graphics card
- 2 GB RAM
- 20 GB available hard disk space
- Broadband Internet connection
- DVD-ROM drive
- 1024 x 768 minimum display resolution

Recommended System Requirements:
- Mac OS X 10.8 or later
- Intel Core i3 or faster processor
- ATI Radeon HD 4850 or NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M or better graphics card
- 4 GB RAM
- 20 GB available hard disk space
- Broadband Internet connection
- DVD-ROM drive
- 1024 x 768 minimum display resolution

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