howl /// Tuesday March 19 12:15 2013

http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/games/hots/

PC - Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Campaign

First Impressions

The one thing that you first notice as soon as HotS is fired up, is how much more sumptuously gorgeous it looks. The menu's now understand that wide screen monitors exist, the enhanced animations shine and the starting locations just look so much better. A welcome contrast to the dusty plains of Mar Sara.

If there is one thing that Blizzard can always do right, it is its cut scenes. They come thick and fast both from both the Starcraft 2 engine and the render farm. The ones from the engine are a massive improvement, eliminating many of the clipping and poor camera angles that revealed the ugly in the Wings of Liberty campaign. Of course the ones from the render farm look amazing in Blizzard's usual style.

A Nice Touch

With HotS being an expansion, it has access to all your save files, and it makes minor modifications to the story as it progresses based upon those few decisions you got to make in Wings of Liberty. A nice little Mass Effect style touch, however the story is not changed in any meaningful way at all, those little changes get white washed away since "A girls have gotta do what a girls gotta do". Thanks Nova! 

Out of the Box

I purchased the Digital Deluxe edition and it was installed, optimized and expanded without a single problem. All my Wings of Liberty saves were preserved and got integrated into the story.

The little extras like the World of Warcraft Baneling pet and Diablo costume wings are fun for a little while but you soon forget about them. At least I don't have any physical tat clogging up my living space.

Mechanics

What is there to say, its Starcraft 2 in campaign mode. Our hands are held with each mission, training us how to use each Zerg Unit in turn, just like Wings of Liberty. And just as Wings of Liberty, as soon as you start playing on Brutal you just throw all that hand holding out the window, and use the structures and units that will get the job done, rather than the ones you are told to use as your Zerg units will be splattered across the ground in their enhanced glory in  no time at all without some care being taken.

Classic Warcraft styled hero units have returned. Most missions will have Kerrigan leading the charge, being a playable unit that can easily turn the tide in individual battles with her custom upgradeable abilities. Sure we had our heroes in Wings of Liberty but once they died they were dead and your mission was over and they just were not around all that much. The Zerg are however numberless, as long as you have a hatchery, Kerrigan will come back to life ready to lead her armies again. A well missed feature from ye olde days.

It gives us great hope for Tassadar's return from the void.

As in Wings of Liberty you can upgrade your units, but this is undertaken in a rather different fashion, with the gene weaver Abathur at your beck and call, ready to tweak your Zerg as you obtain them, and sending them off to gather different "Essences" to upgrade them. These "Evolution" missions themselves are a small diversion, and offered little challenge and to be honest were not much fun. Oh well... lucky there was a campaign to play!

The Long Haul

We get to learn a lot about the Zerg, with Kerrigan fighting against a destiny forced upon her, her feelings for a certain roguish outlaw and the revenge that she desires so that she may know some peace. I won't give away the rest, just to say that there was a certain Zerg story element that started to get a bit, tiresome, after a while since we continually had it shoved in our faces time and time again.

The mission structure is a step more linear than what we were used to in Wings of Liberty, it's more reminiscent of Starcraft and Brood War with a stronger linear mission path to follow. There is a planetary based hub structure where you zoom around planets completing a batch of missions then star hopping onto the next. Sometimes you can mix up the order that you do your planets in, but once you're at a planet it must be subjugated before you move on.

You occasionally get to be someone else for particular missions, a favourite being the Behemoth-class battlecruiser Hyperion of all things (I can see some fun Arcade games being made out of its hero unit functionality). 

Unfortunately this mission structure creates some odd moments where events happen that you initiate but have little involvement in that seem quite out of place and a bit tacked on. You will know when you see them. They were most likely done to move the galactic scale story along, since a majority of the story is focusing on Kerrigans journey.

Final Opinion

I am Starcraft 2 Bronze leaguer (well hardly played it but I qualified), and I cruised through Normal in a day of play time. You can check out my profile here! The harder difficulties will allow for a much more challenging and rewarding experience, at least for someone at my level, and it may be worth your time starting on Hard or higher, if you are a Starcraft veteran.

Playing Heart of the Swarm was great fun, though there were some odd storytelling moments that could have been smoothed out a little, though I imagine that would have to come at the cost of more missions, which really wouldn't of been a bad thing. Replacing those Zerg "Evolution" missions with more storytelling missions would fix that up nicely.

I am looking forward to my Brutal playthrough, though with some trepidation, but I like the challenge as I really am not that good with the RTS genre, Homeworld being the notable exception. I do have a desire to be better at Starcraft, I enjoy watching it as an E-Sport, and play on the ladder. This will be the perfect place to start.

NOTE: Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is an expansion and requires Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty to play in most territories.

Edited // Sunday May 05 16:44 2013 // Updated title image. ///