Blizzcon 2011: Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Hands-On Preview

It’s always a little confusing playing the game demos at conventions. They often don’t offer any exposition and instead thrust the player into the story all willy-nilly. This undoubtedly leaves many unanswered questions: “Why are these people shooting at me? How did I get here? Who the hell ate my last pop tart?” Alright, that last question has nothing to do with game demos, but it was strawberry frosted and I missed breakfast.

Such was the case at Blizzcon 2011 when I ventured over to the Heart of the Swam campaign demo area. Only two missions were available, so I fired up the first one which happened to be Char. Before we go any further I must warn you of impending spoilers, as I will briefly discuss the ending of Wings of Liberty. If you have not finished the Wings of Liberty campaign, please do that now. Alright, so Kerrigan is back on Char but Jim Raynor is nowhere to be found. Last I remember, Raynor had fought off the ravenous minions of the Zerg to transform Kerrigan back to her human self. So where the hell is he?

Further adding to the confusion is the fact that Sarah is rocking a shiny new Ghost outfit. Where did that come from? Why can’t game developers finish the first mission and then move on to the rest? Anyway, during a brief talk with her Zerg advisor, Izsha, we learn that Sarah is back on Char to retake control of the swarm. I can get on board with that. That’s one plot point they actually don’t need to explain to the player. Hey, would you like to bend this army of merciless, flesh-rending aliens to your will? Why, yes. Yes I would.

So Kerrigan’s plan is to gather up a bunch of eggs she’s hidden on Char and return them to her spawning pool. Doing this will help build Sarah’s army so she can stomp all over Za’Gara, a brood mother who is also attempting to build an army from Zerg eggs. The mission was incredibly easy but then again, the only difficulties available were “normal” and “casual.” What’s up with changing “easy” mode to “casual?” Is that some kind of PC way of not offending people who are terrible at the game? Oh don’t worry, you’re not a complete noob, you’re just a “casual” player. If you use this setting, I’m going to casually suggest you stop sucking at Starcraft.

Anyway, I’ll forgive the lack of challenge based on the “normal” difficulty setting and the fact that this is (and I’m guessing here) an earlier mission. Play centers around Kerrigan as she’s your most powerful unit. She has a powerful lighting attack and can use some kind of weird force choke ability to suspend players in the air and harm them. Apparently, Raynor’s artifact accidentally turned Kerrigan into Darth Vader.

The mission is straightforward but fun and rewarding. Once the requisite number of eggs have been gathered up, the player is blessed with a great multitude of Banelings and assigned the task of taking down Za’Gara’s base. And thus begins a wonderfully one-sided battle that leaves baneling juice all over everything.

After slapping Za’Gara around some, I claimed victory and headed back to Sarah’s base on Char. There I got to meet Abathur, the delightful monstrosity that upgrades my units. Abathur is very amusing. She offered to eat my hand and give it back with improvements. Kerrigan was not having it though. It’s too bad this game doesn’t have a Mass Effect style decision making system. I’d have made Sarah do it. I’m glad Abathur is so entertaining. One of the things I loved about Wings of Liberty was interacting with Tychus and the other characters between missions.

In addition to upgrading units, players can also upgrade Kerrigan herself by switching her battle focus and adding new powers. Each battle focus has it’s own set of abilities. Some battle focuses give Kerrigan Zergy powers like Spawn Broodlings, while others give her more Ghosty powers or turn her into Darth Kerrigan. Sarah will be featured in most of the missions so it makes sense to be able to switch up her powers. I really like this idea and I’m sure it will help keep the missions from getting stale.

The second mission featured an ice level with flash ice storms that froze all my units in place for about a minute. The various ice monsters on the planet did not succumb to the flash freezes so getting caught around them when the ice storm showed up was a bad idea. I really like this concept, but I found it too easy to avoid the ice monsters. They just kind of sat in the same place, so if an ice storm was approaching I simply didn’t move forward. Now if the ice monsters were wandering around the planet’s surface, that would create an element of danger.

After killing some ice monsters, I became immune to flash freezes and got to fight some Protoss who were not immune. It was a lot of fun timing my attacks so that I hit the Protoss just as they turned into blocks of ice. At one encampment I destroyed all the buildings and left the Zealots and Stalkers alive so that when they thawed out they’d be all “WTF happened to the Gateway that was right there? Where’s the Nexus?”

In the end the demo did exactly what it was supposed to. It let me see what combat would be like in the new game. It introduced me to the upgrading elements and new characters. Most importantly, it left me with a bunch of unanswered questions that really make me want to play the game so I can find out what happens. Bravo Blizzard.

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1 Comment on Blizzcon 2011: Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Hands-On Preview

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On November 20, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I’m really excited for Heart of the Swarm, and this preview’s really got me craving for Starcraft gameplay. I’m interested in what Blizzard is going to do in terms of the story for HotS since I feel they can do tons of interesting things with the Kerrigan character. She definitely seems pretty forceful in the trailer from Blizzcon. The new units they’re going to introduce seem like they’ll add a ton to the gameplay as well. I’m interested in seeing how units like the replicant add to the multiplayer aspect of the game.