StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm — Insider Insights on Release Dates, New Units & MMO (Updated)
UPDATE: Our source asserted that there will be a StarCraft MMO. This is not speculation on our part. Author speculation is only inserted regarding Kerrigan’s customizable appearance.
Two days ago, I had the opportunity to speak with an industry insider who attended the recent invite-only press event at Blizzard Entertainment headquarters, where they played a build of the upcoming StarCraft 2 expansion, Heart of the Swarm. They shared with me their thoughts and predictions based on this press event and years of insider experience.
Here are the highlights of our discussion.
Play time was limited to ensure everyone had an opportunity to try out Heart of the Swarm, and only the singleplayer campaign was available. Although not enough play time was logged to pass judgment, the fact that HotS cannot fall back on its largely unchanged multiplayer component to bring in sales guarantees the singleplayer campaign will surpass in quality that of Wings of Liberty.
It’s a safe bet that familiar SC1 units, such as the Lurker and the Scourge, will be playable in the singleplayer campaign. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Defiler returned, considering the Science Vessel — the Terran’s counterpart to the Defiler — floated its way into Wings of Liberty.
HotS will include new multiplayer units as well, but not necessarily for every race. Terran, the race with (presently) the most units, will likely receive new upgrades instead, and the same may hold true for Protoss, who would have to wait for the second expansion, Legacy of the Void, for its new units.
Heart of the Swarm won’t be hitting shelves any time soon. Work on the campaign hasn’t finished, let alone the lengthy playtesting process needed to ensure game balance.
Based on experience playing early builds of Wings of Liberty, HotS should be released in 1.5 to 2 years. The expansion appears to presently be at the same development stage WoL was 3 years prior to release. A shorter timeframe is expected for HotS because, unlike its predecessor, the game isn’t being built from the ground up.
There will be a StarCraft MMO. No, it’s not Project Titan.
As evidenced by its adoption of a subscription service for the Call of Duty franchise, Activision Blizzard is, and I quote my source, “committed to enhancing shareholder value through residual monthly fees.”
Given the popularity of the StarCraft universe, the immediate reaction to the World of StarCraft mod, and factoring in an aging World of Warcraft, Blizzard has been put into a position where an SC MMO would be too financially lucrative to pass up.
There will be some storyline continuity between Wings of Liberty and HotS with respect to the player’s decision to side with Nova or Tosh, but this previous decision won’t affect the game’s main plot.
Nova plays a larger role in HotS than she did in WoL. She is solidly allied with humanity — and by extension, Mengsk. However, her loyalty is to humanity.
Rogue psionics, like Kerrigan, are a threat to the Terran race, so you can expect Nova to play an antagonistic role — at least initially.
At the start of HotS, Kerrigan has no clear recollection of what transpired while she was the Queen of Blades — she has only ephemeral, fragmented memories. She is a clean slate, a tabula rasa.
But that doesn’t mean she’ll be easily swayed to the side of “good.” Although Kerrigan plays the role of protagonist, she is by no means a “good guy” — she never will be. Her past has made her too complex of a character to be pigeon-holed into a binary world view.
A lot of flak is being thrown around about Kerrigan’s new appearance. When I first saw the screenshots, something felt off about her look to me, and I think I’ve nailed down what it is.
Blizzard character design has always incorporated visually interesting silhouettes. See these three StarCraft characters:
Each of these silhouettes invokes a concept: power, agility, viciousness. Even Nova, in her sleek ghost armor, has definition to her silhouette. Kerrigan’s present silhouette — essentially that of a nude woman — invokes simplicity. It’s a blank canvas, the naked body concept artists build upon. Her silhouette represents the “tabula rasa” concept discussed above.
But would Blizzard have us play through 20 missions with such a visually simple character?
In Heart of the Swarm, Kerrigan is a hero unit that will grow in power throughout the campaign, unlocking new abilities in an RPG-like manner. We’ve observed that just about every upgradable Zerg unit in Wings of Liberty and HotS receives a makeover along with its upgrade, a visual representation of its enhanced abilities.
Will Kerrigan undergo a visual evolution throughout the campaign?
More to the point, will we be able to customize our Kerrigan’s appearance?
If we upgrade her Corruption battle focus, will she regrow her “wings?” If we focus on Spec Ops, will she obtain better Terran armor?
The fan base is split between her Queen of Blades and Sarah Kerrigan appearance — will this be Blizzard’s way of pleasing everyone?
Only time will tell; but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s to trust in Blizzard.