StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Review

In light of Blizzard Entertainment’s recent failure in providing a fitting sequel to Diablo 2, all eyes have been focused intently on StarCraft 2′s first expansion, Heart of the Swarm. Has the industry giant truly fallen from grace, or does it at least remains the RTS king? Everyone loves a good redemption story just as much as they love watching a train wreck.

Coming out three years after the release of StarCraft 2, Heart of the Swarm certainly wasn’t rushed out of the gate. But was it worth the wait, or did it arrive just in time to drive another nail in Blizzard’s coffin? Maybe diving back into the game’s lore has me feeling like a space cowboy, but I reckon we’re about to see a whole heap of people with a hankering for some HotS action.

StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
Platforms: PC
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Released: March 12, 2013
MSRP: $39.99

Heart of the Swarm’s story picks up where Wings of Liberty left off — Kerrigan has been returned to a mostly human state, is no longer the Queen of Blades, and is fueled by revenge against the man responsible for her capture by the Zerg. That itself is the crux of the story — Kerrigan’s quest for vengeance against Arcturus Mengsk. While the quality of the narrative is a step above the hammy space opera that was Wings of Liberty, it nonetheless remains the weakest aspect of this expansion pack. Between a protagonist that I had difficulty sympathizing with and an ending that failed to deliver satisfaction, HotS’ story smacks of Blizzard playing it safe and, consequently, of missed potential.

Without getting into spoiler territory, the decisions Kerrigan makes, the words she speaks, and the actions she takes make it difficult for me to want to see her succeed. I’ve always been fond of morally grey characters, but every well-written grey character has a redeeming quality that allows the audience to sympathize with her — and I simply couldn’t find that in Kerrigan.

The good news is that, apart from the story, there’s actually little negative to say about HotS. Blizzard maintains its sky-high cinematic standards throughout the expansion and has clearly responded to feedback regarding the lackluster quality of cutscenes in WoL by markedly improving their visuals. The voice acting is believable and the dialogue is, for the most part, well-written and devoid of the groan-inducing cheesiness prevalent in Diablo 3. Graphical improvement isn’t even restricted to the cutscenes — subtle in-game improvements have sneaked in as well, including improved creep visuals and unit death animations.

While the story is lacking, the gameplay of the singleplayer campaign is leaps and bounds more entertaining than Wings of Liberty’s. Apart from a mission or two that grew repetitive, and an anticlimactic final mission, the campaign offers varied objectives and gameplay styles that kept me engaged throughout my playthrough, providing an experience discrete from the game’s multiplayer offerings. Distinct influences from Diablo 3 were felt — and I mean this as a compliment, honest — in the form of destructible environments and even “boss fights.” The campaign’s difficulty felt a notch lower than WoL, but additional difficulty settings ensure that those players looking for a real challenge won’t be disappointed.

Wings of Liberty offered a few minor branching plot decisions for players to make — which are barely acknowledged in HotS — but this Zerg expansion instead offers choice in the form of what evolutions players can select for their growing swarm. Do you want Zerglings that can leap up and down cliffs, or that spawn in packs of three? Do you want your Mutalisks to be able to mutate into Vipers or Brood Lords? Do you want your Ultralisks to emit a poisonous damage-over-time effect, or be able to resurrect once killed? Additionally, every unit has three distinct mutations to select from that further specializes it, and Kerrigan herself gains levels and unlocks ability trees that grant her and her swarm various powers. With all the gameplay choices offered, the lack of story choices is barely felt and allows HotS to deliver a more cohesive narrative.


More secrets, FAQs and guides for Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm – Cheat Codes

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm – Troubleshooting FAQ

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm – Achievements List

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm – Easter Eggs & Hidden References

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5 Comments on StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Review

ted

On March 21, 2013 at 5:16 am

Definitely agree with you that it was the story that felt lacking. Everything else, I really enjoyed in this expansion pack. Hopefully the last one, whenever that comes out, will present the improvements in the storylines.

Mike

On March 21, 2013 at 3:47 pm

You do realize that this isn’t even really an expansion pack, since heart of the swarm is supposed to be the middle part of the Starcraft 2 campaign. The story isn’t supposed to be satisfying, since its technically the second of three acts.

CJ Miozzi

On March 21, 2013 at 4:54 pm

@Mike:

An ending is always supposed to be satisfying. I do not equate satisfaction with tying up all loose ends, or with being “happy.”

Chris

On March 25, 2013 at 9:59 pm

why were wings of liberty and HOTS lacking? because that wasnt the ending .LOTV is techincally the ending. HOTS is the middle.

Drizzt

On March 27, 2013 at 8:19 am

Maybe I’m weird that way, but I wanted Kerrigan to succeed. Sure, HotS is no DA:O or Mass Effect (if you ignore that one’s ending), but SC never was. Anyway, I really liked HotS, including its campaign.