StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Review
Beyond the roughly 27-mission singleplayer campaign, Blizzard has made a number of new design choices to lower the barrier to entry as well as foster a less daunting and more rewarding multiplayer experience for new or casual players. Foremost is a leveling system that offers players meaningful progression regardless of their success on the ladder against other human opponents. Every unit and structure built and destroyed awards XP that goes toward leveling up a player’s Battle.net account and unlocking rewards, such as portraits, dance animations, and unit skins.
Aside from the leveling system, Blizzard has included new and unintimidating training programs to ease new players into Battle.net’s cutthroat ladder. Improved AI allows players to practice against tactics more similar to an actual human opponent than ever before in this series. A new option even allows players to partake in “unranked” games — matches that use their ladder rating to find equally skilled opponents but that don’t affect their standing in the ladder, thus easing the pressure.
Once players do hit the multiplayer ladder, they’ll find that HotS is a more balanced game than WoL was at launch. Aggressive and gimmicky tactics are presently a very strong option, but as players learn to deal with these new tricks, the situation will stabilize. The new units — and modifications to existing units — have evolved the base game in significant ways. Protoss air play is a much more viable strategy than it was in WoL, as is Terran mech play, and Zerg players have new ways to control the battlefield.
What’s more, Blizzard finally brought clan support and shared replays, features the community was requesting since the launch of WoL. While it’s difficulty to award points for adding a feature that should have shipped with the base game — clan support — the ability to view replays in a multiplayer setting and even take control of the replay more than makes up for the wait.
Ultimately, Heart of the Swarm is a much more enjoyable and satisfying game than Wings of Liberty and is superior to the base game in every way. If I may paraphrase “Hey Jude,” Blizzard took a great game and made it better. HotS has a stronger appeal to the casual gamer, a more intuitive interface, upgraded visuals, a more enjoyable campaign, greater tactical diversity, and even the one aspect of the game that I can truly complain about — the story — is better-executed than WoL’s. Speaking as an avid StarCraft 2 player, I feel Blizzard has done right by its RTS community.
- Enhanced visuals
- Engaging singleplayer campaign
- New training programs to help players become ladder-ready
- Lowered barrier to entry
- Incentives to retain casual players
- Improved AI
- New tactical variety
- Clan support and shared replays
- Anticlimactic final campaign mission
- Story doesn’t live up to its potential
Final Score: 92/100
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