StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Preview – Here’s Everything New
Page 1: The Narrative
Page 2: Singleplayer Mechanics
Page 3: Multiplayer
What would be a StarCraft expansion without new units? While you’d expect Zerg to be shown the most love in this Zerg expansion pack, it’s actually Protoss that receives the most new units — three — while Terran and Zerg each get two new additions to their armies.
The new units include…
- The Tempest, a long-rage capital ship similar in function to an airborne siege tank. Taking advantage of this unit’s long range by granting it sight with an Observer or the Oracle’s Revelation ability allows you to lay siege to enemies from afar — and if you can keep your Tempests above high or zero ground areas, you’ll force your enemy to build air units of his own if he hopes to counter you.
- The Mothership Core, a new early-game flying unit with special abilities that can later be upgraded into a full Mothership. The Mothership Core grants the Protoss some solid early-game defense; but like the Mothership, you are limited to having one per army.
- The Oracle, a fragile flying caster with multiple abilities and a fast movement speed. With an ability that allows it to quickly destroy enemy workers, the Oracle is the Protoss’ new air harassment unit, and its Time Warp ability offers even more powerful battlefield control options.
- The Viper, a flying caster not unlike an airborne version of Brood War’s Defiler. A unit with multiple abilities, its most exciting is its Abduct power, which lets it grab hold of an enemy from far away and pull it up close, like Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion.
- The Swarm Host, Heart of the Swarm’s version of Brood War’s Lurker. The equivalent of a ground-based Brood Lord, the Swarm Host burrows underground, and while burrowed, releases little creatures called Locusts that seek out and attack enemies.
- The Widow Mine, a new incarnation of Brood War’s Spider Mine, buries itself underground, and once an enemy approaches, it launches a missile that deals splash damage to ground and air units. While it is invisible while armed, it has an extremely slow reload rate.
- The Hellbat, an upgrade for the Hellion, reintroduces the concept of Brood War’s Firebat: a short-range, tanky unit that deals splash damage. The Hellion can transform from its regular buggy form into the Mechwarrior-like Hellbat. Roll out!
One problem StarCraft 2 players face is that playing against the AI simply doesn’t offer the training and experience necessary to survive on the ladder. Blizzard has sought to rectify this with Heart of the Swarm by introducing a new training mode that will bring players up to speed on all the changes and offer race-specific challenges to get them ladder-ready. Further, improvements and expansions to the AI — including new difficulty levels, as well as the ability to select what type of build the AI will use in-game — allow players to take on challenges that are better suited at getting them ladder-ready than ever before.
Of course, new maps are coming with Heart of the Swarm, featuring new tilesets and terrain features, such as collapsible rocks that can be used to block areas of a map. Physics and art upgrades, as well as new dynamic death animations, will enhance the game’s visuals, adding some fresh touches to a game that already looked somewhat dated when it released two years ago.
Heart of the Swarm finally brings proper clan support to StarCraft 2 in the form of Clans and Groups. Players can create either, which gives them access to private chat channels, news, info, and a roster. Clans have a maximum member size of 50 and grant players a clan tag, while Groups lack both the restriction and the tag.
Furthermore, the maximum party size has been increased, allowing more than six people to form a party, and global play is introduced — gamers will be able to play on the multiplayer ladders of any region. Just be careful on those Korean servers. In addition, unranked matches will serve as a venue for players to be matched against players of equal skill level in games that don’t affect their ladder ranking.
Players will finally be able to watch replays together in real time via multiplayer — something that the pro scene has been demanding for years. Beyond that, a new feature will allow players to take control of a replay at any point and play out the rest of the game, earning Blizzard its redemption for delaying shared replays for so long.
New to Heart of the Swarm’s multiplayer is a leveling system that tracks your progress and allows you to unlock portraits, decals, unit skins, and even unit dances — all cosmetic items that do not affect game balance, of course.
By playing matches, players gain experience for every unit and structure built and destroyed, as well as for winning matches and other miscellanea, such as for one’s first win of the day. Experience is tracked across each race, with a maximum level of 20 attainable in each race. Every new level rewards players with either a new decal or portrait for the given race, and cumulative level across all three races is also tracked.
A streamlined user interface and simplified menu awaits players in Heart of the Swarm. More stats will be featured, including complete breakdowns on wins and losses versus each race and performance across individual maps.
While the majority of the new features that Heart of the Swarm is bringing to StarCraft 2 are improvements, whether the new units and balance changes will be embraced by players is yet to be seen. The community agrees that the original StarCraft found its optimal balance with its expansion, Brood War, and while initial Heart of the Swarm beta feedback suggested this expansion would be a balance nightmare, only time will tell.