Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to attend the European launch event for StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm (HotS). Once I left the event, I wanted nothing more than to get my hands on the game and play it to oblivion. Having not played the 2010 Wings of Liberty campaign mode, I was in for a treat when I took control of the swarm.
You follow the struggle of Sarah Kerrigan, also known as the Queen of Blades, as she battles with her inner morality and loyalties to the Terran. You’re tasked with rebuilding the Zerg swarm over 20 missions which slowly bring in more and more units for you to control and utilise. Having played the multiplayer in StarCraft II, I was already familiar with how to play the game from a Protoss perspective, but this progressive style of play was very useful in learning to use a previously untouched race, the Zerg, and some of the new mechanics that have come into play within HotS.
Although the campaign is amazing, I don’t want to delve into the plot too much as I want to let you experience it yourself. For this reason, I will focus on the changes that have been brought about by the swarm.
First off is the addition of the Evolutionary Chamber which allows you to easily upgrade your units during the campaign. As you unlock more units to control, you can assign them one of three upgrades which changes how they behave such as speed, armour or attack damage. These can be changed on the fly between missions, which can assist with changing tactics. Along with this, there are permanent upgrades which can be applied that change aspects such as the look of the unit, their animation or even their behaviour. These upgrades can drastically change the gameplay, giving HotS huge replay value.
Even Kerrigan isn’t left out of the upgrades with her hero upgrades. Having played through WarCraft III, it’s nice to see the hero class return. In the vast majority of the campaign missions, Kerrigan enters the fray as a controllable hero unit that, when killed, will return to base (rather than ending the mission - a nice addition). You can upgrade Kerrigan to suit your playstyle by giving her different abilities and switching them out to bring into battle.
With StarCraft mainly aimed at a multiplayer audience and the eSports scene, there’s been some tweaks to the UI to help the lesser player out, which is handy. We see the addition of a button to select any idle workers and another one to select your entire army in one fell swoop. I wasn’t the best of StarCraft II players (I was fairly decent), the additions that HotS has brought has completely thrown my knack for the game. A lot of the units have been altered which I won’t delve into as, unless you’re a StarCraft player, they won’t mean much to you. I will, however tell you about the new units available for you to get your grubby mitts on.
In the heart of keeping everything equal, every race has received a few extra units to play with and this has drastically changed the tactics players have adopted over time. First off we have the Zerg units; the Swarm Host, a ground unit that can burrow and continuously spawns swarms of parasites, and the Viper, an air unit which can drag units in close from a distance.
Terran get the Hellbat, a modified Hellion which can switch between both forms of Hellbat and Hellion and uses a flamethrower to douse its enemies with napalm, and the Widow Mine, a ground unit that can burrow and becomes cloaked. It then continuously fires missiles until either destroyed or stopped by the player.
Lastly are the Protoss with the Mothership Core, an air unit that can teleport friendly units back to it’s Nexus, the Oracle, a light flying unit that can only attack ground units which is great for harassment and the Tempest, a long range flying unit. The Tempest isn’t particularly strong as a single unit but when used within an army, it can take out large chunks of an army without having to enter into the fight.
With all of the changes that have been made to the multiplayer experience, it has thrown some professional players lower down the eSports ladders whilst others have risen as they ‘click’ a lot more with this expansion. Much the same has resonated down the entire of the multiplayer ladder as some novice players have found a new muse and are slowly climbing and others fall down by the wayside.
It’s early days still for StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm’s multiplayer but it’s definitely mixed things up. Match this with an amazing 20-mission campaign which slowly trains players into using the Zerg as an effective swarm, and you have yourself a game with immense replayability. If you haven’t yet, I highly suggest that you check out this title and join the swarm.
- New units change things up
- Simplified UI
- Same core gameplay
- I'm now terrible at multiplayer, thanks Obama.