Time to put on my nerd hat and review the expansion to Starcraft 2, Heart of the Swarm. Or more specifically, the campaign, since I haven’t tried multiplayer yet.
Generally speaking, it was a lot of fun and the maps are well-made, as should be expected from Blizzard. There is a level of creativity in some of the levels; for example, on one level there are flash freeze storms that freeze your enemies and allow you to attack them freely (your own units are adapted to the cold and can operate), and in another, you use the battlecruiser Hyperion to blow up space stations while upgrading it. The maps are polished, the gameplay is fun, and some levels were challenging, though not terribly so (I played through on Brutal, by the way).
However, it was not as good as Wings of Liberty, and the storyline still irks me. I’ll enumerate a few things:
-I still despise the Overmind retcon. In Stacraft 1, he was a calculating bad dude, but in Wings of Liberty they stupidly made him a poor creature who was forced against his will to attack the Protoss. “No, the Zerg are actually good!” *Facepalm. They did the same freaking thing with the Orcs in Warcraft 3, so the fact they did it again with the Zerg is all sorts of ridiculous. They explain the creation of Kerrigan as the Overmind’s way to circumvent his lack of free will… but in doing so, isn’t the Overmind rebelling? How does that make freaking sense? Whatever. Whoever’s dumb idea this was deserves to be hit in the face with bricks.
Anyway, they continue this flip-flopping crap with Kerrigan. At the end of Wings of Liberty, she gets turned back into a human, but in Heart of the Swarm, she turns back into the Queen of Blades on purpose in order to get revenge on Mengsk and to eventually fight the Dark Void dude who originally corrupted the Zerg. But she still loves Jim Raynor. Great. She seems to have a bit more control over her sanity as she has mercy on several people, but overall, it’s still her craving revenge and killing lots of people. At least Raynor, angry at her for turning back into a Zerg, finally mentions Fenix. You know, his good friend whom she killed that made him threaten to kill her too. Good job keeping your promise there, Jimmy.
I know this campaign was supposed to be about Zerg, but really, she turns back into the Queen of Blades? I spend 20+ missions in Wings of Liberty turning that pscyho back into a human and she just willingly puts herself into goop and morphs back? Thanks for that waste of time.
-Still dislike her voice. No reason for them to change voice actors here.
-The campaign is a lot more linear than Wings of Liberty, and they don’t give a lot of choices. Not only that, it’s listed as 26 levels, but a bunch of those are just these short and easy “evolution missions” that don’t really count as levels. Basically, the campaign is really less than 20 levels.
-I hate the fact how they’re trying to make the game more noob friendly, even changing the freaking command card. You can change it back to normal, but really? What’s the point? Also, you don’t really get a chance to upgrade anything other than the normal weapon/armor ones. That’s because you have to choose your upgrades before the mission even starts, and you can only choose one. In other words, you can’t even have cracklings. They won’t allow you to have both metabolic boost (zergling speed) and adrenal glands (zergling attack speed). Eh? Why can’t you just put the stupid upgrades at the spawning pool, let me click on them, and boom, I can upgrade what I want? That was a dumb choice. Units should be stronger in the campaign, not weaker, than in melee.
-Because it’s very linear and the choices are more restricted than in Wings of Liberty, I think the replay value is lower. For the first installment, you can play through multiple times and focus on different tech paths. You can do the same thing for this one, but it isn’t as nearly as varied because you can only choose one upgrade for each unit before a mission.
-Unlike Wings of Liberty, only the Lurker truly comes back from SC1 (side note: how do the Zerg “lose” units? The explanation is that the Lurker strand was nearly lost, but that makes no sense given that the Zerg should be integrated with one another). The “primal Zerg” have guardians that are fast and shoot at air units (so they ain’t really guardians), and you use scourge nests in one level but don’t control any scourge (and they look different anyway). Other than that, there is no defiler, SC1 flying queen, or devourer, while Wings of Liberty brought back virtually every unit other than the valkyrie. Lame. Oh, and I still dislike how the new zerglings look; I don’t know why Blizzard is going for the cliche insectoid look for them rather than the pack-of-wild-dogs look in SC1.
-Dr. Narud is very clearly Samir Duran from SC1, or at least closely related. The fact that Duran is never mentioned, not even by Kerrigan herself, is stupid and a lame attempt to be clever by Blizzard.
-I like how the Protoss are portrayed as having unimaginable technology, capable of bending time and space, but they have trouble sending messages across space and they can’t even detect intrusions on their own ships. Their shields, which can absorb damage from nukes, also can’t withstand the cold. Yep. Makes sense.
In conclusion, the story has taken a disappointing turn since Brood War, some things don’t make sense, and some design choices were questionable, but it’s still a really fun campaign to play through. Even if you aren’t competitive in Starcraft (neither am I), it’s still worth getting for the campaign and for the myriad of custom games the will undoubtedly be made for it. Blizzard continues to make really fun games, even if their story department leaves much to be desired now.