We are the swarm. Armies will be shattered under a wave of teeth, tentacles, acid, little locust things, and shooting spines. Aren’t the Zerg just adorable!
So I’ll be starting with a little apology, I haven’t posted much recently. There are a number of contributing factors to this. Firstly my 21st birthday happened and was very enjoyable but unfortunately left me with a virus that made me very ill for a while. But I am recovered now and ready to talk about the game I got for my birthday (technically I got the pre-order for Christmas but there you go), Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm.
I should stress that I am mostly going to be talking about the single player game. The Starcraft series is probably more famous for its multiplayer and e-sports community but I’ve never been a big multiplayer gamer though I might look into the new battle.net system that Blizzard has developed. So the story of Heart of the Swam will be featuring heavily though I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum.
I am a massive fan of the Starcraft series. Since I got a demo of the original game, on a disc containing about twenty demos, I have loved playing it. After I got the full game and the expansion, Brood War, it was pretty much all I played for a while. There are people who claim that the story in the sequels do not compare to the original, I’ll talk more about that later. But the point I am making is that this is a series I am very familiar with.
For those who aren’t my advice is this: If you enjoy real-time strategy and for some reason haven’t played Starcraft then don’t play the sequels until you play the original game. Some of the graphics may look a bit dated, especially in the cinematic cutscenes, but without a firm knowledge of Starcraft you won’t understand a lot of the sequels. This is even more true of Heart of the Swarm but that is technically an expansion (An honest to god expansion and not DLC!), so that’s to be expected.
For the uninitiated the Starcraft series is a set of real-time strategy games with an emphasis on unit management and a little bit of base building. Over the course of the games you play each of the three main races: the Terrans, the Protoss, and the Zerg. Everyone has their favourites and my favourite race has always been the animalistic hive-mind Zerg so I’ve been very excited for Heart of the Swarm.
The fact that Blizzard, the company behind Starcraft, has actually updated the engine for Heart of the Swarm surprised me a little. Blizzard is one of the major video game developers and as such has made questionable choices in the past that has left many people more than a little annoyed (Diablo 3 is an example of this). So the fact that extra work was put in to tweak how the game functions mean that Heart of the Swarm does look like a separate game from Wings of Liberty, the preceding campaign.
But the main point of this expansion, beyond the ability to play as the Zerg which I am infinitely better at than the Terrans, is the continuation of the story. The original games were highly praised for their stories but the sequels have had mixed reactions. Diehard fans frequently, and I do mean frequently, complain that the writing quality took a substantial hit in order to make room for Hollywood-esque clichés, tropes, and general cheesiness.
I respect this view to an extent. Heart of the Swarm has sweeping moments of cheesiness, generally between Kerrigan and Raynor (Yeah unless you’re a fan the history between these two will be a bit lost on you). There are also beautifully rendered cutscenes that seem to consist heavily of great Dragon Ball Z style battles that do feel very cliché compared to the more politicking plots and events of Starcraft and Brood War. The main villain of the piece has also turned from being a cold, slightly tyrannical, and dictatorial figure, into the very embodiment of evil. Oh and don’t get me started on the comedy that occurs whenever the Terrans show up, it does just seem like a high budget action film.
But ultimately a game’s harshest critic will be its fans and while I do find the story cheesy and laden with tropes I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hell out of it. Even beyond the story the ideas behind the gameplay, the addition of the evolution missions where you choose the path of the Swarm’s evolution, the various mechanics on each mission, make it really fun to play. It was a bit sad the speed at which you can get through the campaign but it is an expansion; it has an expansion’s cost and an expansion’s amount of content.
There aren’t many twists or moments to really leave you guessing but the extra lore and the promise of Legacy of the Void, the next game in the series, is certainly inviting. Kerrigan makes for an interesting protagonist though her more human characteristics take away some of her great strengths. Nevertheless Heart of the Swarm delivers pretty much what I hoped. If you’re a fan of the series you’ve probably already got it, if haven’t got it, why not? If you aren’t a fan I wouldn’t try jumping in at the second game and its expansions. Play the first in the series, just don’t expect the style to stay exactly the same.
Other than that I just have one question for Blizzard: Will Niadra the Broodmother have significant impact on the story? Or has she just been left in space to build up the Zerg and become an enemy for Legacy of the Void like the Tal’Darim are for the others?
Thank you for reading and stay tuned over the next few weeks where I will be doing a review of the Blackwell series by WadjetEye.