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Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm Review

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Want the short, spoiler free version? Check out the LAST WORD at the bottom of the page.

147170-sc-2-heart-of-the-swarm-the-most-anticipated-game-in-2012When Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty hit, it was a welcome and much desired arrival. Blizzard’s masterpiece sci-fi saga was a brilliant breath of fresh air, and it says a lot about the quality of the franchise that so many people were still playing Starcraft right up to WoL’s launch. Hell, some people are still playing it now (Admittedly, most of them are either Korean or live in a bunker somewhere with a decade’s worth of canned goods).

Despite the masterful tactical gaming and thriving community, WoL failed in one big way. One of Starcraft’s greatest achievements was the campaign, which had independent, interlocking storylines for all three of its factions -  the inevitably soon-to-be-sued by Games Workshop Terrans, the stealthy Protoss, and the slithering Zerg horde – also soon to be sued by Games Workshop. Please don’t tell them I said Games Workshop in a review. They’ll sue me for copyright infringement.

Warning: Very minor Wings of Liberty spoilers ahead.

Impending legal battle aside, WoL allowed only one campaign path, following a decidedly more cinematic and straight forward story structure. Heart of the Swarm is perhaps a reparation for that absence, placing you in the pointy shoes of none other than Sarah Kerrigan – the Queen of Blades herself. Following directly on from the events of WoL, Kerrigan has been returned to a mostly human form, and she’s ripe to become the new tortured protagonist of the series. She’s a hell of a lot more likable than the gruff Joe Raynor, and oddly enough, much more human, 182188-starpursuing a near obsessive revenge quest and stuck between her loathing and fearing of her Zerg alter-ego. The campaign is much, much easier to play through because Kerrigan’s just much more enjoyable to play, and far removed from Raynor’s grating stereotype.

It alternates between sections that ring quite similar to Dawn of War II and typical army micro management, introducing new elements and guiding you along the way. If HoTS was genuinely holding your hand, it would be with a death – like mother’s grip. Unless your mother is my mother, in which case it would be pouring Sainsbury’s basic gin into your hair and hurling you into the road (That’s what I get for not putting my games away). Blizzard seem to have forgotten entirely that there’s an entire first installment of Starcraft II that comes before HoTS that teaches you most of these fundamentals – in some missions you’re even shown the exact path you should send your units through for success. It’s overbearing to say the least.

This transfers to the new Training Mode for newbies. In all fairness, it does what it’s designed for – it teaches you the basics of playing Starcraft II. But so does the WoL campaign, in a much more palatable package. Neither of them have any particular relevance to Starcraft’s multiplayer, which is dominated by players who know their faction inside out. As a newcomer, you will be bashing your head against the wall for a long time before you make any headway, and while the game Starcraft-2-Heart-of-the-Swarm-preview-3doesn’t really owe you any instant tips or tricks to put you in the same league as gamers who have been playing for much, much longer, it’s a fine line between learning the ropes and ragequitting.

Once you do get into the groove of things – and you’re not just being Zerg rushed into oblivion every time you try and get into a game – Starcraft II’s bitter tactical back and forth proves itself quite intensely. There’s a reason why it dominates the pro gaming circuit, a blend of well-balanced but highly individual factions, a genuine need for tactics, and, of course, the tiniest drop of sheer dumb luck on occasion. As a newbie, you will win some of your first battles because your probably more experienced opponent screwed up. And that’s perfectly fine. Learning the ropes in Starcraft II has always been a painful process, but it’s just as rewarding now as it was at launch.

FOR THE GLORIOUS PC GAMING MASTER RACE

Starcraft II looks fantastic, but if you want to crank things up to the max in the heat of battle (When you’ve got hundreds of Zerglings rounding up on a veritable smorgasbord of Terran mechs, for example) you’re going to need a high-end system. It looks great on a mid-range PC but older systems will overheat if pushed online.

THE LAST WORD

A fantastic addition to Starcraft II, almost seamlessly welded to the core game experience. The new campaign heroine is much more enjoyable to play as, but the game’s insistence on holding your hand through almost every mission is a real pain. Where WoL’s campaign dawdled and dragged, HoTS’ thunders forward mercilessly, only impacted when the game decides it needs to tell you what to do. The new multiplayer modes – like, for instance, the option to play unranked – is a great pleasure, but the game’s massively divisive multiplayer experience is still just as daunting for newbies. Add a redundant training mode and you have a game that, while adding immensely to Starcraft II’s campaign and making it feel much more complete overall, is still wearing several layers of kid gloves.

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Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.

 


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