Back in 1998, Blizzard Entertainment released “Starcraft,” a science-fiction strategy game that would become one of its three seminal franchises, along with “Warcraft” and “Diablo.” It would be 12 years until an official sequel would be released, but at long last, “Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty” was released in the summer of 2010. Now, almost three years later, Blizzard has released the first expansion in the “Starcraft 2” trilogy, “Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm,” shifting its focus from the Jim Raynor and the terrains of the first game to Sarah Kerrigan and the alien Zerg.
“Heart of the Swarm” picks up a few weeks after the end of “Wings of Liberty,” where Sarah Kerrigan is human again for the first time since the original 1998 game. Being the second part of this trilogy, there is a noticeably darker tone compared to the first chapter. However, this does not exempt it from any of the tropes or cheesy moments that can appear in grand scale, science fiction stories, such as the romance between Kerrigan and Raynor or the growing, galactic scale threat to all in the Koprulu sector. That being said, the story does a good job of keeping Kerrigan moving from planet to planet as she reforms the Zerg Swarm, with each planet having its own small story arc that adds to the game’s main plotline.
The supporting cast also adds some extra depth to Kerrigan’s revenge story, including some callbacks to characters and events from “Brood War,” the expansion to the original “Starcraft.” However, there is the occasional spot of awkward, cheesy or just bad dialogue between some of the main characters, especially between Kerrigan and Raynor, as Blizzard really wants to hammer home the point that these two love each other. This can be outshined by the high technical quality that Blizzard games are known for, especially the opening and closing cinematic, which use CG that is better than some major Hollywood films.
Any missteps in the story, though, are made up for in the game play, which is still one of the best strategy systems used today. Mechanics remain largely unchanged from “Wings of Liberty,” however there is an increased focus on key commands, especially in the single-player campaign, to help prepare for the multiplayer. The campaign is also more varied than “Wings of Liberty,” which had a lot of mission variety. There are 20 main story missions that make up the campaign along with seven evolution missions that allow players to choose one of two upgraded versions of Zerg units. Within the missions are also hero units to control, like Kerrigan herself, with their own unique abilities to help compliment a player’s army. Then there is Blizzard’s multiplayer, which is still second-to-none, with an excellently balanced system spread among three unique races. Aside from further balancing, little has changed to multiplayer, with any “new units” being variations of existing units instead of completely new, independent units. The changes, however, should not have that big an impact on multiplayer, especially for those who already have a basic understanding of how to win and what race works best for them. This is, after all, a game that is the dominant “sport” in South Korea and a standard of nearly all pro-gaming circuits.
So while the story can have moments that can make players roll their eyes, this is a worthy entry into this series. Another lengthy, varied campaign gave a lot of playability to the single-player, and the multiplayer is largely the same, though that is how it should be. Fans of this series, or someone wanting to try something different, give “Heart of the Swarm” a chance, you will not be disappointed.