Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm released last month, and all around, this expansion proves to be a very enjoyable game. The graphics still hold up very well, and the campaign gives players a wide variety of missions to play with. Sometimes you build up a base like normal, but in many other missions you’re doing something different such as controlling a handful of hero units, trying to expand creep, and collecting special items around the map while trying to prevent the enemy from doing the same thing, and the list goes on.
Another great thing about the campaign is the various upgrades to units you can make onboard Kerrigan’s oversized organic spaceship, the Leviathan, in between missions. There are two kinds of upgrades to units: mutations and evolutions. Mutations come in threes, but only one of the three mutations can be active at any time. The good news is that you can switch to a different mutation between missions, allowing you to change your strategy from offensive to defensive, or vice versa.
The second type of upgrade, an evolution, is a more permanent choice, and there are only two evolutions to choose from per unit. Evolutions even have their own missions that allow you to personally test each “strain” before making your final choice. Evolutions also change the appearance of the unit as well! A good example is after the first Evolution Mission, where you can choose between “Raptor” Zerglings, which jump up and down cliffs, or “Swarmlings,” which hatch quickly and in groups of three!
Unlike Wings of Liberty, this expansion has a hero unit to level up: Sarah Kerrigan! Kerrigan can gain more levels faster by completing bonus objectives. As you level her up, she gains more passive and active abilities, and you can switch between these abilities within the same tier between missions, adding even more flexibility than the previous campaign.
Though the gameplay is solid, flexible, and addictively fun, many reviewers call Heart of the Swarm’s story into question. GameSpot.com’s Daniel Shannon called the new Kerrigan “boring” and her actions “incomprehensible” (full review here). Sometimes she shows a little mercy to her enemies but other times obliterates them without any remorse. The problem with Kerrigan here is that she is trying to find her place in the universe again, and since being freed from the Zerg she doesn’t really understand who she is at the moment. Blizzard’s writers seemed to have a lot of trouble portraying her inner conflict, thus resulting in Kerrigan’s sporadic nature.
Even though the story needed some more work, the game itself is great. Creative artwork, especially aboard the monstrous Leviathan, also gives you the creepy-crawly sensation that one gets from playing as the Zerg. And even though it was lacking in story, you still generally care for the characters and what their future may hold. We’ll see what that future is in the Protoss campaign, Legacy of the Void!