Thursday, April 18, 2013

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm (PC)

Reviewed on PC, available on PC

The campaign focuses on Kerrigan and the Zerg race

Starcraft II is back with its first of two expansions, Heart of the Swarm (HoTS). In this release, the primary campaign focus is on Sarah Kerrigan; formerly mass-murderer Queen of Blades. In the previous game, Wings of Liberty (WoL), we learn that Kerrigan is essential to an upcoming conflict against the evil and powerful Xel'Naga. This comes into play during the story as Kerrigan is forced to make decisions about sacrificing her humanity to regain her power once again.

While the campaign is certainly more limited in terms of choices in comparison to WoL, you are given the advantage of a hero character in each stage. The majority of these stages has Kerrigan as your go-to girl, but other Zerg heroes occasionally step-up to lead the Swarm when Kerrigan is occupied. Warcraft 3 fans will find themselves reminiscent of the former RTS titan.

Kerrigan levels up, revealing fun and powerful ability choices

Spoilers aside, the story is fairly simple for a complex universe, and doesn't utilize nearly as many characters and factions as the previous Starcraft titles have. You will find yourself in a battle against "Emperor" Mengsk and the Terran Dominion 90% of the time. The ending is somewhat entertaining, but far from satisfying. Hopefully we will see some improvements in this area in the next expansion.

The campaign includes the return of the Lurkers, which sadly did not make it into multiplayer

While the campaign features a large variety of Zerg unit additions, the multiplayer portion of the game did not receive much love.  Each race received 2 new units (Protoss  received 3) in an attempt to expand on the gameplay, but these units are far from interesting or game changing. The main menu did receive a fantastic overhaul, and more unlocks were introduced in addition to a multiplayer level system (which is separate from the ladder ranking thankfully). Players can unlock new appearances for select units, and even unlock the /dance emote for units as well.

Increasing your multiplayer level unlocks new unit appearances

Gameplay - 6/10
Judging the HoTS additions alone, this game just doesn't match up to the release price. The campaign is fun and time consuming, but very repetitive and requires very little effort to complete. Multiplayer changes are minor for an expansion, and did not change much of anything from the vanilla game. The Arcade still has a strong "dungeon finder" feel that makes playing custom games as dry and impersonal as possible.

Design - 5/10
The game boasted improved textures, but I noticed no changes visually. I did notice a large increase in my lag spikes, and my screen freezes occasionally in game. I actually lost against A.I. players twice since they were apparently able to micro while I lagged to death. The main menu interface has greatly improved from vanilla, and new unlockable features are fun and worth praise.

Replay - 8/10
Achievements, matchmaking, and custom games are back in full force. There are a ton of reasons to continuously play HoTS. Clans and groups have been added, and players will receive additional XP when playing with a friend or clan member. A perfect replay score is hurt only by the suffocating Arcade game finder and uneven matchmaking.

Final - 19/30 It was okay...
Starcraft II HoTS isn't an expansion by any means. Perhaps a better definition would be somewhere along the lines of "very expensive DLC". Using Warcraft 3 as an example, game patches would provide more content and improvements than this game did. If you are a fan of the story, then I highly recommend buying this game after the price drops, but definitely not for full price.

Recommended Buying Price: No more than 20$

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