Tuesday, 13 May 2014

My Usual Spiel: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, yet another revenge story

Release date: 12/3/13 
Genre: Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PC/Mac
Players: 1 to 8 
Online Classification: M (ESRB)

Awhile ago having played Wings of Liberty I thought to myself “well there’s no denying it, I gotta see how this story goes” so I shelled out 40 dollarz for Heart of the Swarm. I do feel a bit silly buying a game just to do the storyline though it is only an expansion and who knows I might play multiplayer again at a LAN or something at some point which I have actually, once. It’s kind of going to be a bit lopsided review as I only really purchased the game to play the singleplayer though I ‘m no stranger to the multiplayer and will give a brief rundown of new content and units available. I don’t really know what happened to my liking of Real Time Strategy (RTS) games, I say to myself it’s just all the micromanagement which is what others don’t like, though I used to play RTS like Warcraft and Total Annihilation all the time though technically I did cheat a lot, hey sometimes it made the game more enjoyable!

Anyway so I’ll try not to spoil any of the story but basically the story revolves around the now less-infested Sarah Kerrigan and her revival of the swarm. I started playing and enjoyed the starting missions as I always do because their very easy and simple, I especially liked the way  Kerrigan was now with Jim Raynor and Prince Valerian and the Terrans who have the Zerg in testing labs and request Kerrigan to command them. I was really enjoying this and wanting Kerrigan to get back with Jim but then they get attacked by Arcturus Mengsk’s forces then they get split up and Kerrigan’s has nothing to do but go after Mengsk and make the swarm hers again. So what ensues is lots of going to planets and finding her old swarm and convincing brood mothers to join her again and being contacted by the mysterious Dark Templar Zeratul just as Jim did then finding out origins of the Zerg while eventually confronting Mengsk himself.

Raynor and Kerrigan, their rekindled romance is unfortunately short lived.
Throughout the journey it was fun to see Kerrigan reunite with her old Zerg friends such as Izsha, Abathur and the Brood mothers as you’ve never really seen much Zerg interaction apart from the Overmind and the Cerebrates in the first game, I was kind of sad with the way things went I would have really liked to see how the Terrans got along with the Zerg, which they sort of did or really how the actual intelligent zerg like Izsha and Zagara handled the fact that Kerrigan’s missions was not the destruction of anything not Zerg.

Izsha is a one-of-a-kind Zerg similar to Abathur and acts as an Advisor to Kerrigan
Playing through the campaign was fairly similar to Wings of Liberty apart from the narrative, there was your mix of missions with no base and missions with a base and also missions where you started with no base and then came upon a base, there was the usual bonus objectives which make missions mission more interesting and also gave you more essence to fuel Kerrigan’s abilities and the Evolution pit missions, I found the different levels a very good mix up and much different to the usual “build base and army, then go attack” formula. As this time you were switching to single small unit/army style while playing normally and also the way Blizzard implemented controlling/defending more than one army was very well done I think they were actually aiming to minimize micromanagement as much as they could which was great.

One of the biggest changes was being in control of Kerrigan and several other ‘units’ almost all of the time, and as how Kerrigan starts of pretty damn powerful already and you can level her abilities up after that making her almost unstoppable (at least on the normal difficulty) and a very big help on harder difficulties. It reminded me of the missions of Wings of Liberty where you play as Jim Raynor himself and saw his reactions and character development through those missions except you do this with Kerrigan on almost every mission/level making it truly her story.

Campaign Zergling rush!
I did like the evolution missions that you received from Abathur who plays a role similar to what Rory Swann did in Wings of Liberty, upgrading and evolving Zerg strains for better use in game though you now need to get essence from doing bonus objectives in the regular missions. These evolution mission are quite fun as their role is to show you what strains you have available to upgrade to for a particulate unit. This involves you landing on two different planets and assimilating a select species of local wildlife to obtain their genetic strain. So for example with the Zergling strain you have two options the Swarmling strain which allows the Zerglings to spawn faster and 3 to come out of a single egg, and the Raptor strain which gives the zerglings wings that allow them to jump up and down cliffs, leap over obstacles and onto targets from range, and gains +2 damage (40% increase). The missions themselves are fun little skirmishes of you acquiring the DNA and the game showing you how they work in a controlled environment, I have to say I enjoyed them kind of more than the normal storyline cause you know me I like to keep things simple.

Baneling Hunter Evolution mission on Scoria
As well as the evolution missions, Kerrigan herself now has her own abilities which range from activated abilities such as Kinetic blast and spawning various creatures to passive abilities such as vespene harvesters not requiring drones to harvest and zerglings being brought back to life with no additional cost to resources, this was slightly different to Wings of Liberty as the upgrades now revolve around Kerrigan as the upgrades Egon Stetmann did were either from Protoss or Zerg research.

I must admit being only able to choose one of these abilities was a damn hard decision (I chose Improved Overlords)

Tier 3—Level 10

  • Zergling Reconstitution: Killed zerglings respawn from your primary hatchery at no cost. Respawns up to 10 zerglings every 30 seconds until all zerglings have returned to life. Passive ability.
  • Improved Overlords: Overlords morph instantly and provide 50% more supply. Passive ability.
  • Automated Extractors: Extractors automatically extract vespene gas without drones. Passive ability.

Kerrigan upgrade screen, she gets damn powere up towards the end.
Graphics and sound are great as usual, As with most PC games, the better your computer, the better the details are going to be. True to Blizzard, the game has some of the most amazing cinematics I have ever seen and I love it when I get one to watch throughout the story, I also love how there the story and cutscenes in between the action in the game. The graphics are sharp and smooth, I did like the various locales inc the missions on the jungle world Zerus and the lava animation on Scoria with was used to great effect with the   the Baneling Hunter strain mission. I have found delight in the way almost everything seems to have some kind of animation to it such as crystals shining and even some trees in the map moving slightly in the wind. The Zerg buildings and units are especially disgusting all pulsating or wriggling or squirming or twitching. All in all, the sound is great and the music is fine too, with an RTS I find these things have little bearing but Blizzard have done them well and up to expectations.

Video of Zerus, it's amazing how you can see the trees and grass swaying.

Playing through the singleplayer this time wasn’t generally too hard, I usually play on normal mode the first time so I can get used to things. Gameplay wise on the singleplayer campaign things were basically the same though the obvious different being you were controlling the Zerg which needed a slightly different mindset to the Terrans with things like the spawning flag for worker drones and spawning flag for everything else. I began to find more features that I’d forgotten about from playing Supreme Commander like holding down shift to have a worker build multiple buildings though I don’t do it quite as much as I did in that game, I also found worth using the patrol command for certain warriors to protect the primary or secondary base when I away somewhere micromanaging oh and yes I finally saw the worth in leaving a group to protect the base while I went off to attack the main force.

Ah build queuing, gets me all nostalgic about Supreme  Commander
I haven’t really played multiplayer all that much though one of the main reasons I did purchase the game was to play it at Lan comps if I felt like it, there was this particular incident where we were having a comp an Lanslide (which is a great lan in south east Melbourne btw you should go to it) where some of us didn’t have the Heart of the Swarm expansion, so the event coordinator said we can all play Wings of Liberty but then some other (fairly high ranked mind you) players whinged that they “Wouldn’t have their builds” I mean come on, you’re going to whip our asses anyway why not give yourself a slight disadvantage you elitist ponks. So anyway after that I decided to get it but naturally haven’t played much multiplayer since though I did have a great game at another landslide where these two older guys wanted to play a match on the “normal” speed which is really quite slow compared to “fastest” where most multiplayer matches are played.

That match was quite unique in that I wasn’t able to come up with a partner so I decided to play with a computer ally (that’s really kind of sad now I think about it) but anyway I ended up losing as the computer player was set to easy but it didn’t matter cause the match wasn’t going to count anyway. The other thing was I loved the way that you could actually communicate with your AI partner i.e. there was a menu where you could tell them to attack and defend certain places and the character (in this case it was Kerrigan) actually spoke to you and said if she was able to comply with the request and also if she was being attacked etc.

Playing with my best buddy, the AI
There are some new units in the game with the Terran and Protoss new one’s I haven’t been able to play with extensively but hope to in the future, I especially like the look of the Tempest. Apart from that there isn’t too many things that have changed apart from new maps, I won’t go into details regarding the changes to battlenet etc though I do like the new sort of “multiplayer training mode” they have which is a welcome feature as their semi-truth of “The singleplayer is the training for the multiplayer” really is not the case, it may be for other games but not this one. The training mode is a sort of multiplayer tutorial showing you the basic of building a base in multiplayer then goes on to defending and attacking then advances tactics such as rushing and ‘turtling’. You can do these tutorials with whichever race you like and receive experience points for completing them, there is also unranked play for people who are too scared to play on a ladder.

The new very much needed training missions for multiplayer.
Overall although I thought the story was a bit meh it did play out very well and the changes made to the game like the changes made to the whole experience were for the better and almost made me forget about all the micromanagement though I must admit there wasn’t much of it, well any more than before anyway. Heart of the Swarm introduced some great features into the multiplayer in order to curb the gap between singleplayer and to train newcomers, as not knowing how to build is one of my biggest weaknesses. The trilogy’s going pretty well so far and I might say even though I’m still not interested in this kind of genre anymore it’s impossible to ignore with the gaming championships going on and competitions at lans. And of course I am indeed wanting to know what happens in the end just like everyone else.


What I like:
  • Story mode plays out well missions give appropriately diverse gameplay
  •  Kerrigan reuinited with Jim and then her old Zerg buddies
  • Evolution missions are fun and evolution itself is good
  • Addition of Multiplayer training mode is great
  • Visuals are fantastic
  • Playing with AI opponent is better then ever before.

What I don’t like:
  • Story is epic but I'm kinda sick of the whole "large scale revenge" thing, can't everyone just be friends?
  • Same old micromanagement RTS issues but that's just me.
  • Units available in Singleplayer and Multiplayer are different.
  • Like League of Legends, community is fairly unforgiving


Heart of the Swarm Gameplay

What I wouldn't give for an all-zerg sex scene.

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