I didn’t love Starcraft II for the gameplay. I didn’t love it for nostalgia; hell, the first game’s multiplayer basically turned me off all multiplayer for years, until Warcraft III, which did the same thing. I didn’t love Starcraft II for the mechanics, the design. I loved it for the story and the flavor. It was one of my favourite games of the year, and it remains one of my absolute favourite gaming experiences. And, for those worried about spoilers…this review is completely free of them, even for Starcraft II.
Heart of the Swarm is the same, but different in most important ways. For one, it’s just an expansion, not an entire game. It’s awesome for what it is- frankly, most publishers would have shipped an expansion this size as its own game. Twenty-two odd missions, massive amounts of plot advancement, six new units for multiplayer, and an alright soundtrack is much, much more than most expansions would have offered. Let’s get down to brass tacks for a moment: Heart of the Swarm is a great expansion on an exemplary game, which launched without nightmares of DRM and server deficiency. There’s a significant amount of content for your forty bucks, which is absolutely unheard of in this day and age.
The main plot of Heart of the Swarm follows Sarah Kerrigan after the events of Starcraft II, as she struggles to come to terms with her new-found free will. It’s a rollercoaster of loss, redemption, revenge, and sacrifice- with fun missions in between. The campaign is mostly tight, well put together, and engaging. Missions can be challenging, but mostly are repeats of the same classic formulas from Warcraft III on. There’s some interesting boss fights, a few hero missions, a token last stand mission, a wave assault mission… The folks at Blizzard aren’t re-inventing the wheel with HOTS so much as perfecting the formula. That said, there’s a lot of missions, content, and cinematics for forty bucks.
Now, the silver dollar question remains: what about the ladder? To be honest, I haven’t ventured onto it much. I was hell-bent on beating the single-player missions instead of fooling around online. I didn’t see so much of a power flux, one way or another as a shift in strategies. New counters, new techniques. Zerg early game is still more of less the same, Terrans still wall off, and there’s still probe harass into cannon camping. The clock still moves the same way it did before, the same old irritations are there, but there’s a few new ways to juke side to side for each faction. The new units are fun, and incorporating them into existing strategies was easy- though like most, I feel that the Zerg lost out. There’s no new big rush for any race- not far as I’ve seen. Blizzard has kept their balances in check, done a good job- possibly as a way of making up for the Diablo III series of debacles.
The bottom line? Heart of the Swarm is an excellent expansion. It’s solid gameplay, storyline advancement, and a solid twist on multiplayer. It’s a solid expansion on a series that gets its single player tossed aside all too often. While not as flavorful as Starcraft II, Heart of the Swarm delivers. Honestly, I’ve struggled to write this review without spoilers, because there’s quite a few very important moments that really define some characters. While some missions can be tedious, it’s all redeemed in the end.