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StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Review

Justin Clouse | 19 Mar 2013 14:00
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Also new to the series, and immediately befitting the signature race of this expansion, is the addition of a hotkey to select every combat unit in your command. It's quite the sight to watch your zergling army moving out with upwards of 200 units that quite literally swarm over the enemy. This does however contribute to making the single player feel a little too easy on normal difficulty. If you're a fan of the series, or other strategy games, and looking for some degree of difficulty beyond attack-moving your whole army to every objective, I'd recommend starting on hard. Again, there are achievements which add an extra layer of complexity by challenging you to complete missions under certain requirements, like under a certain time restriction or by not letting a unit drop below a percentage of health. They can provide a little extra replay value if you're into 100% completing every title you play.

Mulitplayer is a completely different beast. StarCraft is, as always, a delicately balanced game among the three races, despite each one having intricate differences in how they operate. Much of the minutiae is ultimately the same as you left it in Wings of Liberty, but not everything is coming back exactly the same. New units, balance changes and different abilities have been introduced in order to shake things up and fill in any holes that might have been present. The Terran Reaper for instance, a powerful harassment unit during the early days of Wings of Liberty, has received a number of changes. They no longer have access to their D-8 anti-structure charges, but the unit doesn't require an attached Tech Lab in order to be built now so you can generate an impressive early raiding force. Players heavily invested in the competitive side of the multiplayer will get the most out of these seemingly small changes, while more casual folks might not be able to stomach the expansions price for just a few new multiplayer units, provided they weren't interested in singleplayer.

Heart of the Swarm offers a buffet of multiplayer gameplay options though, from competitive ladder matchmaking to more light-hearted arcade maps. Matchmaking will pit you against similarly skilled computer controlled opponents or live players with varying team sizes. Even if you don't have dreams of playing on a professional stage, the tension over a closely contested match is a joy to experience again and again. For those not looking for such an intense play session, arcade and custom games can help to round out multiplayer for whatever you're looking for. Players have already begun bringing various genres of play through the map editor, like tower defense or RPGs, and these offerings only stand to improve and expand over time. There's even a new XP and leveling system built into the multiplayer itself that will slowly unlock new avatars and decals as you preform specific actions. It's one more little hamster wheel for some players to enjoy, but you can ignore it as well if you want.

Bottom Line: Heart of the Swarm is a worthy follow-up expansion to StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Some of the narrative elements are weaker this time around, but longtime fans will appreciate seeing character arcs begin to wrap up as the game moves to its conclusion in Legacy of the Void. Those looking exclusively for multiplayer will enjoy how the small differences change the game dynamics and strategies, though $40 might be a bit steep for just a few units if you're not actively invested in the ranked format.

Recommendation: Grab it if you're really into the competitive side of multiplayer or looking to see how the StarCraft saga continues to unfold.

Justin Clouse wonders if anyone has recreated the old original StarCraft Aliens vs Predator dungeon crawl style custom maps yet.

Game: Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platform(s): PC, Mac OS
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US)Play.com(UK)

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