In StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, the stakes get higher and the Swarm gets swarmier.
The true genius of StarCraft 2 is in its superb multiplayer, but the single-player campaign in Wings of Liberty was a blast and a half, too. It was an enjoyably cheesy space opera with some of the best mission design ever in an RTS, it had some cool ways to upgrade units - and obtain units not seen in the multiplayer - and you could always just mess around on the battlecruiser Hyperion chatting with NPCs and clicking on things like an adventure game.
Heart of the Swarm will be different, and game director Dustin Browder spilled the beans as to how everything will work over on the Battle.net blog.
For one, Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, is a very different protagonist from down-on-his-luck space cowboy Jim Raynor. Her existence is one of rage thanks to years of being "infested, tortured and hunted," and as the sole leader of the Zerg Kerrigan has dealt with things on a scope that Raynor could never conceive of. "To put things into perspective, Raynor is a central figure in the StarCraft story, but he remains just one man," said Browder. "Kerrigan became a goddess worshipped by billions of Zerg who would execute her every command without question." Kerrigan may now be (partially) uninfested, but she's still the Queen of Blades, and she's still pissed.
These differences between Raynor and the Queen of Blades will manifest themselves in how the Zerg units upgrade over the course of the campaign. While Raynor bought mercenaries and researched new tech via Protoss artifacts, Kerrigan's Zerg will evolve and mutate. "We are trying to focus the player on finding new DNA from exotic and strange creatures around the sector so that you really feel like the key to zerg success is finding and infesting the immense, deadly monsters that live on the most savage planets in the galaxy," said Browder.
Kerrigan will be able to mutate new abilities for her Zerg (as Raynor could purchase upgrades), but she can also evolve them into completely new units. The normal Zergling can evolve into a Swarmling, which spawn three-per-egg as opposed to the normal two, or it can evolve into a Raptor, which has a pounce attack that lets it close distance on prey more quickly. Once you evolve it, though, you're locked into that choice and can't go back.
Browder said that it was still too early to know what the final lineup of new Zerg units would be, but that the team was working on making many new evolutions and mutations of classic units, so that a player would feel like their Swarm was truly changing at the will of the Queen of Blades. (Does that mean we can have Lurkers back, guys?)
And speaking of the Queen of Blades, Browder said that while Raynor was a playable character in a handful of missions, Kerrigan would be on the battlefield in almost every mission leading her Swarm. Blizzard intends her to be used as an aggressive front-line unit, and she can be revived at any Hatchery if she's killed so that players won't feel the need to keep her in safety lest she die and the mission end.
The essence of the Zerg is "survival of the fittest," said Browder, and the new characters will hopefully make that clear, like Abathur the evolution master, who "controls the genetic vector" of the Swarm.
Browder also acknowledged that there were some challenges in creating the Heart of the Swarm campaign, because the Zerg economy - which consumes workers to build structures, and produces all units from the main Hatchery - was difficult for new players to learn. Units that were balanced for multiplayer, like Mutalisks and Banelings, often were imbalanced (one way or another) in the campaign, they found - and it was too soon in development to know how much else could go wrong.
Problems there may be, but I'm excited all the same. It's looking like Heart of the Swarm will indeed be rather different from Wings of Liberty, which should vindicate the developers' choice to turn the game into a trilogy. Not that it will stop the complainers, mind you.
The only thing that gets me is this: Why are we seeing all of this news now? Blizzard knows that E3 is next week, right?