Review: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Gameplay

While Starcraft wasn't the original title that started the real-time strategy (RTS) genre, in 1988, it definitely skyrocketed it into the mainstream with huge sales and a much beloved cast of characters, creatures and slick gameplay. The cinematics were also revolutionary and many late nights at both work and home were filled with laughs of pure nerd bliss with LAN play. Now, it's 2013 and it's time for more swarm. It's time for more Kerrigan. The good news here is that the story for the Heart of the Swarm expansion starts right where the story left off. It's too bad there isn't some sort of flash back from the Wings of Liberty campaign but I went back and watched it; it's definitely a work of art and a very fitting ending. Either way, we are thrust right into a very unstable Kerrigan that seems more like teen angst than a mature story of love, hate, sacrifice and even some prejudice for good measure. The gameplay is practically the same as the WoL with some new units thrown in here and there that does mix things up a bit. Kerrigan is a blast to control as her mind powers and abilities are not only brutal but a blast to play with. Besides some new fun and unique scernarios, I feel like the same weaknesses are still there: a weak camera system (let us zoom out!!), some awesome moments mixed with extremely kiddy and dudebro moments of muscles and lame gun fights. Overall, if you like Starcraft, you'll love HoS. If you don't like Starcraft, I don't think this title will change your mind. Either way, it's a healthy dose of solid RTS action and a crazy mix of cinematics and scenarios. 

Kerrigan kicking some Dominion trash.. and her hair still looks good!

Graphics and Sound

When it comes to eye and ear candy, one can be assured that Blizzard is not going to let you down in this department at all. With HoS, that legacy continues with some amazing sights and sounds to blow you away. First off, all the cinematics are intriguing and gorgeous. Whether it's quiet moments of drama between Jim and Kerrigan or bombastic planet size battles, the game looks stunning. There is some inconsistency with the cinematic styles between a mix of full prerendered CG, in game prerendered cinematics and full in game engine cinematics. I prefer CG or in game as the other is grainy and just seems a bit weak at times. Either way, the graphic quality here is top notch, especially with all the detail in 3d portraits and set pieces. An early in game moment on a tram is testament to the wizards hunkered down in Blizzard's art department. Crank this beast up to the max but be warned, anti aliasing will kill your framerate with in game cinematics.

The audio portion of HoS matches it's gorgeous visuals. The soundtrack is beautiful to say the least with subtle strings and swelling themes in moments of action or distress while sound effects are strong and well pronounced. The voice acting of course is a mixed bag but overall, all the main characters are very talented indeed. The biggest distraction is a moment of great cinematic drama followed up by short clips like "Hey, let's hurry down this hall!" or "Ugh.. go on without me.." that make it sound like an after school special or an episode of Power Rangers. I don't know if Blizzard is trying to appeal to both mature players who want a great story and 13 year old, pimply Starcraft junkies but it sure seems like a toss up between those two. Regardless, this is audio at near perfection when you can overlook those moments of nitpicking. Another games to blast out your neighbors so play it, and play it loud.

Told you Jim, you should have just left her there..

Fun

The determination of whether or not this title is fun can easily be answered by a few simple questions. Do you like RTS'? Then you'll find Heart of the Swarm very fun indeed. Do you love Starcraft and want to see the continuation of the story? Then you will enjoy HoS even if the story seems like a ticking time bomb from the very beginning. Do you enjoy kicking your butt kicked online by RTS junkies? Then you'll enjoy HoS as it adds a bevy of new units that mixes up the matches quite nicely. This game is polished to a spit shine and will only continued to be improved on and I find that very cool for Blizzards support. While Diablo III lays wallowing in a pit of incomplete changes and inconsistent design, Heart of the Swarm feels confident, complete and extremely well done.  I had a blast tearing up both Dominion and Zerg (you'll see) with Kerrigan and it brought back some old school memories of PC gaming goodness. Overall, a fun title that is well worth the price of admission.

Final Verdict: 

While the story may seem doomed from the very beginning, there is a ton of surprises and much fun to be had with this game. With new units, cool set pieces and amazing cinematics, Heart of the Swarm will not disappoint its fans. The audiovisual presentation is top notch, continuing Blizzard's long legacy of unmatched polish. If you want more Starcraft, HoS will definitely quench your thirst.

4/5 Stars