12 years have passed since we first played the original StarCraft when we finally got StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty – the continuation of the story of the Terran, the human galactic army. This year we get to move on with the story of the Zerg, a monstrous alien race and the second faction in the StarCraft universe. Above all, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm brings back Sarah Kerrigan, one of the most iconic figures in video game history, into the spotlight and unto PC monitors. But is Heart of the Swarm another masterpiece in the famous strategy franchise, or does it suffer a humiliating defeat?

HotS is a direct sequel to WoL, right after Jim Raynor turns Kerrigan back into her human form (sort of) and arrives back at the Terran HQ. Kerrigan, who has completely forgotten all about her time as the Queen of Blades, tries to re-adjust to her humanity, but soon finds out it’s not that simple. Despite her apparent instability, she still chooses to go after Arcturus Mengsk, leader of the Dominion and the one responsible for her Zergification in the first place, by taking control of the Zerg armies without losing her newly recovered humanity. HotS is a revenge story, one we’ve been waiting for for over a decade. Blizzard really invested in the game’s plot and characters, and gives us plenty of opportunities to re-connect with the great cast of characters we come across throughout this expansion. Sarah Kerrigan keeps evolving as the game progresses, and the players really get to experience alongside her what’s it like to control the fearsome Zerg swarm and learn where it come from.

The games released under the StarCraft 2 title deal (and answer) with all the open question left after the events of the original game, so just like how Wings of Liberty wrapped up Jim Raynor’s search for Kerrigan, Heart of the Swarm manages to tie all the loose ends in the Zerg campaign and leaves us anxiously waiting for Legacy of the Void and the Protoss. That doesn’t mean the Terran’s and the Zerg’s story is over; both faction will have a significant part in the events to come.

Heart of the Swarm centers mainly around its story, and that focus is reflected in campaign missions. Every StarCraft game so far has created variety in mission types by incorporating levels where you don’t build an actual base, but have to relay on a limited number of units and clever tactics. HotS is full with this kind of missions, and it really seems like letting the player play as Kerrigan was very important to Blizzard. Building bases all over the place just doesn’t drive Sarah’s revenge story forward as well as using her abilities and controlling Zerg swarm yourself. The game keeps a good level of variety in missions, and apart for the aforementioned tactical levels, there are some that require the player to fight against the clock or defend several bases at once from a onslaught of enemies. Certain missions include bonus objectives that you don’t have to complete, but choosing to do so will help Kerrigan evolve faster, which has many benefits as the game goes on. The player also gets to control other major characters with different abilities, but the story, as well as the characters’ part in it, still revolves around Kerrigan.

Those who played through Wings of Liberty remember Zeratul’s side-missions, where they got a little glimpse at what’s expected in the third (and possible final) expansion of the game. This time Zeratul doesn’t get the hog the spotlight, and instead we get “evolution missions. These optional missions unlock new Zerg units and give out a little more information about the alien race itself. They also serve as a palate cleanser in between long story missions. Just like WoL, Kerrigan has her own base from which she goes out on her various missions. In it she can customize her abilities, upgrade her Zerg units and talk to other characters she meets along the way to hear their unique insight on things.

The story campaign moves from planet to planet in the StarCraft universe, and on each one Kerrigan encounters a new unit to add to her ever-growing army. The campaign is extremely well-paced, and players get enough time with each new units and master the best way to utilize it in combat. Unsurprisingly, missions that introduce a new unit usually require you to make use of it in order to progress. It’s not always the case, and cna also achieve victory without this specific unit, but then you’ll be missing the point.

The multiplayer isn’t very different from that of WoL, because you don’t fix what isn’t broken. Still, Blizzard did improve a few small things in order to enhance player experience: each faction got new units and abilities, like the Terran’s Widow mines (invisible mines that cause a lot of damage) the Protoss’ new teleporting Spaceships or the Zerg’s Swarm Host – a unit that can spawn lots of tiny critters that help it decimate its enemies. There are many more new units, but these will suffice as examples. Blizzard made sure newcomers to the franchise will be able to hold their own against more seasoned gamers, with assorted instructional videos that offer advice and different strategies. But let’s face it, the only way to learn how to play StarCraft is by playing lots and lots of StarCraft.

A new mode available in Heart of the Swarm’s multiplayer is the Arcade – a system that allows players to playe different mods created by the StarCraft 2 community. It’s really kinda awesome, since a lot of these mods offer new ways to experience StarCraft, from shooters to side-scrolling platfromers. So if you’re a bit tired from playing online RTS, and you already finished the main campaign, you can scour through the Arcade for cool and innovative mods.

StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is an expansion that feels like a whole new game. With over 20 different missions, a deep and immersive story, unforgettable characters and new multiplayer experiences, there’s no way you’ll be able to give up control over the monstrous Zerg swarm.

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