[Review] Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Campaign – Spoiler Free!

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Please be aware that this review specifically pertains to the single-player campaign of Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm and is spoiler-free.  If I were to include multiplayer, the game as a whole would come in at a higher, more solid score, except the multiplayer was updated from the Wings of Liberty version and not designed from the ground up like the new campaign.  I would rather use this opportunity to look more critically at the brand new content of the campaign and give a better idea to players looking at the game for a separate single-player experience.  That experience for me was, in a word, disappointing. Join me on a more in-depth journey…


In terms of gameplay, I feel the overall mission structuring shares many of the pros and cons that Wings of Liberty had as well.  The missions are too focused on an individual unit mechanic which opposes the sandbox play required to tinker around with the very well thought out upgrade systems.  Too many missions had to be completed in a set amount of time and the seven Evolution missions (that counted towards the 27 total missions, mind you) were only six or seven minutes each at best.  While these were fun because they allowed me to test out different upgrade choices, they really weren’t missions at all and I rarely got to utilize them due to the overly-rushed story missions.  Let me emphasize again that there were way too many beat-the-clock missions!  Wings of Liberty had several, and Heart of the Swarm has more.

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Several missions also felt very similar to Diablo 3, which can be a positive or negative thing depending on your outlook.  Blizzard attempted to mix an RPG, involving a decent amount of Kerrigan micromanagement, with a real time strategy, involving the player’s race known for little to no micromanagement.  Separately, they did a fantastic job with each, but simply did not have an extensive enough campaign to combine them properly.  Instead of getting the best of one or the other, we got a semi-jumble of both, which reflects negatively when compared to the RTS-focused Wings of Liberty.  The campaign also felt very short next to Wings of Liberty; some very basic ‘Destroy the enemy base’ missions of increased difficulty would have gone a long way towards extending the game’s length, emphasizing the upgrade system’s usefulness, and balancing out the RPG elements.

Further, the storytelling was weak and lacked engagement.  The pacing was very forced on several occasions and it seemed as if there was major content missing to fill in the gaps.  Two memorable characters from Brood War make a return and are barely elaborated on over three short missions.  In fact, Kerrigan does not even acknowledge that she worked closely with one, rather acting as if they never met.  I had hoped for some charged dialogue between the two regarding their past and instead got an emotionally empty battle cinematic that had the potential to be so much more had it any real depth.  Ultimately, the story is an interesting one that could have been great, but the execution fell flat.

Kerrigan’s new motivation that drives her through this game is an understandable one that establishes a human connection to the player; yet she occasionally also delivers incredibly fake lines that take her overly out of character.  Why couldn’t we have gotten an anti-hero Kerrigan that doesn’t have to look up at the sky and say something campily wishful every so often?  It felt antithetical to then have her take incredibly destructive, goal-oriented actions devoid of humanity.  These two traits can mix, but the script held them too far apart to be believably engaging, particularly because of some cheesy dialogue.

The voice acting for about half of the interactive Zerg on the Leviathan (the Heart of the Swarm equivalent of the Hyperion) was incredibly tacky as well, which did not help with the plot immersion.  Trica Helfer, the voice of Sarah Kerrigan, has demonstrated her talent across several franchises, such as Mass Effect, and I believe she was given poor material to work with this time around.  Her character couldn’t decide what it needed to be.

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I have been very critical of the Heart of the Swarm campaign, but I believe Starcraft’s appeal is, and should be, in the multiplayer. It’s important that you are aware of what the single player has to offer if you think you want to play Starcraft just for the campaigns.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both the RTS and RPG missions, the upgrade system, and the way the story exists in my head without the dialogue, but there just wasn’t enough game to encompass what each separate element needed it to be.

 

Final Breakdown

[+Unique level design] [+Fun and interesting unit upgrading] [-Too many beat the clock missions] [-Poor script writing] [-Poor supporting voice acting] [-Poorly driven plot] [-Not enough pure RTS vs RPG] [-Poor Brood War character reintroduction] [-Short length of campaign] [-Inconsistent Kerrigan]

Lacking

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The resident Let's Player, TSFT cast member, and occassional Featurama contributor! My real home is our YouTube channel, which you can visit for some real wet n' wild fun. Regular episode uploads are the name of my game, but you can also keep an eye out for my roundups every week right here on Twinfinite!

  • MikeEaton

    Looks like you just gave HOtS….the cold shoulder.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=12429240 Daniel Morgan

    I don’t disagree in general about the campaign, but I feel like it can be misleading to give the game 2/5 stars. You mention yourself that what matters the most is the multiplayer, yet that isn’t part of this review at all. I’m perfectly fine with that, but at the end it just looks like you gave the game a rating that hammered it.

    I’m just hoping that the Protoss campaign is good. Not only is that my race, but I’d like to follow different characters for a while. I’m sure the writing will still be second rate, but unfortunately most gaming writing still is.

    • Jayborino

      I hoped to alleviate this by emphsizing at the beginning and end that this score is really to warn many gamers who claim they only want to get Starcraft for the story, meaning the single player campaign. Game writing can be great like Spec Ops: The Line showed us spectacularly; Blizzard is too focused on making something SUPER MEGA EPIC and not on something relatable that builds any emotion. The original Starcraft managed to capture this back in the 90′s somehow even with some cheesy lines lurking around. I’m with you on looking forward to Legacy of the Void!

      • MikeEaton

        I’d almost (almost) argue that it’s pointless to review this game for its multiplayer because it is constantly being changed/balanced/updated. Also, the people who are buying this game just for its multiplayer won’t be reading your review (or anyone else’s for that matter) because they’ve already bought the game and are playing it. — My 2 cents

  • http://twitter.com/Makeybussines Anders Gerlev Hansen

    Thank you for this review! I’m “one of those” who play SC for the campaign, and while I will be buying it eventually, it sounds like it can wait until it goes on sale or I get a chance to try it at a friend’s place.