Spencer Keane ’14 / Emertainment Monthly Writer
What memories do the names Protoss, Terran and Zerg conjure up? To some it is the epic success of annihilating an enemy base with the Golden Armada. To others it is the sheer terror of watching an army being overrun by the swiftness of a Zerg rush or blown apart by the punishing cannons of siege tanks. The one thing they all come back to is Blizzard’s real time strategy game Starcraft. So how does Blizzard expand upon an already epic game? They start with the successful release of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty and now introduce the next chapter – Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm (HOTS).
This second installment in the Starcraft II series begins right where Wings of Liberty left off. This time, however, the focus changes to Sarah Kerrigan, the former Queen of Blades and leader of the Zerg swarm. Prompted by the death of Jim Raynor at the start of the game, HOTS follows Kerrigan down a path of destruction in order to regain control of her brood to exact revenge on Arcturus Mengsk, the leader of the Terrans. This quest for vengeance leads Kerrigan to the furthest reaches of space, including the Zerg home world, where she comes face to face with ancient Zerg, battles other Queens, and toils against the plans of the Terran and Protoss. Along her journey, she must grow her power to new levels, evolve her brood, and ultimately crush the forces of Mengsk.
So, how does the player achieve victory for this all-powerful Queen of the Zerg? In HOTS the player must gather resources, build a base, construct an army, and then destroy the opposition. Usually this involves creating a series of HQ structures, in this case, the Lair, from which all Zerg units are born. The player must then construct workers called Drones to gather resources in the form of blue minerals and Vespene gas. These resources can then be used to construct organic buildings, which unlock the ability to birth additional Zerg creatures into an army capable of tearing the opponent to pieces. These Zerg organisms range from fast hitting swarm units such as the Zergling to slithering spine-shooting Hydralisks all the way to massive living battle tanks such as the Ultralisk. With these various Zerg creatures at your disposal, you must take command and lead your army, and Kerrigan, to victory.
Similar to the Wings of Liberty campaign, HOTS uses a massive flagship as a home base for Kerrigan and her Zerg. From here, Kerrigan will be able to travel the galaxy and complete the missions of HOTS in true Starcraft II real-time strategy fashion. The flagship also serves as a platform for the player to explore dialogue options with side characters, grow Kerrigan’s psychic abilities and delve into the Zerg’s array of evolutions, mutations, and genetic strains locked within the Evolution Chamber.
The Evolution Chamber, monitored by the hideous DNA sequencing creature known as Abathur, is one of the most well-done and exciting parts of HOTS. It is where the player can truly begin to see the strengths of the Zerg. By unlocking and discovering new breeds of Zerg creatures, the player can tailor their army to a particular play style, and even mutate their existing units with new abilities. For example, those Zerglings that the player has come to adore can now be given an upgrade to run faster, sustain more punishment, or inflict more damage per hit. Furthermore, if the player is truly willing to evolve their brood, Abathur can gather DNA from other organisms in special “Evolution Missions” and manipulate the creature’s strain for a permanent boost in ability.
For instance, a player may evolve their Banelings to allow them to make a leap attack, changing their role from front line suicide bombers to back rank artillery. Another example is increasing the gene splitting of Zerglings to allow three to be hatched from a single egg instead of two, overwhelming your enemy in a tidal wave of teeth and claws. The choices are yours, and all are truly deadly.
HOTS does an excellent job of placing the player along a comfortable learning curve while still allowing them to delve deeply into the mechanics, characters, and story of the game. Missions coach the player just enough to understand the abilities of their army, buildings, and surroundings, but they do not force the player down any certain path. The struggles of the mission objective combined with the pressure of knowing that there are always side quests to complete can truly test the player’s capabilities all while teaching them about a newly unlocked unit or mutation. HOTS even deviates from the classic RTS format at times to ensure a truly unique and enjoyable gaming experience.
One notable occasion occurs mid way through the campaign as the focus shifts from base-building and army construction to the smallest scale imaginable. You are one larva; the basis of all Zerg life, and you must take down an entire Protoss space ship by sneaking, killing, and evolving into larger and larger Zerg organisms. In another instance, Kerrigan and her army are forced into a series of arenas where they must face off against a single massive “boss” creature whose powerful abilities force the player to dodge, counter, and time special abilities with Kerrigan and her Zerg army in tandem. These moments really bring HOTS into a world of its own and always keep things fresh, exciting, and tense for the player.