StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Preview Part 2 -- Hands-On ImpressionsBy Leah Jackson - Posted May 31, 2011
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is the first StarCraft II expansion pack and seems to pick up directly where the astoundingly successful StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty left off. In part one of our Heart of the Swarm preview, we went over some of the new mechanics being introduced in HotS, including unit evolutions, Kerrigan’s Battle Focus element, and the redesigned sets. This preview will take you through two of the game’s missions that happen approximately four to six missions into the campaign.
The demo opens on a planet select screen; you can choose either Char or Kaldir. Char is the setting of Wings of Liberty’s finale, a molten planet the Zerg once called home and has since been taken over by the Terran. Kaldir on the other hand is a desolate, frozen wasteland of a moon. The two couldn’t be more different from one another, but as a fan of the WoL campaign, I had to pick Char first to see what was going on there.
Once you pick a planet, Kerrigan’s advisor Izsha pops up and gives you a bit of background information on the mission, similar to how Adjutant does in Wings of Liberty. The mission is called “War for the Brood,” and what’s happening on Char is that a Brood Mother named Za’gara is refusing to acknowledge Kerrigan as the Queen of Blades, the ultimate ruler of the Zerg, and she has to be dealt with.
In order to form an army strong enough to take out Za’gara, Kerrigan has to collect 100 Zerg eggs and hatch them in some sort of metabolic pool before Za’gara can steal them away from her. The problem is that most of the eggs are guarded by defensive spine crawler units, and in order to take them out the level introduces banelings into Kerrigan’s swarm. Banelings are an explosive unit that deals area of effect damage upon coming into contact with anything, including other units or structures.
You start the mission with about six zerglings and four banelings but are given an entire base to help grow your force into something more sizeable. As you macromanage your base, you and your force have to go around the map collecting the eggs. The eggs are generally found in clumps, and you pick up two to three at a time per clump. There are also six clumps of baneling eggs that add about five banelings to your force. The bonus objective in the mission is to find all six baneling eggs, which nets you +6 infestation (Blizzard hasn’t revealed what infestation is yet). Throughout the mission, Za’gara’s forces will occasionally attack you, but they’re not too hard to deal with and can easily be held off with spine crawlers.
The game looks and plays exactly the same as it does in Wings of Liberty, so for the Zerg players out there, it’s truly your time in the spotlight. Once you make an army large enough to secure 100 eggs, you throw them all into a pool, and they hatch into about 250 units, also known as soooo many banelings and zerglings. With this newly hatched force, you can basically attack/move into Za’gara’s base to destroy the entire thing in one fell swoop. At the end of the mission, Kerrigan tells her zerglings to kill Za’gara, but she later changes her mind once Za’gara admits that Kerrigan is once again the true leader of the swarm.
As this was a mission that happens very early in the campaign, it’s pretty clear that it’s just there to teach players how to use banelings in future missions and not really there to offer much of a challenge. Za’gara collects her eggs very slowly, and her force never seems very threatening. The best part of the mission was watching the huge force of units spawning in the pool and demolishing Za’gara’s base. It made me feel powerful, which is exactly the intention of Heart of the Swarm: to make Kerrigan feel like a hero.
The next mission, “Silence Their Cries,” takes place on the frozen moon of Kaldir. Again, a Brood Mother, this time named Na’fash, doesn’t see you as the true Queen of Blades, so you have to go teach her a lesson. The mission introduces the Roach unit and a new flash freeze mechanic. Flash freeze works similar to the lava in the Wings of Liberty mission, “The Devil’s Playground.” The air freezes every few minutes, solidifying both your units and enemy units and structures in place for about 15 seconds. Luckily, as soon as you start the mission, a yeti attacks Kerrigan and her force, and Abathur, one of Kerrigan’s advisors, tells her that if she kills ten yetis, he can fuse the zerg’s DNA with the yeti’s to make them immune to the flash freeze.
Luckily for you, there are ten yetis to kill almost immediately after Abathur explains this so getting immunity to the flash freeze is practically a given. Also, very early on in the mission you come across a dead Na’fash and her frozen base, which you take as your own. Who could have done such a thing? The Protoss, of course. The Protoss are an alien race that hate the Zerg, so once they find out that Kerrigan is alive once again, they start sending a message back to their home planet via psionic spires asking for them to send help and a force to destroy her. It’s now up to you to destroy the three psionic spires in under 25 minutes.
You have to build a force using Na’fash’s base in order to go out into the field and destroy the spires, but again, like the Char mission, this one is extremely simple and is probably just there to help familiarize players with how to use the heavily armored Roach unit. The flash freeze mechanic goes off every few minutes and freezes not only the Protoss units but also their structures, including their photon canons, which would have otherwise posed a challenge.
Even though the Kaldir mission is simple, it looks fantastic. The snow effects bring the frigid moon to life, and all throughout the level huge areas of terrain break away to reveal giant chasms that you have to go around. It’s nice to know that even the less important missions are still getting a nice amount of polish and care instead of just being glossed over to make way for the more important missions that will surely happen later on in the campaign.
For now, the two missions we saw gave us hope that what’s to come later on will be mighty impressive. If the development team can continue to use new mechanics like Flash Freeze or give players control of a massive amount of units to greater emphasize Kerrigan’s sense of power, then the Heart of the Swarm's campaign should be just as exciting as Wings of Liberty.