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.
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.
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.
[+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]