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Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Preview / Impression at Blizzcon 2011

Sara Lau
Oct 25,2011  08:10 by
2

Next year, the Starcraft 2 trilogy will continue its legends with the upcoming release of Heart of the Swarm where the unceasing conflicts among Raynor, Kerrigan and Zeratul will carry on, wreaking havoc on the stability of the galaxy. At BlizzCon 2011, we took part in the developer’s campaign which enabled us to gain a sneak peek at the new units in multiplayer mode for their practicality.

What really happened at the end of Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty? Those who have played the game perhaps know the answer: Sarah Kerrigan can not remember anything. But do you know whether she is still the Queen of Blades and the leader of the Zerg swarm? And if not, what will happen to the whole population of Zerg? This is the initial situation in which we find ourselves at the beginning of the first 20 missions in Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm.

Although Kerrigan can barely remember anything, her desire for revenge and thirst for power are far from satisfied. The queen will never be dead! Long live the queen! According to the tradition of all computer games, we will start again from scratch to build a new empire, or a new Zerg Swarm. But can they overcome the extreme coldness in the ice world Kaldir?

During Blizzcon 2011 in Anaheim, tens of thousands of journalists and fans participate in the show and testing campaign, and Blizzard offered us a rare chance to test two missions in single-player mode, which drew a multitude of players to queue up for a shot. The two proposed orders took players to visit the planet Char Kaldir and go through several adventures. In fact, we had been allowed to report extensively on the two missions in May after the announcement of Heart of the Swarm, and we found no alterations there. To be specific, in the missions, we were asked to collect one hundred Baneling eggs before Broodmother Za’gara achieved the same goal. The most notable part is that we can gather up nearly 300 Banelings at the end with which we are able to blow up the enemy base within seconds. It is quite thrilling to see it being split into pieces and sent to nirvana.

In order to reach Kaldir, you have to go through a lot of grinding missions which make it significantly slower to arrive at your ultimate destination. But when you are finally there, you find to your dismay that the dead of winter freezes all units on a regular basis on the map. The ice-capped world certainly poses greater challenges to the deployment of your troops compared with that in Wings of Liberty. The Zerg is certainly not a unit of scattered rebel forces in this game; on the contrary, it is a legion of fearsome killing machines that can quickly adapt themselves to tough conditions and easily frighten their opponents to shrink away.

And the keyword in this expansion is evolution. Kerrigan quickly learns from her two shrewd advisers, namely, Izsha and Abathur that she must make timely adaptations and strive for perfection in order to ensure the survival and expansion of her swarm.

Evolutionary Theory for Zerg

As we went through the campaign at Blizzcon exhibition, our Zerg army continued to develop and improve, thanks to genetic mutations instead of purchased upgrades. As we have mentioned above, Blizzard had already briefly introduced this expansion in May, so we have a more in-depth understanding of it. In the evolution chamber, all units of troops can be upgraded for several times. First, there are three available improvements, such as 20 percent more hit points and Base Damage-increased Zerglings. Similarly, the cockroaches can also be continuously improved. And a very interesting improvement is called “Scavenger” through which we can obtain additional resources if we want to destroy the units and buildings of cockroaches.

Needless to say, a change in the genetics will last permanently. It is also against the law of nature to reverse one’s mutation, so you should be prepared for your growth and get ready to shoulder more responsibilities along the way. When your Zerg is in its higher form, you can start to organize some kind of advanced units. For example, you can select elite warriors from the Zergling swarms and establish a powerful army. It is also fun to watch Zerglings emerge from tiny larvae. Sometimes, you will have Zerglings that are stronger than normal and can even jump over cliffs. How marvelous! Depending on their types, we have to make some timely changes in our combat plan, thus considerably diversifying the gaming experience. Besides, you can choose to command a mass of units, or maybe only a few legions. But all of them are made up of strong fighters, so you will have tons of fun regardless of your option.

Always Go Forward: Kerrigan

The same applies to Kerrigan because she will become more powerful and more resilient while finishing major missions as well as side quests. Based on your choice of focus, you can determine whether she would rather be in support of the whole swarm or be an offensive heroine. The focus can be selected freely before each mission. So far, we have witnessed two specific destruction choices, including a chain of lightning and surface anesthesia. And according to the developer, two more options are to follow. Unlike Wings of Liberty where Jim Raynor commands a fleet of Hyperions most of the time and takes charge of the whole situation, Starcraft: Heart of the Swarm pays the most emphasis on Kerrigan who is the focus of almost all missions.

Destruction

Before the mission, we choose the offensive aspect of Kerrigan. Consequently, it becomes our top priority to seek for as much destruction as possible to our foes as a dauntless fighter.

Nevertheless, what we get from Blizzcon 2011 is only a small part of the game because Blizzard employees were quite cautious about the game’s main storyline and possible locations during panel discussions as well as an interview with us. Clearly, there will be many other contents in addition to the adventure of the Zerg. But whether the Terran and the Protoss will be kept the way they were still remains as an open question.

However, a new trailer shown at Blizzcon should be understood as a hint to its main characters. Perhaps there will still be a combination of the Protoss and the Terran that will be busily engaged in a series of quests. At the end, Zeratul will still undertake a secret mission to uncover an intergalactic conspiracy. No matter what, the only certainty is that the campaign includes nearly 20 missions, some of which also offer various choices. So we guess we will be delightfully overwhelmed by a wide selection of options when Starcraft: Heart of the Swarm is eventually released next year.

How Bad are the Zerg?

It is emphasized repeatedly by all participants that the Protoss in Heart of the Swarm will be noticeably different from Raynor’s Terran in Wings of Liberty. But whatever, the leading role is the Zerg that is greatly feared throughout the universe because they have spread unbearable fear and terror for countless times. However, this setting of scenario, at least, partially contradicts the revelations in the four-part Protoss campaign for Wings of Liberty. Basically, Blizzard wants to let players feel that they unleash the terror by themselves, thus leading to a feeling of deep immersion. As we all know, the swarm is a powerful tool in the conquest of the galaxy, so the one who can control it can conquer the whole universe.

As usual, the soundtrack is as excellent as that of its predecessors. The two demo missions also show that Blizzard has tried its best to enhance the revenge story because, Kerrigan, in this case, is far more than a one-dimensional and shallow character in terms of her schemes and pursuits.

But as for the true motives that drive Kerrigan to embark on her dangerous adventures, we can not know until the final appearance of Heart of the Swarm. There is still no specific release date for this expansion, but Blizzard just announced that there would be another beta testing before its official launch. In order to be able to play Heart of the Swarm, you will probably have to purchase Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. The new sale prices for other Blizzard games, like Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne and World of Warcraft (Mists of Pandaria), will probably be offered as well. Perhaps, you will choose not to buy Heart of the Swarm, but there is no need to worry about not being able to play Wings of Liberty in multiplayer mode any longer. There will also be a separate ranking in Heart of the Swarm like that in Wings of Liberty.

New Units for Multiplayer Mode

It is still unclear whether Blizzard will add the newly-announced units to Wings of Liberty as a complementary patch. But a concrete fact is that players of Heart of the Swarm can look forward to a series of changes and innovations.

Apart from the obligatory new multiplayer maps, there will be some new units for each of the three nations. At the same time, you will perhaps continue to do without carrier vessels and mother ships that typically belong to the Protoss. Some units will be wiped out completely because they all fall victim to the invasive race of Zerg.

The most urgent mission of the Terran players is to build a gate which will cost a considerable amount of minerals (about 600 units). And their well-known solo-mode surface attack can now be used in multiplayer mode. But sadly, they will lose all air defense capabilities, so Mutalisks fans should not rejoice too soon.

The Terran will incorporate a new air defense unit called Warhound. In ground combat, the Warhound will also be particularly effective against other mechanical units. Besides, we can manufacture the units as well as their weapons with the aid of the robots in a previously established factory that also has an attached tech laboratory. To constantly improve your strength, you can conduct a series of researches in the lab. And the Thor, however, is in want of a reactor core. I don’t know the difference between the factory-produced unit and the Protoss mothership, but it is completely useless to discuss about it because we will have access to only a limited number of multiplayer matches in the beta. Nonetheless, the space cruiser cherishes a new skill that can boost up its speed for a short time. When it comes to the Avengers, they are given a new bonus that enables them to heal themselves and their buddies outside of battles. But they are no longer equipped with extra-strong explosives that can blast buildings into ashes.

There is also a new section called Shredder, a movable base unit that can be boosted up step by step. It is also possible for them to protect themselves in a defensive tower of a surprisingly large area with a sort of shock waves. The highlight of the Shredder is that it will not be active until hostile units are nearby.

Blizzard has also paid much attention to revamping the Helions. As a result, the fast wheeled vehicles can now be transformed into bipedal mechanical objects like the Vikings. And during the combat, they are more reminiscent of fire-eaters. The Helions have a slightly shorter firing range than that of normal vehicles. And they move much slower than before, but they are, at least, more resilient.

The Viper will now be added to the Zerg army. These snakes are support units and have three abilities: First, they can produce ocular parasite that can infect a friendly unit, making it able to detect cloaked or buried units. Their second ability is to spray a green poison cloud that can prevent ranged units from bombarding their missiles and projectiles for a short time. Besides, they also boast an awesome Abduct Ability. To be specific, they can spend 100 units of energy in order to abduct either a separate unit or an enemy to their faction. It really counts as a very powerful ability, especially during battles against horrid giants and siege tanks. The energy can also be used during auditions to explode our Marauders with Banelings or to consolidate our Marines. Some players may think this is actually a waste of energy, but it is still nice to see those interesting scenes.

If all races go to attend a beauty contest, this new Zerg unit will certainly fail because these ground units look like misshapen turtles with a big tank on their back. And they are only effective when they are close to their opponents. Each of them has control over two temporary melee units that can launch a constant series of attacks against the nearest opponents. Additionally, since the legion is an invisible swarm that is buried underground, it is extremely powerful to lay siege to those heavily fortified positions.

And the Viper can contaminate other players during close interaction in the pit, thanks to its marvelous special ability. From this perspective, the Viper can be quite effective in fighting against defensive-oriented opponents. In general, Blizzard seems primarily to intensify the combat among ambitious players by diversifying the Zerg with the second unit the Viper.

The Ultralisk, a heavy Zerg ground unit, is known for its durability. It can lead an assault by firing a volley of defensive fire balls, allowing the rest units to approach its common enemies and launch more effective attacks. Banelings are explosive Zerg strains that are evolved from Zerglings. They can perform a special attack against their enemies who have come close enough to them. They are able to spray a shower of scorching acid that can cause severe damages to their foes.

Even though the high-tech warriors, namely, the Protoss, are maintained, the two units (carrier and mothership) are removed. But it is still possible to use the teleportation by spending75 units of energy. In this way, you can build a nexus between all your units and the main base. The Nexus also makes it possible to create an energy-based form which can be transferred into light armors, mighty weapons and fortified buildings. Undoubtedly, this will be extremely beneficial to the base defense in case of unexpected airborne attacks.

As a capital ship of the Protoss, the tempest boosts up the offensive power of the Protoss. And the replicants are microscopic robots that can change their shapes and attributes according to their non-massive enemies. As a result, during conflicts against the ground unit of the Terran or the Zerg, the Protoss can make use of this special skill to transform its replicants into a legion of non-massive warriors on the battlefield. The only condition is that the replicant must be within sight of its pattern unit; otherwise, it will switch back to its own shape. However, we may feel a little hesitating to use this ability because of the staggering purchase price. But if you are willing to invest some money, you can quickly turn the tide during tricky situations by means of churning out a bunch of counter-strike soldiers that can compete against your enemies in all aspects, including weapons and skills.

In addition to the replicants, the Protoss also involves two new air units, that is, Oracle and Tempest. The two units can provide mutual support to each other. Of course, they can also be treated as spies to see what units and upgrades are being created in a certain enemy building. But there is an especially annoying feature: the journey to mineral fields will be blocked for 45 seconds from time to time. The blockade can indeed be destroyed by damage, but it strongly hinders the mining for minerals. And if you have nothing better to do, you can only wait idly until the crystals are accessible again. The arch-enemy for the Tempests is a pure assault unit that owns a surface attack against air targets as well as a beam weapon against ground troops. A group of Mutalisks are an easy prey to the Tempest, while Vikings may enjoy an easy time with the Protoss carriers.

The Multiplayer Mode

It is still too early to make a judgment about the balance and the usefulness of the new units, especially since Blizzard will probably make countless changes before the final release of Heart of the Swarm. There is a chance that some features will be changed completely upon the official launch.

During one-on-one mode and the skirmish mode, we had a lot of fun thanks to the presence of the Viper. The new support unit allows us to choose from many new tactics. And we can not help but become curious and enthusiastic about new additions to the Terrans. At first glance, the Warhound is still far from mature. And the Marines and Vikings have been proved to be a little weak during confrontations against air units. Hopefully, the Warhound can make up for the defect later in the game.

Given the fact that we are only allowed to see a small potion of the whole game, our impression may be wrong. But at least, we can conclude that its further development is sure to be welcomed, especially for regular multiplayer gamers. A minor downside lies in the lack of new buildings and strong fortifications. We think that it is certainly feasible to expand the existing repertoire.

Editor’s Conclusion

Wings of Liberty is not intended to be developed into an innovative game; on the contrary, Blizzard wants to make “Heart of the Swarm” a rock-solid real-time strategy masterpiece. Thus, nobody should be surprised that the first expansion Heart of the Swarm offers no major breakthroughs. And that’s a good thing because Wings of Liberty works perfectly in multiplayer mode. As far as I am concerned, large changes could be nothing but harmful to the cohesion of the whole game. During the campaign, we experienced the single-player aspect where Kerrigan was considered as a heroic character. In this sense, it is a refreshing change from its predecessors. But personally speaking, the Zerg does not suit my playing style very well as the Terran or the Protoss. Maybe I will gradually fall for the small, ugly creatures in the course of the story. Now, let’s wait patiently for the launch of the long-awaited expansion.

2 Comments on Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Preview / Impression at Blizzcon 2011

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  1. hafic says:

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  2. BlizzardLover says:

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