Verhille: Starcraft II: The Heart of Swarm

BY DAN VERHILLE | MARCH 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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Visually spectacular, elegantly refined, and brutally violent are just a few phrases that describe StarCraft II, The Heart of the Swarm.

After following the series' original protagonist Jim Raynor throughout the course of Wings of Liberty, the previous installment, Heart of the Swarm follows his love interest, Sarah Kerrigan.

Kerrigan, a powerful human-zerg hybrid known as the Queen of Blades, was reduced to human form at the culmination of the Wings of Liberty campaign because of Raynor's dramatic efforts, which resulted in his incarceration by Emperor Mengsk.

Ironically, after laboring to "save" Kerrigan in the shoes of Raynor, Heart of the Swarm players are tasked with refusing Kerrigan with the grotesque, bug-like zerg species so she can wield their power, reclaim her title as the Queen of Blades, exact vengeance on Mengsk, and rescue Raynor.

While it might seem that Kerrigan remelding with the zerg made the events of Liberty for naught, the process of purifying and melding again has given a better balance to her hybridity. Her ability to communicate and control the swarm (the masses of zerg species) has been refined but yet she retains human conscience and a longevity-based logic, elements previously incomprehensible to her.

The conscience factor is extremely important throughout the process of the campaign as Kerrigan struggles for the first time with ideas of acceptable losses and civilian casualties. For the first time, players will witness a Kerrigan who struggles with moral gray areas and is willing to surrender tangible advantages on the battlefield to allow non-combat personnel time to flee warzones.

In order to meld her human DNA with the zerg, Kerrigan returns to the zerg's home planet of Zerus, where she must kill the oldest and most powerful "primal zerg" creatures to absorb their essence and DNA. In sequences such as these — and there are many — players are given control over only Kerrigan and few units rather than an entire army like in the majority of previous installments.

The departure from a typical RTS style of play to a more individual role-playing game was refreshing, but yet I can't help but feel that StarCraft took the page on hero abilities of the League of Legends book, the game that recently overtook StarCraft as the most popular game in the world.

Although StarCraft has always used abilities, the new ones and the ways they could be chained together seemed like lackluster imitations to me.

Each unit has numerous adaptations that can be taken on prior to any battle and can gain permanent abilities after the essence of a creature with a beneficial adaptation is consumed. Always, the player must choose between two evolution paths for each unit depending upon which characteristics the player finds most useful.

Kerrigan's abilities as a hero can also be changed between battles, and more are unlocked as she ascends in level and consequently attack, armor, and energy points. Although her ultimate abilities are quite spectacular, I couldn't help but feel that even at her maximum power — which supposedly pales in comparison with her previous Queen of Blades form — she was actually much weaker than when I was forced to face her as an opponent in previous installment.

The Heart of the Swarm provides many more first-person looks at panoramic views and conversations than ever before. Although I appreciate being able to see the entirety of someone's body when they speak, I do miss the group element that arose in the original StarCraft when four or five people could be arguing in a video conference together.

In many ways, the more personal nature of the dialogue reflects a stylistic migration of the Heart of the Swarm in its entirety: Kerrigan's connection with the swarm is closer than ever, her love is in jeopardy, and she has a chance to get back at the man who used her as an instrument to commit genocide and left her for dead.

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