Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm Hands-On Preview - Zerg Campaign

Deep in the heart of Blizzard headquarters we go hands-on with Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm.

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Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm will continue the story of the intergalactic war between three very different factions--the Terrans, the Protoss, and the Zerg. But are the Zerg really that terrible, or do they just get a bad rap? Sure, they may be an intergalactic terror born and bred to consume all life in the universe, but they are ultimately doing only what they were programmed to do. To help get into the minds of these carnivorous critters, we journeyed to developer Blizzard Entertainment and spent some hands-on time with this upcoming expansion. While the team was tight-lipped on anything regarding multiplayer, we did get to see some of the changes coming to the game's single-player experience. [Spoiler Alert: this preview contains minor spoilers from Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty].

At the heart of this expansion is Sarah Kerrigan. Her career in the Starcraft universe has been a bloody one: first as a ghost in the Terran military and then as the deadly Queen of Blades. However, all that changed with the conclusion of Wings of Liberty. Now Kerrigan's hold over most of the Zerg swarm has been shattered, and her memories as their ruler are spotty at best. Her burning hatred for all life in the galaxy has also been boiled down to one man: Arcturus Mengsk. And while we don't know all the details, we do know that she is working to bring the Zerg back under her control and take the fight to the Terran Dominion's ruler. Unlike the previous campaign's hero, Jim Raynor, Kerrigan takes a hands-on approach to warfare and doesn't mind mixing it up on the front lines. When she arrives on a planet it is not to perform some one-shot bit of terrorism; she's there to conquer all.

What all this means is that you will be in control of Kerrigan throughout the majority of Heart of the Swarm. The developers likened her to one of the hero units from Warcraft III--a persistent character whom you will build and customize to fit your play style. Based on what we saw, the majority of this customization came from Kerrigan's different battle focuses--interchangeable skill sets that defined what abilities she could use in battle. Of the two available, we chose the corruption focus before heading down to Char. Our mission here was to kill Za'gara, a Zerg brood mother who refused to acknowledge us as the real Queen of Blades. This mission felt like it was intended to get us acquainted with a specific Zerg unit--the Baneling. Banelings are, of course, the Zerg's explosive infantry who can spray everything they hit with damaging acid. All across the planet there were pockets of Zerg eggs that contained groups of Banelings.

Za'gara was aiming to claim these eggs for herself, and it became a race to see who could collect a certain number of eggs first. Kerrigan's play style was similar to when she was a human ghost. Using an oversized rifle, she could deliver high-damage shots at midrange, though with a low rate of fire. Since we had access only to Zerglings and Banelings, we had to lean heavily on Kerrigan's battle focus abilities to take down more-dangerous foes. The corruption ability would instantly kill a target (provided it wasn't a massive or heroic one) and spawn five broodlings in its place. Corrosive spores was an area-of-effect ability that caused affected enemy units to take additional damage every time they were hit. This ability worked especially well with our quick-hitting Zerglings. The focus also give a small bonus to our armor.

Banelings can make quick work of almost any structure.

The real fun came when, after collecting the required number of eggs, Kerrigan decided to hatch them all at once. This instantly granted us roughly 200 extra units on the spot. We then rolled this massive force into the heart of Za'gara's base and let our dozens of Banelings make quick work of the place. It was a very appropriate finale, and true to the style of the Zerg. Once we returned from the battlefield, we checked in with our two advisers--Izsha and Abathur--on the planet-side hub screen. An infested adjutant (before adjutants became completely cybernetic), Izsha provided us with details on upcoming missions and helped to fill in the gaps in Kerrigan's broken memory.

The well-mannered Abathur was a bloated creature of Kerrigan's own design while she was still the Queen of Blades. Its function was to evolve and adapt our Zerg army in much the same way Raynor's mechanic did in Wings of Liberty. The currency for upgrading our units was DNA. We collected this resources by attempting missions and completing side-quests within those missions. With the Zergling, for instance, we could evolve it so that it could move faster, be produced instantly in battle, or spawn smaller broodlings upon death. Once we had purchased two of the three possible upgrades, we then had the option to drastically alter our unit in one of two ways. For the Zergling, it was a choice between hatching in groups of three at no additional cost or leaping onto enemies who got too close.

Once our army was in order, we set off for our next mission on the frozen moon of Kaldir. Another of our brood mothers, Na'fash, had taken her Zerg here. According to Izsha, Na'fash was most likely attempting to build up her brood's resilience by exposing them to the moon's harsh environment. Abathur said he could produce this mutation for us, but we would need to collect some DNA from the area's local creatures first. In preparation for the fight ahead, we switched Kerrigan's battle focus over to spec ops. This focus was more reminiscent of her time as a ghost, with psionic shadow, the ability to create a copy of herself that deals half damage, and pulse, an ability that stuns multiple targets in a small area. The focus also provides a bonus to her energy--the charging meter that gets spent by all Starcraft units to perform special attacks or other secondary abilities.

The moon itself posed an interesting problem: its arctic winds would freeze our units in place every few minutes, leaving them vulnerable to enemy attack. As we navigated through an extensive glacial valley, we took every opportunity we could to cut down the local species and collect their DNA for Abathur's research. Once we had collected enough, Abathur was able to apply the mutation to our forces to prevent the freezing from occurring. This upgrade came just in time since we soon encountered the corpse of Na'fash and a Protoss camp not too far away. The Protoss were more than surprised to find the galaxy's number one villainess severely weakened and wasted no effort in trying to contact the rest of their fleet for support. We were now on a time limit to destroy their communication towers and stop their transmission.

Your selected battle focus determines what abilities Kerrigan has in combat.

In combat, our hero's spec ops battle focus worked wonders against the Protoss' massive Archon units. Even though they could blow us apart in an instant, the Archons were rendered helpless thanks to our pulse ability. Once the battle was over, we checked in one final time with our advisers, Izsha and Abathur, which gave us a bit of insight into what's to come. Speaking with Izsha revealed Kerrigan's apprehension toward indiscriminate violence; Kerrigan even went so far as to express regret for attacking innocent people. When talking with Abathur, Kerrigan stated that she needed a metamorph, a unit that could fuel its own evolution. Could this be a new unit joining the Zerg ranks? Blizzard had no comment on that or on the other particulars of this expansion. Nevertheless, we can't wait to find out what our surprises are in store for Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm.

Discussion

114 comments
Ficko66
Ficko66

Keep in mind that if it's not a stand-alone expansion (you need Wings of Liberty to play it in otherwords), the reduced cost is probably due to the online content already in place, NOT a reduced campaign. I don't know if that's the case but maybe something someone who cares can look into. Blizzard does work, so I will be buying this expansion.

Angel_Grigorov
Angel_Grigorov

remark. if it is an expansion pack for 40$ it's probably be shorter than the original. Of course if you play multiplayer in internet then you are obliged to buy it.

Angel_Grigorov
Angel_Grigorov

Freak_Jesus of course you'll pay. After all that's exactly why the game is devided in 3 parts. That makes the full set of starcraft 2 worth about 300$. Problem is I can't see what is that thing in starcraft 2 that is worth so much.

geomyr
geomyr

can't wait to this sc 2's expansion :)

blackfray
blackfray

It's possible that blizzard would release a game this year but will it be Diablo 3 or this expansion? I personally believe both are for 2012.

hieiwrath
hieiwrath

Why do u guys have no video from the gameplay?

Freak_Jesus
Freak_Jesus

I'd pay 100 bucks for that game Zerg is my favorite race since SC1

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

Blizzard put different Teams for each SC2 Trilogy, I'm really looking forward to this :) the whole mechanic could be different too. Wings Of Libery mechanic is more old-school RTS, but Heart Of The Swarm seemed to look like more RPGs :P

TonnFool23
TonnFool23

@deepbluekarz Thanks man, I was worried that I would have to pay full price to play this game.

deepbluekarz
deepbluekarz

@FrostBox Blizzard already officially announced that Heart of the Swarm will be priced as an expansion. Please read the Q&A at teamliquid or us.battle.net/sc2/en/game/heart-of-the-swarm-preview. So that's $40 considering that was the price for Warcraft 3 and WoW expansions. I did some googling and I read broodwar was priced $30. So unless something is awry, it ain't $60 even by a long shot.

FrostBox
FrostBox

@ PC-GAMER-CARTER A franchise of this magnitude will no doubt be 59.99 per expansion. Brood war and regular SC when it came out were same price and i see no reason that wouldnt follow suit here. they know the hardcore fans will buy it no matter what price it is and the game is so intriguing that most consumers would pay full price anyway. (Not to say im not praying for a cheaper price, but thats how its been for most of these hard hitting games. look at WoW (which needs to end altogether but thats besides the point). each expansion was as expensive as the main game was, and even more later on...) On another note, im Stoked for this game, though i got a bad feeling it wont be in my hands for a good 2 years or more. luckily Skyrim and BF3 will keep me busy until then BUT I NEED MY RTS FIX!!! Starcraft storyline is one of the best in the industry and Blizzard has the highest standards of any gaming company to date IMO. Keep up the good work Blizz just dont keep me from SC for too long...

leop4rd
leop4rd

i wish he asked if there was gna be any additional units in multiplayer like there was in broodwar

PC-GAMER-CARTER
PC-GAMER-CARTER

are you going to have to play full game price like $60 or an add on price of $10-$30

elancion
elancion

dawn of war 2 ftw, nuff said

terryble85
terryble85

looks promising and looks like it is near the end of development...we should be able to see it in...say.... when it is finished!!?

grim0187
grim0187

I like the sound of the story.

Cornholio_tp
Cornholio_tp

"...when it's finished." I always hated that answer.

termadoyle
termadoyle

I never understood the love for any Blizzard game. :-/

Memoryitis
Memoryitis

All that work to save Kerrigan, and Kerrigan wants to be a zerg again....

greaterlegion
greaterlegion

like how he named dropped Lurkers..hope to see them even if they dont make it to multiplayer

pmar27
pmar27

im sure as you level her up or whatever she will turn back into the ba queen of blades she used to be.

payne6705
payne6705

ugh this seems like such a milking of a franchise.

LordAinav
LordAinav

Johnny Ebbert. This guy was the lead game designer for DoW2 vanilla, now working in Blizzard for SC2. lol

Phatjam98
Phatjam98

@Cutepotatoes What Blizzard company did you think you knew? Blizzard has always taken their sweet time to get games to us. They never push launch dates and the answer is always, "when its finnished" Activision sucks, but Blizzard is doing what they always do.

srider333
srider333

I'm really looking forward to this game. Hope it won't be worse than "Wings of Liberty".

foxkashima
foxkashima

It's not just a campaign. Afaik, they'll introduce new units. So it's an add-on like SC1 - Brood War.

MiniSiets
MiniSiets

@wavelength121 Yeah, what I find particularly suspicious was when the supposedly "leaked" video was then uploaded on YouTube, but then quickly removed due to a copyright claim by GameTrailers. Now wait a minute, since when does GameTrailers get to copyright a video that was leaked and not supposed to be released yet anyway? Come on Blizz, you don't need to artificially inflate the hype, everyone is already excited enough.

Cutepotatoes
Cutepotatoes

I am starting to dislike Blizzard ever since they got with Craptivision. Old Blizzard would've never made this s*it into a trilogy. Also old blizzard would've launched Diablo 3 by now. F*ck you activision for making Blizzard, a once great developer now into a shi**y money grabbing one.

PseudoElite
PseudoElite

When will the game come out? WHEN ITS FINISHED LIKE A BOSS

Rocker6
Rocker6

@elancion It would get stale if we were getting a lot of good RTS games.But since we arent getting many of them,thanks to huge amount of FPS games,and those we get are simplified,and base building is removed,I say Starcraft is pretty innovative and unique.

elancion
elancion

meh more of the same ol same.no variation in strategy what so ever. collect resources overwhelm ur opponent. yeah that was probably cool back when the genre was still new, but its becoming quite stale now in my opinion.

James00715
James00715

Looks like the campaign will be more like WC3 with the Kerrigan "hero". I know a lot of people missed the heroes from WC3, so maybe they will like this campaign better?

SteveTwo
SteveTwo

@wavelength121 This is not an offshot, this is the second part of the planned trilogy that has been in production since development started.

skullomania2
skullomania2

Take as long as you want. I got enough on my plate right now.

elancion
elancion

@twistyanddark, just wondering what that strategy franchise you've moved on to is?

burn6
burn6

this is not Kerrigan?! this is a terran clone!

wavelength121
wavelength121

Okay so a trailer "leaks" to the internet a few days before an official preview is released? Yeah right... I 100% believe any "leaking" was done intentionally by Blizzard to stir the pot. Lame. Still, this looks to be a lot of fun. I loved Wings of Liberty and this looks like a clever offshoot.

Pete5506
Pete5506

Sounds pretty neat, looking forward to see what the MP is going to be like

afgad
afgad

Right...... "Remind us when it's coming out". Yeah... nice try, buddy.

GeorgeSyll
GeorgeSyll

If this is going to be Kerrigan's permanent look i think i'll spend my money on something else. I don't care how good the game will be, i want the original Queen of Blades or nothing.

Janpieterzun
Janpieterzun

@twistyanddark Character quality of the people that play a game a factor for you? That is possibly one of the douchiest things i've ever heard. I'm sure the community 'feels' a great sense of loss by not having your presence there. Right. In any case I feel SC has lost something, it feels more like an orchestrated money grab than a game. Don't get me wrong i know game publishers aren't saints making products 'gratis'. I wish gaming would get to the point of digital art and not corporate mechanisms that boost share price or shareholder dividends. Perhaps i am just a dreamer.

McBoogerballz
McBoogerballz

lol you can make SC2 all you want.. get diablo 3 out first....IT HAS BEEN 5 FREAKING YEARS

megakick
megakick

SC2 didn't give you much for what you paid for it.

ducusss
ducusss

@wexorian I don't think that's right...