As a warning:
Pretty much everyone hated the Heart of the Swarm storyline.
I'm sure this is no new news to the majority of you, as mostly all of you reading this are in that agreement and are just here to rip me a new one, but please, allow me a chance to amuse you in my attempt to defend this story. I could go on a meandering rant, but I'll try to adress what few points I've seen repeated most often.
The Jim Raynor / Kerrigan Romance subplot:
Yes, sadly I have to start with the games worst quality by far: the romance...
I liked it. Why?
Well, for this we need some backstory. Within the first Starcraft, particularly the Terran campaign, we see Kerrigan and Raynor as your typical male/female game duo who blow stuff up and exchange one-liner flirts between blowing more stuff up. Its arguably kinda established they have a thing going, but then again its hard to pull a lot of meat out of the original Terran campaign. Big spoiler, Mengsk betrays them all and Kerrigan becomes infested by the swarm. What little romantic establishment we had going thus far ended with her becoming an insane, crazed monster under control of forces that (for now) were stronger than she was.
Its at this point I think we can comfortably skip all of Starcraft 1 and the rest of Brood War. I know what you're thinking; thats a lot to just overlook. Well let me explain: Raynor thought the Queen of Blades was a monster, this fact is undeniable. He outright says he's going to get rid of her. But, skipping to Wings of Liberty, its clear Raynor does not associate the Queen of Blades with Kerrigan anymore in his mind; they are seperate entities with seperate goals, and to him Kerrigan is trapped in there.
Now, This doesn't negate his desire for revenge. For most of the first half of Wings of Liberty, Raynor is more than willing to pull the trigger on her for his own closure, and the closure of everyone the Queen betrayed. Then he learns it may be possible to save her through Zeratul, who uses Raynor's emotions against him in order to purify Kerrigan to fulful his vision. Zeratul, while his intentions were good, never spelled out to Raynor that Kerrigan would have to return to the Zerg afterwards; he used Raynor's love for Kerrigan as a means to an end.
And Raynor bought into it. He could get rid of the Queen, and return the Kerrigan he had convinced himself was still innocent. It was a win/win in his mind, and so he brought he back.
Once back, Heart of the Swarm starts up with Raynor pleading with Kerrigan to leave it all behind and live in a quiet corner of space. Raynor, in the end, didn't care about revenge, the dominion, the zerg, or the terrans; Raynor wanted to escape the hell his life had become with the person he'd risked everything to give another chance at life.
I know, gag and barf and all that such, but as we know so far Kerrigan is too bent on revenge at this point and upon learning that Raynor may be dead and being unable to sense him, she goes on a tirade that leads us neatly into the plot of Heart of the Swarm.
When Raynor and Kerrigan finally do reunite, he sees her and immedietly feels betrayed in her infestation. Everyone he believed and worked for was broken in front of him, and upon Kerrigan's admittal that she loved him... Raynor just walks off. He can't bring himself to kill her, but he can't face her choice of revenge over him. He later reconsiders and joins Kerrigan in getting what little peace Raynor can give her.
See, this is the way I see the final missions of HotS:
Raynor's goal, in the end, was he felt Kerrigan was betrayed, mindwashed, turned, and given the shortest stick in the galaxy. The person he cared for, his friend and partner, got taken from him and everyone else and was destroyed in the most heinous way anyone can. He turned to alcoholism, and fell apart mentally. Raynor lost his mind as much as Kerrigan did, just in their own way. Not just because of what happened to Kerrigan, but the context it happened in.
Raynor didn't just see her go down and go macho man on the universe; he fell apart, and thats why I like Jim's character. You put him in the shoes of the majority of Video game heroes right now, and he would grab a gun and go Arnold Schwarzenegger or Warhammer on the universe. He didn't. He fell into his small leadership position in his backwater end of the galaxy and drank himself into a depression. I respect that in character writing. Is it easy? Sure, but it gives me a whole lot more reason to be able to see myself sitting opposite him than, say, Kratos or Drake.
He saved Kerrigan because he thought it would save himself as well. It would give his life more meaning than staring at a glass all day and night, and after suceeding he saw her return to what had haunted him. He hated her, but then he saw she was still human when she agreed to not simply kill everyone on Korhal. So, he joined her. He helped her get her revenge on Mengsk, not because Raynor wanted it anymore but because (as he says in the end), in the end, he just wanted to give her the closure he felt she deserved. In doing so, he could live with himself and the guilt of knowing he was partially responsible for what had happened to her.
This time it was her choice, and he could live with that. It meant that their romance was essentially over, but I think what people miss is that this wasn't about romance from the beginning. Raynor felt like he was the reason she "died", and he couldn't live with himself. He needed to give her closure, and he needed to give her that in order to go on. Yes, romance was a theme of this, but I think its deeper than that. He could live without her, and she without him. It wasn't a soapy teen romance; it was two people who just wanted the other to have some peace in a universe that was brutally insane.
They don't share a kiss in the end. They stare at each other, and know the other is content. Kerrigan flies off and thanks him, and he responsed by saying that was everything he needed. He needed to know she forgave him. This was not a romance, this was a story of forgiveness. I see it more as two people whom got divorced, but they ended on a bad note and needed to get together one last time and apologize and know things ended on a good foot.
I've been there with friendships. I have a desire to just want things to end well, and know they ended well, and knowing things have ended terrible has sent me on a number of emotionally depressive downward spirals. Yes, its not the deepest or best romance in gaming, but its more than the sum of its parts, and better than the gaming community has given it credit for.
It felt real, and thats why I think it was great.
The Kerrigan re-Infestation and de-Badassing
The next big problem people had with that game waaaaay back was with basically everything that happened to her post Brood War, and this is going to take some individual addressing. I'll start off with the first and simpist:
1) "Kerrigan was the Queen **** of the Universe. She had more character":
I disagree. Now, I will say that she was a great antagonist of the previous games; her betrayals, her taking over the swarm, her one upping the protoss and terran at every turn made for some fun badassery... but she had more character? I'm sorry, but I don't see it. Kerrigan, as well, as the rest of the cast in SC1 virtually had little to no character, as they existed soley to railroad the game into more RTS maps. I've played SC1 recently; its super light on story, exposition, backstory, and characterization in general.
You start the game up and you're half way through the Terran war already, you know none of these characters, and after a handful of missions Kerrigan is taken away and turned into the Queen of blades. Her motivation is then "I shall obey" for the rest of the game. Now, this isn't entirely the case in Brood War as at that point Blizzard saw potential in all these characters, but really her motivations were to simply gain control of the Swarm. Shes was evil, yes, and as an antogonist she is one of gamings more memorable... but a well built character? Lets examine that here:
2) "The old Kerrigan was evil and totally unapologetic about it. She was a villain. She is soft now."
In my opinion, wrong. Kerrigan was a mostly unintelligent hive mind slave in SC1, and in Brood War what was she doing? Ensuring the survival of her species by wiping out the Dominion forces and the Protoss that were indescriminantly wiping out the Zerg. I know this is a simple point to make, but it is a literary point that needs to be remembered:
Villains don't see themselves as Villians.
Queen **** Sure. Ruler of the Zerg? Why not. But did she inheirently see herself as evil? I don't believe so; she worked for a means to an end as much as the Terran and Protoss were. One of the most telling parts about this is the scene with Lassara, the Protoss Kerrigan captures on Kaldir. Yes, Sarah was her human self this time around, but she also said something telling. To paraphrase:
"Murderer? The protoss have been systematically wiping out the Zerg and kill us at every chance they get. We're both murderers."
And then what does the new, soft kerrigan do? She murders Lassara brutally and uses her infested corpse to wipe out a Protoss ship. So what, may I ask, has really changed? She has more free will now than she did as the Queen, and Kerrigan openly admits she feels like the previous Queen of Blades was largely a different person entirely by reffering to her in the third person. Now she has complete control, and is mostly human again, but her goals are the same as in Brood War: She is ensuring the survival of the Swarm. She regards other Zerg as people, and treats them as such on her ship, talking to them as if they were humans and going so far as to purposfully increase their intelligence.
That is a very important aspect of this story: You -are- playing as the villain, and getting a peek into her mind... but, shock of shocks, she doesn't consider herself a villain. Like well written villains are written. She is still wiping out planets, she is still killing people without mercy, still making promises and backing out of them, and so on.
There is context this time around. Yet one of the biggest complaints I see if that they defanged her character, when I argue they gave her fangs she never had previously. She was, for the most part, just a killer in SC1 with loose reasoning on why she did everything. Now she has a reason: The swarm are her family, her brood, and she treats them with the same respect of life as she does and did people she cared about.
Now, who does not do this? The protoss. I would argue that in all of the Starcraft media, the Protoss are the legtimate villains of the three factions. The zerg and Terran do not indiscriminately wipe out any planet they come across; The zerg picked targets, namely dominion military space, under Kerrigan and the Terran generally tried to stay alive while at war with the Zerg. The zerg and terrans were at war. The Protoss spend much of their game time threatening to glass any planet with zerg or terrans on it because... of what, religion?
I got the sense throughout both Starcraft 1 and 2 and all expansions that the Protoss were primarily aimed at wiping out anything that was not Protoss. With the look into the Zerg in Starcraft 2 and Broodwar... the Zerg would much rather prefer to be left the hell alone by both the Terran and the Protoss while Kerrigan is in charge. At the end of Brood War, she essentially wipes out the remaining Dominion armies attacking her and then backs off for years. Meanwhile, the what little Protoss were left were bent on killing pretty much everything not Protoss.
I'll say it; the Protoss got what was coming to them in Starcraft 1. Yeah, the Zerg attacked them but only after ample provocation by the Protoss who would wipe them out on the drop of a hat based on their religious views. It can be argued the Protss were simply defending themselves from what they saw as a threat to themselves... but wasn't the Swarm doing the same thing?
You see into the minds of the Zerg, and yes; it turns out the Zerg aren't the mindless animals we were led to assume they were by the Dominion and the Protoss, but then I ask... why were you basing your knowledge of the Zerg on a prodaganda machine and a bunch of religious zealots?
Heart of the Swarm didn't defang the Queen **** of the Universe: it gave her reasons, context, and motive. You now know why the Queen **** does what she does, and in my opinion its glorious.
Kerrigan's motives are full of Plot holes and Inconsistencies:
This is the biggest complaint levied at the game thus far; that everything Kerrigan does makes no sense at all. Allow me to quote the best example of this, from the very website's Review:
"Unfortunately, Kerrigan's lack of consistency or even a coherent character arc ruins that opportunity. For example, at the end of one mission, she spares the lives of wounded Dominion soldiers, but upon returning to her ship, she orders a broodmother to wipe an entire planet without batting an eye. It feels like she just flips a coin to determine whether she's going to act like Genghis Khan or a bleeding heart."
This is not inconsistant with Kerrigan at all.
1) "Shes spares the lives of wounded Dominion soldiers"
Yes, she did. For those wondering, this sentence is regarding a scene when Kerrigan confronts General Horace Warfield on Char after taking back Char from him by force. In his dying words, he begs her to let his casualties escape Zerg space and at first she responds with spite to the idea, but then he pulls his card and asks Kerrigan what Raynor would think of her wiping out the injured. This enrages her and she brutally kills him on the spot, but then thinks it over as she hears their men dying over the radio. She orders the Zerg to stop attacking the medical ships and lets them escape.
I think it is easy to assume this is simply flawed writing. On paper, said as simply as it does in the review, it comes off as comically stupid of her to do such a thing. Kerrigan actually seems to do this a few times in the game; when asked, she will consider her stance and back off, letting some people off the hook. She lets the wounded soldiers go, and when asked by the Prince, she backs off of wiping out civilian zones twice.
I think this is important as it shows a level of restraint. Writing is not a math, and people are not so predicable. I know that sounds like a cop out, but allow me to explain this in the context of War:
Kerrigan doesn't exist to wipe out all life in the Universe. In fact, shes been actively trying to stop that from happening. In Brood War she backed off a couple times, and so did she in Starcraft 2 and I believe this is because, well, shes not a villain. Shes not a comically evil 'kill all life' type of antagonist. She uses things to a means to an end, and wholesale slaughter has never been her motive, and to further explain this we have to look at the next point:
2) "but upon returning to her ship, she orders a broodmother to wipe an entire planet without batting an eye"
Yeah, welcome to War. A simple response, yes, but welcome to War.
Every country at war has done the same thing, and the important part that is left out of this sentence and the review is she sent her Broodmother to wipe out a military factory planet that was producing ships, weapons of war, and the like for the Dominion. The sentence doesn't hold the same weight as it did knowing that context now does it? She wiped out a military production planet, not a willy nilly planet just cause she suddenly felt like genocide.
The Dominion want her dead, and the Zerg dead. To her, the Dominion are a threat to her and her species, and in a war you target military outposts. What do I mean by that?
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were military production cities, and taking them out was not only meant as an overwhealming force hit to Japan, but also to cripple their military production. Now, I wont get into the morality of dropping nukes, but my point is that yes, in war civilians die. In war, a military also targets other military production, just as Raynor's Raiders, the Protoss, the Dominion, and the Zerg all do to each other in every single RTS map in the game.
Yes, Kerrigan has spared some lives in her conquest but so has Raynor and the Protoss. The misscommunication here is the assumption that Kerrigan's motive is pure genocide, opposed to tactics. A Broodmother wants back into the swarm, so Kerrigan needed proof of her allegiance and strength so she sent her to take out a military production planet.
Were there civilians on that planet? Yeah. Is it a shame they died in the crossfire? Yeah, but I'm sure there were civilians in those buildings Raynor nuked. I don't recall the writing rule that said that crossfire was bad writing.
Kerrigan took out a series of military bases on a planet. She didn't just go to a planet and wipe out a civilian colony, and before anybody tells me she kills those Protoss civilians on that moon, those Protoss killed one of her queens and her brood on that entire moon before moving in.
Kerrigan killed threats, like the Protoss, the Terran, the United States, the United Nations, and generally nearly all characters who have ever been written. She let the injured and the civilians live because shes a war tactician, not a mindless monster... which is more than I can say of the Protoss.
In short, I loved the story, and in all honesty I don't understand why I seem to be alone in that. Rare is it for me to be done with a story and feel truly satisfied, but maybe I just got exactly what I was expecting. I got the Queen of Blades I always wanted, the perspective on the Zerg I wanted, and a satisfying and logical end to Raynor and Kerrigan.
I got everything I expected and more...
What were you expecting?