Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm brings Kerrigan to the fore

BlizzCon 2011: Blizzard's lead writer and level designer run through some of the new characters and gameplay that players can expect from the Wings of Liberty follow-up.

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ANAHEIM, CA--At the BlizzCon 2011 opening ceremony this morning, Blizzard Entertainment CEO Mike Morhaime promised that this year's event would have new offerings for all of its big three franchises. As it pertained to Starcraft II, those announcements equate to a first look at Heart of the Swarm's new multiplayer content, as well as a look at the single-player campaign for the real-time strategy game. That single-player information came as part of a mid-Friday panel devoted to Starcraft II's campaign and lore, which featured Blizzard's senior VP of story and franchise development Chris Metzen, lead writer Brian Kindregan, and lead level designer Matt Morris.

Kerrigan will be the star of Heart of the Swarm.
Kerrigan will be the star of Heart of the Swarm.

Kindregan led off, saying that he didn't want to spoil anything that will be in the game. Therefore, the team didn't have much by way of specifics on how Heart of the Swarm would continue the storyline from Wings of Liberty. However, Kindregan did provide brief overviews of some of the primary players, beginning with perhaps the most interesting of all, Kerrigan. She still has the dreadlocks, he said, which indicates she's not entirely back to human. Kerrigan also doesn't remember all that she did as the Queen of Blades, he said, but she remembers some of the awful deeds, and it's weighing heavily on her.

The Protoss Zeratul has essentially gone rogue, he continued, saying that he is on the hunt to prove an intergalactic conspiracy. Meanwhile, Izsha is a new character that was created by the Queen of Blades as a memory depository of sorts, and therefore, she serves Kerrigan now. (Amanda Haley, who was in a Starcraft short story.) Abathur is another unique Zerg created by the Queen of Blades and now under Kerrigan's control. His role is to evolve the swarm, and the way he does this is to eat parts of creatures to assimilate their desirable properties.

Not all the Zerg are on Kerrigan's side, though. One such is Za'Gara, a brood mother. Brood mothers are a new unit to Heart of the Swarm and were created by the Queen of Blades just before her reversion to Kerrigan. Za'Gara, like many other brood mothers, doubts that Kerrigan used to be the Queen of Blades. And because the brood mothers are sentient creatures that can control an entire brood, they have independence and ambition and all want to be the next leader of the Swarm.

There are many stories woven together in this game, Kindregan said. There is the overarching story of Kerrigan's attempt to regain control of the Swarm. There are also individual stories that are more personal. Ambient stories are also there, and they float in the background. However, of all these stories, he emphasized that the most important is Kerrigan's. She has done awful things and had awful things done to her, and she is an angry conflicted hero. She ultimately has to make peace with the Zerg Swarm, he concluded.

Morris then took the mic to talk about mission structures. He said that the Zerg campaign is much different from Wings of Liberty, most notably in that the Zerg's approach to the universe is much different from that of the Terrans and Jim Raynor. Specifically, when the Zerg arrive on the scene, it is a moment of terror, and the designers want players to feel like they are inspiring that horror. When players arrive on the planet, it is about wholesale death and destruction.

As an example, Morris described the Silence Their Cries mission. In this mission, Kerrigan has arrived at a planet, looking for one of her broods. However, upon arrival, she finds everything frozen, save for indigenous species. To unfreeze the brood, the Zerg force sets out to eat indigenous creatures to gain their freeze-protection aspect, and in doing so build up a freeze-resistance for the Swarm.

This type of evolution is core to gameplay, Morris said, as players will unlock and mutate various units as they progress. This is in contrast to the Terran campaign, where players had to buy their unit upgrades. There are three levels of evolution before a genetic split, he said. The genetic split lets players create all-new units. For instance, a zergling that has evolved can become a raptor, which is able to jump up and down from cliffs. Alternatively, zerglings can split into a swarmling, where three units spawn from a hatchling instead of two.

For more from BlizzCon 2011, check out GameSpot's continuing coverage.

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