StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Review

Yeah I know: I’m not a reviewer, I don’t review things on this site (much), I’m not even a critic of any kind (in the official sense). But I care enough about this game and the StarCraft universe in general that I feel like my opinion needs to be added to the multitudes of the Internets. For some reason.

Pensively human Kerrigan is pensively human.

Pensively human Kerrigan is pensively human.

For those who may not be intimately familiar with SC2 lore, let me catch you up really quick…

Background

ArcturusMengsk_SC2_Head3

Arcturus Mengsk: revolutionary, emperor, murderer, hero?

The original StarCraft pitted three races against each other: the Terrans, the Zerg, and the Protoss. As the legend goes, the latter two races were created by a very mysterious and powerful race of beings known as the Xel’Naga (for StarGate fans, think of these guys as the Ancients–very wise and intelligent beings whose experiments, while born of good intentions, sometimes had unintended consequences) who have long since vanished, though the Zerg played a part in that. It was through the annihilation of the Xel’Naga that the Zerg learned of the Protoss, sought them out for assimilation / destruction, and the Terrans get caught in between.

Now for a few character introductions. The Terrans see a lot of political conflicts in StarCraft I, at the forefront of which is a man named Arcturus Mengsk. He’s a revolutionary, leading a revolt against the corrupt Confederacy, the interplanetary governing body for the humans. He joins forces with Jim Raynor, a local marshall fed up with the Confederacy. The duo run quite the campaign against the Confederacy, destabilizing its hold on the surrounding colonies.

Jim Raynor: eternal optimist or disenchanted washout?

Jim Raynor: eternal optimist or disenchanted washout?

Enter Sarah Kerrigan. She’s also a former Confederate officer, a highly-trained assassin (or Ghost) with heightened mental abilities. She joins Mengsk as his lieutenant. Raynor takes an instant liking.

Long story short, Mengsk turns out to be pretty much as bad as the government he’s revolting against, using tactics that make Raynor and Kerrigan both cringe. Mengsk notices this and, in perhaps the single most pivotal moment in the entire StarCraft universe, betrays Kerrigan and leaves her to die at the hands of the Zerg during a mission.

Raynor departs the company of Arcturus, vowing his own revenge. But not long after these events, rather than Kerrigan having died as believed, they learn instead that she has been reborn within the Zerg as the Queen of Blades.

InfestedKerrigan_SC2_DevCine2Fast forward a bit more: Kerrigan becomes the Zerg’s leader, and sets out not only for revenge against Arcturus, but also to wreak havoc across the entire sector, killing as many as possible in a campaign wrought with bloodbath. She’s absolutely ruthless.

Between StarCraft 1 and 2, there is a period of quiet. Four years’ worth, in fact. Mengsk, having shattered the Confederacy, installs a new government–the Terran Dominion–with himself as its emperor. Raynor becomes the revolutionary, but is ostracized and marginalized by Mengsk’s control of the media. And Kerrigan withdraws into an unsettling silence.

Come the events of StarCraft II, Kerrigan suddenly appears again, launching the Zerg in a series of invasions in an effort to capture a long-lost Xel’Naga artifact of extraordinary power. Coincidentally (or not so much), Raynor is also after the same artifact, and the two clash multiple times. Ultimately, the game culminates in a showdown between Raynor and Kerrigan, the former of whom has possession of the artifact, the latter of whom is attempting to take it. At the last minute, the artifact is activated, and has the effect of “deinfesting” the Queen of Blades, returning Kerrigan to her human form.

Thus sets the stage for Heart of the Swarm!

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Having returned to her human form, Kerrigan is no longer the bloodthirsty Zerg she once was. But she still remembers Mengsk’s betrayal, and still wishes to kill him.

It’s a very interesting character dynamic. She obviously still loves Raynor–and he loves her–and they now have a chance to leave it all behind and be together, which is what Raynor wants. Kerrigan wants it too…but she has a hard time letting go of the hate.

Enter the Dominion, still trying to kill Kerrigan once and for all. Raynor and Kerrigan are separated in their escape attempt. It becomes clear Kerrigan is relying on Raynor to keep her newly-returned humanity intact. So it makes sense that, upon news from the Dominion-controlled news media that Raynor was executed, Kerrigan goes ballistic.

Kerrigan is a woman scorned–twice!–out for revenge. And yes, she is clearly capable of some horrific atrocities from her time as the Queen of Blades. But she’s fully in control of her actions now.

So why the F does she go kill-them-all on the Protoss expeditionary force in the Kaldir missions?

"The plot has broken! Retreat to a better story!"

“The plot has broken! Retreat to a better story!”

These three missions seriously make absolutely no sense to me. The purpose is to re-establish contact with the brood mother here; you learn very early in the first mission that she’s dead. We know the Protoss are no friends of the former Queen of Blades, but she’s been de-infested. New beginnings and all, right? Plus the Protoss don’t like Mengsk either. Soooo, maybe try to form some sort of alliance? Or at least a detente?

Zeratul even pays Kerrigan a personal visit during the Zerus missions. I know he’s in self-imposed exile, but what with the Prophecy and Kerrigan’s role in that, I would hope he’d have informed a few of his Protoss buddies that she’s the key to the whole thing?  Even so, these Protoss clearly recognize that Kerrigan is different now. There’s at least a chance for some diplomacy.

But no, Kerrigan decides to just wipe them all out. End of story.

Seriously, WAT? This makes no sense from either a story perspective or even a tactical one.

The rest of the game makes up for this slight, I think. Kerrigan learns that Raynor may still be alive, and she learns about the Prophecy and her role against Amon in the coming battle, and her actions become more nuanced. Even before she learns he could be alive, it’s clear she hasn’t surrendered completely to revenge, as evidenced by this particularly heart-wrenching cutscene.

The ending of the game is equally bittersweet. The final mission is seriously one of the best I’ve played, both from a gaming perspective and in terms of a story. It’s a phenomenal ride up to the climax where she exacts her revenge. Both she and Raynor, obviously still in love, know that they have other duties at the moment, but they’re not enemies. It’s wrapped up nicely, not necessarily in the way I wanted, but in a way that works really well.

Except for those damn Kaldir missions. What the hell were those?

Positives

  • Engrossing story (for the most part)
  • Lots of creative missions, but with plenty of “turtling” opportunities
  • Zeratul comes back again
  • Badass final mission and final cutscene
  • 90% of Kerrigan’s character arc is fantastic
  • Non-binding unit upgrades are epic

Negatives

  • Too short (only 20 missions)
  • Don’t get to play as Protoss
  • Kerrigan’s motives are occasionally completely nonsensical
  • Kaldir missions make no sense at all
  • Zeratul should’ve been able to beat the snot out of Kerrigan, just sayin’

Overall: A-

I’ll definitely play it again (gotta get all the achievements!), and I’ll absolutely get Legacy of the Void when it comes out in another 17 years to wrap up the StarCraft II storyline.

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About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
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