As of this moment, it’s been three weeks since I installed Heart of the Swarm, the Zerg-themed first expansion to 2010’s StarCraft 2. I had intended to beat it within a week and report my findings, but that just didn’t materialize. Just an hour ago, I opened the game to start my final jaunt toward completing the campaign. I left off with a mission called “Domination” in which the newly re-mutated Kerrigan seeks to regather the Zerg swarm on the fiery world of Char. To do this, she must topple a brood mother holdout named Zagara that’s keeping a chunk of the swarm to herself. But as the mission started, and I was once again greeted with the task of building a base to topple Zagara and complete a variety of secondary missions, I decided I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Not one more time. So I quit.
Yeah, okay, sure, I understand the sheer amount of gloss that has to go into every Blizzard release. When the company announced that they would be splitting the three faction campaigns into their own separate experiences, there was a roar of controversy at the prospect of waiting eighteen months between each release to get the full StarCraft 2 experience. Walking into Heart of the Swarm, nearly three years after the initial release of the Terran Wings of Liberty campaign, I can’t help but feel how anachronistic this whole thing feels. What once felt like a reinvigoration of the real-time strategy genre feels like old hat again.
After being healed of (most of) her Zerg mutations at the end of the last campaign, Kerrigan is placed in confinement, which serves as the tutorial for the game. I’m a Terran guy, so maybe I could’ve ditched these expansions entirely, but I was really tempted to learn the Zerg strategy and ethos, one that was still strange to me even after many rounds of Wings of Liberty‘s multiplayer. Well, bad guy dictator Mengsk comes to crash the party and soon their rebellion is spread out across the galaxy. Kerrigan, seeking to avenge her love, falls back on that Zerg drug she loved so much as she seeks to rebuild the swarm to defeat Mengsk. Her mind is clear now, so she’s no longer seeking to destroy all of mankind, but Kerrigan (voiced again by Tricia Helfer) is an unlikable bitch that I failed to sympathize with. If there’s supposed to be something tragic or likable about her, that notion never emerges. Well, from what I played.
The missions can work pretty hard to mix things up, often casting you in a more intimate and adventurous role in which you push Kerrigan and a few squaddies across the screen, performing her special abilities on individual opponents, complete with boss battles. Yeah, like, boss battles. Even the settings are particularly notable. Kaldir is a world in which enemies freeze up solid on a cyclical basis. Zerus is a jungle planet with feral Zerg from many generations ago. Evolution missions allow you to try out different Zerg abilities before making permanent decisions. Blizzard presents so many of these smaller missions that when it came time to sit back and build out a full base (or two), it felt like a drag.
Between missions, you’ll get to interact with the characters you’ve accumulated on your journey as well as tweak your units’ skills and abilities. You’ll also experience the wide range of pyramid-shaped Zerg derivatives and it’s there that the heart of the swarm lies. It was also here that I felt the game was the most aged. Had this come out a year after Wings of Liberty, this would have felt like a natural extension of that game, but now it feels like a campaign that’s been needlessly delayed. How exciting is it to wait nearly three years for another batch of missions that aren’t as diverse or numerous as the ones that came before, long after that minty fresh feeling is gone? Well, apparently enough for Blizzard to sell a million copies of Heart of the Swarm in the first two days of release. For a title that I had regretted not buying the massive $80 Collector’s Edition to match my Wings of Liberty purchase, I don’t really feel that bad just downloading the thing and saving half the price.
Y’know, maybe I’ll forget about Heart of the Swarm enough that playing through “Domination” will be something I can get really excited about. It may take another three years, though.