Replaying STARCRAFT II: HEART OF THE SWARM - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace enters the swarm.
On Char, Jim Raynor defeated Sarah Kerrigan, and restored her to normal human status. Of course, Sarah was not unchanged by her experience as the Queen of Blades, as the first few missions of Heart of the Swarm would suggest. This was what I believe to be my third playthrough of this part of Starcraft II, and having looked upon it with new eyes I think that it is perhaps the strongest of the three main parts.

This strength comes from its intense narrative focus on one of the strands of story that StarCraft as a franchise has had from the very beginning: Kerrigan’s (completely justifiable, if not always justly waged) white-hot vendetta against Arcturus Mengsk, the man who left her for dead to the Zerg on New Gettysburg, allowing the Overmind to turn her into an embodiment of its own ambition.

To its credit, the story of Heart of the Swarm is far more focused than Wings of Liberty or Legacy of the Void; the plot has the simple core of Kerrigan preparing to take down Mengsk. As a character, Kerrigan is one of the most interesting characters in the franchise (right behind Mengsk), and focusing on her allows the game to really delve into her psyche. She is someone who has gone through hell, fought tooth and nail to save her sense of self, and in doing so succumbs to her own fury; such is the fate of all those who seek vengeance after long enough.
The narrative contrasts the justice-seeker who sees the abyss stare back at her with the narcissistic tyrant Arcturus Mengsk, who is interesting out of his Machivellian scheming and not out of any particular nuance. Mengsk is without question a villain, but he is one that foils the hero well. In that regard, it is StarCraft being not terribly original, but not feeling a need to reinvent the wheel. It works.

In terms of gameplay, Heart of the Swarm gives me what is perhaps my favorite campaign-specific unit in all of Starcraft: the corpser roach strain. It’s such a clever idea for a unit: one that, upon killing an enemy, summons its own reinforcements. You can see it as either a good thing or a bad thing that the mass application of these creatures, paired with a similar mass application of the ever-stalwart hydralisk, can beat just about any mission if you time things right; I suppose that’s why they made it a campaign-only unit (recall the similarly overpowered units of Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3: Uprising, particularly the Imperial Giga-Fortress). On a visceral level, though, there is something just so utterly satisfying in seeing your enemies overwhelmed in a sea of little bugs (which, on a tactical level, can replace zerglings).
This game makes it easier to play flexibly in the campaign, particularly if you go for a high-mobility resource-heavy strategy like I do. I am indebted quite heavily to the designers for giving us the ability to spawn zerglings quickly if you select that option, which is good for fending off attacks. That being said, if a one-size-fits-all strategy like mine works for so many missions, perhaps it’s a sign of a lack of creativity.

But in atmosphere and visuals, the campaign missions are quite good. Zerus, the ancient homeworld of the Zerg, is something not quite like anything that the series has ever done before; likewise, I quite liked some of the level designs on Char, particularly the one where you have to shoot down the Gorgon battleships (it’s something like being on the other side of a rail shooter game). But of all of the various arcs of the game, the best is the titanic Siege of Augustgrad at the end, perhaps the most satisfying of any ending in any campaign in the franchise.

Heart of the Swarm, in my opinion, is the best of the three main campaigns in Starcraft II, in no small part because of the strength of its main character. It is perhaps the most character-focused installment in the entirety of the games (the books are a different story), and in that regard it is the most intimate. But that does not make it not carnage, and deeply satisfying carnage, as all real-time strategy games are.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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