Out for blood
Blizzard returned to the real-time strategy genre in 2010 following a lengthy 12 year absence, bringing with it the sequel to one of the most popular video games of all time. The release of StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty saw the World of Warcraft and Diablo maker effortlessly take back its seat on the throne as the king of the genre, a position it hopes to retain with the launch of Heart of the Swarm, an ambitious expansion pack for the military science-fiction game.
Heart of the Swarm's story picks up where Wings of Liberty's left off, with players assuming the role of Sarah Kerrigan, the betrayed former Ghost operative left to be consumed by the Zerg and now the self-styled Queen of Blades. As in the previous title, players will be asked to tread the line between hero and anti-hero.
Kerrigan is attempting to regain leadership of the Swarm by uniting its various rival factions, each of which is led by a different Queen. She also plans to take revenge against Arcturus Mengsk, the revolutionary leader who left her to die, and aims to save the Zerg from being eradicated at the hands of General Warfield.
Heart of the Swarm will introduce 20 new missions, plus numerous balance tweaks made since Wings of Liberty's release. Eight new units will also join the intergalactic fray. The three joining the Terran side are the Shredder, the Battle Hellion and the Warhound, while Protoss players will get to control the Replicant, the Oracle, and the Tempest.
But it's the Zerg forces that get the most attention this time round, with new units that are surprisingly simple to use and extremely versatile in combat, fulfilling multiple roles. The first is the Viper. A snake-like unit that replaces the Overseer, the Viper is able to locate cloaked units and any enemies trying to dig their way into friendly territory.
Along with observational abilities, Vipers also serve as Zerg spellcasters with abilities such as Blinding Cloud, which - as the name suggests - makes it hard for enemies to see, making them less effective at ranged combat. Meanwhile, their Abduct ability lets Vipers break through siege lines and pull in single units using an extendible tendril.
The second Zerg addition is the Swarm Host, a unit that burrows underground and unleashes hordes of small critters that track down and claw at nearby enemies. It's particularly useful for overwhelming the enemy and quickly breaking down defences.
A star in the making
StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm looks set to offer something for all types of player to enjoy. For those who love Blizzard's storytelling and enjoy being utterly dazzled by the studio's amazing CGI cinematics, the expansion will almost certainly deliver in both departments. Meanwhile, those who prefer their StarCraft in an online multiplayer setting will be happy to see a number of smart gameplay tweaks introduced, alongside a range of new units and tactics to shake-up the current multiplayer dynamics.