The panel opened with some brief descriptions of key characters that will appear in Heart of the Swarm, such as Kerrigan, Zeratul, Izsha, Abathur, and Za’gara. Kerrigan, shown to have been turned human at the end of Wings of Liberty, still has her “Zergy” dreadlocks. The panelists confirmed fan speculation that Kerrigan’s connection to the Swarm was not completely severed, although her memories of being the Queen of Blades are mostly lost. With Kerrigan seeking out the Swarm, Raynor is left without the picture-perfect ending he hoped for.
Not much was revealed about Zeratul, except that he is still working in the shadows, behind the scenes, acting much like a “detective” trying to unravel the mysteries behind everything. Because of his search, he’s discovered a cause that’s above all else.
There’s many Zerg characters appearing for the first time in Heart of the Swarm, one of them being Izsha, Kerrigan’s advisor of sorts. She’s a unique Zerg, an infested Terran, created personally by the Queen of Blades several years before the story for the purpose of storing information. Izsha holds the Queen of Blades’ knowledge, memories, thoughts, and plans, and thus she is able to give good advice to Kerrigan through the course of Heart of the Swarm.
Abathur, on the other hand, was created by the Overmind as the genetic engineer for the Zerg Swarm. He served the Queen of Blades in the past, and now serves Kerrigan in Heart of the Swarm. As his function is to evolve and improve the swarm, he’s the character to go to when you want upgrades. With regards to how he achieves improvements to the swarm, he consumes creatures and breaks down beneficial components in his body, allowing him to manipulate them at will and apply them to new Zerg strains.
And then there’s Za’gara, a Broodmother, which is a type of Zerg created by the Queen of Blades as a variation of Cerebrates from Brood War. Za’gara is the leader of the brood on Char, with a tough and merciless personality to go with her power. She isn’t approving of Kerrigan and her human form, and she refuses to believe that Kerrigan has any relation to the Queen of Blades.
In Heart of the Swarm, a key point is that there are many stories woven together. There is the main story, where Kerrigan seeks to retake the Swarm, but there are also individual character stories that the player can explore. There’s ambient stories in the game that float in the background, such as other Broodmothers that can be encountered, and there’s character backstory that can be learned through repeated interaction with said characters.
And of course, there’s Sarah Kerrigan’s personal story. She’s received and done unspeakable things, and as this conflicted, angry anti-hero, she seeks vengeance against those that made her suffer. And, eventually, she’ll have to accept her relationship to the Swarm.
Heart of the Swarm is continuing the StarCraft story of great wars between different species, but it is also unique in the way that it is the closest look at the Swarm thus far. The game aims to delve into the “heart of the swarm”, and the gameplay reflects this. In Wings of Liberty, the Terran campaign, the story was about one man leading a group of rebels around the stars, earning money to fund their rebellion. The missions are tactical and strategic, and gives a sense of Raynor always in way over his head but pulling off miracles. The Zerg campaign is designed to be very different, focusing on the concept that Zerg invasions are all-ending and apocalyptic for the residents of a planet. Heart of the Swarm was designed around the desire that players will feel like the Swarm, invoking fear through world-destroying raw power.
An example of a Heart of the Swarm mission is playable on the BlizzCon floor, and it’s about Kerrigan reacquiring the Char brood through a race against Za’gara for unhatched Baneling eggs. The player wins when Kerrigan hatches the eggs into a Baneling army to defeat Za’gara. In a different mission, Kerrigan learns about a “flash freeze”, a periodic occurrence on a cold planet that leaves the Swarm temporarily frozen. Seeing the indigenous creatures and their immunity to the flash freeze, the Zerg consume the creatures to adapt to the cold.
Between missions, you can access the Evolution Pit, an area to upgrade your units. Simply spending points to obtain upgrades was too similar to Wings of Liberty, so mutations are unlockable through playing the game, with three mutations available for each unit. On top of that, genetic splits make the player choose certain units to become entirely new units. For example, Zerglings can be advanced to either Raptorlings or Swarmlings, but not both. Raptorlings can jump cliffs and leap to get close to the enemy, while the Swarmlings are spawned faster and in greater number per egg than Zerglings. There are clear benefits to both, and which genetic split the player chooses will ultimately depend on their playstyle.
As a final note, the panelists discuss the destruction of worlds as a key feature in Heart of the Swarm. As the player progresses in the campaign, Broodmothers will join Kerrigan’s Swarm and strengthen the Swarm. Also, after a certain point, Izsha will identify planets available to destroy, each planet providing certain benefits, such as one planet giving increased mineral harvesting, or another planet giving faster Larva generation, or more Overlord supply.