On January 17, SC:Legacy was invited to Blizzard's HQ in Irvine California to test the Heart of the Swarm campaign, take a look at the new battle.net interface, and learn about the future of the StarCraft 2 expansion in general. Blizzard allowed the visitors to experience with three of the twenty Heart of the Swarm missions from the middle of the game. These missions feature a strong mindset of evolution and alien characters that will complement the Zerg Swarm along with new mechanics that will offer a new Zerg experience to the players. Among the main features that will be released in the near future are: customizable observer UIs, new physic displays, new rewards and levels system, and a new practice mode to transition players from the campaign to the multiplayer scenario. After viewing a brief presentation, we also had a chance to interview Dustin Browder, director of the StarCraft 2 team, and watch the complete opening cinematic for the game:
On May 26, 2011, Blizzard invited a number of press and fan sites to their headquarters in Irvine, CA for a first look at the current iteration of StarCraft II’s second chapter, Heart of the Swarm. In it, we hoped to find some evolution from Wings of Liberty in the storytelling mechanics and glean some idea of Blizzard’s vision for the future of the Zerg. Aside from the teaser cinematic, the event was a bit underwhelming. Blizzard professed that Heart of the Swarm’s overarching theme would focus on what it means to be Zerg, but from those early playtests, it was clear that the available missions felt like an extension of Wings of Liberty than a fresh organic uniquely Zerg experience. It was more like using Raynor’s Raiders in Zerg skins rather than exploring the essence of such a terrifying viral xenomorphic species. The missions just didn’t feel “zergy” enough. And then, silence from Blizzard. After an additional 18 months of production, we were invited to return. Blizzard, once again, issued the call and for several hours on January 17th, 2013, Blizzard demonstrated to us what it will mean for us to become one with the Zerg Swarm.
The changes we observed from the initial Heart of the Swarm single player campaign preview are numerous and subtle but each contributes to an overall richer, different experience. The problem with the initial build in the first preview was that it was too much of an obvious extension of Wings of Liberty. Rather than create a radically new single player experience, the missions we played were single mechanic maps reminiscent of many Wings of Liberty missions that had been dressed up in a Zerg skin. Players completed the mission objectives and found “Zerg bucks” to unlock upgrades for the Swarm. Although there was nothing wrong with this mechanic, it just didn’t feel “Zergy” and didn’t showcase how the Zerg race was actively evolving. To correct this gameplay issue, Blizzard introduced Evolution Missions. Evolution Missions are compact themed missions that allow the player to experiment with a particular unit’s two major branching mutations. At the conclusion of each of these missions, the player must choose which evolution to permanently apply to that unit.
Take, for example, the evolutionary mission for the Baneling. Abathur, a sort of Zerg genetic specialist introduced early in the Heart of the Swarm Campaign, informs Kerrigan that he has found two mutually exclusive evolutionary paths for the Baneling. Traveling to a distant planet, you see Banelings absorb the genetic sequence of an indigenous species evolving the Banelings to Spillterlings. Splitterlings are Banelings that erupt and spawn two smaller, weaker clones. Next Abathur takes Kerrigan to a distant volcanic planet similar to the where Reapers were first introduced in Wings of Liberty. Abathur then suggest that the Baneling strain may simply evolve through natural selection if heavily encouraged. Lava flows and kills off dozen of Banelings. The Zerg must survive and adapt. In order for the Banelings to survive the next lava flow and not succumb to certain death, the Banelings adapt by jumping up a cliff. The introduction of Evolution Missions really add to the Zerg flavor for Heart of the Swarm.
The nature of the zerg was eloquently accented in the closing mission. Kerrigan captures a Protoss settler, named Lasarra. Lasarra is subsequently implanted with a specially modified Larva and is then sent back to a Protoss ship in flight. Once on-board, the Larva craves the necessary biomass for its growth by feeding on the various species enclosed within the confines of the ship’s multiple creature conservatories. The Larva is able to evade detection and eventually consumes enough biomass to morph into a Brood Mother. Mature enough to complete the objective, the Brood Mother is able to take control of the ship and she attempts, albeit unsuccessfully to contact the Queen of Blades. Strange as that may sound, the mission was perhaps the most fun I had playing a StarCraft campaign mission in quite some time. The unique experience of initially only controlling one Larva in an installation-type mission was a refreshing change of pace and was able to add depth to the mission repertoire.
With limited play time and only three revealed missions, Blizzard did give us a sense of what it means to be Zerg. With 20 campaign missions and an unknown number of evolution missions, Blizzard is trying to deliver a similar, yet enigmatic sequel to Wings of Liberty. Come March 12th, with the player’s help, the Zerg are poised to take another evolutionary leap forward.
Be sure to check out all the screenshots revealed in this press event, as well as the unit descriptions, the HotS FAQ, and the interview with Dustin Browder.
This is a StarCraft: Legacy (http://sclegacy.com/) event article.