Heart of the Swarm gameplay

| Monday, December 30, 2013
Starting points: Everything I did was on normal difficulty. I only repeated a mission once when I realized that I'd missed a Xel'naga crystal while killing primal zerg. I played to see the story, not to hunt achievements or for speed.

Wings of Liberty seemed a lot harder. Some of those final missions against hybrids felt almost impossible, but I got through them, with some difficulty. Maybe that's because it was primarily a Terran game and then suddenly had strange new units thrown in at the end. Maybe I've gotten better since then, considering I've done some multiplayer since then and that's pretty good training for aggressive play and a good economy.

I did get a little nervous when trying to pop more scourge nests, possibly because I've never quite gotten used to dealing with creep tumors. And Odin (super-Thor unit from the first game) was a bit of a surprise. As a result, I didn't have any lurkers ready and entirely forgot about them. That was stupid and made things much harder, since I'd picked the type that was strong against heavily armored enemies. Don't use mutalisk spam to deal with Thors.

This isn't a criticism of Heart of the Swarm. If anything, normal mode in Wings of Liberty was perhaps too difficult. Normal shouldn't be a walk in the park, but the player should retain at least 99% of their hair during each mission. It should push you a bit, make you nervous, but should not overwhelm the player or make them want to cheat just to get past a mission. Heart of the Swarm made me nervous, made me step up my game a little, but never made me want to break any computer hardware.

The missions themselves were a mixed bag of mixed things in bags. There were some standard "build lots of big units and blow up everything". There were some of the indoor missions where you use Kerrigan and a few handfuls of units (these are the zerg, after all; even their sneaking groups are in the dozens). There were some odd one-time mechanics, such as the freezes, which were then strangely absent in the very next mission on the same planet. There were many fights that made me glad I'd raided in WoW; they were dances of keeping the important people moving and out of the bad stuff. From that perspective, the primal zerg were essentially a lot of trash followed by a few small raid boss fights. But maybe that's just the old saying, "when you need to nail something in, then everything looks like a hammer."

I enjoyed all of the missions. None felt like the same thing as the one before. Only once, when dealing with the scourge nests, did I feel as if the entire thing was just a gimmick dressed up like an RTS. Each mission had its own problem to solve, yet they weren't all quite the same, except for the common thread that tied them all together.

There was a common theme: Kerrigan at the front of the swarm leading a gigantic army. Wings of Liberty tempted me with all sorts of fancy things such as cloaking units and nuclear weapons. I guess that's the Terran way. The Zerg way was a whole lot of units. Maybe they were zerglings with an evolution mission to spawn three instead of only two, though I went with the hopping variant instead. Maybe it was my fleet of mutalisks or my not-as-vulnerable-to-missile-turrets army of hydralisks.

Whatever it was, I had a lot of it and I always had more of it coming. I didn't smash into my enemy once and then retreat. I'd smash into them and keep pushing. I don't know if it is more experience with the game or from playing zerg instead of Terrans, but I didn't care about causalities. If I took massive casualties but destroyed an important base, that was just fine. I had reserves. That was fun! It's all well and good to win with a superior strategy, but why not win with a superior economy?

It sounds silly, but I liked that the way I won was the way they'd win in the story: with a Zerg rush. Of course Kerrigan taught her brood mothers a bit of cunning, but ultimately the Zerg prevails through numbers and a complete disregard for casualties.


Rubel said...

I haven't played more than the demo of Starcraft 2, but I like what you've written. The big innovation in RTS games that SC1 gave us, IMO, was how we didn't just have nice flavor differences and a couple of special units to differentiate the different sides. No, we had to change our mindset and rethink who we were. Splurp! Maybe I'll go play these now.

Klepsacovic said...

If you liked SC1, which it sounds like you did, then I think you'll find that SC2 is more of the same, but better in all ways. The UI in particular is greatly improved. This past weekend I played SC1 with a friend and couldn't believe I'd actually managed to play with such tiny groups, single-building hotkeys, SCVs that need manual activation...

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