StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm – hands-on preview

When StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty launched last year it landed with a bang Selling over 1.5 million copies during the first 48 hours after it released, it was the fastest selling real-time strategy game in history. The meticulously balanced, fast-paced and addictive multiplayer marked the return of StarCraft as king of the competitive gaming scene. But for mere mortals and the masses slumming it in the silver and bronze ladders, it was Wings of Liberty's epic singleplayer campaign that truly set the game apart from all the Command & Conquers and other real-time strategy series of note.

So when Blizzard Entertainment offered GamesRadar the opportunity to visit its company's headquarters to sample two missions from the singleplayer campaign for StarCraft II's first expansion Heart of the Swarm, we said, "We require more vespene gas." After Blizzard representatives explained that they could not help us with fictional resources, we went anyway – and we're glad we did. Read on for hands-on impressions of the Zerg-friendly campaign – and find out what's in store in the follow-up to last year's Wings of Liberty.

If you haven't already seen the first cinematic teaser for Heart of the Swarm, do yourself a favor and watch it. It'll be the best forty-four seconds you'll spend today – and will set you up for the beginning of our brief demo, which placed us four to six missions deep into the Heart of the Swarm singleplayer campaign. During the time between the ending of Wings of Liberty and the demo for Heart of the Swarm, former Queen of Blades and leader of the Zerg Sarah Kerrigan has gone through some kind of change. She is no longer completely human, and is aspiring to regain her Zerg powers and control of the brood. However, the Zerg brood no longer recognizes Kerrigan as their leader - and our first two missions find us reigning in and wresting control from the Zerg usurpers and wannabes on the planet Char and the ice moon Kaldir.

We head for the volcanic world of Char, where Zerg forces have been severely weakened after the events at the end of Wings of Liberty – and here, we begin to see several hints at how Heart of the Swarm's campaign will differ from its predecessor.

Gone is Raynor's battlecruiser Hyperion, which acted as a sort of mission hub in Wings of Liberty. Instead, we see Kerrigan standing defiantly before a lava-filled landscape of Char. We learn that Char is currently under the control of the Terran. Led by General Warfield, the Terran are attempting to exterminate what's left of the brood. Click on Kerrigan and you'll be able to select her Battle Focus for your next mission.

During the demo, two Battle Focuses were available: Spec Ops and Corruption. Each focus will give Kerrigan a different selection of skills that can be used in battle, with more that can be unlocked as you continue playing. The Spec Ops tree seems to provide Kerrigan with more Ghost-like skills. But read the descriptors, and you get the sense that even the Spec Ops tree is tainted by the corruption of the Zerg. Psionic Shadow creates a shadow doppelganger of Kerrigan, which deals half damage. Pulse deals light damage to nearby targets and packs a brief stun. And Infested Cortex provides her with 50 extra energy points to spend on powers.

On the other hand, the Corruption focus certainly feels more Zerg-like and was our Battle Focus of choice during our time with the campaign. Spawn Broodlings is a great instant cast skill that kills your target, spawning five broodlings that'll start attacking nearby enemies immediately. The skill doesn't work against 'massive' or 'hero' units, but is great fun and useful for turning the tide of battle. Corrosive Spores is another useful skill; the area-of-effect skill makes it so that enemy units take an extra 3 points of damage every time they're hit.


  • Joaovpo - May 31, 2011 4:56 p.m.

    Heh, can't wait, my favorite race are the Zerg
  • NelosAngelos - May 31, 2011 5:08 p.m.

    Finally details on Heart. It looks really interesting. I haven't touched starcraft lately...this might make me interested in playing again.
  • Spacegrass - May 31, 2011 5:18 p.m.

    I don't really care for the Zerg, but this looks intriguing. It looks like, with more than one unique individual, they'll have more personality in this expansion. Still, what I'm really looking forward to is Legacy of the Void, because I love the Protoss; however, for the Protoss to win they have to be last in the series.
  • VMPSaberwolf - May 31, 2011 5:34 p.m.

    "During the time between the ending of Wings of Liberty and the demo for Heart of the Swarm, former Queen of Blades and leader of the Zerg Sarah Kerrigan has gone through some kind of change." I'm a bit confused, is the game taking place after WOL, or before? Jim is seen carrying her off at the end of WOL so either she escapes somehow or the game is recalling events from a Zerg standpoint during the Terran campaign?
  • aleksandarwh7 - May 31, 2011 5:45 p.m.

    StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void 2020 ?
  • bigwill1221 - May 31, 2011 6:12 p.m.

    The only thing is what I want different in campaign for unit upgrades is have the ability to get them all (besides the one where you have to make decisions protoss/zerg tech was good idea).
  • Jaces - May 31, 2011 6:29 p.m.

    I finally bought my dream computer (rather laptop), and I'm going to enjoy the hell out of SCII. Zerg are by far my favorite race, this will be epic.
  • Y2Ken - May 31, 2011 6:37 p.m.

    Really looking forward to this. Some of the final mutations in campaign sound ridiculous. Banelings which split into two, then four when they blow up? And supposedly Roaches whose maximum health increases with every kill? That would be ridiculous. WoL has a phenomenal campaign (probably the best I've ever seen in an RTS) so can't wait for the Zerg installment. Also I'm still watching GSL pretty much every day so... yeah multiplayer StarCraft is pretty good too.
  • Sniped50 - May 31, 2011 10:08 p.m.

    This looks interesting. I always sucked at playing the Zerg, so it'd be nice to get some extra pointers in the campaign. Are Raynor and the other Terran characters going to be seen within the campaign as well? I'd miss them otherwise.
  • LordZarlon - May 31, 2011 11 p.m.

    If the expansion follows suit then we will see cameos of the WoL characters in this campaign. I too am curious how Kerigan comes to leave Jim Raynor and go out on her own. Don't forget that, in the original StarCraft she told Jim that she liked being zerg so maybe they had a parting of the ways.
  • LordZarlon - May 31, 2011 11:24 p.m.

    On another note, it was always Jim Raynor who was so deeply in love with Kerrigan. As a result of the limited story telling capabilities of the time or not, we never saw Kerrigan reciprocate the love that Jim Raynor showed her in the original StarCraft. She liked him, was even fond of him, but there was no evidence that Kerrigan was truly in love with Raynor. Maybe Raynor thought she would want to be with him and that simply wasn't the case. We'll see.
  • 510BrotherPanda - June 1, 2011 12:40 a.m.

    This is most likely going to be T-Nag's preferred expansion, since it's Zerg-based...
  • ConorMDR203 - June 1, 2011 2:39 a.m.

    Yay, I play Zerg usually in SC2, so I can't wait for this to come out. P.S. Thank you so much for the "So Many Banelings!" reference.
  • BigBrother - June 1, 2011 5:18 a.m.

    Can't say im too terribly excited to wield the Zerg, being a Toss player, but I've played all the zerg missions in the original and brood war and was not disappointed story wise so i guess i can "suffer" through and do my best to be control the swarm. (who am i kidding, i enthusiastically look forward to any SC game!) Also, in WoL there were a number of protoss missions included in the terran campaign, will there be another tangent of perhaps terran origin?
  • augdog - October 5, 2011 11:39 a.m.

    Awesome nonetheless, but I can't help but fell like I've done this before,

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