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

First look at the singleplayer campaign, Battle Focus and evolutions, and the new Kerrigan

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.

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.

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