'Heart Of The Swarm' Campaign Review: Kerrigan Sucks; Blizzard Ruins 'StarCraft II' [REPORT]
The "StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm" campaign sucks. It really pains me to say that, but it is just bad. In many ways, it ruins the overall "StarCraft" story that has been built up over the last 15 years. And it's straight up bad storytelling across the board, whether there was earlier canon to contradict or not. Even the gameplay, which is the reason we play "StarCraft," takes a noticeable dive compared to the "Wings of Liberty" campaign. It's a shame, really: worse gameplay, a dramatically worse story. I won't evaluate you the new multiplayer units; they seem solid. But the "Heart of the Swarm" campaign seriously damages the world of "StarCraft," possibly irreparably (This post contains spoilers for WoL and HotS throughout).
Let's start our "Heart of the Swarm" campaign review with the worst elements: the story and characters, which we've covered on a planet-by-planet basis (see Umoja, Kaldir, Char, Zerus, and the rest to come). "Wings of Liberty" had its problems. Raynor's sudden romantic obsession with Kerrigan certainly didn't come out of nowhere, but it was a bit saccharine-sweet. More problematically, the overarching plot developed in the Zeratul missions in particular was lame and a carbon copy of the "WarCraft III" plotline. The return of the Fallen One and his control over the Zerg are essentially identical to the return of the Burning Legion and their attempted control over the Orcs. Stories get recycled; that's not the problem. The problem is that "StarCraft" was a gritty, naturalistic science fiction universe. But "StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty" made it more of a space opera.
The "Heart of the Swarm" campaign significantly expands on that unfortunate element. It starts out strong, but campy (which is just fine - "StarCraft" was campy too. It's the best thing about the Protoss). "Like riding a bike," for instance. A little cringe-inducing, but fine. The story goes downhill at the end of Umoja, the tutorial planet, with Jim Raynor's "death," an obvious and transparent ploy apparent to absolutely everyone except Kerrigan. It comes out of nowhere, and she doesn't for a second think to actually investigate the truth. She just decides to become Queen of the Zerg again.
I'm proud to say in this "Heart of the Swarm" campaign review that the biggest twist in the game, Kerrigan's transformation back into the Queen of Blades (a dumb name retconned from "Infested Kerrigan" in "Wings of Liberty"), a human-Zerg hybrid, is really, really stupid. This invalidates the entire "Wings of Liberty" campaign - which Blizzard would probably argue is the point. But it happens for no reason at all. Even the game doesn't try to explain it. She just does it because she feels like it, and because it's a good excuse to introduce Swarm Hosts. But it doesn't work. The transformation doesn't make sense or have a clear purpose, and Kerrigan's continuing irrationality only serves to weaken the player's emotional connection with her.
The best part of the "Heart of the Swarm" campaign is Raynor's reaction to Kerrigan's return to form. His disgust and lack of understanding make complete sense, because Kerrigan's actions are both disgusting and incomprehensible. And his eventual turnaround - his decision to help her kill Arcturus, a goal they've shared since the Brood War - is suitably convincing. But Kerrigan herself? Never.
The final twist in the "Heart of the Swarm" campaign that almost happened, but didn't, would actually have redeemed it - by rendering the campaign itself inconsequential. In the closing cinematic, Arcturus reveals that he has had the Xel'Naga artifact that purified Kerrigan installed in his office. He activates it, but Raynor bursts in and stops him before anything actually happens. This is too bad: the story would have worked much better if Raynor actually did let Arcturus use the artifact and turn Kerrigan back one more time.
Kerrigan's return to her Queen of Blades form doesn't make sense in story terms; it's not even justified or commented on by the silly prophecy about Amon. But the story has so many other problems, mostly led by Kerrigan: this supposedly brilliant tactician spends most of her time telling her minions to shut up and not to question her. We are told she is a great leader, but what we see suggests that she is not. If you're a Blizzard follower, you know exactly who is responsible for all these problems (as well as the "Diablo III" story problems). But come on now, let's not name names
The "Heart of the Swarm" campaign gameplay has more minor problems, but they detract from the campaign nevertheless. First, it is too easy, mostly because of Kerrigan. This is somewhat immaterial; it comes with difficulty levels for a reason. But the third achievement for each mission was moved to Normal difficulty from Hard in "Wings of Liberty," diminishing their value. And the Zerg are made somewhat easier, most notably by the elimination of larva micromanagement and some units like Corruptors (and Kerrigan's godlike powers). The game also simply has too many installation missions, and not enough actual build-a-base destroy-their-base missions that are the staple of any RTS. "Wings of Liberty" had tons of these, and they all managed to be interesting. "Heart of the Swarm" has many fewer, and nothing as thrilling as the Battlecruiser Sigma Quadrant mission from "Wings."
The "Heart of the Swarm" campaign isn't all bad, of course. The reappearance of Alexei Stukov - a reference to, of all things, "StarCraft 64" and Samir Duran (as Emil Narud - an obvious link that you'd have to be stupid not to see) - are a lot of fun. And the gameplay, though weaker than "Wings," is still fairly solid. But the story, man. It's just terrible.
At least Abathur is amazing.
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