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StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

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StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
Heart of the Swarm SC2 Cover1
Developer

Blizzard Entertainment

Version

2.1.1.29261

Released

March 12, 2013[1][2]

Genre

Science fiction real-time strategy game

Input

Mouse, keyboard

"The killing will never stop until Mengsk is dead. I'm going to make him pay."

Heart of the Swarm is the name of the StarCraft II zerg campaign and episode. The beta test went live September 4, 2012.[3] On November 13, 2012, the release date of March 12, 2013 was announced.[1] Presales became available as of then.[4] The beta ended on March 1st, 2013.[5]

It will be released separately from the other two games[6][7] and was priced as an expansion.[8][9][10] The basic set will cost $40 USD and the deluxe set will cost $55[11] to $60. The Collector's Edition will cost $80.[12]

It follows Wings of Liberty and precedes Legacy of the Void chronologically[13][14] and storywise.[15]

The game is so named as per it being the most in-depth look into the zerg that Blizzard has ever carried out, allowing players to look into the 'heart' of the Swarm.[16]

Description

HotS Logo2
The game's logo
"Fury. Revenge. Hatred."

- The main themes of the game.(src)

The Queen of Blades is gone. On the hellish planet Char, Jim Raynor harnessed the power of an ancient Xel’Naga artifact in a desperate bid to stop the zerg Swarm from overrunning the Koprulu sector, and the relic restored Sarah Kerrigan to her human form. Without their queen to guide and unify them, the Swarm has fractured into several broods scattered throughout the Koprulu sector. One of the greatest threats to the galaxy has been neutralized...or so it seems.

Sarah Kerrigan is on the loose. Even without the terrible powers of the Queen of Blades or the might of the Swarm at her command, the former Ghost remains a foe not to be taken lightly. But if the artifact really did set her free, then why is Kerrigan seeking out zerg broods scattered throughout the Koprulu sector? What happened to Jim Raynor? Is she still pursuing her quest for vengeance, or has her transformation given Kerrigan a new purpose?

Who is Sarah Kerrigan?[17]

Development

Heart of the Swarm SC2 Logo1
Development image

Blizzard's storyboard team was already working on Heart of the Swarm while Wings of Liberty's gameplay was refined.[18][19]

As of March 2011 Dustin Browder expected Heart of the Swarm to finish development in approximately one year.[20] As of July 2011, the first part of the campaign (including cutscenes) had been completed.[21]

Heart of the Swarm has 20 main missions and 7 optional evolution missions, and in much of the world, it has been priced as an expansion.[9] It requires an installed version of Wings of Liberty to play.[22]

The development team numbers over 150, with a core team of 70 developers.[23]

In October of 2011, Blizzard began releasing preview art of new units.[24][25][26]

A few updates have been made to the game's graphics engine, including upgrades to the look and behavior of zerg creep, as well as some changes that allow Blizzard artists to better showcase the worlds in the game. However, Blizzard intends for the expansion to have the same minimum hardware requirements as Wings of Liberty.[27]

Destruction of Worlds

During the campaign, players can use the Destruction of Worlds mechanic to add a planet's resources to the Swarm's own resources.[28] This evolves the swarm, not individual units. Old broodmothers will contact Kerrigan, wanting to rejoin the Swarm. Izsha will identify worlds to destroy, each of which gives a benefit. For instance, one might enable drones to harvest more minerals, or give overlords more control.[29] On the subject of worlds, several exotic ones will feature, driving home how the zerg use the harsh conditions of worlds to further their own evolution..[30]

Beta Test

The Heart of the Swarm beta went live in September 2012.[3] It was expected to last 3-5 months.[31] By June 2012 the missions were complete, and Dustin Browder believed the game would be released that year. However, there was a lot of multiplayer work, UI, art and debugging to work on.[32] The game's release date was finalized as March 12, 2013.[1]

Storyline

"How many innocents have you killed? How many more have to die?"
Introduction cinematic
Eugene-qAdded by Eugene-q

Heart of the Swarm is a sequel to Wings of Liberty.[33] It focuses on Sarah Kerrigan[34] and the development of a zerg empire.[35] Kerrigan is no longer considered the Queen of Blades. Questions remain about why Kerrigan is no longer with Jim Raynor and whether her transformation has given her new purpose.[36] More will be seen of the Kel-Morian Combine and Umojan Protectorate.[37] It begins three weeks after the end of Wings of Liberty.[38]

During the Invasion of Char, the zerg were recalled to Char, and were in route aboard leviathans when Kerrigan was deinfested. The broods aboard the leviathans died or scattered over the Koprulu Sector, according to Izsha.[39]

And the (temporary) absence of a leader for the Swarm opened the way to rogue/dissident brood mothers, such as Zagara.[39]

Following the battle, Kerrigan was transformed into a human form but still has some infested elements (such as her "dreadlocks") leaving open the question of how infested is she, and whether she had her original personality back. Kerrigan was taken by Jim Raynor and Valerian Mengsk to a lab while she tried to reform the Zerg Swarm in order to topple Arcturus Mengsk.[40]

A Terran Dominion task force led by Nova Terra attacked the lab, seeking Kerrigan. Raynor was also there, fighting and attempting to protect Kerrigan.[41] Meanwhile, General Horace Warfield's forces are attempting to purge Char.[39]

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Preview Trailer(02:27)

One of Kerrigan's goals is to reunify and enhance the swarm before dealing with Arcturus Mengsk.[39] She has to make hard choices over the course of the campaign—she's on the run in a sense and will have to defend against herself against other races due to her past as the Queen of Blades.[42] She is amnesiac, and unsure of her place in regards to her subordinates.[43] The question will be asked as to whether Kerrigan succumbs to her rage and is destroyed by it, or can she transcend it? Still, a more sympathetic side to Kerrigan will be seen.[23]

The story is intended to have a darker feel than Wings of Liberty, due to the zerg being the protagonists.[42] According to lead writer Brian T. Kindregan, the story is going to be "a complete story of Sarah Kerrigan and the zerg," and that it have "its own satisfying ending."[44] He intends for the story to convey the zerg mindset and their code of ethics, though not so far to convey the idea that the zerg are simply misunderstood. Striking a balance between the "alienness" of zerg characters yet also making them relatable is another issue.[22] Kerrigan is treated as an anti-hero storywise, and will have to make peace with her relationship with the Swarm over the course of the story. Themes of identity and responsibility will be present, of how responsible Kerrigan is for her actions and whether there are some crimes that can't be forgiven. She is torn in a sense, with her love for Raynor pulling her in one direction, and her hatred for Mengsk pulling her in another.[16]

More emphasis will be placed on mission cutscenes than Wings of Liberty in regards to conveying backstory, such as information about the zerg.[31] Dustin Browder has acknowledged that Wings of Liberty suffered from a lack of clarity at times, that character motivations were vague and the story lacked central focus. In contrast, Heart of the Swarm will keep its focus on Kerrigan much more and hopefully avoid those problems.[45]

Location-wise, Heart of the Swarm is intended to show more exotic locales than the ones featured in Wings of Liberty—no "farm areas" for instance. Ideas for locations include gas giants, frozen and hot worlds, places where the zerg were first formed and Dominion labs.[23] Concept art shown at BlizzCon 2010 depicts a (number of) jungle setting(s).[46]

It is unlikely that many characters from Wings of Liberty will return for Heart of the Swarm bar Jim Raynor and Arcturus Mengsk.[31] Characters from StarCraft: Brood War will make appearances, with Samir Duran cited as one such possibility,[23] while Valerian Mengsk will.[13] Zeratul will make an appearance in the game.[16]

Blizzard intends to use A canon choices by default in regards to the events of Wings of Liberty, but wants to use whichever choice a player made in Wings of Liberty.[29] References will be made in character dialogue to such events.[16] However, the impact of individual choices in Wings of Liberty will be small.[47]

Gameplay

Units

"New multiplayer units! Now with 5,000% more super bad-assedness!"

There will be new multiplayer units for each of the three playable races.[48] As of October 2011, Blizzard has shown some of the new artwork.[24] Blizzard is planning on new units or major fixes to existing units.[49] The development team intends to create mutations of popular units from StarCraft lore that allow the player to feel that they're mutating and evolving your Swarm. Creatures seen, but never previously controlled are intended to be playable as well.[50] Units may be removed from multiplayer and replaced. Not all races will be given equal treatment in regards to unit additions/removals.[23] It is Blizzard's intention to enhance the uniqueness of each playable species in regards to gameplay[27] and to avoid redundancy.[51]

A new gameplay innovation being tested is the rock pillar[52]/collapsable rock tower,[53] which can be destroyed in order to block off a choke point.[52]

Main and gas-extracting structures now display by passing the cursor the number of workers related to it.[53] For example, passing a cursor on a hatchery will show "workers: 10/24" and on an extractor will show "workers: 0/3").[53]

Units, which were cut from multiplayer, will make their appearances in the campaign mode.[54]

Terrans

BattleHellion SC2-HotS DevRend1 WidowMine SC2 Head1
Hellbat[55] Widow mine[56]

According to Dustin Browder, the terrans have "enough stuff already" and as such, it is difficult to know what to do with them. Terrans are more flexible in multiplayer than the zerg or protoss and the team doesn't want to add units/unit properties that increase this trend.[23] Still, Blizzard is planning on de-nerfing the reaper.[57] Reapers will gain an out-of-combat regeneration ability called Combat Drugs.[52][58]

At BlizzCon 2011, three new terran units were revealed—the warhound, the shredder and the hellbat.[59] Notable changes will be made to the battlecruiser as well.[55] However, the shredder was later removed.[60] Overall, the new terran theme for Heart of the Swarm is a mech one, standing in contrast to Wings of Liberty which was more balanced around biological terran units.[61]

As of June 2012, the widow mine, which could attack both air and ground units, was introduced.[62]

As of September 2012, during the beta, the warhound was removed.[63]

A general theme for terran units in the expansion is that they are more high-tech than units in previous installments.[64]

Zerg

SwarmHostLocust SC2 DevRend1 Viper SC2-HotS DevRend1
Swarm host and locust[55] Viper[55]

At BlizzCon 2011, the viper and swarm host were added to the Swarm,[59] while the overseer was said to be removed from multiplayer.[55] The overseer made a reappearance in the game due to changes to the viper.[60] Prior to this, numerous ideas have been tossed around—the lurker is a possibility but has not been confirmed[65] and a different unit may be created to take the role the lurker once had.[23] At BlizzCon 2010, the infested bunker was touted as a possible campaign unit. Concept art indicates the presence of another new zerg unit.[46] Browder is open to the idea of the defiler being playable in the campaign, but is more reserved about the devourer.[31]

Various new types of nydus worms are being planned as well.[60]

Protoss

Oracle SC2-HotS DevRend1 Tempest SC2-HotS DevRend1 MothershipCore HotS Rend2
Oracle[55] Tempest[55] Mothership core[62]

The protoss were to gain three new units—the oracle, the replicant and the tempest,[59] while the mothership and carrier were to be removed from multiplayer games.[55] As of April 2012, the replicant had been removed.[60] As of June 2012, the mothership core, a new unit built on the nexus that can later upgrade into a Wings of Liberty mothership, was named and displayed.[62] The carrier reappeared during the beta.[66]

Changes could be made to the phoenix in due to concerns raised by some players about the effectiveness of massed mutalisks against the protoss in multiplayer games.[67] A general goal of protoss development in the game is to give them more aerial firepower.[60]

Singleplayer

Ultralisk SC2 Cncpt1
Taming the zerg
HawkiAdded by Hawki

The campaign operates similarly to an RPG, in which Kerrigan is focused on increasing her personal power through mutations. Zerg armies protect her as she garners this power.[68] The greater her power, the more zerg she's able to control.[69] Like Wings of Liberty, the player will be presented with choices as to which missions to carry out and which units to get, but such choices won't be based on cash.[70] Both the missions and their objectives are intended to be quite different from the ones featured in Wings of Liberty.[71] She will instead worry about evolving the Swarm.[72]

The campaign will feature a branched storyline structure.[33] Each planet will give access to multiple missions.[39] The set pieces will alter in accordance with planet and the results of missions.[73] It is intended that the missions strike a balance in regards to foes, with terrans, zerg, and protoss getting equal limelight.[31]

Missions cannot be skipped, but their order can be changed.[74]

Browder expects that it will take the average player 20 or fewer hours to complete the campaign.[23] Many hybrids will appear in the campaign as opponents to Kerrigan.[16]

The missions of the game are intended to have a different feel than those in Wings of Liberty. In the first game of the trilogy, the zerg were rarely engaged directly and instead, it was about Raynor side-stepping them while completing his objectives. In Heart of the Swarm, the missions are more offensive in nature, such as preventing anyone from escaping an invaded planet.[16]

It is intended that character lines will be altered slightly based on context—not new scenes, but ones that will be contextually appropriate.[42]

There will be little use for air-to-air units in the campaign.[31]

Heart of the Swarm is expected to have 20 missions.[52]

Kerrigan's Evolution

Kerrigan can increase her stats in a manner similar to Warcraft III, but not to the same extent.[22]

According to Dustin Browder "Kerrigan will appear on almost every map in Heart of the Swarm. Unlike Raynor, Kerrigan is a creature of power that leads her army from the front, smashing aside siege tanks and destroying battlecruisers with her psionic abilities. And unlike Wings of Liberty, the mission isn’t over if she dies. Kerrigan will be able to revive at the nearest hatchery if she is killed, allowing you to use her aggressively against your enemies."[50]

Kerrigan initially starts out looking very human and armed with a gun, though she can control zerg forces.[39]

Each battle focus allows Kerrigan to have a certain set of special abilities.[39]

Unit Evolution Mechanics

Main article: Evolution pit

About the "hive-evolution" mechanic Dustin Browder said "we are trying to focus the player on finding new DNA from exotic and strange creatures around the sector so that you really feel like the key to zerg success is finding and infesting the immense, deadly monsters that live on the most savage planets in the galaxy."[50] Creatures can be collected from places such as Terran Dominion labs.[75] It is intended that the choices of unit type/evolution by less clear-cut than in Wings of Liberty, with different options being equally viable.[31]

Mini-missions will be available when a unit split is available. The mission will allow the player to use both types of units, enabling the player to make an educated choice by the end of it.[29] These changes cannot be reverted.[75]

There are 14 or so short skirmishes far from the standard missions. In one example, zerglings can be upgraded into raptors by absorbing the genetics of leaping creatures, while the alternative is to listen to a queen on a remote world who has developed swarmlings.[76] This is a change from the old mutagen system of evolution, which developers felt was too similar to the system of upgrades in Wings of Liberty.[16]

Another example of an evolution mission involved banelings. Abathur arranged for banelings to evolve into splitterlings on one planet by absorbing the genetic essence of its indigenous lifeforms. Alternatively, the banelings could be subjected to natural selection on a volcanic world, where lava flows kill many until they evolve jumping abilities to avoid that.[77]

Characters

Multiplayer

Blizzard plans on adding "drawing" functionality for referees in Heart of the Swarm.[78]

From a multiplayer standpoint, Heart of the Swarm is an expansion, not a sequel.[33]

It will have a separate ladder from Wings of Liberty.[79]

Heart of the Swarm will have the same e-sports focus as Wings of Liberty.[57] There are no plans to implement LAN.[31]

The developers are considering expanding tier 1 scouting options for all three races.[31]

A game mechanic that is being tested for multiplayer is destructible rock pillars that can be used to blockade choke points.[27]

The game will include an arcade for finding games, part of the process for developing a marketplace.[80] The marketplace itself won't be ready until after the launch of Heart of the Swarm.[81]

The game will have a leveling system, introducing a system of leveling and rewards. In this system, experience is earned while playing matchmaking and custom games. XP is given in accordance with race played, given at the end of the match, and is earnt through each unit built and destroyed. Levels range from 1 to 20 for each race. Bonus XP can also be earnt. Each level gifts the player with a new decal or portrait. These levels have a net total; by reaching level 20 for each race, a player has a net total level of 60 for instance.[82]

A clan system will be in the game. Players can form/join clans and assign tags accordingly.[83]

May 2012 Announcement

As of May 2012, Blizzard announced plans to include the following functionalities in Heart of the Swarm:

  • Multiplayer resume from replay: This would enable an interrupted multiplayer game, such as in an e-sport tournament, to start from a point in the replay.
  • Global Play: Enabling players to operate accounts outside of their home region
  • Multilanguage support
  • Clan/group system
  • Unranked matchmaking
  • Multiplayer replay viewing[84]

Collector's Edition

Heart of the Swarm SC2 Cover2
The collector's edition
HawkiAdded by Hawki

Heart of the Swarm will feature a Collector's Edition. It will include custom in-game content: a torrasque skin, 3 Swarm-infested portraits, 3 Swarm-infested decals, a baneling pet in World of Warcraft, and a Blade Wings & Banner sigil in Diablo III in honor of the Queen of Blades.

The product will include a Heart of the Swarm art book, a zerg rush mouse pad, a Behind the Scenes Blu-ray™ / DVD set and a Collector's Edition soundtrack.[85]

Notes

  • In December 2010, a video was uploaded claiming to be the ending cinematic to Heart of the Swarm. The video was a very early rendering of the video with a temporary sound track and a watermark for The Third Floor, a company known to have done some of the cinematic work for Wings of Liberty. Blizzard did not comment on the video as part of its general policy to "not comment on rumors or speculation".[86] As it turns out, the final version of Heart of the Swarm's ending cinematic bears multiple similarities in characterization and dialogue with the leaked cinematic.
  • As Heart of the Swarm nears completion, the online StarCraft short stories series will become zerg-centric, focusing on zerg evolution.[87] Online zerg-focused stories such as In the Blood have been published.[88] An ongoing blog, Project Blackstone, was also be created to represent changes in-universe—a Dominion exobiologist will write his theories on zerg evolution and Dominion countermeasures. Light may be shed on the protoss as well.[87]

Heart of the Swarm Videos

Blizzard has uploaded a number of videos to demonstrate Heart of the Swarm.

Battle Reports

In addition, Blizzard hosted a series of Battle Reports in June 2012.[53][89]

The next article in this series is StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void.


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