Tag Archives: Blizzard Game Reviews

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm – An Evolution of Gameplay and Story

      “Heart of the Swarm” improves off “Wings of Liberty” in most places where it counts. The story has more going on, the characters are more interesting and the side missions are really enjoyable as well as the hero leveling system that the game gives in how Kerrigan grows through the game. You are given choices that matter and affect gameplay, which is more than “Wings of Liberty” was ever able to do. I’ll get into more of what I mean later in the review, but this is a game that improves upon the original in almost every way.

The downsides are really in how there is too much emphasis on Emperor Mengsk as the villain and not enough on the threat of the Xel’Naga, which sadly hurts the overall arc of the Trilogy.

The story picks up where “Wings of Liberty” left off with a de-infested Kerrigan with Raynor’s Raiders and Valerian Mengsk. When Dominion forces attack she is separated from them all and when she believes Raynor to be killed goes on a revenge mission against Mengsk as she takes control of the Swarm and grows once more into her role as the Queen of Blades.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – I love the Starcraft Universe and in this game we get so much more of it. From Narud’s experiments and the infested resurrected Stukov and the Hybrids from the last game, from the Primal Zerg and the Zerg who witnessed the Xel’Naga come but only cared about becoming stronger and better and did not care for the greater war in the Universe as Amon created them on the Primal Zerg world…from the power of the Dominion and recruitment of the Brood Mothers as Kerrigan re-establishes herself as the Queen of Blades. I love this Universe and this game does nothing but enrich it. We also get to play as Raynor’s Raiders taking on a Mercenary army with their Battlecruiser in order to find out where Raynor is trapped and so that he can rescued. The world is so wonderfully dark and complicated.

Evolution Missions – On the way of taking control of the Swarm once more Abathur, Kerrigan’s Evolution Master gives missions where you can shape Zerg into different strains. Each choice is permanent but their are pros and cons to each. You can have faster and weaker units that can fly, greater number of units or stronger individual units with greater regeneration depending on the choice you make…and on those missions you take out Dominion or Feral Zerg forces. They are so much fun.

The Nature of the Swarm – The Swarm is change and evolution. This is one reason Kerrigan works so well as the leader because she is constant change and adaptation and now being free of the Overmind she no longer as Amon’s influence on her (that she originally got through the original purpose of the Zerg and the Overmind). It is powerful seeing her take charge of the swarm and see how their primary drive to live, change, evolve and grow. The Zerg are not static and this game really shows how easy it is for the Swarm to grow and become one of the strongest powers in the Universe. It is in their nature and when they have direction from the Queen of Blades the Overmind or one who knows them, they are unstoppable.

Kerrigan and her Team – Kerrigan has my favorite Team out of the 3 games. I like how Abathur is a selfish being that only sees the point in making things more efficent regardless of cost (so weird, awful and alien) how Zagara only values strength and bettering the Swarm and serving Kerrigan how Stukov has no one so only wants acceptance and the Swarm is the only acceptance he has now that he is dead to humanity and Dehaka and his obsession with essence and his drive to survive and change through anything.

Leveling Kerrigan and Shaping the Swarm – The gameplay is fun and part of the reason it is so much fun is you power up Kerrigan and her abilities and these abilities influence her as hero unit and also your base and how quickly you can build or what you start. She is a powerhouse and the right upgrades make her an unstoppable force on her own or one who can sustain the Swarm and have a large group. The Swarm is also shaped from the Evolution Missions stated above too.

Okay: The Power of Emperor Mengsk – I’m putting Emperor Mengsk’s power and the Dominon as okay and not a pro for two reasons. The first is that he should have been weaker after Valerian took half his fleet and second Kerrigan destroyed his forces on more than one occasion. This game happens just after he got his butt kicked last game. The reason I don’t put him as a con is he did have Narud and via Narud Amon backing him so he was powerful that way and there was a good amount of time between “Brood War” and “Wings of Liberty.” For these reason I won’t put him as a con.

Not Enough Xel’Naga Exploration – We get a glimpse of the nature of the Xel’Naga on Zerus (the Zerg homeworld) and when Narud’s true form a changeling is revealed and what dialogue he gives us. Otherwise they are an abstract threat even though we the prophecy of Kerrigan’s role going on and really needed more in the lead up to whatever her future is.

The Narud and Amon Payoff – Narud is the mini-boss before Arcturus Mengsk and it is only over the course of 3 missions. He really should have been a bigger deal. Mengsk makes more sense narratively but for the overall game Narud has been the greatest threat of them all. He is the reason the UED no longer exists as a threat, he is the reason the Protoss continued to fall apart and his master Amon is the reason the Zerg almost destroyed everything fulfilling their role in the big picture. With better writing, he really should have been the end boss or played a much bigger part in the story. He’d been around for so long why did he suddenly stop manipulating the Zerg when he clearly still had control of some Protoss forces, Moebius and the elements of the Dominion. Narud and the Xel’Naga deserved better and I think Blizzard didn’t know what to do with them after setting them up so well in “Brood War” and the original “Starcraft.”

The Cons: Raynor and Revenge as Primary Motivation – I think the writers meant it to mirror Raynor’s love for Kerrigan as his motivation in “Wings of Liberty” but it sucked that Kerrigan was turned into that as well. I never got those vibes from her in any of the original games and making her The Bride from “Kill Bill” was fine but her best character moments are when we see her accepting her role as the Queen of Blades and finding motivation beyond revenge as she cares for and shapes the Swarm. That was where she was amazing as we already got her revenge story back in “Brood War” and it was handled so much better.

I really enjoyed “Heart of the Swarm.” This is a game for all the flaws it has (largely based in story with Emperor Mengsk being this unstoppable force who still continues to lose through 2 games) and the lack of focus on Narud, Amon and the Xel’Naga makes the upcoming threat feel only so strong. It also sets up Kerrigan as the Chosen One which is stupid storytelling in general, even though I like that Kerrigan’s flaws are all her own. she is ruthless and driven and a little bit of a sociopath but it makes her compelling because it is her mind that shapes the Swarm and we see how she makes the Zerg Swarm less of an all consuming force and more a precision weapon focused on perfection and change. For these reasons I would rate it higher than “Wings of Liberty.” There is better payoff storywise, better gameplay and the campaign missions are a lot of fun and honestly, my favorite heroes are the Heroes from the Swarm and how wonderfully alien they all are. This is another one of my favorite games.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty – A Bit of Revolution and about Time

  “Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” was a game I’d been waiting for, for a long time. It was the original “Starcraft” series that got me into RTS games and also was a huge influence on my love of science fiction stories. I still remember playing through the game for the first time at my friend’s place in college on his computer as I saw just how awesome the campaign was, I’d been waiting for this game for a long time. Years later after a second playthrough, I still really enjoy this game, but the flaws are much more apparent as well as what it misses that “Brood War” and the original “Starcraft” brought to story. I’ll do an overall comparison after reviewing all the games of “Starcraft II.”

The story picks up with war beginning again as Raynor’s Raiders seek to overthrow Mengsk and stop Kerrigan’s Swarm. This involves putting news of Mengsk’s betrayal out to the world while taking on Zerg and Dominion forces and seeking Xel’Naga artifacts for the Mobius Foundation as they may be the key to taking out Kerrigan’s Swarm.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Gameplay – The gameplay is a lot of fun. There is a great variety of strategy to each of the campaigns and how you use your hero units and troops. You can outlast and go all out with a large fully upgraded force, or push forward with any level of balanced forces. It’s extremely enjoyable and there is a reason that even after years of not playing this game I couldn’t put it down once I started playing it again.

Mission Variety – There is a great amount of mission variety, from a prison breakout where you defend a giant Odin piloted by Jim’s friend Tychus, a choice to do a ground based hero mission on Char or Air Assault against Kerrigan’s Swarm and some racing against the clock where you save civilians before Kerrigan destroys you. You also have a huge Prophecy side quest with Zeratul discovering Kerrigan’s role and the what the oncoming destruction will be and how to stop it. These are small hero driven missions.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is wonderful and captures the old west feel of the Terran as well as the tension of war, the threat of the Swarm of the mystery of the Protoss. It has a lot of salutes to the original soundtrack while still remaining to be it’s own thing.

The Universe – The Universe is the same wonderful one from past games except that it gives us more characters and reestablishes there has been some stability after the “Brood War” as the Dominion is now one of the core powers once more and the Swarm is a large threat while the Protoss as a power are scattered. I love this Universe and it was wonderful to jump into it agai as Jim Raynor, even if some of the characters really annoyed me and felt cheap compared to the characters of games past. You get flavors of the Universe in news reports from the Dominion Channel and witness one corrupt news anchor fall apart as another with integrity rises, mirroring Jim Raynor’s own journey through the campaign.

The Complex Rogues – The complex rogues are the best part of this game…whether it is Zeratul as the Dark Wizard seeking to keep back the end, even if it means saving Kerrigan, the woman has meant nothing but destruction for his people, Tychus as the Merc who believes in Jim but also wants to be free so will kill Kerrigan if given the chance and of course Gabriel Tosh, the rogue spectre seeking to overthrow Mengsk who also helps you through Zeratul’s visions. These are easily the best characters in the game with Jim as the rogue trying to do the right thing in the difficult situations he is put in. Hell Valerian Mengsk (Emperor Mengsk’s son) is even complex in his own way as he wants to find a way to fix infestation and in doing so be a better savior to his humanity than his father ever was. These characters drove the story and made me click them for conversations when you are the Battle Cruiser “Hyperion.”

Okay: Prophecy and Destiny – I don’t really like the idea of prophecy and destiny as all powerful beings like the Xel’Naga would have been destroyed if they could have seen the future. It also ends up giving plot armor to all of Kerrigan’s actions in “Brood War” and this game does not deal with the monster she currently is, instead we get mopey lovesick Raynor, which really hurt the storytelling as he gets a love interest out of it and it hurts Kerrigan’s agency in her actions.

The Cons: The One-Dimensional Characters – There are a few of these, with the worst offenders being the nerd stereotype Egon and the love interest scientist Ariel Hanson. They only function as plot devices to tell Raynor things and I never saw them as complete characters. Matt Horner is also this to some degree as he is the noble revolutionary, and we never get why. This was the disadvantage that comes with a large cast and so many characters really should have been developed that weren’t. This is the weakest of the the “Starcraft II” games because of this.

“Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” and is a great game I’d recommend. The gameplay and mission variety are absolutely wonderful and the complex rogues are a lot of fun to follow, even though I hate how prophecy turns some of them into some a certain level of plot device. If you haven’t played this game already and are a fan of RTS games, I highly recommend it. As a fan of the Starcraft Franchise, they would have had to really mess this up for me to hate it, but even as someone who was away from the game for years it is still a solidly great game worth time. It took long enough to make and if you have, it’s about damn time to play.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great.

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls – Better Gameplay, New Class and a More Immersive Story

Diablo III Reaper of Souls

    “Reaper of Souls” is one of the best expansions I’ve played. “Diablo III” was already a game I’d beaten at least twice before buying it and the expansion improved upon some of the problems in the story from the first game as well as adding a lot of other elements that raised the replay value and made it so I continued to put time into Kengin my Witch Doctor and continue to put time in until this day. This is what a great expansion is supposed to do. Blizzard really does know how to make great expansions…from “Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne,” Starcraft: Brood War” and “Diablo II: Lord of Destruction” I have yet to be disappointed in any of them in how they’ve improved both the gameplay and changed things up in the story on the ones that came before.

The Pros:

 Gameplay – Things have been improved immensely with Bounties and Nephalem Rifts that give you the chance to face challenging foes and discover amazing worlds like the Cow Level, Whimyshire (Where you kill Unicorns, Teddy Bears and Flowers) and the realm of Greed where you fight another one of the evils who is a fat Goblin who gives you tons of great awards just for entering her realm after killing one of the Treasure Goblins. This is one reason I keep bringing my Witch Doctor back and I can’t wait to take more characters through the the game.

 Difficulty –  In this the bosses are more difficult and you feel their difficulty in the later levels of Torment. I really appreciate that Blizzard has the Torment difficulties as Normal and Expert were too easy and my Witch Doctor didn’t even die until I’d gotten a few levels into Torment. Dying adds stakes and it makes you appreciate the enemies and Nephalem Rifts and Infernal Machines allow you to face those challenges beyond facing the bosses on higher difficulties for Bounties from Tyrael.

SPOILERS ahead

Story – I’m going to start with the story. Act V reveals more about your character beyond them being just a noble archetype of whatever they are playing and gives your character anger and emotional investment. You see this in the hunt for Adria as your hero gets angrier for her escape and using of her daughter and also anger at Maltheal for his slaughter of the innocents of Westmarch as you learn over the course of the story he’s gone mad and wants to solve the problem of evil by destroying all those with Demon Blood, which is all the members of Sanctuary since humanity was born out of Angels and Demons who had children together and just wanted to escape the Eternal Conflict.

The World – The world is expansive in this one and it is a pretty large act. You get to go Westmarch, which is this wonderful large Gothic town who we learned last game defeated Tristam in a war but is now in the middle of a Civil War and ends with no one in control to rule. There are the Battlefields of Eternity which have scavenger demons all over the place and portals to new dimensions and there is the Pandemonium Fortress, a haunting angelic fortress that feels like a fortress of death, a fitting place for Malthael to make his home base. It is also a prison too so you get the chance to face some powerful angels and demons there.

The Characters – The characters are wonderful and it is great seeing Tyrael and Imperius’s relationship to Malthael as they mourn their fallen brother but will not call him, though they will help you get to him to kill him. It is powerful seeing their conflicted loyalties as Tyrael realizes you could be the destruction of all at the end and Imperius respects you even as he hates you for the same reasons as Malthael and for walking all over Angelic Ground in the Heavens. Adria gets some backstory too as we see how persecution lead her to Diablo…though I hate that in the end she is just another Demon Boss. All the characters have more revealed about them and the fact that Diablo is free at the end gives me hope that we’ll see the Seven Evils return.

The Crusader – The Crusader is the added class and I’ve been leveling her up right now as  I continue to work on my Witch Doctor and some of the other classes. I like how they are tied to the same realm as the Paladins but also very different. I named one of mine after a friend and I really enjoy their playstyle as back in College and High School the Paladin was my main in “Diablo II” and the Warrior was my main in the first “Diablo.” She is my secondary to Kengin who is my main character.

Malthael – Malthael is one of the best villains to come out of Diablo. You see his minions destroy Westmarch and your saving it can’t prevent the destruction, he nearly destroys the world and everyone you saves he takes away. He is a really deadly villain and he nearly wins at the end. I never got that from Diablo, Belial (Though he at least kills Cain via Maghda) or Azmodan in the last game. Diablo especially was underwhelming for being the big bad of last game…not enough was done to show the threat of what destroying the High Heavens would mean or what it would be doing on our realm…it was too far removed, and even though it was fun and I liked the Angels and was invested since my personality can be a Paladin type in games, it wasn’t enough. Westmarch is personal and everything Malthael does is personal as well as the confrontation with Adria. That is what the last game lacked and took away from the villains comparing to Malthael, who is directly hurting everyone you try and help and is always out of your reach.

Kengin Witch Doctor

    Rather than writing a concrete con I’m going to write what I would have done differently since it does relate to why I won’t be giving this game a perfect 10 / 10. The main thing I’d change in this game is I would have added another class. We got two new classes in “Lord of Destruction” and as Epic as Act V is, it was also epic in “Lord of Destruction” too but we got more characters out of it. I also would have done more to explore the other Angels and their relationship to Malthael and Tyrael as Imperius is the only one who interacts with Tyrael really and Tyrael is the only one who interacts with Malthael. There were so many great character opportunities here, as well as a chance for us to meet and get to know the rest of the Council more fully. There is also no explanation of why Diablo (and no mention of the other Evils) is now free after the Black Soulstone was destroyed. Blizzard hasn’t explained that yet at all. These are the things that I would have changed and that would have made it a perfect game. This is still one of Blizzard’s great expansions and it does solve a lot of the problems of “Diablo III.”

Final Score: 9.7 / 10.

Kengin Witch Doctor 7252016