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

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The Original Starcraft Campaign Reviews – Episode 3 – The Protoss Campaign – The Journey of Tassadar

Protoss Campaign

“You speak of knowledge, Judicator? You speak of experience? I have journeyed through the darkness between the most distant stars. I have beheld the births of negative-suns and borne witness to the entropy of entire realities… Unto my experience, Aldaris, all that you’ve built here on Aiur is but a fleeting dream. A dream from which your precious Conclave shall awaken, finding themselves drowned in a greater nightmare.” -Zeratul

We continue the “Original Starcraft Campaign Reviews” with the final episode in Original Starcraft. The episode picks up where the Zerg campaign left off with the Overmind established on Aiur and how the protoss try to defeat it.

The story begins with the Judicator ordering you and Fenix to protect Antioch, after your defense Tassadar appears and tells you and the Judicator that the Cerebrates control the Zerg. You as Fenix attack but are unable to defeat it as it reincarnates. Fenix is left to defend Antioch as you are asked to free Scion as Fenix falls in Antioch. There is a cinematic here of the Fall of Antioch of Fenix standing alone against the swarm.

Feeling comfortable in their power the Conclave (the Religious Order who runs the Protoss Government) asks you to hunt down Tassadar and bring him to justice. You find Tassadar on Char with Raynor and join with them in order to find and free Zeratul and his Dark Templar who are being held captive by the Zerg in an infested Terran facility. After you save him you are attacked by the Conclave and denounced for siding with the heretics as Raynor and Fenix who has been put into a Dragoon shell fight with you agains the Conclave. After a fight with the Conclave Tassadar gives himself up for justice to stop the Civil War.

After the fight Fenix and Raynor rescue Tassadar from execution with Zeratul and his people arriving at the end to facilitate the rescue and to show Judicator Aldaris how blinded he and the conclave are by tradition. For Zeratul is ancient and has seen the darkness between the stars and the full danger of what the Overmind has planned.

Next is preparation for the final assault, you, Zeratul and Fenix are tasked with killing two Cerebrates with Zeratul’s Dark Templar energy (the only thing that can kill them) to weaken the Overmind’s defenses. After you do this it is the final assault.

It is here we learn more of the mythos and the Xel’Naga quest for the perfect life form which the Overmind plans to become by consuming the Protoss and after consuming all sentient life in the Universe. Judicator Aldaris calls you to apologize as he saw how the Dark Templar destroyed the Cerebrates and only wishes that he and the Conclave had been smarter sooner as they call Tassadar the best of them. This is the last stand to stop it as it has established itself as the greatest threat. In order to defeat it Tassadar uses his Templar and Dark Templar energy to kill it after your assault destroys it’s outer shell. From here there is an awesome cinematic and we are left with the epilogue.

The epilogue says that Aiur is destroyed even though the Overmind is stopped and that the Queen of Blades Kerrigan now sees this opportunity to rise in power. Setting up “Starcraft: Brood War.”

Protoss Campaign Mission Screen

Here is the assessment of the campaign:

The Pros: The cinematography – This one has the best cinematography, largely because we get character moments…from Fenix’s fall at Antioch or Tassadar’s sacrifice to destroy the Overmind. We also see Fenix and his fleet working with Raynor and his Raiders at one point too during the quest to free Tassadar.

Gameplay: The is the most difficult campaign up to this point, which is good. It lets you feel the full threat of the Conclave and the Overmind and each mission provides unique challenges and resource management in order to defeat the larger more powerful enemy.

Judicator Aldaris – The Judicator is awesome as the voice of the Conclave, he is a traditionalist who believes in the assigned roles within Protoss society, and truly cares for Aiur and his people. We see that he is capable of growth too as he realizes he was wrong about the Dark Templar and Tassadar at the end and sends his wishes with them. Tassadar is always a counter to him throughout most of the missions as he sees the bigger picture and Zeratul is there to how just how out of his depth this character is as he has no retort against everything Zeratul has seen in his travels. I liked this character as he wasn’t a villain, he was your ally, antagonist and once again ally at the end in the fight against the Overmind.

Raynor – Joins with Tassadar to save Zeratul and later with Fenix to save Tassadar. You get the feeling that after being used by Mengsk he was looking for a higher calling and he found it in the fight to save the Universe. He has his Battlecruiser at this point too and it is great to see his friendship and respect grow through working with the Protoss. He is the only human  we’ve seen so far to do so.

Fenix – Fenix is the soldier and grunt who is one of the military leaders on Aiur. He is noble but has an open mind as he becomes friends with Raynor after fighting with him against the Conclave and the Zerg and works with the Dark Templar even though they’ve been deemed heretics by his religion. He has a great design too, in both his zealot and dragoon form.

The Overmind – We never see it’s perspective but we feel the threat of it, as well as learning of it’s quest to become Perfect by consuming the Protoss and later consuming the Universe. It is pretty awesome and gives us even more of a reason to fear and respect it than we did playing for it during the Zerg campaign. It is for this reason it’s defeat feels real and Tassadar’s sacrifice actually means something.

Zeratul – Zeratul is the dark wizard of this mission. Which is interesting since when you meet him he needs to be rescued from Kerrigan’s Zerg assault we witnessed last campaign. He is a rogue element to the protoss but always comes through. He believes that the Dark Templar need to protect the world that was once their home even though it is painful in the process. He is also the only one who can kill Cerebrates and is the one responsible for training Tassadar how to use both Dark and Light Templar energies. He is one of my favorite characters for sure. By his nature he is the refugee trying to survive, but he is able to be more as it is thanks to him they can defeat the Overmind, and sadly thanks to him the Overmind discover Auir in the first place when they shared minds when he killed his first cerebrate.

Tassadar – There is a reason I made Tassadar part of the title. This is his story. We saw him the Zerg campaign learning the ways of the Dark Templar, we saw him in the Terran campaign destroying infested planets and learn later he chose not to destroy ones that could fight back on their own…both of which got him blacklisted by the Conclave. From here he is seeking balance. He wants so badly for there to be peace on Aiur but is attacked by the Conclave up until Zeratul, Fenix and Raynor free Tassadar from them and they defeat two of the Cerebrates together. You see his sadness at what the Civil War in his people wrought and the loss of his planet of Aiur. It is for this reason you can understand his sacrifice. He cares for those who persecuted him and he isn’t perfect…as he thought any protoss could defeat the Cerebrates at first (didn’t realize until later only Dark Templar energies could) and he gives himself up for justice, which almost leads to the cost of the Universe as he is the only one who wields both Dark and Light energies.

Okay: General Duke – He appears on Char and says that it is Dominion Space. Tassadar threatens him and comes off pretty cruel as he says he maybe should have glassed some planets if there were people like General Duke around. They fight and you don’t see him again, there isn’t much there.

I can’t think of any cons to this campaign beyond Duke not getting much character time. There is politics via the Conclave versus Tassadar in the Civil War on Aiur as Aiur burns…there is the mythos of the Xel’Naga and the Overmind’s quest for perfection in order to consume all (and the fact that the Xel’Naga are not recognized as good since they were trying to create the perfect life forms (their elevating of the Protoss), and Raynor, Fenix, Tassadar, Zeratul and the Judicator are amazing characters…and the Overmind is the biggest threat. You understand why it was the end boss fight after everything it destroys in the Terran, Zerg and Protoss campaigns. It is the only consistently valid threat that has Universe changing consequences. Character actions mean something and characters change. Zeratul stands in the light, Tassadar stops running, Judicator stand with the Heretics and Jim finds a reason to fight.

Final Score for this campaign is 10 / 10. Does everything it needs to do and what I want out of a story…as well as establishing a future threat via the loss of Aiur and the rise of Kerrigan.

“En Taro Adun!”

Tassadar_SC1_CineDeathOvermind2

Campaigns of Starcraft Reviews – The Original Starcraft – Does the Story Still Hold Up?

Original Starcraft

If you didn’t already gather based off the movies I tend to review and love (sci. fi., comic book, martial arts fantasy, etc.) I am a nerd, and that includes games too. One idea I’ve been playing with and finally decided to do is to a playthrough of the original Starcraft. I won’t be doing Brood War and the two Starcraft II games until later since life is busy and this is more of a hobby, even if it inspires the stories I write.

Games are an interesting medium, especially Blizzard games, where Cinematic Videos are a major part of the story…as well as the videos that happen before and after a mission. This inspired me to see if the game still holds up since it was this game that inspired a science fiction universe I’ve been working on for a few years. When I think of my favorite characters of the past I think of Zeratul, Kerrigan, Fenix and the Protoss in general. These species were the species I took inspiration from when designing the dynamic between different civilizations in my sci. fi. Universe.

What I’ll be judging is what I judge with movies (characters, setting, cinematography, etc.), with the added addition of gameplay. I’ll be tacking each campaign individually and will be posting the Terran Campaign next. Once I finish the Zerg and Protoss campaign in full I will post and write about them and their overarching arc as well.

For me the big question, does the story hold up? Or was I simply blinded by nostalgia when I played it through High School and Middle School. Well, we shall see in the reviews. For now, welcome to the Campaigns of Starcraft reviews. A side project of Cameronmoviesandtv.