Wot I Think – StarCraft II: Heart Of The Swarm Singleplayer

It probably won’t come as any shock to learn that none of the current RPS team have gone the distance in StarCraft II’s incomparable multiplayer, but I can at least tell you what I made of the expansive singleplayer campaign in its first expansion, Heart of the Swarm. No throwaway side-dish, this is a vast, bubbling, consciously epic, setpiece-filled cauldron of scifi RTS-RPG. This time around, the stars are hiveminded alien nasties the Zerg and their sometime ruler Sarah Kerrigan, seeking a comeback and revenge after the events of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Scuttle this way and I’ll tell you more.

The phrase ‘power fantasy’ gets bandied around this place often, but really it’s shorthand for ‘being a faceless man who’s allowed to shoot any and everyone with a large selection of automatic weaponry.’ That’s nothing compared to StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. Here, power fantasy means commanding an immense, innumerable army of uncommonly destructive aliens as it tears apart anything that isn’t nailed down. It means what StarCraft lore tells us the Zerg are like, that indefatigable tidal wave of chitinous, chittering horror, and not the infinitely more tactical, vulnerable experience of fielding them as a multiplayer force.

With a shrug, Heart of the Swarm’s campaign repeatedly says “sure, have it your way” and bestows ultimate power upon you, offered under a thin veneer of actual strategy. This is less real-time strategy game, and more a game about roleplaying as the Zerg, as the Aliens, as the Tyranids, as the Flood, as every implacable hivemind menace there ever was, unbound. It is, in the here and now at least, very much what I wanted from a formula which can so often seem exhausted.

I have put limited hours into StarCraft II multiplayer, but (after initial cynicism towards it) I can see the appeal even if I don’t have the time/resolve at present. The adrenaline, the ego-boost of apparent mastery of that finely-tuned machine: I want that. I just don’t know if I want to or can put the hours in. HOTS’ singleplayer gives me a welcome, indulgent pretence of it, a chance to roleplay as a lord of StarCraft. It is to competitive play what casual Guitar Hero play is to being in a band – all the thrill, none of the skill. All artifice. And I am fine with that. After long, now-ended years of real-time strategy games taking me through the same slow ropes again and again, I’m so happy to find something that gives me the keys to the Lamborghini almost straight from the off.

That said, HOTS rarely repeats itself, but I’ll get to its impressive variety shortly (as will I to its lousy writing and characterisation). On Normal at least, it’s a friend to the All Units button, F2 in this case, to setting your entire horde loose on some poor schmoes with a single click and a single plan. So many of its 27 levels freely allow the creation of a vast, unchallenged army which subsumes enemies and their buildings to the extent that you can only really see what happened after it’s moved on.

The animation department have done great things, making a swarm of several dozen Zerglings move as one undulating entity, a flock of murderous starlings throwing sinister shapes across the landscape. It’s so different from the usual RTS loose collective of stumblers, trundlers and stragglers: to see it is to fear it, even if you know full well that none of its denizens are individually much of a threat. It brings out the worst strategies in me, has me waiting and pooling and doing nothing until I’ve amassed a vast army of nothing but offence which I then order to the other side of the map. And it allows it.

I will be penalised for it, of course – losses will be enormous, I might well lose a base or two while I’m doing it, because I’ve left no-one to defend my holdings, and I certainly won’t bag all of that level’s Achievements – but I will win. Fantasy fulfilled. (Brief experimentation with harder difficulty settings revealed this was not a fixed state of affairs if one didn’t wish it do be so. I suspect I will revisit some maps in order to experiment with some of the strategies I picked up). The only tragedy in this was StarCraft II’s ongoing refusal to allow its camera elevation above ceiling level. While I appreciate this is a limitation built for the sake of multiplayer balance, I can’t see why the singleplayer game couldn’t let the scroll wheel go a little higher. How I yearned to watch the beautiful carnage at a map-wide scale.

The campaign’s also very smart at conveying understanding of the RTS-unusual methods of the Zerg, without anything so prescriptive as a tutorial. I gradually grasped what role each of the initially confusing, visually homogeneous units played without having the game grab my chin and look in a certain direction. Instead, it made each unit the star of a setpiece level, their effects and abilities overclocked for maximum effect.

For instance, the level starring the new Swarm Host unit, a sort of mobile organic turret which can root into the ground and regularly spray out tiny, nagging Locusts, eventually offers a magic button. This magic button immediately summons an innumerable horde of Locusts for a short period, fired across the map in a spreading circle, and which then hone in on and chew to death the multiple enemy armies approaching from every angle. Nothing on this scale is possible in multiplayer, but it’s a big, brash statement on what Swarm Hosts can do. It gets the message across in a way a text box or video introduction never could. If I ever do go back to SC2 multiplayer, while still being totally out of my depth I will at least have a working knowledge of what each Zerg unit does.

Throughout the campaign, I’d get to choose between two game-changing upgrades for each unit, introduced in optional Evolution side-missions and augmented by the abilities I chose for hero unit Kerrigan as she gradually levelled up. The game’s headed in just one direction, and the choices I made and I used them would probably have made me a laughing stock in multiplayer, but they did make the missions feel even more as though I was in ultimate control of my army’s unassailable fury.

Between such opuses of wanton, delicious, alien destruction, HOTS offers canny gimmick-led levels which play with the stereotypes of RTS campaigns, and show off how SC2 can be modded to be many new things. The traditional lone unit level quickly switches from hiding and waiting into infesting and growing, 20 condensed, unashamedly sillier minutes of Alien from the antagonist’s point of view. Later, a one-level switch back to playing as Terrans rather than Zerg offers a tiny slice of space strategy. Set in a flat universe, sure, but it’s still got hyperspace jumps, launching attack fighters and pummelling space stations with death-rays. The levels are playful, unpredictable and gently experimental where the achingly self-important cutscenes between them most certainly are not.

Narrative, then. Oh, must I? I’d rather ignore it, pretend it’s not there, try to hold up HOTS as confidently ludicrous stream of cartoon carnage and indulgence. But Blizzard are Blizzard, and infesting their games with hollow, glossy cutscenes and enough lore to fuel a hundred thousand Peter Jackson movies is what they do in addition to undying perfectionism for mechanics, balance and presentation. Unsurprisingly after Wings of Liberty, it’s a load of old cobblers and, while it might perhaps know it, it certainly doesn’t admit to it. There’s a very thin line between Starship Troopers and Battlefield Earth, and HOTS very much falls on the wrong side of it. Characters, usually wheeled on from nowhere speak sternly about anything-goes spacemagic, delivered as a constant stream of exposition in pantomime accents. Meanwhile, initially laudable attempts to make female star Kerrigan be a strong figure and leader, not reliant on men, are repeatedly undone by men being the only ones who can talk silly old her out of her silly old massacres of innocents, and by the denouement having her performing an act of colossal stupidity which requires rescue by a man. It’s all so basic.

I know Blizzard have argued in the past that it sticks to very brash, simple character archetypes in order to help players sympathise with them. That’s also what Hollyoaks does. I get it, and I get how that’s a very deliberate commercial decision to pander to a large audience who don’t want to have to think about who’s good, who’s bad, who’s in the middle and why that might be, but Hollyoaks isn’t interspersed with battle scenes from Zulu or Ben Hur. It’s the discordance between those playful levels and the pompous shallowness of the FMV that grates, not to mention the plot’s reliance on theose same tired, abused concepts of prophecy and ancestor races which underpin so much mainstream science-fiction now.

Then there is Kerrigan. Sarah Kerrigan, former Terran Ghost, later Zerg Queen of Blades, more recently restored to humanity, but wasting little time in HOTS to reclaim her former abilities and appearance even if her agenda may have changed. In the past she’s been held up as an all-too-rare example of a strong female game character, and certainly it’s refreshing in concept to have her be the star of this campaign, but in practice she turns out to be a disasterpiece of exploitation. Whether a human sniper in a catsuit which would require a razorblade to remove or a mutated Zerg ruler covered in chitin everywhere that isn’t orifices and curves, Realdoll buttocks and breasts are forever on show, body language is forever come hither, feet sprout organic stiletto heels, a botoxed face is covered in porn star make-up that her claw-hands couldn’t possibly have applied, and every inch of her is a cynical attempt to make teenage boys purchase this videogame. The camera incessantly drifts to find her arse, and she obliges by incessantly standing with her back to us. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the scourge of the galaxy.

Kerrigan’s presentation entirely undermines the already shallow, cheerless attempts of the narrative to make her a character with strength, to make her someone we might want to be, not someone we want to drool over. Yes, I’ve already read every pathetic apologism from “maybe she just prefers to look like a stripper while she’s trying to end galactic tyranny and battle ancient gods” to “it stands to reason that her bum wouldn’t be covered in the spikes like the rest of her, otherwise she couldn’t use the toilet”. When a game’s internal logic includes the likes of instant evolution, alien woodlice with the face of Christina Aguilera circa 2003, waking up an alien god by giving him a snack and armies built out of gas and crystals, these are not winning arguments. Make no mistake: the game is doing whatever it wants to because it can, not because it has carefully thought-out justifications for it. It could equally have chosen to not be so juvenile and exploitative in its depiction of its lead character, but it didn’t, because it wanted to sell more copies and more merchandise to a certain demographic. So it goes.

This is, though, a game with money in its blood. The list of names in the credits is unending, and on production values alone the vast expenditure is obvious. As well as the typically high-budget pre-rendered videos, the in-engine cutscenes are gorgeously rendered, approaching CGI levels of detail and polish, making a joke out of so many other games’ attempts to do similar with their blurry marionettes, but God, shut up. I dearly wish I’d just pressed Escape as every cutscene began, never even had to think about them and their nonsense and their braying stag night attitudes, because the game in-between them is absolutely Blizzard at its singleplayer best, and a real return to form, purpose and invention after the clinical churn of Diablo III. The campaign’s a substantial, spectacular one too, even before the replays with different between-mission upgrade choices or on harder difficulty, or to nab those last few, largely thoughtfully challenging Achievements.

Most of all, it’s a game about triumphantly being the Zerg, that massed menace which has become a byword for overwhelming threat – and that’s a hugely different thing to simply playing as the alien faction in an RTS. Heart is something it’s lacking, but this is definitely a game which understands the art of the Swarm.


  1. Heliocentric says:

    No pupils, cant stare?

  2. zin33 says:

    loved the game but man, the campaign sure could do with a few less cliches

  3. Discopanda says:

    Kinda wanna play, but also kinda don’t want to shell out the bucks for it. I liked the Starcraft 2 story though :(

    • mouton says:

      There are wayssssss

      • Discopanda says:

        No mouton I’m not going to rob a Gamestop >=(

      • Tendentieus says:

        You my Sir, are the scourge of evil! You would steal the bread out of a babies mouth!
        You my Sir, understand the free market and realise that Blizzard won’t be closing shop because of it.

        As far as the game goes, I really like the Singleplayer. It’s well paced, entertaining and very much OP in favour of the Zerg: precisely how I want to feel and play. Even my hero, that shoots chain lighting that spawns broodlords which explode in napalm is totally awesome…. if only I could remember her name of her in the game.

  4. Brun says:

    human sniper in a catsuit which would require a razorblade to remove

    To be fair, the male ghosts also wore skintight catsuits, probably something to do with their cloaking devices. The “zerg form” is a bit silly though.

    • Fred S. says:

      It’s much easier to model skintight clothes on a CGI figure. Getting loose clothes to hang properly takes way more rendering horsepower, especially when the figure is moving around.

      • Xocrates says:

        They didn’t have that problem with Raynor though.

      • tetracycloide says:

        The other races headline characters, Zeratul and Jimmy, have loose flowing clothes that hang and rigid clothes that aren’t skin tight respectively…

        • Fred S. says:

          Does anybody really care what shape Zeratul’s bum is?

          • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

            Do I really have to ask you to google “rule 34 zeratul”?

          • Fred S. says:

            Actually, now that I’ve watched a clip from WoL, Zeratul’s cimematic model has skintight clothes underneath some hanging rags that don’t really conform to his body at all. And Raynor’s clothes might as well be armor slabs.

    • El_Emmental says:

      As far as I know, the Terran Ghost doesn’t have a thong-like leotard layer on top of their suit, and is often seen wearing a small armor, similar to riot gear.

      Starcraft I concept art for the Ghost: link to images2.wikia.nocookie.net

      Having Kerrygan wear a full body suit without any armor plate, with a dark-grey leotard over the light-grey suit is just Blizzard trying to be even more stupid than Bioware (with their Miranda Lawson suit) when it comes to sexualizing your character .

      For an example of a properly “sexualized” female ghost, look at the ingame model of the main character in the cancelled Starcraft: Ghost, then look at the promotional material showing that character and see who now have the final word in character design at Blizzard.

      – ingame model:
      a) (rear) link to ps2media.ign.com

      b) (rear) link to cdn0.spong.com

      c) (rear) link to 0.media.dorkly.cvcdn.com

      d) (front) link to technobuffalo.com

      She’s wearing armor on her back and torso, shoulders and forearms, knee and shin. There is no armor on her upper arm to keep a feminine silhouette, while sexualizing her by not featuring any armor on her belly, buttocks and thighs.

      However, her buttocks aren’t oversexualized with an extremely tight suit with a shiny lightning effect on it, and they added small armor elements on her hips to avoid over-exploiting that area.

      Now take a look at that promotional picture, made by the marketing team: link to gamedynamo.com

      The SCII buttocks are already there, and they even tweaked the contrast (zoom-in you’ll notice the trick) just above the buttocks to get our brain to see a triangle g-string there.

      Unsurprisingly, in AAA studios the marketing department now has the biggest budget and direct almost every single element in a game, having the last word on every decision.

      Blaming the designers is not going to fix anything – instead, fighting the marketing team, by turning such terrible character design into bad press, directly pointing the finger at the marketing dept, might force them to change their plans.

  5. Lorc says:

    I found the singleplayer missions far less interesting than the Wings of Liberty campaign. I think it’s because in WoL, each mission gave you a new problem or handicap you needed to work around, for which a recently obtained new unit was the answer.

    In HotS, the level gimmicks are almost all helpful abilities or new allies. While this feeds into the theme of exactly how powerful Kerrigan and the zerg are meant to be, I never felt challenged to experiment with any of the new toys it fed me.

    • tungstenHead says:

      I find myself in total agreement with you, sir/ma’am. I found the missions less satisfying that WoL’s, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. You’ve definitely pointed out one of the major factors.

      • Schmudley says:

        Same here. Most of the missions just didn’t seem that satisfying to me this time around.

        • Ernesto25 says:

          We played them as Terran in WOL. I was surprised when it ended the end mission didnt have that much fun and was pretty much an annoying babysit mission tying my hand behind my back form simply finishing it quicker.

    • tetracycloide says:

      I believe the campaign was intentionally easier than wings and to compensate they added ‘mastery’ challenges. So far though even on brutal most of those are pretty easy too.

      • Vorphalack says:

        The difficulty really is my biggest complaint with HotS (although the awful narrative is a close second) and the main reason I wouldn’t play it if it was free. I disagree with Alec when he said:

        ”the game in-between them is absolutely Blizzard at its singleplayer best”

        It really isn’t, not for me anyway. I recognise in WoL (which I played) and HotS many of the characteristics of level design that made Warcraft 3 a great RTS. Unfortunately, if those levels provide no challenge then I am not entertained. I can go back to WC3 even today and struggle on some of the hard missions. I can get that challenge fix from a 10 year old game, a 10 year old game that only had 2 difficulty settings and still managed to cater to what I wanted. HotS, as with WoL, has 4 difficulty settings but might as well have only one; too bloody easy.

        It’s a sad and very deliberate decision to balance towards easy, and a completely unnecessary one at that. They want to feed the power fantasy, but honestly how many people do they expect to disappoint if the difficulty labeled Brutal is actually, you know, brutal hard? I suspect that they acted out of fear, chose to make the experience as safe and accessible as possible, and in doing so neutered a lot of the fun.

    • Cypreana says:

      I felt the same. Also the zergs didnt feel zergy enough to me. And the inter-mission dialogue was laughable, so often it wasnt more then: mother, teach me how to feel love.

  6. BD says:

    I liked it.

    They stopped fucking around and finally closed two story points that have been lingering for roughly 15 years now.

    That she’s an alien stripper, I don’t know. I didn’t see her as that, nor did I care about whether she was portrayed as a strong black woman who don’t need no man, weak, or any other kind of character, fitting into any stereotype that can be exhalted or demonized.

    She was just who she was, and that was good enough. She certainly wasn’t an object, but actually had some depth, as much as that’s possible these days.

    I usually hate playing as the Zerg, but I liked what they did with the game. And I liked seeing her side of the story. Raynor is actually the character I least wanted to play with. It’s the Protoss I’m waiting for.

    • tetracycloide says:

      I assume one of the points you’re referring to was duran? Don’t you feel that resolution was pretty, well shitty would be the best word I can thing of. “Ha ha I’m an evil shapshifter! You’re Doomed! Blargeh I’m dead…”

      • BD says:

        One’s Narud (yes, handled badly, but handled) and the other’s Mengsk, also handled fairly poorly in places, but still handled definitively.

    • Arcanon says:

      As much as it’s possible these days? Really?

      And yes, the return of Stukov was handled so badly…

      • BD says:

        I don’t think there’s any secret to the fact that Starcraft 1 was written by serious D&D dorks for D&D dorks, and contained some fairly deep concepts with regard to world building and exposition.

        Today, you can kiss that kind of stuff goodbye. It’s mass consumerism, and the story needs to be legible to the casual fuck off the street.

        So yes.

        Considering what the target audience is today, and who is making the actual games (or designing), it’s a wonder that Kerrigan didn’t go full stripper.

  7. chiablo says:

    I think you accidentally a word on the second to last paragraph.

    “This is, though, a game with money its blood.”

    I think you meant “money as its blood”.

  8. DrScuttles says:

    Did someone say scuttle?

  9. kud13 says:

    Want to purchase, but ever since Blizz told me I can’t play WoL offline other than “guest” after I haven’t touched it for 3 months, I’m boycotting their products.

    I’ve also heard this time around cinematics are streamed thru Battle.net, so internet connection is a must for single-player. Can anyone confirm/deny?

    • Brigand says:

      Yeah cinematics aren’t streamed or whatever. And once you login once per month you can play offline if the game does’t detect an internet connection.

    • realitysconcierge says:

      I think it is worth mentioning the DRM. Part of the reason why I won’t buy Blizzard games anymore.

      • Asurmen says:

        Is connecting to their servers once a month really so bad?

        • realitysconcierge says:

          I’m pretty straight edge against drm type stuff. Gotta stick it to the man

        • kud13 says:

          it was during first year law school (which was right after the summer WoL came out). I tried to log in in late November after not touching the game for a few months, and I was told I can only lay as “guest” on my own account. this happened after spending several hours patching the game.

        • Screamer says:

          That one month thing is bullshit! Did you actually test this before spreading misinformation?
          Offline is only available until next reboot. If you reboot you have to go online again before you can play offline again.

  10. TreuloseTomate says:

    I thought the campaign was great. I played through it twice getting all the achievements, and now I’m getting back into multiplayer.

  11. elgonzo says:

    Well, i totally agree with the clichees and the titillation, that weighs on the game’s story.
    Now, the thing is, i still liked it, because even if the story was not overly sophisticated, Blizzard managed to deliver a coherent story while respecting the established Starcraft lore.

    While i have not played the game, i watched clips from the cinematics, motivated by the discussion about FC3, SpecOps, and the recent release of Bioshock Infinite.

    HOTS’ narrative was not suffering from Alzheimer, and not constantly forgetting what it said and did just 15 minutes ago. While not intelligent as a story, it at least did not try forcing me to disable my short-term memory, like some other recent big budget titles demand. That must surely be worth something, or?

    • Jenks says:

      “Blizzard managed to deliver a coherent story while respecting the established Starcraft lore.”

      I think “shitting on” works better than “respecting” in this case.

      Do they even bring this up after so many people complained about it in WoL?

    • Ashen says:

      “Blizzard managed to deliver a coherent story while respecting the established Starcraft lore.”

      The Zerg in the original Starcraft were basically Tyranids, a Giger-esque race of aliens controlled by a hive mind. This time around they’re a bunch of funny critters constantly talking to each other. The Zerus missions were saturday morning cartoon level bad in this regard, and the rest of the game not really that much better.

      So no, it doesn’t have the same feel as the original Starcraft did in any way shape or form really.

      • elgonzo says:

        For one, you are mixing up gameplay mechanics/complexity/difficulty with lore.
        Second, introduction of new units is not violating the lore. If they actually replaced a unit/character with somebody else while pretending it’s the old self, please point me to it.

        Speaking Zerg are hardly a surprise, unless you haven’t played a Starcraft game before. If you meant that the Zerg did not speak much in cutscenes i agree. But they spoke during the missions already in the first game (basically all the status notifications etc.). So, no violation here.

      • tetracycloide says:

        In fairness the Zerg talked to each other all the time in the first game as well as brood war so that’s hardly new.

      • mouton says:

        Well, Blizzard turns everything into a theme park, so no wonder.

      • solidsquid says:

        I haven’t played the new game, so I don’t know if the low level units like zerglings have started chatting or something, but the Cerebrates in the original game talked to each other and even had some degree of inter-faction politics going, despite their unquestioning obedience to the Overmind. As someone else pointed out, there’s also whatever you issued build instructions to during missions, which could inform you of shortages of minerals, overlords, etc.

        There might be more talking going on between the higher intelligence zerg, but that’s not really surprising since they no longer have the Overmind tying them all together and instead have to start working out how to build up the zerg without a single controlling vision they all serve

    • tungstenHead says:

      They casually robbed the Brood War UED campaign’s most dramatic moment for a gain of absolutely nothing by reintroducing a character that basically does nothing. Also, they managed to bleach the skin (and hair) of one of Brood War’s pivotal characters (and one of like three black characters in the Starcraft universe (this guy, Tosh, and SC1’s SCV pilot)) while simultaneously completely stripping him of his mystique and nuance. That whole little corner of the storyline is actively destructive of the series’ drama. It is unabashedly terrible.

      Seriously, the white washing? Was that fucking necessary? Really? Kerrigan’s bum is bad enough, but at least it has consistency going for it. Changing Duran/Narud’s skin colour is just heinous.

      • elgonzo says:

        Stukov has been resurrected already in Starcraft 64. You are about 13 years late for being pissed about that…

        I can certainly understand your other grudges, while not sharing them. But still, it is not violating the lore.

      • Asurmen says:

        He’s a shape shifter and Duran is a known individual. What exactly is the issue? You don’t infiltrate an empire by looking precisely the same as you did in the past.

      • Yorkio says:

        “one of like three black characters in the Starcraft universe (this guy, Tosh, and SC1′s SCV pilot”

        Horace Warfield has taken terrible, terrible damage to his feelings.

        • TsunamiWombat says:

          Warfield ::spoiler spoiler:: dies a semi-heroic death to prove the extremity of the situation, providing another ‘black-in-media stereotype’. ::/spoiler spoiler::

      • AlKaPwn says:

        RPS really needs to start covering racism more. It’s responses like this that show you that RPS readers treat racism like Kotaku members treat sexism.

        • Vorphalack says:

          RPS readers? Yes, please do tell us how we all share exactly the same thoughts : |

      • zbmott says:

        They reversed his name and his skin color! Makes perfect sense! Right? Anyone? Bueller?

  12. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    Damn you Alec, able to put my thoughts into words better than I can.

  13. JonathanStrange says:

    Heart of the Swarms campaign was corny as hell, but a blast to play through. The ‘Fifth Element’ or ‘Total Recall’ of the sci-fi videogame world. Incredibly stupid, but fun as hell to watch and enjoy!

    Not everything needs to try and be some sort of narrative masterpiece. Sometimes a bit of cheese can be a good thing.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      That’s the second Verhoeven reference already. They really should let him get back to scifi…

  14. Geewhizbatman says:

    Ugh yeah–I think this review hit it on the head/pert booty and I feel the need to vent about it. I found that I ravenously devoured the campaign and found it engaging. The Zerg captured my heart and unfortunately I would purchase any schlock for the opportunity to play as them. For me it was the first time that sort of insectoid horror race has been a major playable figure in a game and they’ve always gotten the elements of playing that goopy alien beast so right. In game play anyway.

    Kerrigan’s “transformation” made me so depressed though. I knew it was coming. I mean Wing of Liberty made it pretty clear what they wanted to do with the SC title. They were happy to throw every interesting nuance from the first down the drain. Heck, you listen to a man’s last letter of regret to his love before he kills himself in SC1. You never got close to anything so powerful in WoL or HotS. Still, I knew we were glossing over but I didn’t think they would really just throw her under the bus the way they did.

    What I liked most about Kerrigan was that she managed to toe the line between dualistic, misogynistic fantasy (that certainly SC1 had to incorporate for the still budding gaming audience and SC2 was afraid to break for fear of losing said audience) while managing to create an interesting liberation fantasy. She was a woman who was ultimately controlled by the men around her, an object to be used and wasted, which is why she was abandoned. Which made her transformation into a “Primal Force of ‘Nature'” both cliche enough to be digested while still having the opportunity to produce a compelling heroine.

    And what broke my heart was that HotS seemed to nudge at that in its arc—and then decided to say, “Nah, that’s boring–where are dem titties?” To avoid any spoilage, the arc presented in HotS brings a lot of these elements into play. It means that it could have easily been the entire focus of both Kerrigan and the Zerg. They could have been a liberation fantasy mixed with elements of outcast empowerment. What it became was this sense of “No, someone will always control you. You will never be better than your emotions and whatever success you have will always alienate you.”

    Kerrigan became a prop for men to control the entire campaign. Be it constant liberation from her personal choices and desires, to a sense of unworthiness followed by desperate affection seeking. Jim Raynor just became a huge douche in my mind throughout the campaigns which made the strong Kerrigan turning into a simpering puppy dog at his side depressing.

    For me it was just another example of how Blizzard has so much potential that they seem happy to throw away. What drew me to their games when I was younger was a sense of high fantasy (be it in space or medieval/renaissance) and nudge at questions of power, control, and morality. I had a hope that they could be a company that tried to mature as their audience did and expand their dramas as much as their tech. What I’m left with it just the shell. A beautiful, polished, entertaining shell that is a superb game in its purest sense. Except, I didn’t fall in love and there is a deep sadness in knowing that they were once capable of evoking that feeling but instead just want to sell product. It’s not like there aren’t other games that don’t offer me story–but the golden moment of Blizzard’s story meeting function is gone but at least, though unfortunately, that feeling is infinitely more compelling than anything they’ve slapped together recently.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      Without spoilering i agree it made WOL seem pointless in many ways due to the transformation

    • Deviija says:

      Completely agree and feel the same way as Geewhizbatman on the case of Kerrigan and her depiction and storyline throughout the SC series. It is incredibly depressing to look at the “what ifs” and “what could have beens” and see so much potential wasted for shallowness in narrative, design, and application. This isn’t a strong heroine or antiheroine, this is some terribad misogynistic cliche right out of the 90’s.

      • Phantoon says:

        Of course it’s shallow. Blizzard has been this way for quite some time. I had a longer post on this, but it was deleted or spam catch bot ate it. Not sure, either way.

  15. Ernesto25 says:

    If someone was to ask me name a bog standard rts i would point them to sc2. Hots did the same ,fun leveling up system with new units. The problem is the missions aren’t just rts cliches but cut and paste WOL missions the whole way through. I played the WOL SP once and it still felt like they had just done a paint job. I enjoyed some but just ugh so lazy. its not so much strategy than spam 1 or 2 units and win even on the harder settings

    The story is just dire i remember even got to start enjoying it like i did in WOL until the prince turned up. its like blizzard doesn’t even remember their old game.. wait stukov so they DO remember brood war. The story didn’t make me so much angry as bored and the cheesy but well done cut scenes are now rage inducing like alec said. when the game ended i was shocked thinking “oh was that it really ” so many dumb things lead up to the end but luckily all the charters played there part and did not try to think at all and all fitted nicely into a jigsaw.

    i guess alot will like the multiplayer but i was really hoping for writing on par with the 1st half of WOL but instead it got worse and lazier i guess exceptional-ism really is the exception.

  16. malkav11 says:

    I hate to break it to you, man, but most of those units and upgrades don’t actually exist in the multiplayer (presumably for balance reasons). That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so enamored with what Blizzard’s done with Starcraft II’s singleplayer gameplay – they finally realized that singleplayer campaigns don’t have to be gently warmed over, restricted multiplayer tutorials the way RTS conventional wisdom has cast them for years. Unfortunately, they also seem to have misplaced whichever folks wrote the original Starcraft and WCIII, which had legitimately good stories with interesting plot beats and thin but engaging characterization.

  17. benkc says:

    Two questions, from someone who hasn’t played SC2 since a few months after WoL launch:
    * Does a momentarily dropped connection still prevent you from getting any achievements from that level? (Subquestion: Does Battle.net still momentarily drop connections with great frequency?)
    * Is searching for custom maps still completely impractical due to a terrible UI (and no way to do it out-of-game)?

    Those two things, plus the bitter taste D3 left in my mouth, are why I haven’t paid any attention to HotS so far.

    • Moraven says:

      The Arcade update and 2.0 have made the UI a lot better. Not sure when you last played, saw.

      Yes, you have to be online to get achievements. The way to solve this is to save after every mission. Then you can load and replay all the conversations and other random achievements outside the actual mission.

      You get access to all the missions and some of the upgrades after you beat the game, maybe it easier to obtain mission achievements (and think the Mastery/Hard achievements are meant to be obtained this way).

  18. Sarkhan Lol says:

    I don’t have to play this to know that Metzen is the post-goiter George Lucas of the videogame world.

  19. MadTinkerer says:

    “There’s a very thin line between Starship Troopers and Battlefield Earth, and HOTS very much falls on the wrong side of it.”

    You mean Starship Troopers the original book? The only actual good product with the Starship Troopers name besides that one board game? Or are you trying to imply that Battlefield Earth is somehow good? I get the nagging suspicion Alec doesn’t realize both movies are utter garbage…

    • Zenicetus says:

      Both movies are garbage, although I’ve read attempts to excuse Starship Troopers as an exercise in satire (cue references to Far Cry 3… “no really, it’s not crappy writing, it’s SATIRE!”).

      • basilisk says:

        You really want to watch Starship Troopers again, more carefully this time. It’s not quite as obviously satirical as RoboCop was, but it isn’t very subtle about it, either.

        • Laurentius says:

          Satirical or not it’s still terrible movie and the thing for me, whether we are talking about Verhoeven’s movies or Far Cry 3 is that i’m asking myself a question what would have changed if they write these stories in non starical way and i know the answer – nothing. They would still be cliche, cheesy and stupid becuase if they could write better stories they would have been doing it and weren’t using “satire” to hide their lack of skill.

          • basilisk says:

            But Starship Troopers is an adaptation, satirising its own source material. Some of the film’s story comes directly out of Heinlein’s fascist fever dreams and some of it is Verhoeven taking those dreams and turning them up to eleven. Criticising Verhoeven for something that Heinlein wrote is nonsensical. You can criticise his take on it all you like, but the story isn’t really his.

          • drewski says:

            Except that Verhoeven’s modifications take it a long way from the original story.

            I like both versions for very different reasons.

          • x1501 says:

            For god’s sake, will you ever stop with this ridiculous “satirical adaptation” nonsense?

            A report in an American Cinematographer article states that the Heinlein novel was optioned well into the pre-production period of the film, which had a working title of Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine; most of the writing team reportedly were unaware of the novel at the time. According to the DVD commentary, Paul Verhoeven never finished reading the novel, claiming he read through the first few chapters and became both “bored and depressed.”

            Also, how about actually reading the novel for a change? Aside from the fact that the movie has literally almost nothing to do with any of the ideas expressed in the book, Heinlein’s award-winning classic is about just as fascistic and feverish as Verhoeven’s “interpretation” of it is satirical or intelligent. Where the book was a decent story, memorable characters, and thought-provoking ideas about social responsibility and individual sacrifice, the movie was nothing but a cringeworthy mixture of mind-numbing action, bad writing, worse acting, and embarrassingly bad sophomoric humor. So, less of a satire and more of an ignorant hatchet job.

          • basilisk says:

            x1501: I have read the book. And let me just drop this link here because it says it all better than I could.

          • Bhazor says:

            …yeah no. It’s still a crap film.

            To put it another way, Tommy Wiseau calling The Room a dark comedy does not mean it’s a good film.

      • Harlander says:

        The Starship Troopers movie is satire, it’s just that satire can be rubbish too.

        It was less ham-fisted in its messaging than the book, anyway.

        “You can beat your kids every day or let them run free through the streets with knives… THERE IS NO MIDDLE GROUND”

      • Lemming says:

        ST the movie is great, and it is satire. It’s from the guy who brought you Robocop, ffs. Something very wrong with you lot.

        • mouton says:

          The propaganda parts were nice, but it included a lot of incredibly stupid action as well.

          • Bhazor says:

            Don’t you get it? The dull noisy suspense free action scenes starring characters no one cares about are a parody of films that include dull noisy suspense free action scenes starring characters no one cares about.


      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        Not only is it satire, it’s a pretty blunt one at that.

        The most amazing thing about it is that it was made before 9/11. Watching it in the knowledge of what happened since is… bizarre.

    • mouton says:

      Years ago, I finished the old (2000) Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy game and liked it quite a lot. Despite being visually based on the film, you actually got heavy exoskeletons with jump-jets and shoulder-launched nuclear missiles later on, which got it much closer to the book.

      The game was real time tactics, featured some quite intense defense missions and glorious nuking of anything that seemed dangerous. Fun times.

  20. godofdefeat says:

    I think i will rather wait for Warcraft 4, thank you.

  21. Laurentius says:

    And I thought WoL writing is terrible but HotS is equally bad or even worse. And in before someone says that original SC writing and story was equally bad, no it wasn’t and I can write an essay why but there is no point because you already know or you don’t and there is no point in arguing with people who claim that i.e. New Hope is equally bad as Phantom Menace and difference are rose tinted glasses of the past.
    SPOILER although these two campaigns ( WoL and HotS ) last over 40 missions almost nothing important actually happened (only Mengsk being killed finally) and all WoL campaign is being redundant since Kerrigan is re-zerg almost immediately and fact that now she is no longer tainted with some evil influence as she was as a original Queen of Blades is as stupid and only worth being ignored as medichlorians. Also third campaign is going to suck massively. When you make your opponent so elusive and supposedly mysterious and unimaginable powerful, it will always come as a disappointment at the end. Don’t they learn from ME mistakes ?

    • Ernesto25 says:

      At the end how did mensk get the artifact? And what did it matter if he did it couldn’t defeat the entire invasion fleet he’d have been fucked if kerrigan didn’t decide to walk up there alone by herself . But wait why walk you now can fly!

      I assume the last one will have the same missions and format in protoss form and its zertaul versus the hybrids with alot of blathering about prophecy.

  22. pagla says:

    hmm campaign is definitely much easier than wol more importantly how did u find the campaign to be not repititive
    nearly half the campaign is time based challenges in form or so for instance that null zone stukov campaign, then the next hybrid campaign, the egg campaign, and some more.
    granted the non standard rts campiagn were different, but that waking the ancient was a direct copy of the first tosh campaign in wol

    • Ernesto25 says:

      glad i wasn’t the only one who noticed the cut and paste job with levels.

  23. Rao Dao Zao says:

    See, it’s not really a power fantasy if you don’t feel like you’re overcoming any challenge. I played HotS on normal and I didn’t have to try; I replayed WoL on normal afterwards and it was much more satisfying because it wasn’t purely attack-move-to-win.

    My thoughts are here anyway. It’s hollow but I feel compelled enough to finish the story, so I’ll get Legacy of the Void in two or three years’ time. Might grumble and might never buy another Blizz game, but I need to know how it ends (no matter how cringeworthy Kerrigan floating off into the sky was).

  24. Lemming says:

    As female Blizzard characters go, I’ve always liked Sylvanas. Yeah she fell in love once, but it’s been cold, cold undead vengeance since then. She’s Warcraft’s closest parallel to Kerrigan.

  25. shitflap says:

    Weak female protagonist? So it goes.
    But gameplay? Excitement when you leave the battlegrounds looking like a Slaughterhouse. Five out of five?

  26. Teddyman says:

    Alec spotted the sexism, but the racism in the game has been given a pass. Let’s examine that.

    For the most part of the game, you are accompanied by your evolution specialist Abathur. Abathur seeks to improve the genetic sequences of the swarm by assimilating genes from other species. He calls these genes “essence.” A staunch proponent of social justice should, at this point, immediately spot the phonetic similarity of the words “essence” and “asians.” Correct, the nefarious developers have hidden right before your eyes a statement that insists that asian genes are required to dominate in the world of Starcraft. This kind of stereotype reinforcement deserves to be called out, and we should not let this one pass.

  27. zaik says:

    holy crap that gross chitinous swamp monster has a butt, sound the sexism alarm

  28. honky mcgee says:

    May I suggest John Walker do an article on the sexploitation of Kerrigan so the guy can improve his chances of getting a date with one of the fembots @ Jezebel.com?

  29. Carra says:

    It’s a lovely campaign. The missions were a lot of fun and quite varied. And of course, it all looks lovely.

    But yes, the story. By the end of it, it made me wonder why they don’t spend a couple of those dollars to make a decent script. Or at least add some humor like you do in WoW.

  30. gingerbill says:

    I agree with the overall review , i disagree about kerrigan , yes of course she is sexualised and there to look good but i wasn’t really thinking about that while playing the game . RPS seems to always be shoving this down our throats lately , i agree with the thought behind it but i think they going to far . RPS has reached the stage were a woman cant be in a game is she is attractive , they are doing what they are preaching against . If you fancy woman and Kerrigan walked by you , you would check out her arse and legs , if you were talking to her you would look at her breasts , it’s natural. It would be just as silly going out of there way to make her unattractive. Remember a lot of it is in your head , RPS feeling guily at looking? i jest of course but theres some truth in that.

    Who wants to look at an ugly woman? truth is nobody , thats not sexist , it’s just true. I’m sure woman would rather look a a male character they find attractive. Of course if a character is interesting and deep we dont care what they look like but that’s not easy too do , they choose the easy way out . Then again if the character is interesting and deep why not attractive as well? :)