The second instalment of the StarCraft 2 trilogy, Heart of the Swarm, is incredible. New units rejuvenate the real-time strategy formula while the campaign follows directly after the events of Wings of Liberty.
Sarah Kerrigan, former Confederate Ghost and Queen of Blades, bides her time at a containment facility. The Xel'Naga artefact restored her humanity and yet her psionic abilities allow her to commune with Zerg creatures. She pushes an experiment too far, rallying captive zerglings, and breaks out of confinement to flee an aggressive Dominion surprise attack led by Arcturus Mengsk.
When Kerrigan reaches the rendezvous point she learns that revolutionary leader Jim Raynor did not make it offworld. Saddened and eyes glowing with rage, Kerrigan sets off on a quest to save her love from the clutches of the Dominion. To do so she sacrifices her humanity once again to reclaim her power over the numberless swarm. Meanwhile something ominous watches from within the void …
As you progress through the campaign the tech tree grows, unlocking new units to toy with. Kerrigan's minions assimilate bio mass from native animals and feral Zerg to spawn familiar creatures such as spine-spitting hydralisks and flying mutalisks.
Occasionally something new will develop within the brood. One of the coolest new evolutions is the swarm host (imagine a large crab with a mushroom-like carapace with lots of throbbing eggs ready to hatch). Like lurkers, swarm hosts are meant to be burrowed in groups so that their locusts overwhelm ground forces.
As with Wings of liberty, you spend a lot of time between missions choosing upgrades and talking to members of the crew on the protagonist's flagship. In Heart of the Swarm you get to investigate Leviathan, an enormous biological space-faring monstrosity.
Visit the Evolution Pit to speak with the sequence-spinner Abathur, a grotesque but necessary addition to the Leviathan crew. Here you can see the Zerg that you have unlocked. You can also choose from one of three persistent, and passive, abilities that can be changed any time you visit the Evolution Pit.
Most abilities are variations of buffs to health or attacks. Bonus evolution missions play out like simple tutorials where you can sample two different strains of a particular creature. Sadly, this is limited to the campaign and does not carry over to multiplayer. After completing an evolution mission you get to pick a permanent strain that enhances a Zerg creature that you can spawn for the remainder of the campaign.
The ultralisk strains are the most impressive. One allows the ultralisk to produce poisonous gas while the other allows a dead ultralisk to resurrect itself by re-hatching from its own cocoon.
Kerrigan has her own chamber on the Leviathan where you can see her power level and can choose from several in-game abilities. More abilties become available as her power level rises. Complete bonus objectives to improve Kerrigan. This is vital because she literally leads your armies in the campaign. To an extent she can be too powerful and makes the single player story too easy to finish. Choice powers like kinetic blast can king-hit most tough units while 'spawn banelings' (morphed zerglings that explode on contact) with the healing acid mutation seems to be almost unstoppable.
Multiplayer gamers will enjoy the new maps which are reminiscent of the single player scenarios. All three playable races feature new content, which alters how people compete. Rush tactics seem to dominate new players. Time will tell whether I can learn the counters and win a match on my own merits rather than relying on my opponent's internet connection to drop out.
Heart of the Swarm is a standalone expansion that is excellent value for money. The retail box also comes with two guest passes for World of Warcraft, two guest passes for Wings of Liberty and a Zerg themed note pad. Play it today.