I was hooked on the original Starcraft when I was a kid (like everyone else under the sun) ● I’ve been a Starcraft fan ever since ● WoL didn’t disappoint ● Blizzard Entertainment is larger than life ● There’s too much opinion going around on the Internet.
Spoilers ahead. While I enjoyed the WoL story a lot, HotS felt rather disjointed. The story picks up where the previous game left off, which is lovely – but a few missions in, Raynor and crew take a backseat and Kerrigan sets off on an interstellar quest for power all by herself. Soon, she goes to Char, where she finds her old Leviathan from that one bloody mission I couldn’t finish on brutal - and boom! Zerg supporting characters ahoy.
From this point until the Hyperion comes back in the picture, I felt like I was playing a different game. I can see how effort was made to differentiate between the various creatures on the Leviathan, but ultimately the interaction between them and Kerrigan was – for lack of a better word - boring.
The only sort-of revelation in the between-mission HotS cinematics is that Abathur, who helps Kerrigan evolve different strains of Zerg, is the same creature who ‘designed’ the original Queen do Blades. Other than that, the supporting characters exist largely to serve as Kerrigan’s sounding board. One might argue that Zeratul showing up qualifies as shaking it up a little, but even that seems forced.
In comparison, WoL had things actually happening between missions (the bar fight between Raynor and Tychus is one of my favorite cinematics to date). On the other hand, when the Hyperion does make its spectacular return, the story is, once again, fun and engaging rather than one prolonged snoozefest.
On the other hand, I like how HotS set the stage for the grand finale in LotV with all the new tidbits about Amon. (Then again, much as I admire Blizzard’s Creative Department and want to be a part of it someday… weren’t there enough Amons in the world already?)
One of my biggest gripes with WoL was that some of the upgrades you could pick for your base and troops felt like filler content with no real impact on your progress. On the other hand, HotS lets you customize all of your troops in different ways and gives you a chance to test all the options before settling for one. I felt very zerg-y customizing my units to get that swarm-like feeling (3 for 2 zerglings with insta-revive, roachling and broodling spawns), not to mention having Kerrigan’s ultimate ability spawn a billion Primal Zerg that could obliterate a base easily.
But – and it’s a big ‘but’ (all big butt jokes go here [___]) – the campaign overall felt far less satisfying than the WoL missions, alternating between faceroll and pulling your hair out. Every mission felt like it was specifically tailored for the unit it introduced, so the strategy aspect went right out the window as long as you could macro out and spam said unit with additional supports (eg. mutalisks or hydras for AA). On the other hand, the early missions were quite frustrating on hard or brutal difficulty and lead to some ridiculous situations, like ling-bling-queens vs. tanks and thors.
Speaking of queens, their role in HotS makes it so you can win almost every mission spamming nothing but (auto-cast heal + armored + big range + Kerrigan = GG) in all but the last one. I honestly missed the Inject Larvae mechanic from the WoL multiplayer, and the Transfusion auto-cast takes away a lot of the good micro you need as a Zerg player.
To sum up, the campaign is fairly accessible on hard difficulty and moderately challenging on brutal. That says a lot compared to WoL, where I struggled with plenty of missions on max difficulty. My guess is that this falls under the general tendency to dumb down ALL the games so every casual and their mum can play. I mean, they give achievements for the dumbest sh!t these days. Case in point:
Whatever happened to achievements being… y’know… achieved?
Perhaps my biggest gripe with the HotS campaign is Kerrigan – on so, so many levels.
Let’s start with game mechanics. WoL was more strategy than hero play. HotS is the opposite. Kerrigan “levels up” with every mission and additional objective you complete. At certain levels, she unlocks various abilities WoW-style (the system is similar to WoW’s current talent trees). While I think it’s a capital idea to blur the lines between genres, Kerrigan becomes so bloody overpowered towards the end of the campaign she can single-handedly wipe out any base or unit on the map.
Aside from the fact that Kerigan’s abilities are insanely OP (she can one-shot anything, spawn an entire swarm all by herself, grant +HP and regen to all friendly units and so on), her energy regenerates so fast that all but her ultimate ability are spammable. You can play almost every mission MOBA-style with no problem whatsoever. The same goes for the other hero units, which for the sake of not spoiling one of the biggest twists in the game I won’t list here.
Moving on, the storyline is one big Canadian-style “Eh?”. More spoilers here.
Remember how Raynor spent most of WoL chasing down artefact pieces so he can de-Zerg Kerrigan and they can live happily ever after? Well, you can forget all that, because the Queen of Blades is back and bitchin’ faster than you can say “Wait, wuh?” Yes, this is a Zerg-themed expansion. Yes, Kerigan is the single most badass woman in any Blizzard franchise (Sylvannas? Feh.) and yes, the Queen of Blades has been a Zerg symbol for more than ten years now, but then why oh why write the WoL ending the way it went down rather than, say, weaken her but keep her all Zerged up? It makes about as much sense as any given WoW lore post-WotLK.
And finally, there’s the design. Note Kerigan’s butt in the screenshot below. Join me in shaking my head and wondering why on Earth they’d give her what looks like a painful wedgie (that somehow endures in her new QoB form, too). Realize that even the most badass female in gaming history (okay, okay, one of them, all right?) is there to cater to the armies of drooling teens who, sadly, still constitute the go-to audience for all games despite overwhelming evidence that’s no longer the case.
From the pits of the Internet comes a concerning new trend which I like to call ‘self-entitlement’. It’s the erroneous belief that just because you can state your opinion, it also means not only that you should, but that everyone under the bloody sun has to agree with you or else. At least that’s the vibe I’m getting from browsing the SC2 forums these days.
While the story does has its flaws (which I’ve pointed out above), some of the disgruntled threads I’ve read on the forums seriously make me want to punch the OPs in the face. The amount of whining there is unbelievable, especially considering that most of the kids spamming “qq the story suxx qq” probably skipped most cinematics and couldn’t care less about the lore. But hey, bandwagoning is fun, ain’t it?
On the other hand, I did find some gems in the forums, like this thread that I shall save for posterity because it’s just that fun to read.
The screenshot to the left is from the EU forums. Much to my surprise, the US forums have already moved on.