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StarCraft II: Heart of the Micro
on March 13, 2013
This review will be spoiler free.
Anyone buying this expansion should know what they are getting into, seeing as it requires Wings of Liberty, and I'd hope you have it if you purchased this. It is, in its most basic form, just more StarCraft 2.
HotS includes a full new zerg-centric campaign of 20 levels, plus 7 short bonus levels that let you try out new toys. The expansion is as well-polished as Wings of Liberty and captures the feel of zerg very well. The story moves along at a frantic pace and doesn't do anything overly shocking or innovative. Nonetheless, it was entertaining. Entertaining in the way a summer action blockbuster is; fun for a while, but skin-deep and forgettable. My biggest gripe with the campaign was the focus on micro. When WoL was released, the intent was to make a continuation of the original StarCraft. With SC2 emerging as an esport, and micro-management becoming the factor that determined winners, it makes sense that Blizzard would adopt this approach for the single player. It's just the natural evolution of the game, like it or not. I often felt like I was playing a MOBA, instead of an RTS / RTT (SC is really a tactics game, not strategy). This was further reinforced by the fact that most missions have timed events forcing you to react before you have time to really strategize. I got my fill on action, but I'm looking forward to Uber Entertainment's Planetary Annihilation for true strategy.
When it comes to difficulty, any player with moderate micro skills can blaze through the campaign with ease, as I was able to do on brutal difficulty. It was much easier than WoL, and Blizzard said it would be "more challenging" prior to release. I could see that being true for players who have no experience with micro, but my so-so ability was more than enough. Even so, a few missions provided adequate challenges and the experience was fun.
As for the UI and multiplayer, the changes are less dramatic, but welcome nonetheless. My favorite new feature was implemented before the release of HotS with a patch, and it is the active worker overlays on your geysers and harvesting base buildings. I no longer have to manually count my workers to fully optimize them. Another great feature is the more interactive and lively allied AIs on custom games. The AI can be given orders and notifies you of its actions and discoveries. It feels like a much more involved experience for those of us who prefer to avoid competitive play.
Finally, I have no comment on multiplayer balance changes or anything of the sort, as I tend to avoid the vs aspects of the game. I have a condition called essential tremors, which causes me to have trouble with micro intensive matches. I'm otherwise a pretty good SC2 player, and I could probably still push diamond league without much trouble. Perhaps I will get into the multiplayer with this expansion and update my review in the future. Then again, perhaps not.
Overall, you should know what to expect; more SC2. Everything seems well implemented, but the focus was certainly different than WoL. Also note that while the system requirements are essentially the same, the focus on Zerg created more than a few situations where my system dropped down to fairly low framerates. Hundreds of zerglings and other units on screen at once will do that, even though I have an i5-3570k @ 4.5 GHz and two Radeon HD 7870s in crossfire. If your system ran WoL poorly, expect some serious chop on HotS.
EDIT: Almost forgot the collector's edition items. The box opens like a heavy blast door and is impressive within itself. The contents of the collector's edition are very nice, from the hard cover art book to the great looking mouse pad. The mouse pad is very sensitive to movements and may not be for everyone, but it looks fantastic. I'll stick with my Steelseries mousepad, but this one really looks cool.
I haven't watched the making-of DVD or listened to the soundtrack yet.
Lastly, AVOID LOOKING IN THE ART BOOK UNTIL YOU HAVE FINISHED THE STORY. It may contain spoilers. Big ones. I kind of shot myself in the foot with that one.