StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is the second chapter in the StarCraft II trilogy. Heart of the Swarm focuses on the bestial, vicious Zerg collective, known as the Swarm. Swarm chronologically comes after StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, the Terran chapter, and before StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, the Protoss chapter.
The StarCraft II "trilogy" was announced at Blizzcon 2008 and was met with a mostly positive response, but negative reactions on appeared on Internet forums. Some fans accused Blizzard of splitting up the three campaigns into different product releases so they could charge more money for each than for a single amalgamated product. Blizzard responded by clarifying the decision to split the campaign into three separate products was to ensure a more complete and epic story, with each of the campaigns being roughly equal in length to the total length of the three campaigns in the original StarCraft. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. With Heart of the Swarm being the second installment in the trilogy, it is believed development was not started until the completion of Wings of Liberty.
The Heart of the Swarm campaign centers around Sarah Kerrigan, the self-styled "Queen of Blades". Kerrigan is a former Terran Ghost, mutated and infested into a powerful Zerg/Human hybrid, who is fighting to maintain and expand her control over the recently divided Zerg Swarm after being stripped of her powers at the end of Wings of Liberty, when she was purified through the use of a Xel'Naga artifact. Although Kerrigan is still a Zerg/Human hybrid, she has lost much of her former powers including the ability to control all Zerg everywhere with a thought. Nevertheless Kerrigan will have to regain her powers to live up to the Overmind's prophecy that only she, as leader of the Swarm, can stop the "Dark Voice" character from wiping out the Terrans, the Protoss, and the Zerg. The campaign has you progressing through missions to return Kerrigan to a semblance of her original strength using mutations and 'Kerrigan upgrades', as she fights to regain control of the Swarm.
Heart of the Swarm was released on March 12, 2013. Leading up to its release, Blizzard indicated that Legacy of the Void would be a standalone product and would not require ownership of the first two installments of StarCraft II. As of mid-July 2015, the Battle.net shop product pages indicate that Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void are standalone products.
Blizzard have expanded on the successful Wings of Liberty multiplayer with new features and changes. Primarily, new units (listed below), adjustments to existing units, and multiplayer maps, alongside an XP system which rewards players for successful online play with new user portraits, unit and structure skins and unit animations (/dance).
The learning curve for new players and general matchmaking system was also changed with a better training mode and an additional 'unranked' multiplayer option. Heart of the Swarm introduced a separate online ladder for online play, which exists separately and alongside the Wings of Liberty ladder.
New Multiplayer Units
- Hellbat – Built at the factory, the Hellbat is an upgraded version of the Hellion. Once unlocked, Hellions may freely transform into Hellbats and Hellbats into Hellions. Visually this transformation turns the normally wheeled Helllion into a mech style unit with large shields and a single flame nozzle. The transformation sacrifices the great speed of the Hellion for greatly increased durability and a much wider (but shorter) attack. It was introduced to help Terran players counter massed melee units such as the Zergling or Zealot.
- Widow Mine – The Widow Mine is an evolution of the Spider Mine from the original StarCraft. It can be controlled like other units in the game instead of being permanently rooted in the ground like the Spider Mine. It has some other differences in comparison to the old Spider Mine such as being produced to the factory instead of laid by a Vulture. It also has a manual detonation mode similar to Banelings.
- Mothership Core – The Mothership Core is, as its name implies, the “core” of a Mothership. It is produced in the early game and fills a support/defensive role that the Protoss army was in dire need of. The Mothership Core can then be upgraded into the full Mothership once a player has advanced far enough up the Protoss tech tree.
- Tempest – The Tempest is a long-range aerial siege unit meant to counter threats such as the Siege Tank and Brood Lord. Its attack is very slow but has incredible range and damage. A single Tempest is very vulnerable but if a critical mass can be achieved it becomes a very powerful unit.
- Oracle – The Oracle is an aerial support spell-caster that is built from the Stargate. It specializes in harassing workers using the "Pulsar Beam" ability which requires energy. It has the "Envision" ability which allows it to detect cloaked units for 60 seconds, allowing Protoss players to open Stargate tech without the fear of losing to Banshee and Dark Templar rushes. It also has the "Revelation" ability which forces enemy units and buildings to provide vision.
- Viper – The Viper is an aerial support spell-caster that specializes in neutralizing enemy ranged units. It has two main abilities. The first is Blinding Cloud, which is very similar to Dark Swarm which was an ability that the Defiler had in the original StarCraft. The second is the ability to “abduct” units and pull them towards the Viper. Abduct is very useful for picking off powerful enemy units such as the Protoss Immortal.
- Swarm Host – The Swarm Host is a ground unit that has similarities to Brood Lords and Carriers. It does not attack directly, it instead burrows underground and releases waves of Locusts which are similar to Broodlings. The Swarm Host will continually produce Locusts while it is burrowed.
Along with the new campaign and multiplayer units, Blizzard has added many new features to the Battle.net platform. The most obvious change made to Battle.net is the updated user interface in both Heart of the Swarm and Wings of Liberty. In the previous iteration of the interface, players needed to navigate through 2-3 different screens to access the game mode they wished to play. Blizzard has streamlined the UI so that all major game modes can be accessed with a single click.
Clans and Groups
In Heart of the Swarm, the chat channels have been removed in lieu of the new Clans and Groups system. Clans allow for the player to have a tag next to their name, as well as a private chat channel for members. Groups also feature a chat channel, and those can be set to private or public. Clans have a 50 player limit, while Groups have a near unlimited max - you can also join as many groups as you choose.