Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm is the first expansion to the popular Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty developed by Blizzard Entertainment. Heart of the Swarm is the second in a trilogy of Starcraft II releases. Blizzard Entertainment kindly sent us a collectors edition copy of Heart of the Swarm so we could review both the game and the collectors edition content for you.

To prevent ruining the story for you, I’ll be using an excerpt taking from the official story teaser by Blizzard before leading into the review itself. Heart of the Swarm is a very large expansion and could almost be considered a game in itself, despite being tied to Wings of Liberty. (NOTE: Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is required to play the Heart of the Swarm expansion).

“The Queen of Blades is gone. On the hellish planet Char, Jim Raynor harnessed the power of an ancient Xel’Naga artifact in a desperate bid to stop the zerg Swarm from overrunning the Koprulu sector, and the artifact restored Sarah Kerrigan to her human form. Without their queen to guide and unify them, the Swarm has fractured into several broods scattered throughout the Koprulu sector. One of the greatest threats to the galaxy has been neutralized… or so it seems.

Sarah Kerrigan is on the loose. Even without the terrible powers of the Queen of Blades or the might of the Swarm at her command, the former Ghost remains a foe not to be taken lightly. But if the artifact really did set her free, then why is Kerrigan seeking out zerg broods scattered throughout the Koprulu sector? What happened to Jim Raynor? Is she still pursuing her quest for vengeance, or has her transformation given Kerrigan a new purpose?”

Characters in Heart of the Swarm are more developed, deep and complicated than those featured in the original Wings of Liberty campaign. Kerrigan, the lead character, is a strong female who has a quest to deal with. I, along with many others, was able to connect to her and relate to her quest, thoughts and feelings more than I was with the characters in Wings of Liberty. The support characters are also stronger than those in Wings of Liberty, but less in quantity.

The campaign features many missions, each telling a part of Sarah Kerrigan’s story. The game shows her escape from her enemy Arcturus and her quest for revenge and violence on those who took her captive. The story is very well integrated with Wings of Liberty and definitely adds to the overall atmosphere and feel of Starcraft II whilst still being different to the original and bringing something fresh to the series. The story ends openly, leaving us waiting for the conclusion in the final release of the Starcraft II trilogy, the Legacy of the Void expansion which does not have a confirmed release date.

We gain experience with the Zerg race very quickly in Heart of the Storm. We get to use Zerg mutation and evolution pits to enhance our units in contrast to the technical upgrade process for Terran units in Wings of Liberty. Zerg mutations can be altered at any time in order to create the best units for the current task at hand. Primary and bonus objectives help to upgrade Kerrigan’s powers, with the latter offering the upgrades faster than the former.

In terms of graphics, the game uses the same engine Wings of Liberty did meaning it doesn’t offer a major enhancement on graphics, however, the graphical quality in Wings of Liberty was already excellent to begin with, so, Heart of the Swarm’s graphics still look great. The rendered cut scenes look absolutely stunning (as expected from Blizzard) and whilst the in-game rendered cutscenes cannot match up to the pre-rendered ones, they still look very good.

Sound quality is fantastic. Effects and music are to the highest standard and voice acting is superb. Some well known voice actors and actress have lent their voices to the game and Blizzard icon Chris Metzen provides a lot of voice work for the various units in the game. The music is also available on a separate soundtrack which, in turn, is available in the collectors edition of the expansion.

Now, moving on to the multiplayer component of the game: new units have been added into the online section of Starcraft II allowing new gameplay possibilities in matches and freshening up the overall feel of the online multiplayer. Replays of famous tournament games are now easier to access in addition to the AI battles now possible using the multiplayer system. New group and clan features have also been added, making playing with friends easier than ever and opening up easy ways to privately converse and plan your tactics.

The final part of our review consists of the collectors edition content. Blizzard Entertainment kindly sent us a copy of the beautiful Heart of the Storm collectors edition, enabling us to give you a full insight into the premium edition of the expansion. The collectors edition retails around £59.99/$79.99/€69.99, which is excellent value when the contents are taken into account.

Firstly, a full copy of the expansion is included. Bear in mind, you still need to buy Wings of Liberty to use the game if you do not already own it. The behind the scenes DVD & Blu-Ray pack included is excellent and really gives an insight into the making of the game, the Blizzard studio and an extra bit of backstory for Heart of the Swarm.

The beautifully printed art book shows some of the lovely drawings and concept art which were created for the expansion. The book is of great quality and is a lovely collectors piece for those interested in collecting gaming items. The mouse pad looks great and feels sturdy enough for daily use without too much wear and tear. The soundtrack is fantastic, and, as we mentioned above, all the game’s music is excellent.

Also included are some extra in-game content goodies for Starcraft II, World of Warcraft and Diablo III, all nice extras included to reward the loyalty of those who are regular customers of Blizzard’s excellent titles. Overall, the collectors edition is well worth the asking price, which is much less than collectors editions from console games usually are. If you are a true Starcraft/Blizzard fan, this is THE product for you and will make a nice product to keep as a collectors item into the future.

Thanks for reading our review of Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm expansion, we leave you with the opening cinematic of the game, followed by the final scores.