As you all know, I flew out last Wednesday to California to visit Blizzard HQ and preview the upcoming expansion, Heart of the Swarm! Thursday morning (around 9am), I arrived at Blizzard to see a small group of people circled around someone, similar to a flock of seagulls around some bread on the beach. Yeah, Day9 must be there. And of course, there he was, accidentally being the center of attention. Though i'm sure you aren't here to read about Day9, I know you want me to break into HotS. After some bsing around with the other members of the press that attended, they brought us into the Theater with Dustin Browder, whom then showed us the following teaser, which I know some of you have already seen (leaks make me QQ). Also, if after you still have questions, you still have questions, feel free to ask!
Dustin talked to us a little bit, giving us the general idea of how things were going to work. Essentially, we were going to be dropped into two different missions, approximately 4-6 missions into the story, where Sarah Kerrigan is trying to regather the broods of what is left of the swarm, while still being hunted by both the Terran and Protoss. So while Wings of Liberty focused on Raynor being a pirate, a mercenary, and whatever else he needed to be while jumping around worlds, Heart of the Swarm will focus more on a specific few planets, where we will conquer them, and then move onto the next one. On that note, we were set free to go play them ourselves.
The first thing I noticed prior to playing the missions was the change in scenery. No longer are we sitting in the Cantina of the Hyperion, now we are just sitting planet side while controlling our characters. Aside from Kerrigan, we see Abathur, dubbed Evolution Master, who essentially gives us new stuff. If you talk to him, you can spend "mutagen" that you earn/find within the missions to evolve your creatures. For example, you can mutate your Banelings into Splitterlings, and they will split into 2 smaller Banelings twice, though dealing less damage. I've got the full list of possible evolutions at the bottom of the post for those of you interested. And yes, most, if not all evolutions had new models, so yay new models! Aside from Abathur, we have Izcha, who is Kerrigan's Advisor. She retains the memory of Kerrigan as the Queen of Blades, and simply... advises her! And of course, we have Kerrigan. There is a brand new mechanic, currently called Battle Focus, where we can level Kerrigan up as a hero, as will use her in-game in just about every single mission. Essentially, you can envision Kerrigan as a Diablo character. Battle Focus has several (the number is not set, currently there are 2, there are room for 4, but Browder said there can be 6+ even) "skill paths" where you take different directions with her spells. The Spec Ops Focus currently gives you +50 energy, and then gives her two spells: Pulse (which does an AoE stun & damage), and Psionic Shadow, which essentially creates a shadow Kerrigan to fight by your side. On the other hand, we have the Corruption "tree", which adds +3 armor, and allows her to Spawn Broodlings, or use Corrosive Spores, a damaging AoE. By beating levels, we unlock new spells for Kerrigan, as well as adding to her energy and health.
Now, the first mission we played, called War for the Brood, was on Char. Our goal was to defeat Za'Gara, a Brood Mother who was attempting to take over the Zerg swarm that remained on the surface. Joining us for the first time, would be the Baneling. The mission following up will be called Fire in the Sky, but we couldn't play that just yet. So, the second mission we played, called Silence Their Cries, was on an icy planet named Kaldir, and the Roach joined us. In addition is a new functionality, similar to the lava rising in those few Tosh missions, the surface of the planet would freeze over, rendering everything unusable for 20 seconds or so. By gathering Yeti Matriarch DNA (new neutral units: the Yeti, and the Yeti Matriarch), we were able to stay thawed when the freeze happened. I also noticed a few other new units/models on that level, Protoss Psi-Link Spires, and Protoss Mobile Satellites. The next level again, will be Shoot the Messenger, but we weren't able to play it. Also worth noting, Kerrigan is allowed to die! No longer do we have to worry about losing the mission on hero death. When she dies, her DNA is used to revive her, and then you get to place her back on Creep when the cooldown is up.
Like I said, for those curious, here is a list of the possible evolutions:
- Metabolic Boost - Move speed +33%
- Posthumous Mitosis - 20% chance to spawn 2 Broodlings on death
- Rapid Genesis - Instantly produce Zerglings
- Raptor - Leaps at enemies and +10hp
- Swarmling - Hatches 3 Zerglings instead of 2, for no extra cost
- Vicious Discharge - Goo sprays at and slows enemies by 25%
- Centriugal Hooks - Move speed +25%
- Rupture - Splash radius on death +25%
- Splitterling - Splits into 2 smaller Banelings, twice, dealing less damage
- Gorgeling - Reduces Units/Structures into collectible resources
- Chitinous Plating - +1 armor
- Bile Ducts - +2 damage
- Organic Carapace - +2 life regeneration
- Prowler - Move while burrowed
- Leech - +10 life per kill (up to 6) and heals more rapidly while burrowed
- This isn't a confirmed unit, though it is something I picked up while watching Kerrigan talk to Abathur. After completing the "Silence Their Cries" level on Kaldir, Kerrigan tells Abathur that she needs a Metamorph, "a creature that gathers biomass and fuels its own transformation." I suppose we'll have to wait and see for more information.
While in the group interview, I tried to ask a bunch of general Mapping related questions, we were only able to talk to Chris Sigaty, Dustin Browder, David Kim, and Alan Dabiri, so no GE guys were available. The guys on SCLegacy recorded the whole thing, yay! If you listen close enough, you'll hear me asking some questions... I was the only guy asking questions related to Mapping at all (Editor, Marketplace, etc) so I don't think you'll miss me.
For those of you who don't want to watch the full hour+ video, here's the gist of the interview, in a nutshell: General/Lore:
- There won't be any Cerebrates, instead there are Brood Mothers. Cerebrates all wanted the Overmind!
- Raynor will side with Tosh and the Protoss from WoL.
- There will be 20ish new missions in HotS.
- There will be new Multiplayer units. They may also change or remove WoL Multiplayer units.
- There will be a Multiplayer Beta again, that will last somewhere between 3-5 months.
- They're talking about doing a Co-Op Campaign, eventually.
- The Map Marketplace will come either alongside, or shortly before Heart of the Swarm.
- More work on the Popularity System will be done, but the features coming with the Map Marketplace should help our problems a bit.
- They can and may roll out Ladders and their Matchmaking System with certain Custom Games in the near future.
- The UI Editor is coming around HotS, as well as a lot more new features/changes/additions.
- Adding a Water mechanic is something they're talking about, but currently have no plans for.
- Adding a way to have different colored creep is something they're talking about, but currently have no plans for.
- There are no plans to support maps bigger than 256x256.
Frequently Asked Questions
Blizzard also gave us an FAQ to go along with everything, I figured that I would just post it up in its entirety, regardless of whether or not I hit on some points above.
Q: What is StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm?
A: Heart of the Swarm is the first expansion set to Blizzard Entertainment's sci-fi real time strategy game, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Heart of the Swarm continues the epic story from Wings of Liberty with an all-new campaign that focuses on Kerrigan, the former Queen of Blades. New multiplayer content will also be included in the expansion, as well as new features and upgrades to the Battle.net online platform.
Q: What features can we expect from the single-player campaign of Heart of the Swarm?
A: Heart of the Swarm's campaign will include approximately 20 new missions. Players will be able to evolve their swarms with unique, campaign-only units and abilities, and this evolution will happen in an organic manner befitting of the expansion's Zerg theme. As an example, zerglings can be induced to evolve the ability to split into broodlings upon death. Further evolution can yield specialized sub-species of zerglings such as the swarmling, a variant that spawns three swarmlings per larvae instead of the standard two zerglings. The fearsome raptor is another evolutionary offshoot of the zergling that has more health, and the ability to leap short distances to quickly close the gap on an enemy.
Another aspect of Heart of the Swarm that makes it unique from Wings of Liberty is that Kerrigan will play a major role in each of the battles as a powerful hero. Over the course of the campaign she gains in strength as well as new capabilities. Players will choose what abilities to enhance and powers to use from mission to mission.
Heart of the Swarm will also include a wider variety of sets for players to explore between missions - these sets change dynamically as players complete missions, giving a sense of a changing world as Kerrigan makes her presence felt throughout the galaxy. Fully-voiced cut-scenes will round out the cinematic gaming experience in Heart of the Swarm's campaign, while a new array of achievements will unlock in-game rewards such as portraits and decals.
Q: Will there be any technical upgrades to the graphics engine?
A: We'll be making some improvements to the graphics, including upgrades to the look and behavior of zerg creep, as well as some changes that allow our artists to better showcase the new types of planets that Kerrigan will explore in Heart of the Swarm. We still plan to keep the minimum hardware requirements the same for this expansion set as they were in Wings of Liberty.
Q: What are some of the changes made to multiplayer Heart of the Swarm?
A: While we're not quite ready to go into detail about the new multiplayer content in Heart of the Swarm, we can say that this expansion set will include new units and new maps. We'll have more details about multiplayer Heart of the Swarm content at BlizzCon.
Q: What changes will come to Battle.net with Heart of the Swarm?
A: As far as Battle.net improvements, one primary focus will be on getting the StarCraft Marketplace up and running at some point around the launch of Heart of the Swarm. The maps and mods community in StarCraft II has published tens of thousands of custom maps using the StarCraft II editor. Our goal with the new Marketplace design will be in upgrading the custom map UI to better showcase the wide variety of great new maps and mods to players who are looking for fun new gaming experiences. We want players to be able to more easily find, rate, and sort through all the great custom maps that have been created.
The Marketplace will also eventually include a commerce element that will allow mapmakers to charge a fee for their work. While there will always be a wealth of free content, we believe that allowing content creators to profit from their work will foster an environment for more complex and higher-quality custom maps. Our ultimate hope is that the StarCraft Marketplace will function and thrive in a similar manner as mobile "app-stores" - tons of free and premium content for players, and a limitless source of entertainment through StarCraft II and Battle.net.
We do have other Battle.net feature upgrades and improvements planned as well, and we'll have more details on those at a later date.
Q: Will Heart of the Swarm require ownership of Wings of Liberty?
A: For the regions that have a standard box business model such as North America and Europe, yes, Wings of Liberty will be required in order to play Heart of the Swarm. For other regions that have alternative access models, we’ll provide details at a later date.
Q: How much will Heart of the Swarm cost?
A: We typically don't provide details about pricing until the game is closer to release. We do view Heart of the Swarm as an expansion set, so for the regions that have a standard box business model such as North America and Europe, we will price accordingly. For other regions that have alternative business models, we’ll provide details at a later date.
Q: Will there be a console version of Heart of the Swarm?
A: StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is being developed for Windows and Mac. We have no current plans to bring StarCraft II to any console platform.
Q: When is Heart of the Swarm coming out?
A: It's too early to talk about a specific release date at this point in time. As with all Blizzard games, our ultimate goal is to provide the best possible experience for our players, and we will take as much time as is needed to ensure that Heart of the Swarm meets the expectations of our players, as well as our own high standards.