During the opening ceremony of Blizzcon, a lot of new Heart of the Swarm info was dropped: new units, new tactical considerations, and of course, tons of new Zerg with plenty of new bits added. Would you like to know more? Check out the full FAQ after the break:
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 Sarah Kerrigan, the former Queen of Blades. New multiplayer units and maps 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 larva at an almost instantaneous rate 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 sets it apart 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 locations, or sets, for players to explore between missions. These sets change dynamically as players complete missions, giving players a sense of an evolving 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 approach is the development team taking toward multiplayer in Heart of the Swarm?
A: We’re very pleased with the state of multiplayer in Wings of Liberty. Over the past year, the metagame has evolved as players are continuously developing new strategies and counters, while we’ve tried to make measured changes to game balance through patches. However, we recognize that there are still areas for improvement. Heart of the Swarm gives us an opportunity to address some of those needs through new units and abilities, which we’re typically not willing to make outside of an expansion as they can have a serious effect on current tournaments.
With Heart of the Swarm, we’ve tried to locate the needs of each race and address them with new units and abilities. We’re also trying to maintain — and if possible, enhance — the uniqueness of each race. The goal with everything we create for multiplayer Heart of the Swarm is to add new dimensions of strategy and gameplay to competitive StarCraft, while maintaining balance and avoiding redundancy with existing units.
Q: What are some examples of new units, abilities, and game mechanics in multiplayer Heart of the Swarm?
A: First, it’s important to note that units and abilities are still very much subject to change. What we’re showing at BlizzCon only represents a snapshot of where multiplayer Heart of the Swarm currently stands, and these are just a few examples of the new units and abilities coming in Heart of the Swarm.
For the zerg, the new Swarm Host will serve as a ground-based siege unit. When burrowed, the Swarm Host will spawn melee units that slowly move in a stream toward enemy units or structures. This will allow the zerg to apply pressure on entrenched enemy positions. We’re also testing a new ability for the Ultralisk, called Burrow Assault, which will allow them to more easily get into the fight on a crowded battlefield. This activated ability will allow an Ultralisk to dive underground, quickly advance underneath units, and pop back up to attack enemies.
The protoss will field an interesting new unit called the Replicant. This unit has one ability — to turn itself into any non-massive unit within the protoss player’s line of sight on the map. This means protoss will have the ability to instantly clone units like terran Banshees and Siege Tanks, zerg Infestors, and more. The drawback is that Replicants are very expensive to create. On the abilities side, the protoss will get a new energy-based Arc Shield ability on the nexus that will temporarily add shield and building armor to any structure, as well as a weapon that functions in a similar way to a photon cannon, doing 20 light damage to enemies. This new ability will help protoss players fend off unexpected drops.
The terrans will have some new tricks as well. The Hellion will be given a new ability to transform into a walking battle mech. In this alternate form, Hellions will move slower, but gain health and deal higher damage in a shorter spray of flame. Battlecruisers will get a short speed-boost ability (Redline Reactor), which will be cooldown-based. This speed boost should help these terran capital ships with positioning and engaging in late-game battles.
We’re also testing a new gameplay mechanic for maps: destructible rock pillars that can create a blockade on a choke point. These will allow players to close off pathways, block themselves into expansion bases, or protect scouts holding position on an elevated Xel’Naga watch tower.
Q: What changes will come to Battle.net with Heart of the Swarm?
A: Our primary focus will be on getting our new Battle.net initiative, Arcade, up and running at some point around the launch of Heart of the Swarm. The mapmaking and modding community around StarCraft II has published tens of thousands of custom maps using the StarCraft II editor. One of our goals with Arcade will be to upgrade 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.
For map creators, we’re adding even more tools for them to create compelling custom games. These tools will include a cinematics editor for players to create their own cut scenes, and a 3D model importing tool which will allow artists to bring their own models into the game for use in custom maps. These are just a couple of the improvements and new features we’re developing to better support the map-making and machinima community in their quest to create fun and compelling content.
Arcade will serve as a foundation for the StarCraft Marketplace we’ve talked about before. Eventually, Battle.net will 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” — providing 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 players to own Wings of Liberty?
A: For the regions that have a standard box business model such as North America and Europe, yes, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty will be required in order to play the Heart of the Swarm expansion. 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 currently have no 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.
Q: Will there be a beta test? When will it start? How can I apply for the beta?
A: Yes, we do intend to run a beta test for Heart of the Swarm multiplayer. However, we don’t yet have an estimated time frame for the beta test. As with all Blizzard games, if you wish to be considered for testing, you can opt in by going to www.battle.net and logging in to your Battle.net account. Go to Account Management, and click on Beta Profile Settings to begin the opt-in process.