While many were irked that Blizzard decided to stretch out the StarCraft 2 campaign into three "games" - each one focused on one of the game's races - once you begin to dig into StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm it becomes clear that this isn't just a quick add-on campaign. The focus of the game's first expansion is on the Zerg, putting players in the shoes of Kerrigan, former Queen of Blades. The story is here is solid, bringing players on a journey to discover where the Zerg came from, how and why they evolved, and where they are going as a species. There's plenty of hints as to what's to come in the second expansion pack as well - which will focus on the Protoss.
It should be noted that StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty is required to play Heart of the Swarm, but with a price of around $20 for the core game the expansion sitting at $40 you're basically getting two games for the price of one. The campaign itself while still somewhat the same in terms of structure, does mix things up just enough to keep you interested. There's still a base of operations in between missions where you can chat with characters, upgrade your units, perform research and optional missions, and of course - advance the story.
The missions themselves are nothing short of incredible in terms of design. Personally I'm not a fan of the whole "build the biggest base as fast as you can and rush" mentality which goes along with the game's multiplayer modes. Thankfully Heart of the Swarm feels closer to a Dawn of War 2 style campaign - giving players limited resources and units, while still allowing some base building, and seeing how you can accomplish specific goals. There's really some fun and quirky missions - like one early on that has you infected a Protoss with a larva and beaming aboard their ship. Then you slowly consume and grow as you work to infect the entire ship from just that initial host. There's another mission that involves successive boss battles where you'll be learning patterns and everything to defeat them.
Perhaps the most addictive nature of the missions are the fact you'll have the hero unit Kerrigan with you through most of it. Like a little RPG you'll be able to level her up and choose unique powers and abilities for her to use - the psyonic blast is a personal favorite of mine, but later abilities that let you heal units and give buffs are extremely useful. While some missions will fail if Kerrigan is downed, most times she'll simply be revived in the spawning pool after a cooldown period.
It's easy to see how Blizzard is slowly "training" players to play Heart of the Swarm's multiplayer - with missions that focus on specific units and how to utilize their abilities to the max - you'll graduate to the more competitive mode once completing the campaign. While I can't even begin to properly judge this mode of play, Blizzard has added a ton of content including new units, upgraded units a full clan system. One unique feature is the ability to watch replays of other players and then jump in and take control at any point, a great way to learn the game.
StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm surprised me, especially since the Terrans were more my faction than the Zerg. While I really enjoyed my time with Wings of Liberty, I found myself enjoying Heart of the Swarm more. The story is great, the characters and cut scenes are interesting, but most of all the missions are just plain fun.