Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm preview

My second mission, also taking place on the planet, asked Kerrigan to build and maintain a base while stopping waves of Protoss shuttles from reaching warp-gates and warning the Zerg-crushing Golden Armada. As befits a Blizzard game, the mission emphasised balance: flitting back and forth between spawning mineral-collecting Drones, base-protecting Roaches, and shuttle-shooting Hydralisks.

"On normal difficulty, the task is fairly simple. On brutal difficulty, it's a different matter."

On normal difficulty, the task is fairly simple. I powered up my economy quickly, spending all my early resources on Drones and parking Kerrigan under each shuttle as it neared the warp-gate. Her damage alone was enough to knock their shields down in a trice – if I had changed her powers pre-mission, she'd have been able to hurl a bolt of supercharged lightning at a given target, destroying the shuttle outright.

On brutal difficulty, it's a different matter. Shuttles started coming two at a time, coinciding with Protoss pushes. The small gaggles of Hydralisks that I'd previously used to swat down enemy craft needed to be reinforced to shoot down now-faster shuttles, all while my mineral lines were being harried by quadrupedal Stalker raids. By the end, I'd built up three separate bases and had control groups strewn across the map.

The third mission I played took place on a smaller scale. One of the shuttles from the previous level had dodged my Hydralisk strike forces, and was soon to warn the Protoss fleet. Fortunately, thanks to some Alien-inspired chestbursting, I'd managed to sneak a tiny Zerg larva aboard the vessel. I was tasked with guiding the creature around a hostile environment, absorbing biomass by killing unsuspecting animals held in stasis, and hiding in smoke when bigger foes patrolled past.

"Heart of the Swarm on brutal is singleplayer RTS at its nervy best."

After enough creature murder, my larva became a Queen, able to poop out Zerg eggs. Together with her new babies, I carved a wave of destruction across the ship, methodically killing all the crew before they could communicate with the rest of their mouthless Protoss buddies. A spot of chest-bursting is always fun, but I enjoyed my third mission less than the previous two: divorced from a base and economy, my tasks felt prescribed and linear. It made for a change of pace, but I'm hoping for more missions like Kaldir's tough shuttle destruction.

Heart of the Swarm on brutal is singleplayer RTS at its nervy best. It shows what happens when the best laid plans of mice and alien-insect-infested women go awry, and the tension of trying to juggle fifteen different considerations – economics, feints, pushes, and rushes – is mentally taxing and thrilling when you get it right.

This is not a vast departure from Wings of Liberty's model. That game excelled by, just when you approached mastery, throwing another new unit, mechanic, concept or gimmick in your path. Heart of the Swarm takes the same approach. Like Abathur, it's focused on refining rather than creating new life from scratch but, from early tests, most of the campaign looks just as well optimised as the Zerg it contains.