StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Campaign preview

Aside from the evolution missions (which are very hard to lose, and seem more like tutorials to help you choose which unit evolution you want), I got to try my hand at three scenarios that put my admittedly awful, Aluminum League Zerg skills to the test. First off was a mission to an ice planet, where periodic flash freezes would lock all units aside from the hostile, native beasts in place. By killing their leaders and assimilating their DNA, I was able to adapt my chittering forces to the cold. Going out of my way to do this multiple times gave extra benefits, like increased vision and damage in the frigid environ. This felt very "Zergy," for lack of a better term, and I hope it shows up often in the campaign.

The Protoss I faced off against on the ice world weren't so lucky. Each time a flash freeze came, I would have a very brief window to tear apart their heavily-fortified positions with no risk, while they looked on in horror from within their frosty cocoons. This created a sort of rhythm to the mission. When the protoss were unfrozen, I would go hunting more natives to secure the bonus objectives for a power boost and some extra Kerrigan levels. When the flash freeze hit, it became a race to dismantle as much Protoss infrastructure as I could before their units and base defenses came back online.

Next up was a more traditional mission where I had to make sure no Protoss shuttles made it through any of three spaced-out warpgates to warn the larger fleet of my presence. It was the least imaginative of the new missions, and also bordering on fall-asleep-on-keyboard easy on the Normal difficulty. Even as someone who is absolutely terrible at Zerg in multiplayer, I was able to more than lock down the primary objectives with a few Hydralisks and spore crawlers on each gate, leaving most of my army to handily secure all of the bonus objectives, and even go as far as to nearly wipe the Protoss off the map well before the mission ended.

In the final mission, I was given control of a mostly defenseless larval Zerg queen, smuggled cleverly onto a Protoss ship that held a menagerie of captive creatures. Dodging my way around patrolling zealots initially, I had to infest and burst forth, Alien-style, from increasingly larger beasts to evolve my unimposing hero and birth an entire Zerg brood within the bowels of the vessel. It was an interesting take on the sorts of stealth missions we've seen in RTS campaigns before, allowing me to transition from skittering around in the shadows to stomping through defenses with impunity.

What remained to be seen, for the most part, was where the story arc of Heart of the Swarm will take us. The new, re-humanized Kerrigan's relationship with the Zerg remains somewhat cloudy, as do her ultimate goals. Chances are she's still not a big Arcturus Mengsk fan. With any luck, we will finally get to flay his face from his skull and use it as a doily. Whatever the case, Blizzard's imaginative mission design and commitment to high production values are still in evidence. I look forward to assuming control of the swarm once again when the expansion launches in March.

Looking for multiplayer details? Check out our hulking interview with Dustin Browder .