So, you all wanted a review/comparison from me? Actually, I wanted to do it for myself, but I'm going to pretend that you're all begging for it, because that'll make me feel slightly less pretentious. Anyway, there's no actual story here, so this is just here for your interest and mine. Also, spoilers, ahoy! So, without further ado, I'm pissed off. I'm pissed off at this game, I'm pissed off at Blizzard for making this game as it is, I'm pissed off at my Process Engineering professor for various unrelated reasons, but above all, I'm pissed off at myself for not seeing the signs earlier and getting so damn hyped up.
Does the above give you the impression that I hate Heart of the Swarm? Well, you'd be wrong. It's an awesome game and I will be playing it a lot more for weeks to come. To be honest, there are so many things I absolutely love about this game, any criticism I have for it just kind of fades. I love how it actually makes me feel like I'm commanding the freakin' Swarm (with a capital S). How each mission is timed or has a timed achievement, egging me on to expand, consume, adapt, and assimilate. How your units rapidly turn into an endless tide of death and destruction, exactly as the Zerg were intended. I love the cinematic cutscenes and how they genuinely make me empathize with some of the characters. Case in point, 'Believe in me'. I could really feel the pain that both Raynor and Kerrigan must have felt, and I'm almost certain most of you did so as well. Hell, any time Raynor opens his mouth in a cutscene, the feels come out. Oh, and then there's Abathur, whose every line is pure, unmitigated awesome in a way that I could never hope to match.
However, even as I was playing through the game, there was a niggling little feeling in the back of my mind. Something that I couldn't shake until it blossomed into a damning piece of criticism when I started thinking about it after I finished the game. StarCraft is showing signs of Indigo Prophecy Syndrome. In a nutshell, Indigo Prophecy Syndrome occurs when writers try to make a game or story more epic by upping the stakes to stupidly ridiculous levels, stretching or outright breaking the established mythology by adding a supernatural element, and introducing strange and often ancient conspiracies into the plotline, usually in the form of prophecies. As a result, subtlety goes out the window and the story seems to abandon everything that made it great in the first place in order to make room for flashy, bombastic set-pieces. Yes, I stole this term from Yahtzee but it is the only word that seems to completely describe what is happening here. Anyway, allow me to expand:
1. Upping the stakes. What was at stake in the original SC or Brood War? People's lives, mainly. The antagonists were 'merely' a conquering horde in the former or a power-hungry schemer in the latter. Now, Blizzard is saying that the main antagonist is out to destroy EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, FOREVER, just to make sure that he's actually a bigger threat than the Overmind ever was. He's not just trying to kill everything, he wants to devour all the essence (whatever that's supposed to be) in the universe so that nothing can change or exist. Is this really necessary? To me, it feels so comically over the top that it's more at home in a silly cartoon than in a game franchise that actually takes itself a little seriously. What's wrong with keeping the stakes nice and personal? You don't need to obliterate all creation just to convince us that the monster of the week is a credible threat. Think about it: which StarCraft villain actually wanted to annihilate everything? They were always motivated by something far less grandiose like greed (Mengsk), pride (Aldaris), or a lust for power (Queen of Blades). None of them wanted to commit omnicide, but are still better villains because the traits that make them the bad guys are things we can relate to. Their failings are so like our own, we realize that we might end up making the same decisions. This makes us actually WANT to oppose them. Amon, on the other hand is just completely unrelatable. He's not a person, but a force. Something that's just sort of there to give the other characters a reason to fight like a giant eldritch punching bag of doom. Had this game been created by a lesser developer, I might have considered that to be enough. This, however, is Blizzard. We all know they can do better. Hell, they HAVE done better. Just look at Brood War.
Bigger isn't always better. Ever heard the saying: 'one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic'? The closer we are to someone, the more we feel for that person when they come to harm. It is much easier to empathize with a small-scale down-to-earth motive, like love or revenge, than with things like the annihilation of everything. You have to make us care about what we're trying to save, and right now, I just can't really give a damn about the entire Koprulu sector because there isn't much of a personal connection.
2. Stretching established mythology. The Xel'Naga were never literal gods before. Sure, the Protoss worshipped them like gods, but they weren't ACTUAL gods. How could they be: the early Zerg Swarm was able to wipe them out to the last. If they were as powerful as Amon (i.e. capable of ripping planets apart) how could the early Zerg have killed them? If Amon was somehow unique, or the greatest of them all, why would he bother using a middleman? If he wouldn't kill them because it was against some sort of ancient, unbreakable law (like Dreadlords killing each other in WarCraft), why would using a proxy be okay? Every answer to these questions I can think of only sound like poor excuses or raises more questions.
Why am I hammering so much on the god issue? Well, the problem with having a god as an antagonist and mortals as protagonists is that gods can't be defeated the way a mortal can. Gods, by definition, are so beyond mortals that the only way to defeat them is either to find and destroy the source of their power or find something that will even the odds, like a magic sword or a special spawning pool that will endow a worthy user with god-like powers. I'm very concerned that, by introducing gods to StarCraft, Blizzard has turned the overall story into a scavenger hunt for the ancient, magical doodad that will save the day rather than the game of thrones that it used to be.
This is not just in Heart of the Swarm, however. Ghosts, for example, have changed overtime. At first, they were just highly-trained assassins who happened to be able to read minds. Now, if the varying books and comics featuring them are to be believed, some of them also have X-men like superpowers as well. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this, it does clash with the overall feel of the franchise and the Terrans in particular. In StarCraft, the humans are supposed to be the underdogs. They are supposed to be weaker than everyone else but make up for this with cunning and determination. They're the A-team, not the Fantastic Four. Why this change? I don't know, maybe Blizzard thought it would be cool. Consider this, though: Does Raynor succeed because he 'harnessed the power within', or because he was smarter, more cunning, and more determined than everyone else? Which is a better story: The Queen of Blades's rise to power because of her own brilliance (Brood War) or Kerrigan becoming the Primal Queen of Blades because she happened to have the right genes or essence to survive the transformation (Heart of the Swarm)?
The Zerg have been wandering the stars for thousands of years using the same warp 'technology' that Kerrigan is using now. How can she cross the distance from the Koprulu sector to Zerus (the Zerg homeworld), conquer it, and be back in a month? The timeline doesn't seem to fit, unless Blizzard is going to cook up some contrived reason why the Overmind was taking his damn time.
Oh, and I've already discussed the matter of people coming back from the dead. I'm not going to discuss that here again.
When I wrote my story, I went through great lengths to try and ensure that it wouldn't clash with the established canon. Even if it did, I made sure that the actual 'feel' of the franchise wasn't changed or compromised. You know why? Because retcons are dangerous. Every time you put one in your story, you're breaking the immersion of the reader (or player). They confuse people and fracture the plot when it starts to contradict its own reality. A plot is only compelling if the audience can lose themselves into the story and nothing can suck you back into reality than mentally taking a step back and asking yourself if things are still making sense. If you are going to resort to retcons or contrivances, you have to make sure that it is absolutely necessary and provably improves the story. Though it feels like the epitome of arrogance to say so, I could create a compelling story without deviating from the canon. ME. I'm a student in his early twenties with no formal education or experience in literature. Blizzard's story department is staffed by dozens of highly capable and experienced people that have already produced incredible games in the past. If I didn't need retcons to tell a good story, why do they?
3. Introduction of ancient conspiracies. The problem with prophecies as a plot device in general is that it takes the aspect of choice away from the characters. It essentially turns the story into a cosmic chess-match between unseen gods and the characters into pawns in their game. In other words, as long as the protagonists does (or doesn't) do what prophecy tells them too, they'll be fine. If they deviate from the cosmic plan (like, say, Raynor letting Tychus take the shot or Kerrigan deciding NOT to betray the memory of the man she loves by turning herself Zerg again), everybody dies. This may be good storytelling in some franchises, but not in StarCraft. Not in a franchise where ambition and determination are rewarded and where people are rewarded for abandoning the established convention to do what they believe is right, rather than what some higher power tells them too (see Tassadar and Raynor). In good storytelling, the protagonists drive the plot forward. A character shouldn't need permission from the great plot-device-ium wizard in the sky to actually get things done. While it is true that the characters usually have their own reasons for doing the things they do, I can't ignore the fact that the entire universe seems to be intent on rail-roading them into performing the right (read: prophecy-approved) actions. Worst of all, however, the idea of prophecy effectively gives all the characters a moral get-out-of-jail free card. Kerrigan isn't evil because she killed millions. Oh, no, that was all meant to be. All part of the great magic plan devised by the Xel'Naga/Overmind/insert-name-of-bloody-deity-here to save the day. Sometimes, I wonder if Zeratul is the only one doing something productive around here, simply by trying to uncover what the big cosmic plan actually is, and that everyone else are just pawns in his game; a giant scavenger hunt with the lives and souls of everyone hanging in the balance.
To me, Heart of the Swarm overall plot feels somewhat contrived, like Blizzard felt a burning desire to crow-bar the whole prophecy malarkey in at any cost because it worked so well elsewhere. A waste, if you ask me. Once upon a time, there was intrigue and plot twists that you didn't see coming a mile away. Now, though… StarCraft isn't a fantasy game. The ideas of gods, souls, and the idea that there's more out there than the lives of the characters just doesn't have a place here, in my opinion. And that's the worst part of all this. All of my yammering is nothing more than my own, personal opinion. Blizzard isn't wrong the way, say, Bioware was with the ending to Mass Effect 3. It's more like the Homeworld series. They haven't forgotten their own franchise, they're just slowly moving away from the things that made the original so great. The introduction of fantasy elements isn't against some kind of rule, it's just different. Different in a way I happen to dislike. I know that many of you who are reading this are probably thinking that I'm just an pretentious child that's whining about his precious franchise not going EXACTLY the way he wanted to, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong. Blizzard didn't screw the pooch, they just did something unexpected and I'll just have to live with it. Guess that if I wanted to see a Heart of the Swarm story exactly to my liking, I should probably write it myself…
Oh, wait, I already did.
Kerrigan, protagonist of both our stories. It's funny how a single, relatively small thing can have such wide-ranging effects on a person. In this case, whether Raynor 'dies'. In Heart of the Swarm, she, predictably, she goes on a Kill-Bill style roaring rampage of revenge after his supposed death. Me, I wanted something something a little less depressing. Quite frankly, that's how the story is supposed to end. After all the shit she's been through, Kerrigan deserves to have at least one thing go somewhat right.
When I started writing this, I had a problem. I had to find a way to get Kerrigan and the Zerg back together. In order to do that, I had to get rid of Raynor, at least for a while. Something had to happen to separate the two and force Kerrigan into a position where she HAD to take control of the Zerg, in spite of her own inevitable disgust for the creatures. I decided to have Raynor merely captured, because I felt that if Kerrigan actually thought he was dead, she'd lose it completely and I wanted a slightly happier ending. HotS shows us that that prediction was completely on the money. Kerrigan isn't just pushed of the edge, she jumps off of it. She doesn't just let go of her humanity, she throws it into the sun with a stake driven through its heart. What bothers me, though, is how quickly and easily she abandons literally EVERYTHING just to have her revenge. She never even tries to honor Jim's memory by staying true to his ideals or try to join the Raiders to stop Mengsk the way he would have wanted (i.e. in a way other than rampaging across the Dominion, killing everything in her path). Nope, she heads to the Zerg, becomes Queen of Blades again, and throws her humanity of a bridge, thus undoing everything you did in Wings of Liberty. 'But,' cry the munchkins 'Kerrigan is feeling genuine regret for some of her actions.' Maybe she does, but she never actually does anything with it. Telling everyone that you feel like a monster rings hollow if you order your broodmothers to invade Terran planets (and inevitably butcher millions in the process) a few moments later. Letting a few dropships full of wounded escape on Char is hardly a good deed when you remember that she just murdered thousands of their buddies (including General Warfield, R.I.P.) because they happen to be on the same planet as your brood. Couldn't she, I don't know, leave Char to the bloody Dominion and settle somewhere else? It's not like there's a shortage of volcanic death-worlds to chose from. Oh, but Zerg don't run from their enemies. WHY NOT? The Zerg are pragmatists and a strategic withdrawal is sound military practice when the Swarm is still very weak and divided. Why wouldn't Kerrigan leave Char to the Dominion? Is she afraid that Zagara will commit seppuku or something? Did the Zerg suddenly develop a code of honor? Anyway, by the time the final mission comes around (and where she lets Valerian talk her into not murdering civilians), I can't really decide whether her decision to spare the innocent is due to a genuine shred of compassion or because she's worried that the Raiders will interfere if she doesn't. It's not often that I meet a protagonist whom I so utterly despise as this one. I don't mind playing the villain every now and then, but their character needs to involve things other than bloody revenge and furious anger.
It also doesn't help that Blizzard seems to try to paint her as a sort of anti-hero. The thing is, she's never really punished for her crimes. In spite of everything Kerrigan has done since reclaiming the mantle of Queen of Blades, Raynor still seems to love her when he sees that there's still 'good' in her after she decides to murder half of Augustgrad instead of all of it. This just doesn't make any sense. Kerrigan isn't a hero. She murders an entire Protoss science expedition, rather than reclaiming her Nafash's brood and leaving. She murders Warfield and his men (the same people you fought besides in Wings of Liberty, by the way), whose only crime is trying to stop a madwoman and her army of ravenous giant insects from destroying their people. She betrays Raynor by undoing everything he fought so hard to achieve and picking up where the old Queen of Blades left off. Kerrigan is a villain, pure and simple. Hell, she's worse than the Queen of Blades. At least the Queen of Blades never pretended to be righteous. But, hey, apparently the best way to atone for murdering millions is to murder millions more. Just so long as the bad guy dies at the end…
In my opinion, Raynor should have rejected her in the end. He should have simply said: "You know, darlin', I loved you once, but I can't do that anymore. Mengsk hurt you, hurt all of us, but that don't justify killing millions just to get to him." While Kerrigan's actions in Heart of the Swarm are understandable to an extent (what would you do if the only thing in the universe worth living for is taken from you?), he should still have given her the boot after everything she did to him. Let's face it: the guy grieved for four years, leads a near-suicidal invasion into hell itself and kills his best friend all to save her life, and this is how she repays him? But, no, like an idiot he says it's been a pleasure saving her ass a second time, because it all worked out so well the first. This, children, is what they call true love, also known as brain damage.
Have I mentioned that this game has me pissed?
Anyway, what I find more damning on Blizzard's part is the fact that Kerrigan feels very shallow as a character. Apart from the whole revenge thing, there's just not much to her. She doesn't seem to evolve much as a character, which is ironic, considering the setting. It's just 'Rawr Kerrigan Smash!' from start to finish. There's virtually no guilt (at least not in her actions), there's no fear off whether or not she can still command the Swarm, and her views on life, the universe, and everything stay mostly stagnant throughout the game. She just instantly slips into the Zerg mindset after Raynor gets put on a bus and stays there forever. She never seems to really question if what she's doing is really the right thing, and when others do she just brushes them off or orders them to shut up. Blizzard should have added a scene where Kerrigan bursts into tears, having finally realized the full extent of her own evils, but nope, she gets the happy ending. In my opinion, that's just not how the world is supposed to work. Someone who's this unsympathetic shouldn't get to be portrayed as a hero. The most jarring thing of all, however, is that Mengsk wanted Kerrigan dead and, from where I stand, succeeded: the good, honorable ghost we knew as Sarah Kerrigan is gone forever, killed by her own hand. Arcturus got his revenge in the end, even though it cost him his life. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest irony of them all. If only I knew if this was intentional. You know, if anyone reading this is going to Blizzcon this year, please ask them. I really, really want to know.
You know what would have made Kerrigan a hero? If she expanded her Swarm without sacrificing countless Terran worlds. If she fought the evil within her, instead of letting it consume her. If she could get her revenge without destroying herself in the process. That was the idea behind Her Body's Plaything. Did she have the strength to hold on to her own identity, or would the quest for revenge consume it? Did I succeed in getting this point across? Well, that's for you, the audience, to judge.
Blizzard should have added more interactions with other characters. While Kerrigan has an influence on the way other characters (Zagara in particular) think, no one seems to be capable of influencing her. Lassara, for example, has only two conversations with her, and Kerrigan actually has the gall to pull the 'you're no better than I am' card on her. Because a Protoss civilian is, naturally, as evil as a woman who gleefully murdered billions…
Speaking of Lassara, Blizzard shouldn't have killed the Protoss prisoner off so quickly, or at least should have given us a choice on the matter (something that's conspicuously absent from this game, along with a 'secret mission'). For example, they could have let us kill Lassara before we leave Kaldir (thus triggering the 'Enemy Within' mission), or given us the option to let her stay under the guise of research (and maybe trigger another, harder mission later in the game where a Protoss fleet tracks you down). This would give Kerrigan an opportunity to hear Lassara out, for Lassara to hear Kerrigan out, and would allow the Protoss to fill a similar position to Hanson in WoL, i.e. the angel on the main character's shoulder.
I think that part of the problem is that Kerrigan is a much more complex character than Raynor is. Let's review the first in-game cutscene in Wings of Liberty: we have Raynor sitting at a bar, looking depressed. He gazes at an old picture of the woman he loves while overhearing pro-Dominion propaganda. Then, when Mengsk starts giving his speech, he gets angry and shoots the screen. In about 2 minutes, we learn everything we need to know about Raynor's motivations: he's a bitter, lovesick, rebel trying and failing to bring down an unspeakably powerful government that has wronged him personally. Nice and simple. One guy being angry at another guy over a girl. We can empathize with this. Kerrigan, on the other hand, is much more complex. Remember that this is a woman who has been tortured and violated all her life, has jumped species TWICE, and has seen more pain, death, and agony than any human being in history. In Heart of the Swarm, she is (or at least should be) suffering from a torrent of emotions that both she and the audience can barely comprehend: guilt, hate, love, anger, pain, fear, etc. at and over many different people at once, often simultaneously. You cannot adequately explain this in one cutscene the way Raynor's motivations could. These ideas are too complicated and too alien for an ordinary person (i.e. your entire audience) to understand with so little background. In order to fully explain Kerrigan's actions and motivations, Blizzard should have made the game longer. Not necessarily more missions, but more things in-between that explain to us what the character is feeling and why.
Do you remember the Protoss mini-campaign and the UNN broadcasts? Now, I can say a lot of bad things about them (in fact, I have, in the case of the former), but they do provide you with something that the story desperately needed: context. A sense of what was going on outside the battlefield or the Hyperion. Because of the broadcasts, we don't just have to take Raynor's word for it that Mengsk is an evil despot; we can actually see it happening along with the effects of our actions on Terran life. We can see the fruits of our labor when Mengsk's empire starts to fall apart. Because of the mini-campaign, we know that there's more going on in the StarCraft universe than the Raiders' revolution. In Heart of the Swarm, however, both are missing, and it shows. Arcturus Mengsk and Dr. Narud are probably the game's main antagonists as well as accomplished schemers. However, because we only get to see the Zerg's perspective (barring one really weird mission where you control the Hyperion), we don't actually get to see that. With just the game to go on, Mengsk seems to turn into a cartoon-villain, just sitting on his throne, waiting for Kerrigan to come to him so that he can catch her in his deathtrap (which, in true cartoon tradition, has a glaringly obvious and easily exploitable flaw which also ends up being his doom). Narud is even worse. All he seems to do is ham at you for two missions before going super-saiyan and starting a match of laser-beam tug-of-war. After losing the match, Narud escapes into the mysterious temple and dies fighting Kerrigan because…Hey, why does he have to die here? The guy was able to trick Mengsk senior (who would have never allowed the hybrids to be created if he knew what their true purpose was), Raynor, Valerian, and just about everyone who's ever dealt with Moebius the past few years, why can't he escape? Why won't he escape? All he needed was a trap-door and a flash-bang grenade, things that he'd have easy access to in his position. Narud doesn't have to die, and there are all sorts of dastardly things he could do for his master if he didn't. So why did he die? Let Kerrigan believe the threat died with him? Why tell her Amon's coming then? My point: without more information, it looks like Mengsk (the reincarnation of Machiavelli) has been turned into a cartoon character and Narud (the StarCraft universe's greatest enigma) into a psychotic death-cultist. I, for one, cannot believe that this was Blizzard's intention. They are too good at their jobs to screw up this badly. So: what have they been doing? What's going on?
Now, I know that there's only so much story you can cram into a game. I know that I had to devote at least half of Her Body's Plaything to non-Zerg characters just to keep the above from happening. I also know that there are some things that you can't do in a game that you can do in a book (like show people's thoughts, plans, hopes, and dreams). My recommendation: a tie-in novel describing what Mengsk, Narud, the Raiders, and possibly even the Protoss are doing while Kerrigan is off trying to find new ways to make Raynor spin in his grave. I sincerely hope that someone at Blizzard is planning this, because the story NEEDS it, badly. Without that added perspective, there's a hole in the story that can't possibly be overlooked.
Of course, it's easy to point out a problem without providing a solution. How would I have fixed this issue within the confines of the game itself? Do you remember Raynor's dropship that Kerrigan used to get to the leviathan in the first place? Last time I checked, it's there for the rest of the game. Why not add a button somewhere so that we can go visit it? That way, we can watch the TV and get a sense of what's going on in the wider world. As an added bonus, it offers us a mental panic room; a little Zerg-free zone for Kerrigan where she could keep some things (like mementos from the planets you visited or her old gun) and reflect on her actions. It couldn't have taken that much effort and would have given us some much-needed insights.
When I started this story, one of the things I wanted to explore was the effect of infestation on the human mind. What would your life be like, if something like that happened to you? How would your personality be affected by this change in your biology? I was really hoping to see some of that in Heart of the Swarm. Unfortunately, Blizzard just sort of glossed over it all. There is a brief moment in the third mission and the 'Transmission' cutscene where Kerrigan outright admits that it's affecting her, but other than that, it is sort of overshadowed by the whole revenge thing. It's like trying to play a flute during a metal concert: no matter how epic a fluteplayer you are, no one's going to listen to you because they can't hear you when the guys besides you are blowing the roof of the place. The thing is: infestation isn't really a part of the story if you could replace the whole thing with drugs, training, or a magical weapon and still get the same overall plot. Stukov is mentioned, but if Narud's experiments had involved cybernetics rather than Zerg hybridization his plot-line would have been little different. All in all, the emotions of the sentient infested in Heart of the Swarm just seems so human. Stukov doesn't seem to be torn between a 'human' side and a 'Zerg' side fighting for control at all and Kerrigan abandons the whole thing after finding out that Raynor had 'died'.
Of course, I can't really blame Blizzard for not putting as much detail into this matter as I have, given that the conflict mentioned above is practically the entire character arc for several of my characters, including the protagonist. Maybe I should talk a little about how I handled it: I am of the opinion that you can only pile up so much shit on a single character. Just like in real life, a person can only carry so much before they collapse. Already at the start of my story, Kerrigan is beginning to feel the Zerg influence on her mind, but has no idea what it will do to her. Nor does she know what it might cost her if she gives in to said influence. What she needs is a crystal ball for her psyche: someone who's already been through at least some of the things she's experiencing now. Someone who can act as an example for her, even if it is an example of what not to do.
Enter Tiberias Cain. He is a clear example of a character that seems to have grown on his own accord. Originally, I had intended him to stay on the side-line, cracking wise and occasionally doing something stupidly badass for the heck of it. Basically, he was Kerrigan's version of Tychus Findlay (who is totally awesome and if you think otherwise, you're wrong). Later, however, I got the idea of him trying to mentor Kerrigan, and realized that he was already doing that, just by existing. I realized that the only kind of person to wade into battle without any real fear of his life is someone with nothing to lose. Someone who's got nothing worth living for anymore and (at least on some level) considers death to be a release. All his jokes and comments are part of a façade, a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to fill up the hole in his soul that used to contain his humanity. Just by being there, he shows Kerrigan what she could become if she ever let go of that tiny spark of her old self, the part that can still be called Sarah Kerrigan with a straight face. It's a bit melodramatic, I know, but I'm a damn amateur here. It's the first time I've tried to add depth to a character. Personally, the greatest writers in history didn't leave their most important plot points out in the open. They would leave enough hints to get people to think and find it for themselves. Did I succeed? I'll leave that for you to judge.
I could go into further detail, of course, but I really don't want to. The sequel will contain Zerg (just like this story had a lot of Terrans running around) and many of the character arcs aren't quite done yet and will involve this theme. Nobody likes spoilers, of course, so I won't tell you what I have in store for Lilith and Kate Lockwell. I did want to leave you with something to think about, though. I like finding additional layers in a story. It makes me feel like a highly sophisticated critic when I find them. So I tried putting them in this story, and will continue to do so in the next.
I've been thinking, writing, and analyzing for nearly a month now, and I think I've done enough. Heart of the Swarm could have been better and I think I've made that clear. Even now, I can already find a dozen little nitpicks to hammer down that I hadn't mentioned yet, but I'd only come across as a whiner if I kept yammering. Time to wrap this up and move on.
In general, there are no right or wrong creative choice. It's all a matter of opinion. Some of you might agree with what I've said. Others will think I'm talking out of my ass. Others might think that StarCraft is supposed to be a bit cheesy and that I'm completely missing the point. You'd be right regardless. The thing is, Heart of the Swarm pisses me off because there's something wrong about it, but not something I can point out objectively. As a student in the field of Molecular Biology, I work in a world where if two people have conflicting opinions, at least one of them is always wrong. Outside of the exact sciences, however, things are rarely that simple, which is sometimes difficult for me to swallow.
Still, there is something wrong with this game. Then again, that's inevitable. Wings of Liberty had many flaws too. However, I didn't notice the first game's flaws until after I seriously began analyzing it. In Heart of the Swarm, on the other hand, I never lost the feeling that there was something missing. I felt like I was waiting for the game to explain itself. When it finished, my first thought wasn't 'That was awesome, what a ride!', it was 'That's it? But what about…'. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm more aware of these sort of things now that I've read and written so much over the past two years. However, I think the root of the problem is that Blizzard tried to cram too much story into a single game and were forced to seriously cut corners just to fit it all in. It's funny, really: they split StarCraft II into three parts to make room for everything, and they still ended up running out of game for their story. The StarCraft universe is just too damn big, even for them. That doesn't excuse the oversimplification of Kerrigan's condition, though, or the fact that the villains have been turned into cardboard cut-outs, or the whole primal Zerg, Amon, essence, prophecy nonsense that's out of place at best, a downright retcon at worst. The game we got feels like it made room for the parts the story didn't need by removing the things that it did.
Now, I know that I am, in a way, comparing apples and oranges here. I know that writing a book (which is essentially what I've done, even if Her Body's plaything will never be put on paper) is very different from making a game and that some things work in one medium but not in the other. For example, there's no way of letting us see what a character is thinking in a visual medium. However, skilled game designers can circumvent this, and the people at Blizzard are nothing if not skilled.
As it stands, I'm still pissed. I'm pissed because all I have right now is a really good game, instead of a work of art. When I look at Heart of the Swarm, I see something that could have been incredible, if only they didn't make this and that design choice, if only the dialogue was slightly less heavy-handed, if only they didn't add retcon X. I see something that just doesn't live up to its potential. It's not a bad game, it's just shallower than I thought it would be. I suppose that a large part of the problem is the ridiculously high standards that I had set for it. I guess that disappointment was inevitable when you analyzed the franchise as much as I have the past two years. No matter what Blizzard had done, I would have found a fault somewhere. But then again, am I really at fault for setting an extreme standard? Blizzard isn't some no-name company run by three guys out of a broom-closet. This is Blizzard Freaking Entertainment for god's sake. If there's any game-company on the planet capable of creating art, it's these people. They've done it in the past, after all. Is it really that much to expect lightning to strike twice? And StarCraft? It's practically South Korea's national sport nowadays. Even if Heart of the Swarm featured nothing but Kerrigan getting hammered and singing drunken karaoke in the Hyperion's cantina, it'd still sell like crazy. Blizzard doesn't have to worry about making ends meet anymore, because Starcraft will be worth the investment regardless. If you have an IP that simply cannot fail, why not go the extra mile and turn the story into something that won't be forgotten within a year?
Okay, I'm out of bile now.
Enough whining. I'm tired, and I'm not helping anyone, least of all myself, by yammering about a really good game falling short of the stupidly high bar I've set for it.
As I've said before, Her Body's Plaything will get a sequel. I'm not sure when I'll start uploading chapters or what the story will be called, but you'll find it in the StarCraft page soon enough. As for its content, it'll pick up where this story left off. It will NOT feature Heart of the Swarm content, or anything released after Wings of Liberty. I might steal a few good lines or features (Okay, probably a lot of good lines and features, but what is fanfiction other than literary kleptomania?), but the actual plot will be my own. I've put far too much effort into this to abandon it now.
This will be the last update for this story featuring any actual content. Over the next few weeks, I may reread parts of it (if only to find out where Chekov hid all his damn guns again) and I may correct some of the chapters if the spelling is really bad (and, god help me, it was). I don't think that this website shows it if you change an existing chapter (as opposed to adding a new one), but just in case it does, know that there won't be any new content, just an update of existing material.
I would like to thank everyone who's reviewed this story or who may do so in the future. Without you lot, I would probably have gotten bored and stopped writing months ago. In particular, I'd like to thank Ragnarok666 who has reviewed EVERY. SINGLE. CHAPTER, usually within hours of it being published. Not only that, he has always been happy to let me bounce ideas off of him, was one of the few reviewers to be consistently and genuinely critical of the story (as much as I love praise, I know I'm not perfect, and I'm not going to improve unless people point out where I went wrong), and was always the first to tell me if I got things wrong lore-wise. You're amazing. He has a story of his own called 'Aftermath and Revelations' and I'm ordering you (yes, you, the people reading this) to check it out.
Now, as I've mentioned before, I'm not perfect but I'm always open to constructive criticism. Therefore, before I leave, I would like to ask a bunch of questions to you all, if you don't mind. I'd really appreciate an answer so that the next story might be even better than this one.
How do I fare, technically speaking? Is my spelling up to snuff? How about my grammar?
Are there any words and phrases that I use constantly and/or too much?
Am I using words the wrong way?
Does my writing feel boring or monotonous? If so, can you point out where and how I could improve?
Do my characters feel like living, breathing people, with well-rounded personalities where applicable?
Do any of the characters feel superfluous? Is there anyone that desperately needs to die horribly (apart from the antagonists, of course. And Izsha. God, I hate her so much now. She never made much sense to me, being the infested Terran/adjutant thing that she is, but now Blizzard gave her the most annoying voice EVER too!).
Do my canonical characters feel the way they should? (i.e. true to what they are in the canon)
Are my original characters (OC's) properly fleshed out? Do they ever take up more screentime than they deserve? Do they feel like Mary Sues (this is really important to me, look up 'Mary Sue' on if you don't know what the term means)?
Do my characters interact and develop in a way that is natural for them?
Do my human characters feel human enough? Do my inhuman characters feel alien enough?
How do I fare in terms of originality? Do the people, places, and things feel like I've stolen them from somewhere (not to say that I did, apart from Blizzard themselves, of course)?
Is the story of the appropriate length? Should I have left things out, or do you think that there are things missing (apart from things that will happen in the sequel, of course)?
Is the overall plot following logical? Is it well paced?
Does this story feel, at any point, overtly sexist, racist, or ideologically biased towards anyone (real-life groups that is)?
So, until the next story comes along…
DISCLAIMER: StarCraft and all related people, places, and things are property of Blizzard Entertainment. No copyright infringement intended. All rights reserved.