comScore
  1. Mediaite
  2. Gossip Cop
  3. Geekosystem
  4. Styleite
  5. SportsGrid
  6. The Mary Sue
  7. The Maude
  8. The Braiser

What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Review

All Hail The Queen: Kerrigan Returns With A Vengeance In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm


(Minor spoilers ahead.)

Sarah Kerrigan sits in a high-security research lab, obediently following Prince Valerian’s instructions. To assess how much of the Zerg mutagen is left in her system, he asks her to psionically control a drone in a chamber nearby. This is, of course, the tutorial mission, but there’s more going on here than a lesson in unit control. Kerrigan does as she’s told, but her tone is dangerously apathetic. “You know this is going to end badly, right?” she says. There’s a hint of laughter in her words, condescending and bored. Valerian is not the one in control here.

When will these people ever learn that underestimating Kerrigan is a very stupid idea?

In my review of the tie-in novel StarCraft II: Flashpoint, I expressed concern that the Heart of the Swarm expansion might portray Kerrigan either as a one-note revenge junkie or a lit fuse who needs others to reign her in. Luckily, both of these worries were waylaid early on. Kerrigan is back, and she’s better than ever. The Xel’Naga artifact in Wings of Liberty restored her human body and her free will, but she is not the Sarah Kerrigan she was before. Heading back to the Swarm takes only a nudge, and she enjoys her role as queen far too much to suggest that she would’ve left on her own. But she isn’t going back to being a Zerg puppet, either. She’s her own person, and majorly pissed off to boot, ready to raze nations and salt creep the earth. I was totally down with that.

The combat stilettos and butt-enhancing armor are predictably silly (could there be worse footwear for walking around a squishy living ship?), but thankfully, Kerrigan’s actions speak louder than her wardrobe. As she tears around the galaxy, grabbing control of the splintered broods, she makes it damn clear that they are following her rules this time around. Anyone who argues is sent back in pieces. Few let it come to that. They are in awe of her. They adore her. Zerglings bow their heads when she approaches. A broodmother who longs to seize control of the Swarm for herself tells Kerrigan outright that while she hopes to kill her one day, she still has far too much to learn from her. Kerrigan is better than all of them, and they know it. She knows it. And yet, behind the rage and the ruthless calculus, she has a deep, unabiding love for them. She is monarch and mother both.

This is a Saturday afternoon popcorn movie of a game, the kind of story that is bucketloads of fun if you don’t ask too many questions and can forgive the cheesy dialogue. And, actually, the cheese is part of the charm. Blizzard’s always had a knack for melodrama, and backhanded compliment though this is, there’s something to be said for a game that’s so enjoyable that you stop caring about lines like “I can feel your hatred shining like a star!” It’s fine. It’s StarCraft, just as it has always been. Smile, nod, and accept the space magic.

The weakest points, by far, are whenever Jim Raynor shows up. I confess a bias, in that I’ve never found him to be a compelling character, but there’s more to it than that. I get that Raynor is meant to represent Kerrigan’s ties to humanity, and in principle showing her wrestling with where her allegiances lie makes for some interesting conflict. But she already does that on her own. There are some great moments where Kerrigan shows mercy where the old Queen of Blades would’ve mowed everyone down. The optional conversations with her inner circle present a satisfying array of moral philosophies, and it’s through them that we really see her asserting her own identity. We don’t need Raynor to understand that Kerrigan has her soul back, especially given how their scenes together play out. Kerrigan doesn’t seem conflicted when speaking to Raynor; instead, she seems jarringly out of character. I stopped believing her whenever he was sharing the camera. On her own, Kerrigan is marvelous and terrifying, everything a conquering queen should be. Around Raynor, she’s morose and unfocused. For a character whose primary drive is interplanetary warfare to come undone whenever her ex-boyfriend drops by, that relationship has to be one hell of a love story. It’s not. It was barely hinted at in the original game, and I never bought the way it was tacked on in Wings of Liberty. There is more emotional punch in an early scene between Kerrigan and a stray Zergling than there ever is between her and her supposed best beloved. Though I enjoyed Kerrigan throughout the rest of the game, she would’ve been stronger without Raynor.

However, there is a Raynor scene that makes me think of something Heart of the Swarm does rather well. There was an article by Jim Sterling at Destructoid earlier this week that tore into the publishers who balked at the female protagonist in the upcoming game Remember Me. In the article, Sterling points out that it’s rare for playable female characters to be shown kissing men, which implies that they’re not granted full agency. But Kerrigan does! Kerrigan kisses Raynor, and it’s one of the many little moments in which we see that this game isn’t even remotely afraid to cast the player in a female role. Above all else, the game wants you to know that you are Kerrigan, and she is a badass. The player is constantly addressed during combat as “my queen,” and it’s mindboggling to imagine getting so hung up on pronouns or smooches that such things would prevent you from feeling like an absolute boss when strolling through smoldering city gates with a cadre of ultralisks at your back.

As is no surprise for a Blizzard game, the mechanics do an excellent job of complementing the story. Kerrigan is just the right amount of overpowered—brutal enough to make you cackle maniacally, but never to the point of making things a cakewalk. Just like the upgrades in Wings of Liberty, the Zerg all have mutually exclusive evolution paths, which allow you to customize your units to suit your own playstyle (the Raptors-vs-Swarmlings debate will outlive us all, I’m sure). Whether you prefer meticulous strategizing or brute force, Heart of the Swarm will give you all the toys you need. While I can’t speak to the multiplayer, the single-player campaign is crazy good fun, and I say that as someone who generally doesn’t enjoy real-time strategy (that is perhaps the highest praise I can give the StarCraft franchise—it is the only title in its genre that I enthusiastically make an exception for). Each mission keeps you on your toes, always mixing it up just enough to keep things feeling fresh, but letting you build upon what you’ve already learned. It’s the same old StarCraft formula, but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

It’s not a game for everybody, but having grown up with the franchise, this is the expansion I’ve wanted ever since Brood War ended. Kerrigan has returned to her rightful place. The Terrans fled in panic. I sat laughing at them. Everything is as it should be.

Becky Chambers is a freelance writer and a full-time geek. Like most internet people, she has a website. She can also always be found on Twitter.

TAGS: | | | | |


  • Anonymous

    Good review, Beck. I also love the top comment posted in that Dtoid article.

    “This line alone ‘You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.’ makes me want to facepalm myself until I die and am freed of such a fucking stupid world.”

    Character self-insertion mixed with Testoterone can be a dangerous mix :

  • Anonymous

    Not necessarily testosterone, more the insecure masculanity that society forces on those who identify as men.

  • RGG

    I’m finding myself really enjoying the game and loving how many of Kerrigan’s inner circle are female characters! Also quite appreciate that Raynor gets put in the refrigerator. =)

  • Travis Fischer

    I can’t say I really agree with Becky’s assessment, but then I’m a much bigger fan of Raynor than she apparently is. Karrigan’s primary drive ISN’T interplanetary warfare. It’s Jim Raynor. Everything she does, she does for either his sake or his safety. She’ll sacrifice any Zerg or kill any Tarren to protect/avenge him.

    In fact, I thought the weakest part of the story were the parts where Karrigan was reverting to her role as the Queen of Blades. For somebody who just regained her humanity and doesn’t even remember what she did when she was zergified, she jumps right back into the swarm and starts acting like a monster again pretty damn fast. The hardest one to swallow was when she wipes out a bunch of Protoss colonists for… reasons. That’s not development. That’s pandering to SC1 nostalgia.

    Regardless, I’m glad that the ladies got a rare opportunity to enjoy what it’s like to be a dude playing video games. Your love interest gets taken and you cut a bloody swath through your enemies to get them back.
    There was another bit of common role reversal that I’m surprised went unmentioned in that the guy was the one saying “Hey, lets forget about all of this and just settle down somewhere” while the girl was the one who refused to stop until she got her revenge.

  • Jeyl

    If there’s one sad, daunting element about SCII and it’s expansion that reduced my level of excitement to an almost “meh” level, it would be the recasting of Kerrigan with Tricia Helfer. I know there are a lot of fans for Tricia and for good reason. She certainly plays an iconic part in the new Battlestar Galactica series (I could never get into it), but both during and after the series, she seems to have taken part in a lot of games that I used to have fun with.

    Since BSG, she’s appeared in Command and Conquer, Halo and Mass Effect and now StarCraft. What breaks my heart over StarCraft is that, unlike the previous franchises I’ve mentioned, she’s playing Kerrigan, a character who already had a stellar voice actress doing the part. In the original game and it’s Brood War expansion, Kerrigan was voiced by Glynnis Talken Campbell the work she did was fantastic. As the uninfested Kerrigan, she gave the character a sense of charm, flattery and dedicated persona. As the infested Kerrigan, well, the rest is history.

    Again, not saying Tricia Helfer is bad for the part, but this was not a recasting choice based on scheduling conflicts or some kind of emergency. When StarCraft II was shown at Blizzcon for the very first time, they had SCII cinematics of Zeratul and Kerrigan meeting each other with Kerrigan’s line “I knew you’d find your way here eventually.” done by Glynnis. This clip was showcased on the showroom floor on projected banners. Soon Glynnis said in an interview that she wouldn’t be voicing the role, stating that Blizzard sent her a “Dear John” letter.

    Glynnis helped take this character who was no bigger than a mouse cursor and gave her the ruthless, cold persona that helped define Kerrigan as one of gamings most memorable villains, and Blizzard chooses to dump the original actress for a celebrity who is already in all the other major science fiction game franchises.

    Oh, I do miss the old Kerrigan, in more ways than one.

  • Anonymous

    “There is more emotional punch in an early scene between Kerrigan and a stray Zergling than there ever is between her and her supposed best beloved…” — I absolutely agree with that! I also agree with the comments about Jim. Maybe it is because I loved Kerrigan from the original games, but Jim has always seemed a little one dimensional to me, and because of that he sort of reminds me of Kaiden from Mass Effect.

  • Mudz

    It’s funny, I was trying to figure out exactly how to parse the general overall feeling about SC2 that I had that summed up why I didn’t like it. The other day it occurred to me. SC2 feels weirdly feminist.

    I take this article as confirmation of this vague certainty.

    Raynor turned into a loser living a nightmare of perma-punked by Tychus and his oh-so-yearning feelings for his lost love, the mass-murdering Queen of the alien army of death and destruction. It was stupid. He was dickless. SC1, Raynor was rushing ahead where angels feared to tread in order to do the right thing, to fight the good fight, and win. In SC2, or at least in WoL, he was a depressed bum taking up space on the Hyperion while Matt was trying to work.
    The fact that Tychus could stroll in, call him ‘little Jimmy Raynor’, basically just encapsulates the whole de-testicalisation that occurred in SC2. Most likely that’s why you like it.

    The fact that you didn’t find Jim Raynor a compelling character in the original renders your judgment unreliable. Honestly, it renders it void. Raynor and Kerrigan were both fantastic characters in SC1, as was the entire cast. And no, SC2 is actually NOT Starcraft. Not as it should be. Not for a fan, at the least.

    I’m assuming your lack of enthusiasm on the male lead is just the general emotional and mental retardation that feminist philosophy can have on a girl, so I’ll try to overlook it.

    Was there melodrama in SC1? Possibly, when it came to Raszagal in BW. But very little. And the game was rich and the dialogue was compelling so that no-one even noticed what very little melodrama there was. So that Zeratul could find an excuse to backslap Aldaris with a speech about how awesomely well-travelled he is, and it’s just auditory bliss. Dude was a badass.

    And yes, the fact that Kerrigan is a Queen, and surrounded by talkative queens and mental lesbian larvae lovers, was gay in a bag. Aside from the non-zerginess of all these oddly personable zergs, it was utterly lacking in anything interesting. Abathur was almost interesting, but for reasons I can’t be bothered going into, he represents a failure too. Not even Zuvran had 1/10th the charisma of the Overmind, for the player.

    And Kerrigan’s MOTIVATION for doing anything she ever does through this whole campaign after a couple of levels is utterly unconvincing, unjustified, self-contradictory, and lustreless.
    I think it was around the level of going back to Zerus that I Could Not Maintain. Had to shut down all critical faculties, which were already on pretty low ebb.

    Blizzard did a few good things. I was having fun at the very beginning, which made me entirely overlook how Japanese the art design still was, even with all the cliche drivel between Sarah and Jim kind of just slipped under the Critical Radar. But mostly, it was like playing a fun arcade ode to Starcraft, from yonder days, and events were stirring quick and fast with good characters in the centre. But then even that went away.

    And Kerrigan, while they did some good damage control over her ridiculous emo phase, still ended up seeming like an empty character. But even after she goes Primal, she does-not-feel-badass. Sliding through masses a baddies and the like, doesn’t make her seem badass, it just makes the level feel easy. She doesn’t even seem as dangerous as she was in the climax to WoL.

    Actually, I can’t be bothered doing a whole review. Let’s just say I just played HoTS, and aside from a few fun levels, I’ve had to put my soul into hibernation to stop it from dying when I play this Warcraft III sequel to a SC game.

    It took the ‘Starcraft formula’ which equated to stealing absolutely anything that was interesting in the original game, and taking a massive dump all over it. If you think SC2 is a consistent sequel to Starcraft: Brood War, then lady, you’re messed up.

  • Mudz

    “society forces on those who identify as men.”

    They wouldn’t happen to be those odd aberrations that have a penis between their legs? I wonder why anyone would force the socially oppressive label of ‘male’ on such a specimen?

  • Anonymous

    ….you are forgetting those that identify as transgender. Which is why I commented to make it more inclusive. Please go learn what that means.

  • Mudz

    Yes, because ‘transgender’ is such an esoteric term.

    What’s with the word ‘identify’? Either they’re transgender or they’re not. Imagination has nothing to do with it. That’s just a psychological issue.

    Look, either you’re a dude, or a girl, or you’re a mess. XX or XY.

  • Anonymous

    You are being exclusive. Your viewpoint, as you have expressed in this comment, has been defined as “gender essentialism” Learn about it here:http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/05/10/faq-but-men-and-women-are-born-different-isnt-that-obvious/

    Here are some links for transgender:http://glbtss.colostate.edu/transgender-faq

    http://tranifesto.com/transgender-faqs-and-info/

    And I’m done responding to you.

  • Amber Barnes

    Kerrigan’s primary objective has ALWAYS been destroying Mengsk. Her hatred and absolute drive for revenge has always been the prevailing modeus operandi. I think that the game dithers too long on the romance aspect and that kind of…skews how important Jim is to her.

    I’d actually argue the reverse of what you’ve said. Kerrigan didn’t jump back into the Swarm too fast, even the tutorial has her gleefully commanding the small hive in her reach to “teach” a lesson to those around her. She makes quips about her partial infestation (“Well, my hair has a little more grey in it” “Well mine has a little more zerg.”), Even if she can’t remember what she’d done as the Queen of Blades, and was remorseful, she never denied that the power was amazing and enticing. And to get her revenge, she’d need power. I’d actually argue that the romance tried to tie her too much to Jim and her humanity.

  • Amber Barnes

    [SPOILERS]

    Honestly? Im happy that Raynor and Kerrigan don’t get a happily ever after, or that they can’t mend their fences. Kerrigan knows that by becoming Queen of Blades again, she’s destroyed any chance of a life with Jim and Jim doesn’t twist his morals or try to rationalize her choice away like he has before. I like that a romance crashes and burns because of the choices of the characters. Too often, its always Love Finds A Way and to see something that more closely reflects reality is nice.

    And honestly, I feel like the romance weakened them both as characters. Jim tried too hard to rationalize away Kerrigan’s past as QoB and was far too focused on saving her/stopping the QoB and it really took away from his Officer-turned-Rebel aspect as a character. Kerrigan, as the article mentions, feels unfocused and wishy-washy when she was around Jim, and it felt like the game tried too hard to anchor her to Jim and her humanity with him. Once freed of him, she goes straight to being a much more satisfying to watch character.

  • Natália Gerhard

    Hi!
    Look my makeup tutorial of the Sarah Kerrigan! Maybe you like it!
    http://www.vogeek.com.br/2013/03/15/maquiagem-inspirada-sarah-kerrigan-starcraft-ii/

  • Mudz

    Cool discourse, bro.

    ‘Here’s my rebuttal! Now watch me run away!’

    Wow, inventing words is fun. You are so transgenderssentialistic. That’s my definition for self-identified self-involved ‘sexual progressives’ who think that the world needs to learn new and socially revolutionary understandings of vaginas and penises, and how to completely mess them up.

    Exclusive? Exclusive to what? That females are excluded from the gender of male? That XX is not equal to XY? Because that’s what we call ‘facts’. And sometimes facts aren’t what you want to hear.

    “Transgendered people are those whose appearance, behaviors, or personal
    characteristics differ from stereotypes about how men and women are
    supposed to be”

    Oh, really? So if I cut off my thumb and go ‘wow, I could sure go for some pizza’ I’m a transgender?

    Inventing new definitions does not make them either accurate, or useful.

  • Anonymous

    “Because that’s what we call ‘facts’. And sometimes facts aren’t what you want to hear.”
    Nope.

  • Mudz

    I accept this.

  • Anonymous

    You are a huge douche.

  • Mudz

    What can I say? I love vaginas.

  • Anonymous

    Actually raynor was a central element. He’s the only one who saw her as a person rather than as just another weapon. If anything kerrigan only started to spare people after raynor was mentioned. Remember her scene with warfiels when at first she was coldly refusing to spare injured men? It’s only after warfield asks “what would raynor think if he saw you right know” her angry reaction and a few moments in which the words sink in ( as shown by the realization on her face) that she realizes she’s returning to her evil ways and opts to spare the wounded. Raynor represented a chance to leave the killing behind and be normal ( which she hasn’t been allowed to do since childhood). When mengsk “killed” raynor vengeance was all she had. So raynor wasn’t irrelevant.