That $39 buys you 20 main missions and 7 "Evolutionary" missions, plus the multiplayer maps and Arcade. All in all, it's a pretty good deal but of course, we had questions.
Can You Play Offline?The question of offline play has been a sore spot for gamers of late, thanks to Maxis' disastrous SimCity launch. Diablo III, of course, had its own significant problems in this area.
The good news is that Starcraft II can be played offline, provided that you log in once to register the game. The bad news is that Blizzard doesn't exactly make this easy. Starcraft used to have a "Play As Guest" button for offline mode. Click it, no login required, there you go.
That button is gone. The new login screen looks like so:
So how do you play offline? You disable your Internet connection inside Windows. Do that, and you first get a warning telling you Battle.net is down, followed by account information for playing offline.
This is what it looks like when a company really wants to take away functionality but doesn't think it can quite get away with it yet. Even screenshots are saved in a different location, as though by virtue of not being online, you're not actually the player the game thinks you are. There's zero reason for the difference, save that Blizzard wants people to be online when playing its games, all the time, no matter what.
The Story Thus Far...
Wings of Liberty told the story of Jim Raynor's struggle against the Terran Dominion, its emperor, Arcturus Mengsk, and his search for a way to cure his one-time lover, Sarah Kerrigan, from the corruption of the Zerg. It was Mengsk's decision to deliberately abandon Kerrigan that led to her transformation and rebirth as a half-Terran, half-Zerg hybrid known as the Queen of Blades. As the supreme leader of the Zerg Swarm, Kerrigan slaughtered billions of innocents and led a galaxy-spanning rampage against both humans and the game's third race, the Protoss.
Heart of the Swarm picks up several months after Wings of Liberty. The now de-infested Kerrigan has been undergoing treatment and tests on a neutral planet when Terran Dominion forces attack. In the tumult, Kerrigan and Raynor are separated. We see a news report (with no accompanying footage) that Raynor was captured and executed by the Terran Dominion. Kerrigan -- a woman who could only loosely be considered sane to begin with -- reacts poorly.
Believing Raynor dead, Kerrigan sets a course for Zerg space, determined to rebuild the Swarm -- and make Mengsk pay for what he's done.
Evaluated logically, this was an utterly shameless trope. Kerrigan knew and worked with Mengsk for years before he left her for dead. He's extremely intelligent, ruthless, and has a flair for grand ceremonies and staged dramatics. Had Raynor actually been executed, Mengsk would've trotted the body out for the entire galaxy to see, preferably with a live execution and final confession. It's ridiculous to cast Kerrigan as falling for such a stupid ploy... if Kerrigan was thinking clearly. And she isn't.
This is explored in more detail in the book Starcraft II: Flashpoint, which takes place in the intervening weeks between the end of Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm. In it, Kerrigan struggles to come to terms with her actions as the Queen of Blades. As the leader of the Swarm, she delighted in slaughter, cruelty, and betrayal. The Xel'Naga artifact Raynor uses at the end of WoL restores her physical humanity in an eye-blink, but coming to terms with her own actions and the ensuing guilt nearly drives her mad. Raynor was her touchstone and guide throughout this process. He was the man who believed in her worth.
From this perspective, Sarah's decision to go on a hyper-violent vengeance rampage makes a lot more sense. And boy, does she ever rampage.