2013 03 18 Game Review StarCraftII HotS 500

Blizzard has a reputation for perfection, and the latest expansion for the StarCraft franchise carries this forward with polished gameplay that is both extremely fun and challenging, and with a story that is one of the best the RTS genre has ever seen. This is impressive given the fact that Heart of the Swarm comes in the middle of a trilogy, and could have been confusing for players who haven’t played the Wings of Liberty recently. But how does Heart of the Swarm fare when it comes to accessibility? 

Honestly, this is one of the hardest reviews DAGERS has ever had to do. There are some significant challenges for players with physical disabilities when playing Heart of the Swarm, but they don’t result from poor design choices or any particular elements that exclude one type of disability. They are simply challenges that anybody faces when playing StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, which are amplified by the presence of a disability.

 

 

From the standpoint of visual accessibility, this game does relatively well. The developers at Blizzard have used an overstated art style that does not rely on super-fine detail to communicate anything important. This is refreshing considering that in most real time strategy games players with visual disabilities would struggle because the units are small and indistinct. However, Heart of the Swarm features three distinct races, none of which should be confused for another. There is no way a player who can access this game visually to begin with would confuse a Protoss zealot with a Terran marine, especially given the fact that StarCraft II allows players to zoom in on the map to a level that is unprecedented in the genre. As a result, both when playing the campaign and multiplayer, players with visual disabilities will always have the option to zoom in on the battlefield to get a better look.

 

It is true that the game relies on a color-coded mini-map to communicate important details, for example, flashing red when the player is under attack. However, the game compensates for this by using audio cues that communicate the same information. The only major group of visually disabled players that may struggle with this game are those who are colorblind. But this would only happen in a so-called mirror match, when both the player and their opponent are playing as the same race. In this case, the only differentiation between the two players is the color. Thankfully, this virtually never happens in the game’s campaign and is only a serious concern when playing multiplayer.

 

Heart of the Swarm’s forgiving nature will be extremely helpful for players with fine motor disabilities. Unlike the original StarCraft, the campaign mission features automatic saves at checkpoints that allow players who have made mistakes to correct them without starting the whole mission over again. The game also allows players to change the difficulty any time they fail a mission or are about to begin a new mission, in order to make the experience easier to handle.

 

Some of the biggest challenges Heart of the Swarm players will face if they have fine motor impairments are the concepts of macroing and microing—controlling large groups of units versus controlling individual units in the heat of battle. While still a challenge given the game’s tendency to require twitch-based reactions when in pitched battle, the game helps compensate for this by allowing players to set up hot keys for up to ten groups of units or buildings which are assigned to numbers 0 through 9 on the keyboard, and allows players to select them simply by pressing the number key or clicking on the corresponding tab.

 

At the risk of painting too rosy a picture of Heart of the Swarm, it should be mentioned that the game requires fast reflexes, especially if players want to hold their own when playing against human opponents in online matches. But there are instances where players with disabilities have gotten into the higher brackets of the StarCraft multiplayer. One prominent example is a one-handed player who was able to reach the rank of diamond in Wings of Liberty. According to him, it was not that difficult. This seems to indicate that with practice and perseverance, even the need for fast reflexes can be overcome, especially given the fact that these are not as integral to the campaign experience as they are to the multiplayer.

 

If a player has an auditory disability, they will probably have the hardest time with StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. That is because the game relies heavily on audio cues to communicate important details such as when upgrades are finished, when a player’s base in under attack, etc. However, there is an option to make it so that a visual text cue appears concurrently with each audio cue. But it would still be extremely difficult for players with hearing disabilities to enjoy anything beyond the game’s campaign mode. This mode features an extensive set of story-driven subtitles that tell players not only what is being said but also who is speaking. This game would no doubt be a challenge for those with auditory impairments. But if they persevered, it seems possible that they could be rewarded by seeing themselves get better and better at the game’s various modes.

 

On a final note, there are some serious challenges for players trying to enjoy StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. But they are challenges that anybody would face. Having a disability simply makes them worse. But because of the campaign’s forgiving nature, it should be open to most players with physical disabilities. The game’s robust arcade mode is another plus for Heart of the Swarm’s accessibility. It allows anyone to upload any type of game built using the StarCraft II map editor for the enjoyment of anyone on Battle.net. As a result, players will not only find traditional strategy games, but anything from World of WarCraft style RPGs to old school tower defense games.

 

Please feel free to leave comments below the article that address your particular accessibility challenges with this game. If you feel there is a major omission in this review, please feel free to e-mail dagersystem@gmail.com with the word “revision” in the subject line. Please include specific details regarding anything we may have missed. If necessary, we will update our review based on your feedback.

 

Overall Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Visual Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Fine-Motor Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Auditory Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Released For: PC
ESRB Rating: T
GameInformer Score: 8.75

 

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The Bottom Line for Disabled Gamers: StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Disability Pros Cons
Visual

 

– Art style is overstated making everything easy to see.
– The three races are easy to tell apart.
– Players can zoom in to see fine detail.
– Uses sound to communicate important events that are indicated on the mini-map.

– Players will have to be able to see color in order to differentiate between two team so fhte same race.
– Uses a color coded map system.

Fine Motor

 

– The story line can be played with one hand easily.
– The game has lots of checkpoints and is very forgiving.
– The game lets you set up hot keys which let you select groups of units or buildings using number keys 0 through 9.
– The game allows players to adjust the difficult after failing a mission or before starting one.

 

– The game can require some twitch-based reactions, but very few.
– In order to excel at StarCraft II, players must learn strategies for being efficient in their mouse and keyboard commands.

Auditory

 

– Game features extensive set of story-driven subtitles which tell a player who is talking in addition to what is being said.
– Game uses visual cues to communicate the same information that audio cues communicate.
– There is an option to make it so that all auditory cues appear in text at the edge of the screen.

 

– Players have to be constantly aware of what’s going on all over the map, which means that players with auditory disabilities will have to be constantly looking at the mini-map.

Overall Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Visual Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Fine-Motor Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Auditory Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Released For: PC
ESRB Rating: T
GameInformer Score: 8.75

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