Notebookcheck

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Benchmarked

Florian Glaser, 03/21/2013

An add-on for the queen. Fans have had to wait a whole three years for the expansion of the real-time strategy hit StarCraft 2. Heart of the Swarm tells the sci-fi story from the point of view of the Zerg aliens. Find out here whether the game meets the towering expectations and how high its (mobile) hardware requirements are.

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Logo

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Description

For the original German review, see here.

From the beginning, the developers make it very clear the kind of quality they demand from themselves. The high-quality render intro, typical of Blizzard, is an excellent opener for the game. After a bombastic air battle, a plethora of Zergs and Terrans prepare for battle on the ground of a grayish-brown planet. The editing, sound and movement are comparable to that of a genuine animated movie. The intro is crowned by the appearance of the main character. In Heart of the Swarm, we take the role of a Zerg - the role of their (former) queen, to be precise.

Those who have played the main program will be able to use the add-on without any trouble. At the end of Wings of Liberty (the uninformed should skip this sentence), after Sarah Kerrigan is rescued by Jim Raynor and transformed back into her normal self, she has to prove her loyalty and abilities in a prison of sorts. The corresponding prolog simultaneously functions as a tutorial. Thanks to the great introduction that explains numerous gameplay elements, both beginners and those who love the series but have not played in a while will quickly learn how to get around with the Zerg.

As expected, the pre-rendered intro is first-rate.
As expected, the pre-rendered intro is first-rate.
The developers definitely have what it takes to make their own film.
The developers definitely have what it takes to make their own film.
You see a battle between the Zerg...
You see a battle between the Zerg...
...and the Terrans, reminiscent of Warhammer.
...and the Terrans, reminiscent of Warhammer.
The Queen of Blades takes the main role.
The Queen of Blades takes the main role.
She's driven by hate and wrath.
She's driven by hate and wrath.

In order not to overwhelm the player, Blizzard chose to make the first level very linear. The combination of cinematic staging and a high level of action create an awesome atmosphere. The excellent (English) speakers and the - partly orchestral - background music add to the ambiance. The first one or two hours of Heart of the Swarm do not quite feel like a purebred strategy game, but more like a modern action-mix.

But never fear: Later the levels open up, and you get the classic RTS feeling with base construction, production of raw materials, etc. Like in Wings of Liberty, Blizzard breaks up the main events of the game with all sorts of side missions and surprises. For example, there is an ice planet whose storms briefly freeze the Protoss opponents and make them easy targets. Often the player is pressed for time. On the aforementioned ice planet we have to stop another mission of Protoss ships from reaching various portals.

In a word: The developers took care to alternate the tempo and add variety. There is no idleness in this game. Depending on the level of difficulty, the operations prove to be more or less tricky.

Can you trust Kerrigan?
Can you trust Kerrigan?
Jim Raynor was the main character in Wings of Liberty.
Jim Raynor was the main character in Wings of Liberty.
We soon dispute the tutorial with the dreadlock woman.
We soon dispute the tutorial with the dreadlock woman.
Here the player learns the most important basics of the game.
Here the player learns the most important basics of the game.
The first levels are rather linear.
The first levels are rather linear.
Blizzard continuously sprinkles cool ideas throughout the game.
Blizzard continuously sprinkles cool ideas throughout the game.

As is generally true of Blizzard productions, the units and the level of difficulty coordinate well. Even as a layperson you're not mercilessly overtaxed. Heart of the Swarm carefully introduces the player to the basic mechanics of the game. Within the missions, the story is told through tracking shots and animated 3D portraits. The latter are a bit outmoded, but they fulfill their purpose.

Speaking of the story: Although Blizzard tries to push a little too hard on the emotions during the video sequences that link the different missions, we really liked the storytelling. As opposed to the (intentionally humorous) video clips from command and conquer games, the videos here are somewhat believable. Kerrigan's motives (above all hate and wrath) are always comprehensible. After one particular event, which we will not explain for spoiler reasons, the beautiful woman wants to regain military command from the Zerg.

The graphics quality of the in-game videos are just as good as videos in an ego-shooter.
The graphics quality of the in-game videos are just as good as videos in an ego-shooter.
The film snippets have perfect musical accompaniment.
The film snippets have perfect musical accompaniment.
We meet numerous acquaintances.
We meet numerous acquaintances.
The Protoss are also there, of course.
The Protoss are also there, of course.
Secondary tasks raise the level of difficulty and add some variety.
Secondary tasks raise the level of difficulty and add some variety.
Sometimes you're pressed for time.
Sometimes you're pressed for time.

So that the individualization and role-playing aspects of the game do not seem lacking, Blizzard once again integrated a base camp for us to enter in between missions. While the evolution chambers serve to improve the units (you can choose one of several upgrades for each) and keep special missions at the ready, we can optimize the protagonist in the "Kerrigan" menu.

At certain ranks (we raise little by little in each level) the game unlocks new abilities. The range reaches from passive bonuses like more life to active skills like a kinetic blast. Through the talent tree, Kerrigan gains profile and individuality. The packet is topped off by optional conversations.

Every once in a while there some intermediate enemies.
Every once in a while there are some intermediate enemies.
The Zergs primarily count on their mass.
The Zergs primarily count on their mass.
Sometimes we can choose the next mission ourselves.
Sometimes we can choose the next mission ourselves.

Benchmark

As with Wings of Liberty, we performed the speed measurements using a challenge. Because of their constant flow, intro videos are ideal for comparing the ability of various GPUs to handle the in-game graphics. Instead of "For the Swarm", we used the challenge "Opening Gambit", which -- depending on the settings -- can sometimes be more demanding, sometimes less.

Since the display refresh rate drops by 50% or more during battles with lots of effects and dozens of units, in the around 30-second passage (see video) you'll need at least 40 or even 50 fps.

Settings

Despite the unexciting polygon count and texture quality, the graphics leave behind a relatively good impression. Blizzard understands how to give the graphics a charming comic touch that covers up minor weaknesses well.

Super: All the settings can be changed directly within the game. Changes between "Medium", "High" and "Ultra" or "Extreme" are adopted just like that. Only a change from or to the level "Low" requires the game to be restarted. Anyone who has the necessary hardware power should definitely turn on anti-aliasing in the options menu. We turned off the vertical synchronization for our tests.

Low Settings
Low Settings
Medium Settings
Medium Settings
High Settings
High Settings
Ultra Settings
Ultra Settings
Low Settings
Low Settings
Medium Settings
Medium Settings
High Settings
High Settings
Ultra Settings
Ultra Settings

Additionally, in the graphics menu you can alter the resolution, the picture mode (fullscreen or window), the refresh rate and the gamma value. Advanced users can run riot with detail settings. Our screenshots clearly show that the graphics quality varies greatly based on the settings. We see striking differences in picture quality and performance, especially between "Low" and "Medium". On the other hand, the pros of the "Ultra" setting are barely noticeable without a magnifying glass.

Our headquarters are a giant flying alien.
Our headquarters are a giant flying alien.
Between missions we manage the troops.
Between missions we manage the troops.
Izsha is our adviser.
Izsha is our adviser.
Optional conversations add depth to the story.
Optional conversations add depth to the story.
In the evolution chambers we can improve our units.
In the evolution chambers we can improve our units.
Only one upgrade can be active at a time.
Only one upgrade can be active at a time.
Discussion

Results

Those who own weaker notebooks can take a deep breath: The hardware hunger is limited and very similar to that of the main program. Anyone who could play Wings of Liberty without much trouble should also be able to run Heart of the Swarm easily.

In general: Even with a slow processor GPU, the title can be convinced to run at a respectable refresh rate. While the HD Graphics 3000 can only manage a minimal level of detail, with an HD Graphics 4000 you can already play at normal level -- even if not super fluidly. For high settings you should have at least a GeForce GT 640M (1366x768) or a GeForce GT 650M (1600x900), i.e. a model from the upper middle class. Anyone who wants to play the add-on at 1920x1080 pixels and with all the controls turned on is advised to look at a potent high-end GPU (GeForce GTX 675M or better).

All in all, we would call the hardware demands moderate. We cannot judge the influence of the processor at the moment, since most of our measurements were taken with a quad-core from Intel's Ivy Bridge generation. However, low settings do point to a certain CPU bias.

Benchmark table: StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Verdict

For fans of the real-time strategy genre, Heart of the Swarm is definitely a must-buy. Blizzard kept their eyes on their old strengths and delivers a high-carat product that gleams with ingenuity, variety and gaming quality. When it comes to staging and presentation, other developers have an example to follow. The only downer remains the controversial Battle.net platform, which will deter some potential buyers.

At the end of the mission a rough fight report awaits.
At the end of the mission a rough fight report awaits.
A talent system in a strategy game? Heart of the Swarm says yes.
A talent system in a strategy game? Heart of the Swarm says yes.
Practical: In the archives you can play back operations and videos.
Practical: In the archives you can play back operations and videos.

Test Systems

Most of the results were taken from devices provided by the company Schenker Notebooks (mysn.de):

  • XMG P502 (Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 660M, GTX 670M, GTX 675M(X), GTX 680M, Radeon HD 7970M & HD Graphics 4000)
  • XMG A502 (Core i5-3360M, GeForce GT 650M)
  • Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M & HD Graphics 3000)
  • Each with 8 GByte DDR3-RAM (2x 4096 MByte @ 1600 MHz), 160 GByte SSD (Intel 320 Series)  & Windows 7 Professional 64-bit

GPU drivers: Nvidia 314.14 Beta, AMD 13.2 Beta 7 & Intel 9.17.10.2932.

from left to right: Schenker XMG A502, Xesia M501 & XMG P502
from left to right: Schenker XMG A502, Xesia M501 & XMG P502

Overview

Show Restrictions
Pos      Model                                     Perf. RatingStarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
 StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm (2013)
low
1024x768
Low
med.
1366x768
Medium
high
1366x768
High
onAA
ultra
1920x1080
Ultra / Extreme
onAA
 5NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M SLI
~67.350%
141
92
 8NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 (Notebook)
~10025%
175.4
 11NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M SLI
~64.750%
138.1
85.9
 19NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M SLI
~6450%
145
76.2
 21AMD Radeon HD 8970M Crossfire
~71.575%
160.1
140.1
60.6
 24NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M
~66.150%
127.43
101.53
 29NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M
~64.775%
127
117.36
83.556
 32NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680
64.9
288
124
111
75.2
 33AMD Radeon HD 7970
~35.525%
62.2
 44NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M
47.5
123
100
102.82
63.552
 47NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti
63.4
296.3
121.4
108.9
65.9
 49NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M
~53.250%
110
74
 50NVIDIA Quadro K5100M
~5875%
122
106
65
 53NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M
64.4
248
138
123
63.2
 55NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M
39.2
110
98
79
38
 61NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M
54.9
264.4
102.952
90.22
60.42
 65AMD Radeon HD 7970M
58.1
267.6
118
107.9
46.5
 71NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M
~64.375%
141.72
127.85
55.15
 75NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770M
~50.275%
113
91.52
48.52
Pos      Model                                     StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
lowmed.highultra
 76NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M
~57.875%
142
973
523
 82NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX
55.5
260.3
113.7
100.8
44
 84NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950M
58.1
252.2
139.052
102.12
36.752
 85NVIDIA GeForce GTX 850M
~35.375%
74.32
68.93
353
 91NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470
55.8
265
107
96
56
 93NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M
~50.175%
125
92
35
 99*Intel Iris Pro Graphics 580
60.4
380.6
127.1
73.6
36.2
 101NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675M
54.5
254.1
113.3
99.4
41.3
 109AMD Radeon HD 7770
55.6
289.8
119.7
92.7
32.6
 120NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670MX
48.6
238.2
102.1
84.6
34.5
 122NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760M
~35.950%
87.8
36.1
 124NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670M
52.3
253.9
112.8
91.5
34.4
 126NVIDIA Maxwell GPU Surface Book (940M, GDDR5)
54.8
258
141.2
74.2
37.5
 130AMD Radeon HD 8870M
40.6
194
88.852
71.82
26.052
 143NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M
49.1
246.9
112.6
78.5
29
 145AMD Radeon HD 8850M
~34.975%
89.2
64.5
21.3
 147AMD Radeon R9 M265X
~38.875%
104.6
65.7
24.1
 161NVIDIA GeForce 940M
35.8
199.4
88.6
45
17.6
 167NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M
40.3
207.3
88.7
65.2
25
 169NVIDIA GeForce 840M
31.2
170.83
75.13
41.33
17.32
Pos      Model                                     StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
lowmed.highultra
 171NVIDIA GeForce GT 745M
~36.375%
100.2
59.6
21.9
 174AMD Radeon R7 512 Cores (Kaveri Desktop)
~27.475%
72.8
47.6
16.9
 175Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200
46.3
306
92
61
22.2
 178NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M
35.4
216.53
833
42.73
15.23
 181NVIDIA GeForce 830M
28.7
148.052
67.852
43.652
15.252
 187NVIDIA GeForce GT 735M
~24.575%
67.5
41.2
14.1
 189NVIDIA GeForce 825M
~27.275%
79.7
41.8
14.4
 200AMD Radeon HD 8550G + HD 8750M Dual Graphics
~33.875%
136.72
63.82
452
 202NVIDIA GeForce GT 730M
35.7
223.7
82.1
42.7
15.3
 204*NVIDIA GeForce GT 645M
33.8
207.6
69.6
47.7
17.7
 206AMD Radeon HD 8750M
32.2
184.22
75.42
43.42
15.3
 208AMD Radeon R7 M270
33
208
72
41.6
15.6
 209AMD Radeon R7 M265
30.8
156.9
77.6
44.2
15
 213NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M
33.1
177
75
50
18.6
 214AMD Radeon R7 (Kaveri)
~21.775%
94.8
39
27.9
 229NVIDIA GeForce 920M
29
157.452
73.82
36.552
13.652
 231Intel HD Graphics 530
~20.575%
58.7
32.3
11.7
 234AMD Radeon R7 M260
26.2
184.1
54.8
28.1
10.9
 243AMD Radeon HD 8670D
32.7
196
73.7
42.9
15.6
 247AMD Radeon R6 (Kaveri)
14.4
89.8
30.9
19.6
6.5
Pos      Model                                     StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
lowmed.highultra
 268AMD Radeon HD 8650G + HD 8670M Dual Graphics
~30.175%
152.2
54.8
28.7
 269AMD Radeon HD 8650G + HD 8570M Dual Graphics
~2250%
47.4
25.5
 271AMD Radeon HD 8550G + HD 8670M Dual Graphics
~25.475%
128.7
46
24.2
 272AMD Radeon HD 8670M
~29.375%
166.1
47.8
25.7
 273AMD Radeon R6 M255DX
~22.875%
100.3
44.6
25.3
 274AMD Radeon HD 7660D
30.3
190
67
38.2
13.7
 292AMD Radeon HD 8650G
23.1
141.92
53.452
26.052
12.4
 294*AMD Radeon HD 6620G + HD 7670M Dual Graphics
20.3
96.1
43.4
34.9
16
 297NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M
32.1
229.82
64.72
36.352
12.62
 298AMD Radeon HD 7560D
28
173
64
35
12.2
 303AMD Radeon R5 M255
31
207.2
70.5
33.2
12.4
 305NVIDIA GeForce 820M
~30.550%
68.9
32
 306Intel HD Graphics 520
27.5
173.754
58.254
32.354
17.154
 308NVIDIA GeForce GT 720M
~32.575%
159.1
61.3
30.8
 310AMD Radeon R5 M240
~21.875%
90
41.3
28.1
 312AMD Radeon R5 M230
17.3
107.32
37.852
23.72
7.2
 317AMD Radeon HD 8570M
17.8
150.7
29.7
16.9
6.1
 321Intel Iris Graphics 5100
~22.675%
118.152
38.62
22.42
 323*AMD Radeon HD 8610G
~18.675%
117.3
24.7
16.9
 326Intel HD Graphics 4600
31
253
52
33
11
Pos      Model                                     StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
lowmed.highultra
 328Intel HD Graphics 5500
18.8
122.14
41.54
22.44
8.33
 330AMD Radeon R5 (Kaveri)
~15.875%
75.3
28.3
17.6
 333NVIDIA GeForce 710M
~34.875%
197.3
58.2
28.8
 334AMD Radeon HD 7660G
22.2
127
50
31.5
11.1
 353AMD Radeon HD 8550G
~19.775%
54
33
11.7
 369Intel HD Graphics 515
~1575%
80.8
24.9
14.6
 370Intel HD Graphics 4400
15.2
117.74
31.554
16.054
2
 374AMD Radeon HD 7550M
~28.575%
189.6
39.3
19.8
 400Intel HD Graphics 5300
16.6
121.452
322
19.252
6.5
 408AMD Radeon HD 7480D
20.9
146
44
24.1
7.5
 409Intel HD Graphics 4000
14.8
108.058
28.18
15.458
7.6
 415AMD Radeon R5 (Beema/Carrizo-L)
12.2
91.4
26.2
12.2
3.1
 416AMD Radeon R4 (Beema)
~14.175%
64.6
26.4
15.4
 417Intel HD Graphics 4200
16.2
102.12
34.92
21.352
7
 423AMD Radeon HD 7500G
~17.275%
78
30.4
21.1
 426AMD Radeon HD 8450G
~18.875%
102.7
32.3
16.3
 430AMD Radeon HD 8400
12
72.82
27.82
13.552
7
 443AMD Radeon HD 8330
11.2
64.352
26.752
13.552
6.3
 446AMD Radeon R3 (Mullins/Beema)
~14.275%
71.62
24.552
14.9
 467AMD Radeon HD 7420G
~16.775%
91.5
28.2
14.9
Pos      Model                                     StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
lowmed.highultra
 472Intel HD Graphics (Haswell)
~17.275%
96.5
28.3
15
 494AMD Radeon HD 8280
~11.375%
50.3
22.1
12.3
 503AMD Radeon HD 8240
~11.750%
46
18.5
 511Intel HD Graphics 3000
12.3
1073
203
11.22
4.2
 514NVIDIA GeForce G210M
~14.475%
78
25
12.4
 529AMD Radeon HD 8210
~8.475%
39.2
15.4
9.3
 532Intel HD Graphics 2500
16.1
145
26
13.7
4.3
 533Intel HD Graphics (Ivy Bridge)
12.1
96.42
21.652
12.92
4
 567*Intel HD Graphics (Sandy Bridge)
10.9
100
16.9
9.5
2.8
 572Intel HD Graphics (Bay Trail)
~11.350%
56.23
12.83
 576AMD Radeon HD 7340
~8.675%
43
15
9
 580AMD Radeon HD 8180
~6.550%
25.6
10.1
 621Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 4500MHD
~5.250%
28.7
4.5
* Smaller values are better. / * Approximate position

 

Legend
5Stutters – This game is very likely to stutter and have poor frame rates. Based on all known benchmarks using the specified graphical settings, average frame rates are expected to fall below 25fps
May Stutter – This graphics card has not been explicitly tested on this game. Based on interpolated information from surrounding graphics cards of similar performance levels, stutters and poor frame rates are expected.
30Fluent – Based on all known benchmarks using the specified graphical settings, this game should run at or above 25fps
40Fluent – Based on all known benchmarks using the specified graphical settings, this game should run at or above 35fps
May Run Fluently – This graphics card has not been explicitly tested on this game. Based on interpolated information from surrounding graphics cards of similar performance levels, fluent frame rates are expected.
123Uncertain – This graphics card experienced unexpected performance issues during testing for this game. A slower card may be able to achieve better and more consistent frame rates than this particular GPU running the same benchmark scene.
Uncertain – This graphics card has not been explicitly tested on this game and no reliable interpolation can be made based on the performances of surrounding cards of the same class or family.
The value in the fields displays the average frame rate of all values in the database. Move your cursor over the value to see individual results.
static version load dynamic
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Benchmarked
Florian Glaser, 2013-03-21 (Update: 2013-06- 6)