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

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 are some intermediate enemies.
Every once in a while there 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.

Ultra Settings
Ultra Settings
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

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.

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                                     StarCraft 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
 4AMD Radeon HD 8970M Crossfire
160.1
140.1
60.6
 9NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680
288
124
111
75.2
 10AMD Radeon HD 7970
62.2
 13NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M
123
100
85
47
 14NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti
296.3
121.4
108.9
65.9
 16NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M
110
74
 17NVIDIA Quadro K5100M
122
106
65
 26NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M
264.4
102.952
90.22
60.42
 29AMD Radeon HD 7970M
267.6
118
107.9
46.5
 35NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770M
113
91.52
48.52
 44NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX
260.3
113.7
100.8
44
 49NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470
265
107
96
56
 50NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M
125
92
35
 56NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675M
254.1
113.3
99.4
41.3
 59AMD Radeon HD 7770
289.8
119.7
92.7
32.6
 69NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670MX
238.2
102.1
84.6
34.5
 71NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760M
87.8
36.1
 72NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670M
253.9
112.8
91.5
34.4
 74AMD Radeon HD 8870M
194
88.852
71.82
26.052
Pos      Model                                     StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
lowmed.highultra
 87NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M
246.9
112.6
78.5
29
 89AMD Radeon HD 8850M
89.2
64.5
21.3
 99NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M
207.3
88.7
65.2
25
 102NVIDIA GeForce GT 745M
100.2
59.6
21.9
 105AMD Radeon R7 in A10-7850K APU (Kaveri)
72.8
47.6
16.9
 106Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200
306
92
61
22.2
 109NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M
216.53
833
42.73
15.23
 114NVIDIA GeForce 825M
79.7
41.8
14.4
 124AMD Radeon HD 8550G + HD 8750M Dual Graphics
136.72
63.82
452
 125AMD Radeon HD 8750M
184.22
75.42
43.42
15.3
 128*NVIDIA GeForce GT 645M
207.6
69.6
47.7
17.7
 135NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M
177
75
50
18.6
 137NVIDIA GeForce GT 735M
67.5
41.2
14.1
 153AMD Radeon HD 8670D
196
73.7
42.9
15.6
 175AMD Radeon HD 8650G + HD 8670M Dual Graphics
152.2
54.8
28.7
 176*AMD Radeon HD 8650G + HD 8570M Dual Graphics
47.4
25.5
 178AMD Radeon HD 8550G + HD 8670M Dual Graphics
128.7
46
24.2
 179AMD Radeon HD 8670M
166.1
47.8
25.7
 180AMD Radeon HD 7660D
190
67
38.2
13.7
 198AMD Radeon HD 8650G
153.8
54.9
28.6
Pos      Model                                     StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
lowmed.highultra
 200*AMD Radeon HD 6620G + HD 7670M Dual Graphics
96.1
43.4
34.9
16
 203NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M
229.82
64.72
36.352
12.62
 204AMD Radeon HD 7560D
173
64
35
12.2
 207NVIDIA GeForce 820M
68.9
32
 208NVIDIA GeForce GT 720M
159.1
61.3
30.8
 215AMD Radeon HD 8570M
150.7
29.7
16.9
6.1
 222Intel HD Graphics 4600
253
52
33
11
 226NVIDIA GeForce 710M
197.3
58.2
28.8
 227AMD Radeon HD 7660G
127
50
31.5
11.1
 246*AMD Radeon HD 8550G
60.3
44.6
 258Intel HD Graphics 4400
105.22
29.552
16.052
 261AMD Radeon HD 7550M
189.6
39.3
19.8
 294AMD Radeon HD 7480D
146
44
24.1
7.5
 295Intel HD Graphics 4000
108.058
28.18
15.458
7.6
 302AMD Radeon HD 7500G
78
30.4
21.1
 305AMD Radeon HD 8450G
102.7
32.3
16.3
 309AMD Radeon HD 8400
72.82
27.82
13.552
7
 321AMD Radeon HD 8330
64.352
26.752
13.552
6.3
 342AMD Radeon HD 7420G
91.5
28.2
14.9
 364AMD Radeon HD 8280
50.3
22.1
12.3
Pos      Model                                     StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
lowmed.highultra
 370Intel HD Graphics (Haswell)
96.5
28.3
15
 373AMD Radeon HD 8240
46
18.5
 380Intel HD Graphics 3000
1073
203
11.22
4.2
 383NVIDIA GeForce G210M
78
25
12.4
 398AMD Radeon HD 8210
39.2
15.4
9.3
 401Intel HD Graphics 2500
145
26
13.7
4.3
 402Intel HD Graphics (Ivy Bridge)
96.42
21.652
12.92
4
 436*Intel HD Graphics (Sandy Bridge)
100
16.9
9.5
2.8
 441AMD Radeon HD 7340
43
15
9
 445AMD Radeon HD 8180
25.6
10.1
 446Intel HD Graphics (Bay Trail)
56.23
12.83
 485Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 4500MHD
28.7
4.5
* 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
Author: Florian Glaser, 2013-03-21 (Update: 2013-06- 6)