Blizzard has an unparalleled reputation for RTS game design. Their franchises are known for updating rarely but with an in-depth, high-quality product. This differs from franchises that tend to put out games with shorter production times but a less in-depth product that deserves less play time (think Gears of War), or franchises that give their product very long production times and still just put out shitty games (I'm looking at you, Duke Nukem Forever).
Their first contribution was in 1994 with Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, then again in 1995 with Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, which followed the lead of Command and Conquer and introduced competitive multiplayer. The franchise was not continued until seven years later with Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos in 2002, with an expansion pack in 2003.
In Warcraft II, both orcs and humans had naval capabilities, something apparently beyond the technological capacity of the Starcraft races.
The Starcraft franchise was born in 1998 with Starcraft and Starcraft: Brood War. True to form, Blizzard waited a full twelve years to make its sequel Wings of Liberty. Starcraft reinvented the genre of real-time strategy, considered by almost everyone the best RTS franchise of its time, by many the best RTS franchise of all time, and by some to be the best video game franchise of all time.
Artosis feels very strongly on this issue.
Wings of Liberty did not dazzle the video game world with its compelling plot line and dazzling single-player. In an eSPORTS age, well-designed spectator-friendly multiplayer is the benchmark by which a game is measured, and it delivered. WoL created a multiplayer experience that was both fast-paced and graphically dazzling, with enough interesting units to provide virtually limitless strategic possibility. To do this its game design had to meet a few basic standards:
1. No single unit or composition is game-breakingly powerful.
2. Each race has enough useful units and strategies to remain viable.
3. Each race has a unique and strategically different identity, and units are different enough from each other to be interesting.
Of course, WoL is also not a perfect game. HotS should address some weaknesses of the original game like Brood War addressed the weaknesses of Starcraft Vanilla, while not violating any of the rules mentioned above. So with that in mind, let's begin an in-depth discussion of the new multiplayer additions that the HotS Alpha build proposes, with spectator value always a consideration for an eSPORTS-friendly franchise.
This is the most interesting of the new Terran additions. I don't include a picture because the alpha build is using the unit model for the Spider Mine from Brood War. And certainly the widow mine is reminiscent of the Spider Mine. Basic functionality is as follows:
1. Produce the widow mine from a naked factory for 75 minerals, 25 gas, or two at a time from a reactor factory. Build time is 20 seconds.
2. Instruct the mine to burrow somewhere, which takes 3 seconds.
3. The mine will automatically grab an enemy target (ground or air) that walks within range 6 of the mine, exploding after ten seconds for 200 damage to target and a smaller amount of damage in an AoE around the unit.
Strategically, this unit is fascinating. Suddenly the Terran has a powerful and cheap form of space control, with potentially devastating consequences for a less-than-watchful opponent. It functions badly in big engagements, since an affected unit will still absorb damage from your army for ten seconds before dying, and a unit that is killed before those ten seconds are up will not give the AoE damage. The AoE damage usually shouldn't pay off, since your opponent has a whole ten seconds to move it away from their army or kill it. But even if it only did single-target damage, a widow mine will still eliminate most targets instantly for the very cheap cost of 75/25.
I like this unit a lot for a couple of reasons:
1. It supports the general Terran trend of being a primarily defensive race. Between siege tanks, bunkers, and burrowing supply depots for wall-offs, Terran has a unique and strategically interesting identity as a race that is much stronger in a defensive position than an offensive one. With low hit points and a three-second burrow time, dashing in with widow mines is unlikely to be terribly effective. But in a defensive posture, with opponents beating down the Terran door, the widow mine will shine.
2. The widow mine introduces a lot of drama to the play experience, both in whether the Terran's unsuspecting opponent will run over the mine, and whether he will be able to react in time to avoid the AoE damage. The problems with this are a) the radius is so big that the opponent will almost certainly run over the mine, and b) the timer is so long that there's rarely any question whether the opponent will react in time.
3. The widow mine discourages the death ball-style unit positioning that is so common in WoL. Terran is discouraged from death ball mode because some of his supply is invested in widow mines, which are best used far away from the army. Terran's opponent is discouraged from death ball mode because less clumped units are less at risk from the widow mine's AoE.
Since the beta process will probably involve at least a few changes to the unit, here are the changes that I think would enhance the widow mine's value as an interesting unit:
1. A longer burrow time and/or slower movement speed might be warranted. Dashing in with widow mines, dropping them in worker lines, or other offensive moves are not the direction this unit should be taken. It should be primarily defensive in nature, and its stats should reflect that.
2. Spectator value would benefit from a shorter timer, so that the AoE is more likely to actually affect the opponent's army. Obviously this would have to be accompanied by a smaller and less damaging AoE, possibly to near the damage and radius of a baneling. If the AoE became a significant factor for the opponent to consider, this would also help more in discouraging death balls.
3. A smaller attaching radius would make mine placement more important, and help the spectator value of the drama surrounding whether the mine will attach. At range 6 mines also effectively destroy banshee play, while a smaller radius would make them a viable defense without completely marginalizing banshee openings.
The Warhound is a tech lab factory unit produced for 150 minerals and 75 gas. Its hit points and attack are fairly reasonable for its cost, and its build time is appropriately long for a unit meant for a mech composition. In addition it has an autocastable attack that can only target mechanical units and gives a fairly dazzling missile launch when it fires. It's doesn't have any strategically interesting spells or special abilities, but if every unit is special, none of them are.
Here's what I like about the Warhound:
1. It blends well with the general trends of mechanical armies: it builds slow, hits hard, and is best in a large army composition rather than in small numbers.
2. Mech armies have tended to have some issue dealing with large numbers of mid-size targets, e.g. roaches, marauders, zealots, etc. Warhounds have the potential to address this issue, since for a given size mech army your dps will come in smaller units than it does for tanks or thors. This may or may not be how mech armies containing warhounds function, since mass zealot will still probably fare pretty well against warhound-heavy compositions.
As the Warhound is adjusted in beta, I'd like to see it move in these directions:
1. The unit model is not especially interesting. Obviously it is somewhat inspired by the goliath from Brood War, as well as apparently from the Warhammer 40k universe, but its concept art feels uninspired. In addition it doesn't look all that different from the battle mode hellion. The missile graphics are much more eye-catching, and the ground-to-ground missiles seem to be the most interesting aspect of the unit, so the unit model should probably emphasize the missiles launchers.
2. It would be nice to see something that makes the unit a little more strategically relevant besides as a anti-mechanical counter. An interesting possibility might be to make the missiles cast as a low-damage AoE (~10-15 damage) with bonus damage to mechanical (no longer auto-castable). This would give mech players something to micro in the engagement, help deal with mechanical threats as well as masses of small units like zerglings, and make the Warhound a much more strategically interesting unit.
3. Movement speed is awfully high! It's somewhere between a regular marine and a stimmed marine, which makes me think these aren't meant to supplement marine marauder forces, rather than mech armies. In fact the Warhound is one of several new units that threatens to totally negate the effectiveness of the siege tank. As such if the warhound is in need of a nerf, I'd like to see movement speed decreased and damage shifted from the auto-mechanical attack to its regular attack. This might warrant an increase in cost, which would also probably be alright (although it should always cost less than a siege tank).
Battle Mode Hellion
When I first saw the Battle Mode Hellion, I wondered why in significant fights anyone would want to have vehicle hellions again. I'd like everyone to note just how short a range of two is in Starcraft. Consider one of hte shortest-ranged units, the roach. And that is still range 4. This means that the battle mode hellion's uses are severely limited by this reduced range.
Don't get me wrong, they're still a (situationally) good unit. Silly as this sounds, small numbers of hellions didn't actually counter zerglings that hard in WoL. With excellent control they could kill large numbers, but since zerglings are faster and easier to mass produce, hellions didn't actually crush that hard unless the zerglings followed them into a choke, or there were 8+ hellions present (or if blue flame was researched). So the battle mode hellion destroys zerglings even harder than the vehicle mode hellion, at the cost of losing much more easily to banelings, roaches, and hydras. Obviously its primary use against non-zergling targets is just to take damage while tanks, thors, warhounds, etc. do the actual killing.
Did you know that vehicle mode hellions actually destroy hydras in big engagements? Because battle mode hellions sure don't.
Thinks I like about the battle mode hellion:
1. The hellion is essential to mech play, because it provides much-needed map control and mobility to an otherwise completely passive style. At the same time it maintains mech armies' slow, methodical pushing nature by being a fairly easy assault to deflect. This means in late game once your army approaches the 200/200 mark, hellions feel like something of a waste of food, since they die quickly and don't kill especially quickly against most targets. The battle mode transition makes the hellion feel less like wasted food in a mech lategame.
2. RTS games are defined by providing interesting decisions which will help you win or lose the game. The choice of whether to leave hellions in battle or vehicle mode, whether to split between the modes and in what proportion, and how to position properly is exactly the kind of decision point that makes Starcraft a good and challenging game. I hope I get to see the day where pros build masses of hellions and morph the vulnerable ones to vehicle mode to minimize damage. Like a pre-emptive blink micro.
Directions I'd like to see it taken:
1. I don't necessarily like that the battle mode hellion is useful for a) killing zerglings, and b) tanking damage. It might have some applications against mass zealot, but it would be nice to see it branch out to fit a slightly less specific role. One possible way to make it more viable against non-zerglings would be to raise the radius of the cone to three, and decrease the spread, making it slightly easier to approach marine compositions and other ranged units.
2. The name "Battle Mode Hellion" isn't terribly catchy, and "Vehicle Mode" seems deceptive since both forms are in fact vehicles. I think I've heard the term "combat hellion" used, but I don't know from where. I might take to referring to the two forms as "combat hellion" and "recon hellion" whatever the official name is, just for convenience.
"Hey guys. What's up?"
Other Terran Changes
The new reaper has no building attack, but it does have seven range and an upgrade that gives it health regeneration that functions a lot like protoss shields. Seven range is the significant factor there; Range five queens probably make reaper openings defensible, but I'm a little worried about TvT and TvP. 1-rax gasless expand might just not be viable on some maps, depending on how the metagame works out. This would not be the first time reapers broke the game, so I'm sure Blizzard has their eye on this one.
Assuming it doesn't break the game again, I'm optimistic for the reaper. It's an awesome unit that Blizzard frankly did a bad job with the first time around, starting it out completely broken and then nerfing it until it was almost entirely unused. This looks promising. With seven range, the reaper might even be viable in non-harass situations; for example, a marauder-reaper composition against Protoss to deal with mass zealot attacks.
Battlecruisers now have a dash. This will make air terran vs. air terran fights a great deal more tactical, which will be a welcome change. I still somehow doubt they'll become very commonly used vZ or vP, but it certainly can't hurt.
The Protoss have a new flagship which I'm fairly certain was born of Blizzard's desire to retroactively justify the existence of this cinematic:
Whatever the inspiration, the Tempest has high cost, low DPS, and interestingly, 22 range. This is good design strategy: make something potentially game-breaking so people will use it and you can get data on how it functions, then nerf it until it balances properly. A lot of people are actually worried that this unit won't be worthwhile, since the DPS is so low for its cost.
I view the utility of the unit this way: why is it wasteful to have idle workers? Because an SCV can only mine so many trips of minerals per time, and if a worker is idle, then several of those trips go to waste. The same is true of units: they can put out a certain number of attacks per unit time, but if they are sitting idle, that potential is not being realized. This is one reason range is so useful for units: a siege tank begins firing as the enemy army approaches, and continues firing as the army retreats. A zergling, meanwhile, cannot begin attacking until it has approached the target, during which time many of its fellow zerglings have been used.
So the Tempest can be very powerful, but you need to keep it firing at all times. Park it somewhere within range of the enemy, make sure you have vision, and just shoot at something. It'll take some attention to make sure your opponent isn't coming to snipe your Tempest, but with observers or Oracles, you can keep it safely sniping enemy targets. Force a Terran to take SCVs off mining to repair their turrets, supply depots, engineering bays, etc. Force queens to waste energy transfusing structures. Snipe workers if you can. Just do some kind of damage and the investment will be justified.
I should also say the Tempest is a very pretty unit, with an intriguing name and a dazzling attack animation. The long range might make it a little hard to fit all the action on one screen, but other than that, it should have a great deal of spectator value.
Some obvious concerns that Blizzard has probably considered, but I'll mention anyway:
1. The Tempest shouldn't be too fragile or easy to snipe. Obviously a flagship should move slowly, but I think it might be worthwhile to bump it up to 2.5 or 2.75 move speed, on par with vikings and only little behind corruptors. The Tempest could become as rare a sight as the carrier in WoL if it can easily be sniped by 5-6 vikings/corruptors. Beta testing will help reveal whether this is an issue; maybe Protoss can keep a few blink stalkers in the area to defend it, just in case. Or maybe it moves fast enough already to run away when air defenses come out.
2. There has to be a way to deny priority targets on the part of the opponent. Taking potshots at supply depots is fine, but if the Tempest is killing an SCV every six seconds, it takes 3 Command Centers just to break even on SCVs. Over the course of a minute, that would be 500 minerals lost just in the actual cost of building SCVs, let alone lost mining time. This is probably best balanced with map design; if there's no massive space behind bases for units to hide behind, then the Tempest won't have anywhere to sit and snipe workers.
3. This is another unit that threatens to totally negate the presence of siege tanks in HotS. The Warhound threatens it in TvT, this threatens it in TvP, and the Viper threatens it in TvZ. Tanks are a unit that depends on slowly amassing a large number, with excellent unit retention because of their superior range. Now Tanks might get sniped before Terran can even engage, and with 22 range, the mech army can't depend on being in a defensive position for the fight, so tanks might not even be sieged. I'm a little worried mech might actually become less viable in HotS TvP. And I'd be sad to see the siege tank, an iconic unit of the Starcraft franchise, fade away in relevance as future expansion packs are released.
Why yes, in Halo I do prefer to grab the sniper rifle and stand in the corner. How did you know?
The Oracle was probably born of various Protoss bemoaning a lack of harassment options. WoL had a few intended harassment units, but phoenixes are relatively uncommon in gameplay, and the warp prism was, for the first year or so after release, one of the least commonly seen units.This left Protoss with either DT harass or big deathball styles. Nowadays warp prism harass is more common, but Protoss could still do with additional harass options, being overall the least harass-based race and possibly as a result, generally being the lowest APM race to play.
The Oracle has some cool harass/scouting. Entomb blocks all eight mineral patches for a little while, which is a lot of mining time lost (even more if you can distract your opponent while you use it). Cloaking Field has some cool applications, both offensive and defensive, for cloaked mid-game pushes (as an example). Preordain solves the detection problem that stargate tech has always had when cast on friendly buildings, and as though stargate tech's scouting capabilities weren't already very powerful, it offers perhaps the best scouting ability in the game when cast on enemy buildings.
Just 6 drones are being blocked from mining for 45 seconds, which already denies ~180 minerals. Not too shabby for 75 energy.
Some things I like:
1. Oracle cloak is probably stronger defensively than it is offensively, since at home the oracle can hide behind friendly buildings and avoid getting sniped. This helps the ability be less abusable. At the same time I'm sure some sick timing pushes PvZ will come out of this unit, and I for one can't wait to see it.
2. Entomb denies minerals without killing workers. This means it offers a way to get an edge in the game without setting your opponent far behind in income for the rest of the game (which, in a game of exponential economic growth, is a big deal). WoL suffers a little from being a game of momentum, where one an advantage is taken it is difficult to ever catch up. This is particularly true in the Protoss match-ups. The oracle gives Protoss a way to take an advantage without killing off the whole enemy economy or whole enemy army, which means the opponent is behind but close enough that they have a chance to catch up.
1. Why did the warp prism go virtually unused for so long? Because players weren't good enough to multi-task with it? No. Because nobody wanted to leave their robo producing not-colossus long enough to make one? Well, maybe a little. But the main reason was that it was too fragile. The oracle is awfully speedy, which might help it escape some hairy situations, but it still dies very fast. Blizzard could wait a year, buff its shields to 100 points, and then see it start getting used, or they could do it sooner, and let oracle strategies start being effective as soon as the beta.
2. Preordain might be just a little too strong for scouting. Between defensive cloaking, 2-minute scouting, and mothership core defenses, Protoss might find themselves nearly invulnerable early game. And while cheese may be the root of all evil and should be crushed, keep in mind that cheese does serve its purpose in preventing overly greedy economic plays from being safe. I believe energy limitations prevent a 15 nexus into fast mothership core build from being viable, but fast 3 nexus with mothership core +oracle cloak defenses and oracle harass could be an unstoppable economic play.
This might be my new favorite unit concept Blizzard has submitted (RIP shredder; you were awesome, but yeah, you probably had no place in SC2). Energize is the most exciting and (to me) strategically interesting of the additions; If you use it on a target and then spend energy on that target, it continues refilling that target to maximum energy. That means mass chronoboost with a single nexus, or mass forcefield off a single sentry, or mass psi storm off a single templar. I half want to proxy a nexus outside my opponent's base and mass entomb. The point is, possibilities are really broad with an ability like this.
What I like about it:
1. (Obviously) It's so cool! the model is very eye-catching, its move set is unique and exciting, and since it is forced to be defensive, it is a difficult unit to abuse. Protoss strategy will revolve heavily around how much mothership core is available at a given time, and the opponent's strategy will benefit from knowing when mothership core energy has probably been spent.
2. Mass recall is a very, very powerful ability. It costs 150 mothership energy, which means it must be used rarely and only in extreme situations. Sometimes you might rather accept some damage done by a drop rather than teleport the army home to kill it faster, and those kinds of decisions make for good gameplay.
3. Blizzard has tried the "hero unit" idea several times before. WC3 it became an essential part of the gameplay, but many would argue it didn't blend with the ideas of RTS as much as it did shift the Warcraft series more toward RPG. The WoL mothership was a cool unit, but didn't see too much application aside from Kiwikaki antics or as a means to the archon toilet. This feels like the culmination of years of attempts to make the "hero unit" idea work well.
The Mothership Core can also "upgrade" into an actual Mothership. So far the new Mothership's abilities seem underwhelming; Vortex now only affects ground units, officially declaring the death of the archon toilet. Stasis is a new ability, which, as the name implies, puts units in stasis. From what I understand, however, the ability only affects air units and also affects the mothership itself. This could be an effective response to broodlord/infestor, though: stasis the broodlords, then sweep in with your army and kill off the ground forces. Come to think of it, stasis could make colossus armies virtually unstoppable by both Terran and Zerg if its radius is big enough.
The purpose of this contest is to give feedback to Blizzard about the changes. And I know they're undoubtedly tired of hearing from the community that we want the carrier back. On the other hand, we are the ones that actually buy their games, so maybe they should consider our opinion on this one.
The new units in HotS go a long way toward making Stargate tech a viable option. Carriers are an essential part of keeping that option diverse and viable. I really want to see the oracle become used in professional play; I want to see the Tempest accepted into the pantheon of Starcraft units we've all come to know and love (or hate, depending on what race we play). But a part of me fears that players will decide the Oracle is too gimmicky, costs too much gas, and can't transition into effective airplay because the Tempest is only good from far away and phoenixes and void rays can't keep up with vikings and corruptors. So feedback requested, and feedback delivered. Starcraft will be a better game with the carrier in it, and I would be sad to see it removed.
It's better that you died, Tassadar. I wouldn't want you to see what the Protoss fleets have turned into.
The Viper is a great addition to the zerg arsenal. Its abilities are very micro-based, and its applications are diverse and tactically interesting. Obvious uses are pulling enemy units away from the group to isolate and kill them. But consider pulling a few tanks or thors down to the low-ground to slow down a push until broodlords morph. Or using several abducts in sequence to pull a unit large distances. The unit is fun, spectator-friendly, and strategically deep.
I only have one especially significant concern for this unit: I worry that it will make siege tanks obsolete. As mentioned previously, tanks depend heavily on killing quickly and efficiently with minimal losses, making up for lack of mobility with army strength. With tanks being pulled into the open for roughly the same cost as a fungal, this may or may not be possible. Maybe pushes with tanks need to keep the tanks even further back. Or maybe viking support will be a must. If all else fails, a range reduction would help, but I hope it doesn't come to that. Neural parasite was a cool ability, too, until range reductions essentially negated almost all practical applications.
The Swarm Host favors a constant aggression style of Zerg that isn't that commonly seen in WoL. The locusts provide excellent (free!) cannon fodder for the zerg army to stay behind. They do pretty decent damage, and even hit air units. I believe the swarm host can even unburrow between rounds and move to a new location to spawn its locusts from. Ideally the zerg race would be everywhere in small numbers, with small attacks hitting all enemy bases from time to time. Some pros might accomplish this with constant zergling pressure from various fronts, but this is difficult to do, and usually doesn't pay off; small zergling attacks will more often than not just run into an army and die, and all those zerglings could have been drones or stayed behind as part of the army.
I'd like to see the Swarm Host buffed; either locusts are slightly beefier, or they put out more locusts per swarm host. This would have to be accompanied by an increase in cost, but would leave supply and larva cost unaffected. This would help the zerg truly be everywhere at once with constant locust attacks all over the map.
Other Zerg Changes
Ultralisk burrow charge is exciting. It's great for spectators more than anything else, although it has some strategic significance as well. Now ultralisks demand the same rigorous split micro that Terrans have always needed against banelings and infestors. I hope the range isn't too high; having ultralisks charge in and then suddenly materialize behind your army would probably be a little too powerful. The AoE they put out on surfacing does friendly fire, I understand, which helps keep the ability a little more balanced.
Edit: I believe Baneling burrow movement has been removed. I'm a little sad to see it go, although I acknowledge it would have been hard to implement.
Heart of the Swarm has a lot of potential to push Starcraft to ever greater heights of game design. It has a lot of additions that will keep spectators endlessly entertained, and strategists endlessly busy. The general design philosophy put forward by Blizzard for the game is solid, and as their units and patches to those units conform to that design philosophy, I feel confident that the game that comes out of it will be very solid. I hope I get into the beta so I can start really testing these units.
Wall of text complete, thank you to anyone who actually read the whole thing. I hope there were at least a few good kernels of sense in that mass of syntax.