Welcome back to another article. I recently had a chat with fellow TL.net writer Waxangel and it lead me to do some thinking. To sum up our chat: I mentioned that something in SC2 was too good or overpowered, he stated that in BW everything was too good, and that is why the game was so great. This is dead on the money.
The main focus of this article will be on patching: things I'd like to see improved and expectations we should have of SC2. One of the biggest things I notice when people compare SC2 with BW is that there is a very strong tendency of people wanting something to be nerfed because it is "overpowered". I want to show that Brood War was absolutely riddled with examples of overpowered units, and that having such units in SC2 is essential as well.
Starcraft 2 has a lot of units and abilities that people want weakened or that have been weakened already. Force field, for example, is too strong when you have 10 sentries and large armies clash—largely because smart cast enables you to split his your opponent's army in two in a second. Roaches are great in general: they are easy to mass huge amounts of, have lots of HP and only cost one supply (this is actually the one issue where you could claim that they were imbalanced after the regeneration nerf). There are many other examples: banelings are commonly complained about, banshees are mentioned often, brood lords and mutalisks have both undergone quite some discussion and the Mule and the queen's inject larvae ability are incredibly good.
Do these units or skills make the game or break the game? It can be both. Looking back at BW, there were, prior to some patches, a few imbalances that literally broke the game. The insanely fast spawn rate of larvae back in 1.00 is one example, the reaver harassment from 1.02 (back when reavers had a 0 second firing rate after being dropped from a shuttle) was another. These had to be fixed by balance patches because there wasn't anything players could do to counter them. However, there are also examples of ridiculously powerful abilities that stayed in the game and that, in my opinion, made the game what it was.
The best example is dark swarm with lurkers. This is essentially a combination that has only one terran counter: irradiate. Lurkers burrowed underneath dark swarm are practically invincible to anything other than irradiate that terran is likely to have. Yet it stayed in the game, and it definitely didn't break the game.
Oopsie... (thanks to Sense of Star for the image.)
Other examples of this include: storm dealing 114 damage (initially 128) to a wide range of units in a matter of seconds, sometimes turning a game around completely; irradiate dominating zerg air to such an extent that once terran had 3-4 vessels out, there was hardly a point in building any new units; 3-3 terran mech dominating everything in the game cost-wise... Broodwar had many examples of "overpowered" units or abilities, and they never broke the game.
During the SC2 beta we have already seen some key nerfs: storm is smaller, EMP is smaller, roaches are no longer invincible with the regeneration upgrade... Marauders have also been nerfed somewhat , and in my opinion, in a good way—I actually called for making the slow an upgrade a couple hours before the most recent patch! This is essential not only for the marauders, but because they do to a great degree fill the role of the siege tank—marauders are pretty much as good as tanks at everything other than killing hydralisks and static defense, but they are way more mobile, can be healed, and fare significantly better against melee units.
I am happy that roaches and marauders have both been significantly weakened, because these are all-purpose units, or at least they were initially. Ideally, we want units that aren't too strong in everything, but that have the potential to deal ridiculous damage when they are used optimally in specific situations. I am happy that Blizzard reduced the armor of the roach and the burrowed healing when upgraded was obviously way too strong. However, reducing their burrowed movement reduces one of their specialized usages and this is something I am less happy about.
Roach underground speed was one of the unit's defining characteristics.
In conclusion: Brood War had a really large amount of units and abilities that were overpowered in a vacuum. In fact, virtually every unit except the marine, zealot, dragoon and hydralisk were "too strong" in certain settings, forcing the players to alter their game to fit the units. Yet somehow, BW ended up being quite balanced, even if it took a long time. This was part of Starcraft's greatness because it essentially allowed for the extremely high tension and uncertainty of BW—even if someone was far ahead, extreme comebacks could still happen. If a terran got properly flanked by a defiler-lurker-ultra-ling army, he could lose virtually everything and kill almost nothing in return; a zerg could be dominating a zerg vs protoss game only to lose his army to a few well placed storms and his economy to more storms; a protoss could be dominating in a protoss vs terran game only to have one attack fail completely because the spider mines killed the zealots faster than anticipated, or vice versa, the zealots could drag a bunch mines into tanks blowing them all up creating an improbable comeback for the protoss player.
Many units in Brood War had the potential to kill more than 10 times their own cost. Vultures were the fastest units in the game, two-shotted peons, costed 75 minerals and no gas, were able to put 3 "scarabs" into the ground that blew up anything that walks near them... I mean, three scarabs by themselves cost 45 minerals if you bought them from the reaver (disregarding the reaver cost), and reavers were often unable to fire more than that. Basically, if you compared the races unit for unit, stuff did not add up at all. Zerglings were much better than zealots cost wise, yet a dynamic evolved where protoss would end up having one attack upgrade more than zerg had armor at most stages of the game, and in this event zealots were better. Despite all these glaring imbalances, everything worked out great in actual gameplay. It's certainly hard to replicate, but we must avoid balancing SC2 by making everything suck equally hard.
Watching the current nerf-trend, I am certain that an equivalent of dark swarm and burrowed lurker would not have had the slightest chance of making it out of the SC2 beta, and that this fear of the overpowered could eventually end up hurting the game.
With that said, I myself would like to see force field get a health bar (each FF having 400 hp or thereabouts), because as it is now, there's just no way, apart from brood lords, to approach a properly controlled protoss ball, and you certainly want more than one potential counter for a unit. While the patches so far in the beta have mostly been good—I am happy to have called for a few of the changes that were eventually made—the best balancing happens when players come up with a way to counter units, not when Blizzard just makes that unit or ability less powerful.
This post was made by the Team Liquid Starcraft 2 Coverage Team. For more of TL's coverage, please visit the Team Liquid Starcraft 2 Beta Page.