“Awaken my child, and embrace the glory that is your birthright. Know that I am the Overmind; the eternal will of the Swarm, and that you have been created to serve me.“
For those loyal to this proud race, you cannot deny that there is something remarkably different in SC1 and SC2, something that cannot be attributed solely to the fancy new 3D graphics or the new units or the new mechanics. These things add up, and they make a race that feels completely different, that has evolved, for better or for worse, from the race we have grown to love and cherish.
No more of this two-dimensional nonsense...
We've evolved to 3D!
I'm sure almost everyone can agree that the Zerg race needs some rework. Countless threads about this issue have littered the forums, screaming imbalance and lack of diversity. I want to stay as far away from balance as I possibly can and take a look at why everyone calls Zerg so "bland" and "dull" (I'm sure "roach/hydra ranged blob" rings a bell). What strikes me most is that the vast majority of proposed changes to Zerg call for the revival of old units like the Lurker, Scourge, and Defiler, WITHOUT considering the fact that SC2 is an entirely new game, and those units just wouldn't work quite right anymore. The proponents of change think the problem is Zerg doesn't have enough flashy spellcasters or cool new units, and they think the solution is to add in more. This is simply not the case.
This is not Warcraft in space!
What Went Wrong
Zerg Army Composition and Diversity
Let's go way back to that old and all-but-outdated game we know and love: Broodwar. Zerg was THE prototypical mass shit and go race. Mass expansions, mass drones, mass a ground army. But this ground army wasn't your typical ground army - in fact, it was as diverse and flexible as any army could be. You could have Zerglings and Lurkers, Hydralisks and Lurkers, Hydralisks and Mutalisks, Mutalisks and Zerglings and Lurkers, and the list goes on and on. The surprising thing is Zerg only had four basic units to work with in the midgame; they didn’t have any (viable) fancy schmancy spellcasters or units with amazing abilities. But somehow, it worked because each unit was viable in some way – each unit could put up a good fight against the Terran and Protoss arsenals.
Don't tell me you don't miss this shit.
Zerglings and the Problem with Melee (and Ranged) Units
Flash forward to SC2. Let’s count the number of buildable melee units the Zerg has. One, the Zergling. Two, the Ultralisk. Maybe you could count the Baneling as well, but I won’t because the way it works (the fact that it suicides) makes it unable to fulfill the constant-DPS role of melee units. But, you may say, SC1 only had two buildable melee Zerg units as well, the exact same ones, in fact. The sad and simple fact, though, is these melee units are not exactly the same. Let’s look at the prototypical Zergling. It should be small, fast, cheap, massable, right? And it fulfills all of these categories (perhaps somewhat abusively) in SC2, right? Maybe so, but there are two key things wrong with Zerglings that make them no longer viable.
1. They're not cute enough
First, remember how Zerglings were the little terrorists of Broodwar; how they could raze a Terran or Protoss base in seconds flat. That is no longer the case: in fact, a brief skim of this thread shows that Zerglings were the only units with a DPS DECREASE in the transition from SC1 to SC2. So, whereas every unit evolved fearsome new spines or shiny new guns, the Zergling’s apparently suffered a bout of muscular atrophy.
Second, remember that you never won a large midgame or lategame battle with mass Zerglings. You always had some complementary unit, most likely the Lurker or the Ultralisk. You may ask why these units synergized so well. The answer is simple – they were the tanks, allowing Zerglings to deal their ridiculous damage while soaking up enemy damage for themselves. And in the special case of Lurkers, they provided insane support DPS when fighting Marines and Zealots, the backbones of the Terran and Protoss armies. In SC2, if you try to combine the Zergling with the Hydralisk, the Zerglings rush forward, get auto-targeted and die. If you try to combine the Zergling with the Roach, the Zerglings rush forward, get auto-targeted and die. The fact of the matter is Zerglings simply have no complementary unit in SC2.
Yeah, something like that.
Yeah, something like that.
Surprisingly, though, the blame cannot rest solely on the Zergling’s small and fragile shoulders. The casual observer might say with infinitely large control groups and auto-surround, the buffs should outweigh the nerfs. But this is simply not the case for the sole reason that Blizzard completely butchered ranged units. And not just Zerg ranged units – all ranged units. With the addition of the Roach, the Marauder, and the Immortal, we now have ranged “tanks” that dish out terrible, terrible damage while being able to soak up a massive amount as well. In SC1, there was a phenomenon known as critical mass, where a group of ranged units (preferably with splash damage) were able to kill a near infinite amount of melee units once they reached a certain number. In SC2, combine the unkillable properties of your superbuff ranged units with the insane support DPS of the Hydra, the Stalker, the Colossus, and stim packs, and you get a ranged ball that’s nearly untouchable by melee units. This is why Lurkers, the tactical and defensive Zerg godsend, won’t work in SC2 (and why they didn’t work against mech in SC1); they just can’t work effectively against strong, high HP ranged units. This is why melee units are so much less effective, despite autosurround. And this is the why the game has devolved from a vast amount of Zerg playstyles to just Hydra/Roach. Zerglings simply are no longer cost-effective with the current state of the game.
The roach, a hardy fellow, said to be able to survive a nuclear holocaust...
The Mutalisk Problem
Let’s be honest here, Mutalisks are what made the Zerg race in Broodwar tick. In fact, the arguably two most important race-specific skills for a Zerg player to have at higher levels are larva management and Mutalisk micro. It’s understandable that, with the advent of infinite control group select, Blizzard doesn’t want this to be available to the masses:
And that's only two control groups...
And that's only two control groups...
But let’s face it. Muta micro was the best part about playing Zerg. Even Nada says so. But it was more than that – it was what separated the good Zergs from the great, and the Koreans from the foreigners. No one can deny that Mutalisk micro required an incredible amount of skill. For the best harass, you had to constantly babysit your flock, timing your attacks and pulls perfectly, knowing exactly where and what to harass, and teching/macroing at the same time. It required good hand speed, good decision making, and good multitask – something many could attempt but few could master. I will venture to say that Mutalisk micro is the best and most influential bug in Broodwar because it set the skill ceiling so much higher without compromising the learning curve. We can only cross our fingers and hope that something equally influential will be discovered (or, dare I say it, provided by Blizzard). But until then, we can only mash spawn larva and wait.
Yes, this is what Mutalisks really look like,
The Hive Problem
Rushing hive was a common strategy in Broodwar. Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn’t. But, with Hive tech offering so many powerful and game-changing options, who could blame the rushers? In the two-dimensional days of yore, Hive tech provided an actually cost-effective Adrenal Glands, Ultralisks, Defilers, even Guardians if the situation called for them. But, with the shift to 3D, we seemed to have lost almost all reason to upgrade the swarm to its most fearsome form. What happened to our game-changing tier 3 spellcaster, our worth-the-cost tier 3 upgrades, and our super-buff-and-made-lings-viable tier 3 tank? The single saving grace, the one and only reason for Hive tech in SC2 is the Broodlord. I won’t talk about Broodlord balance because there are plenty of threads both open and closed about the topic. The point is, upgrading to hive is supposed to be the ultimate evolution for Zerg, the coup de grace that unleashes the utmost fury of the swarm. And this “utmost fury” should definitely not consist of a single unit.
The fury unleashed!
What Went Right
We can’t have a thread that just complains about Blizzard, though. So hats off to the development team for the following innovations:
Blizzard finally made the Infested Terran viable, and boy is it great. What I personally like most about the Baneling is the fact that, coupled with the Roach nerf, ZvZ is fun, exciting, and dynamic. When Banelings enter the picture in ZvZ, micro becomes so much more tense, and hand speed and accuracy become all the more essential. Banelings bring the micro back to ZvZ, and, combined with all of the different tech and unit options, give us a nice reprieve from the mass-range-1a of the other two matchups.
Tic tic tic ... BOOM!
We whined and complained and threw a fit when we heard that Blizzard was going to “dumb down” the highly technical game we know and love. Enter: spawn creep tumor. Creep is great because it seems to be the best distinguisher between a great Zerg and a mediocre Zerg. Performing all of the possible actions required by a “great “ Zerg playstyle is not an easy task; you have to macro a round of units, spawn larva, spread overlords and generate creep, spawn a changeling, possibly take an expo. And this doesn’t even begin to mention microing (though, I’ll admit, microing is more positioning your army than babysitting). Add to the picture pooping out one or more creep tumors, and you’re going to have your hands full. But the benefits this generation of creep gives you is well worth the work. For one, Hydralisks and Queens are basically slugs without creep, and you can chase down retreating units, or quickly retreat yourself if you need be. On top of that, creep provides invaluable map vision and awareness. Given, it’s not a replacement for Mutalisk micro, but it’s a good start.
Going a little overboard...
The Nydus Worm
Of the many (or few, depending on how you want to look at it) improvements of SC2, the Nydus Worm is definitely can’t be counted out. Perhaps the most fearsome-looking unit (and building) of the swarm, it provides much more than just aesthetic enjoyment. It gives you incredible mobility, and probably the only harassment opportunity available to Zerg at the moment, not including the watered-down-yet-just-as-expensive-excuse-for-muta-micro. It encourages Overlord spreading, mass expanding, expansion raids, and everything Zerg-y. The only thing that annoys me is that you have to rehotkey your entire army after each Nydus transfer (not much of an APM-intensive task, but annoying nonetheless), but this is definitely an improvement over the old Nydus system.
For Better or for Worse
As expected from a beta, SC2 has been met with its ups and downs. Similarly, Zerg has seen vast progress as well as undesirable regression. It is not for me to say whether they have taken a cumulative two steps forward or two steps back, but no one can deny that there is room to improve. Broodwar set the bar high in terms of video game perfection, and a sequel should strive only to advance and surpass. Perhaps we will see another evolution of the swarm, and of the game that we will grow to love. But only time will tell.
For the swarm...