The huge multiplayer update coming to StarCraft II with the second instalment, Heart of the Swarm, gives Blizzard an excellent opportunity to balance the three races and take advantage of missed opportunities. Let’s see what holes the new multiplayer units plug.
It’s not that the balance in StarCraft II is currently completely ruined, but it could be better. During the StarCraft II multiplayer panel at BlizzCon II, the game’s team went through each new (and modified) unit, explaining why the change was made and how players will benefit.
We’ll kick things off close to home with the Terrans.
The Battle Hellion isn’t a new unit, but rather a new mode for the Hellion in which it transforms into a robot, a toy of which better be coming to BlizzCon next year, dammit. The transformation grants the Hellion more hit points and a stronger flame attack, making it much more effective against hordes of late-game enemies like Zealots, which normally would tear Hellions to pieces.
The Warhound mech unit is a direct answer to a core complaint about the Titan unit. The Titan is too big, bulky and expensive, making it hard to get more than two of them out before the round is over. The Warhound is essentially a smaller, cheaper Titan.
The Titan, on the other hand, is getting even bigger, becoming the Terran “uberunit”, with the ability to absorb tons of damage and a new bombardment ability that cuts a path of destruction through enemy units.
The Shredder is a Terran radiation robot, offering cheap board control without making it a part of what StarCraft players call the ball of death — a massive army of mixed units. Harmless while on the move, the Shredder plants itself and emits a high powered area effect field of radiation, easily taking out hordes of smaller enemies. The catch is that when a friendly unit approaches the Shredder it powers down, so you’ve got to keep it away from your core army for it to be effective.
The end result is giving Terrans much more diversity in play, without giving them too many more options.
The first big change for the Zerg is that the large, unwieldy Ultralisk unit gains a power called Burrow Charge, allowing them to travel underground and surface on top of their targets, initiating battle on a crowded field faster than ever before. Corrupters lose Corruption and gain Syphon, granting them the ability to target buildings and covert a structure’s health into resources for the Zerg. One would think they’d change the name to Syphoners, I mean what’s a Corrupter without Corruption?
As for new units…
Since no one uses the spells provided to the Overseer units, Blizzard does away with them entirely and replaces them with a more useful unit, the Viper. A pure caster, the Viper is a choke breaker, helping the Zerg better handle siege situations. How? With its Blinding Cloud ability it reduces the attack range of every unit without the cloud to one, forcing them to move out of the cloud in order to fight any enemy not directly next to them. It’s a brilliant little form of crowd control. The other spell, Abduct, is the StarCraft II equivalent of Scorpion from Mortal Kombat’s “Get over here”, yanking enemy units into the Viper’s range. They showed a video of this plucky little unit yanking Colossi across the screen, then yanking them again when they tried to flee. Quite impressive.
The second new Zerg unit, the Swarm Host, unleashes the power of the Locust horde on enemies. Useless while on the move, once positioned the Swarm Host burrows into the ground and unleashes a steady swarm of small attack units called Locusts on the enemy. It’s a brutal and efficient form of Zerg artillery.
The Protoss have issues. They’ve no solid raiding constant, and no area-of-effect anti-air units, so Blizzard has come up with several kick-ass new units to help the mystical aliens harass their enemies.
But first, changes must be made. Motherships and Carriers are gone, though they’ll still be playable in Wings of Liberty multiplayer and the solo campaign. The Protoss replaces the two units with three new ones that even a StarCraft II novice like myself can’t help but admire.
The Tempest is the answer to flocks of Mutalisks, taking them down en masses with a powerful anti-air AOE power. It’s also got a standard ground attack, but it’s mainly here to kill Mutalisks, something I support wholeheartedly.
The Oracle is going to be a complete and total bitch in multiplayer, thanks to a trio of abilities aimed at screwing with the enemies buildings and resources. Using its Entomb power the Oracle can temporarily stop a mineral resource from being harvested, slowing down their enemies’ advancement. With Preordain they can scan an enemy building and learn exactly what benefits it is granting the enemy, what technology is being researched, or what units are being produced. If they don’t like what they see they can use the third ability, Phase Shift, to “stun” a building, halting whatever process it’s working on. Missile turrets stop firing. Spires stop producing units and providing air upgrades. What a pain in the arse.
Saving the best for last we have the Replicant. The Replicant can transform itself into any non-massive unit — even enemy units. Want a squad of Protoss Siege Tanks? Bam, you’ve got it. Want some Protoss Ghosts? Sure, why not? The Replicant costs a great deal to produce, so it won’t be quite that easy, but what a way to toss a wrench in your opponents plans than taking them on with their own weapons?
Along with two new Nexus powers, the building-shielding, anti-light unit cannon generating Arc Shield ability and Mass Recall, which transports entire armies back to the Nexus, the Protoss become a great deal more capable in Heart of the Swarm.
Sounds like all three sides are getting some powerful new units and powers with the next expansion, each specifically designed to help negate weaknesses and improve game balance. And hey, if they don’t work there’s always Legacy of the Void.