How StarCraft II: Heart Of The Swarm’s New Units Will Balance Multiplayer

How StarCraft II: Heart Of The Swarm’s New Units Will Balance Multiplayer

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 Zerg

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.

And finally…

The Protoss

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.


  • I think Terrans lost out on this one. Not looking forward to this at all anymore. At least we have the overpriced Zerg levels.

    • Every time a Terran player QQs, an angel gets its wings.

      Seriously, you may have to build more than two type of units from now on.

    • If Team Liquid is to be believed it’s the protoss that are actually losing out. The shredder’s design isn’t finalised either, which is a good thing because I think it’ll be insanely overpowered in it’s current form. It would make terran bases completely unharrassable (they are hard enough to harass already), and terran get 2 space-controlling units (siege tanks and now shredders). Ouch.

  • lol not sure if serious. They turn the hellion into a firebat that can’t be healed with a medivac, I have no problems with that. Then we get a small mech thing that’s like a goliath with splash that’s not bad. These two untis are pretty good. It’s just the sound of the last one, It can only be used when it is out by itself. Unprotected and alone mmmm. I hate all these noobs that complain that Terran is op because they can’t even counter a bio ball. I lol at you sir.

    • I’m going to try my best to not get into another pointless arguement with a Terran player; but considering even the best players in the world resort to the same Marine/Seige & Marine/Mara builds every f**king game – there’s obviously an issue.

      But keep calling people who disagree with you ‘noobs’…

      • lol QQ more. It’s all map dependent anyway. I wasn’t calling people who disagree with me noobs I was calling you one. “Seriously, you may have to build more than two type of units from now on.” Wasn’t even close to what I was talking about in my original post anyway. I think the added terran units don’t really add something that wasn’t already there. I’m sure there will be changes before this is released.

          • I’ll water my comments down and clarify that I’m talking about Diamond / Masters league and up …

            The terran advantage is they can produce such variety of unit with few structures (e.g. with the reactor/tech lab mechanic)

            The imbalances are slight, but even a 55/45 game split is a problem.

            There are other balance issues in the game too.

            E.g. there is no cost effective way for a protoss to counter the Broodlord / Corruptor / Infestor mix – which I’m sure is the reason for the introduction of the Tempest.

      • “same Marine/Seige & Marine/Mara”

        You can’t say every pro resorts to the same cliched builds. When even you have to take into account multiple permutations + the combination of Thors/Vikings to counter Muta and VR/BL builds.

        Terran armies require just as much variation as the others to be played well. Hell, I don’t even play Terran but the passive aggressive bitching of any player who complain about X or Y race is wearing thin.

        • That list is about a year out of date.

          I don’t think Fruitdealer is even in Code A at the moment.

          The latest GSL results can be found over on Liquipedia and you’ll be happy to know that the last two grand finals have been TvT.

          Looking at the race distribution, everything from the Semi Finals onwards was TvT and only one Protoss made it to the round of 16.

          At the start of GSL October, there were 20 Terrans, 5 Protoss and 7 Zergs. You can see a full breakdown of the Code S results on this page.

          Terran is grossly overrepresented in Korea, especially at the higher levels.

          • Seems to me like you’re the one that needs to check yourself, Ron. As Trjn just pointed out, that post was made on the 20th of November 2010. A lot has changed since then, and you obviously haven’t been keeping up. Try using some up to date stats.

            GSL October 2011…20 Terran, 7 zerg, 5 toss. More terrans than zerg and protoss combined. 5 zerg and 1 toss made it to the round of 16. 2 zerg made it to round of 8. Semi Finals were all GomTvT.


            So this is the terran denial syndrome I’ve been hearing about. Ddin’t think I’d see it outside of the forums yet here it is.

            Noob. Oh…sorry…unskilled.

          • Wow you really are mad bro. Must hurt being unskilled. I don’t even know what you are trying to point out other than the fact you are mad. All this proves is that Terran attracts better players. I guess we can all go play in QQ land.

          • Lol, so we totally debunk your argument so you go to the old “wow u mad”. Haha…I’m not mad…quite the opposite, I’m laughing over here that you just got pwned so hard.

            The “terran players are better” arguement is old now too, btw. Terran players on the forums have been trying to use that for months and it hasn’t worked there, so it’s not going to work here. Like I said…Terran Denial Syndrome. TDS.

          • In before the old “poster-looks-like-a-dick-so-then-tries-to-make-it-look-like-he-was-trolling…and-not-just-being-a-petulant-dick” routine.

          • Not trolling dude. Blizzard have nerfed terran over and over again and after the nerfs they are still at the top, Granted I haven’t even followed sc2 over the last couple of months, But I am surprised that there are so many babies crying “OMG terran OP, nerf da Marines.” I didn’t even say that they were op I didn’t even say that they were not I didn’t say they were IMBA. I was saying that Terran lost out on it. Then people started crying QQ. SC2 isn’t even that good. BW is a much better game. I find it funny how you are all crying so hard at nothing.

          • Ron lets look at it. to counter the simple MMM protoss needs zealot stalker (to tank) colo or temp (with storm) and a few good ff’s. That is tier 3 units to counter tier 1 and 2. so please tell me. how is that fair/balanced?

          • It’s not “Better players play Terran”.

            It’s “Better players play Terran, because Terran are better”.

            It’s like saying “Cleaning toilets is a bad job because poor people do it”

      • They’re not OP. Starcraft is a pretty balanced game overall.

        The only people who think they are OP don’t know how to counter them. It’s sort of like this: pitch a strong Terran player against a weak Zerg player. Zerg player loses, obviously. Zerg player then claims that Terran is OP.

      • Because they’re the most versatile race.

        Need to tech switch? Just give your Factory the Tech Lab instead of your Starport.

        Doing economic damage to Terran is harder because of MULES. There was a pro game recently where both players were on the same amount of bases, the Terran player lost basically all of the SCVs at his natural and a minute or two later had higher income than his opponent without doing a counterattack.

        Scans make scouting much easier, whilst Zerg in particular struggles to scout Terrans effectively because of their ability to wall off completely.

        Terran has the most harassment options (Hellion, Banshee and Medivac drops).

        EMPs destroy Protoss armies making late game Ghosts disgustingly effective.

        There’s more but I think you get the idea.

        Now, each of these things individually isn’t so bad but if you tried to do a similar list of things that Protoss or Zerg do better than the other races, it will be considerably shorter.

        You’ll find that even pro players are starting to complain that Terran is too strong. During the pool selection for GSL October, some players were saying that some of the weaker players were only there because they play Terran.

        I don’t think Terran is necessarily overpowered but they are comfortably the strongest race right now.

      • It boils down to two units in particular – marines and ghosts.

        Marines are just stupidly cost effective and hands down the best unit in the game, especially with upgrades. They also have incredible synergy with medivacs and MULES. Some pro gamers make almost nothing but marines and still manage to win games.

        Ghosts in the late game are also just stupidly effective – countering the entire protoss race with EMP, and countering the entire zerg race with snipe. Seeing your maxed tier 3 army melt to tier 1.5 ghosts will make anyone cry. For a recent example just check out game 3 of the Blizzon Grand Final, Nestea vs MVP, to see how ridiculous ghosts actually are.

        That combined with Terran’s flexibility and mechanics like MULEs, Supply drop and Scan make them far less forgiving than the other races (miss a larvae inject? Too bad, you’ve lost that benefit. Miss a MULE? No worries, just drop them all at once to catch back up).

        • i agree that marines are rediculously strong in the mid game but, in early game they are very weak. i cant see any real way for Blizzard to nerf marines without ruining mid-late game terrans and they can also be countered easily with colo/temp

          i think the main problems are marauder (concussive) and ghost (emp/cloak)

          i wouldnt say terran is ‘overpowered’ but they are one of the easiest races to play in my oppinion just because counter attacks are SOOO easy to do and mules mine rediculously fast

  • Didn’t anyone else notice he kept calling the thor “titan”. How do I trust an article about sc2 balance when the journalist doesn’t know what the units are called?

    • To be fair SC was originally a Games Workshop project based on Warhammer 40,000 so a Thor really is a Titan!

      That being said, FACT CHECK KOTAKU.

      • Neither Blizzard nor Games Workshop have actually confirmed that. Yeah there are certainly parallels between the two where you can draw links but there’s also some inconsistencies as well. Games workshop weren’t the first ones to come up with Marines in space, or a swarming insect-like race, for example. SC may have been a totally separate project and Blizzard drew inspiration from 40k, or perhaps from other sources, such as Alien and Starship Troopers.

        Guess we’ll never actually know unless it’s specifically stated by one or the other.

      • No, it’s an urban legend that has never been confirmed by either party. The Warcraft/Warhammer (Classic) link is there, but obviously both IPs have moved in very different directions.

        And Thors are an SC2 unit, hence existed well after BW and any supposed connection can be drawn between Blizz/GW.

  • I was just reading this

    And saw this. “A number of other balance upgrades were tossed about, including a speed booster for Battlecruisers, the ability for Banelings to move while burrowed, and the Mothership’s Recall ability being transferred to the Nexus. The effect of many of these changes will be able to be observed when the Heart of the Swarm beta launches… hopefully sooner rather than later.”
    Sounds pretty interesting. I wonder how many changes they will make before it is released.

  • “The end result is giving Terrans much more diversity in play, without giving them too many more options.”

    Definition of diverse : of a different kind, form, character, etc.; unlike: a wide range of diverse opinions.

    Wait what?

    • Yeah that sentence is a bit of an oxymoron if I ever saw one. This whole article is Mike Fahey’s journalistic skills at their finest. Seriously can’t Kotaku US sack this guy?

      • Actually before we all go ballistic here..

        That actual quote of being diverse w/o overloading options actually came from the key not speach from Blizz at the unit reveals <.<

        Hence the reason they cut some units.. because it gave "too many options"

  • So many problems with this article

    -“Spires stop producing units” Spires produced units?
    -“Since no one uses the spells provided to the Overseer” This player begs to differ

    Anyways, regarding these changes. I think the clear winner here is Z. Mostly because of the “Abduct” ability, we all knew Dark Swarm-esque spell was coming, but Abduct? Holy shit.

    One of the only ‘constants’ in SC is that you (and only you) can affect the position of YOUR units (the groundwork for micro) on the map. This is how engagements are decided. The Sentry’s FF changed this, but P needed it to wall-off. I’m sure we’ve all seen some ridiculous FF usage that has made your jaw drop. It’s the most tide-turning spell in the game, and its use is limited only by the player’s imagination.

    Abduct = FF x 10. The ability to pull in massive units like Colossi or Thors into the middle of a Z army sounds horribly game-breaking. Other armies rely on the power of their long-range support units, that allow them to go toe-to-toe with the Z ground army. Removing this element is just face-melting. I’m sure there’s a lot of patching to come, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s eventually removed during the beta, but here’s one player who’s now switched to Z permanently.

    • It’s a small mistake the author of this article has made about the Spire, probably for simplicity’s sake. Using that spell on the Spire DOES prevent the production of Mutalisks and Corruptors (but from the Hatchery, of course).

      • Yep what he said. That actually isn’t a mistake in the article. Even though Spires don’t produce units, that new spell to phase out buildings like the spire will prevent the zerg from actually making the units the spire unlocks for the spell’s duration.

        It sounds incredibly powerful. Kinda like the overseer’s contaminate ability, except 10x better.

      • It’s not just a small mistake, there are plenty of things in that article that show the author isn’t familiar with the game at all. You can split hairs and say the ability prevents the production of units that are unlocked by that tech building, but that’s completely different from “Spires stop producing units.”

    • hmm dont think so.

      I think it pulls in the first enemy unit the hook comes in contact with. so if you position many small units in front of your more expensive units, you’ll be fine. i think its no more game breaking than siege tanks.

  • Just the though…

    but wasn’t the point of expansions is to *ADD* more units so you get *MORE* options and balance the existing units?

    Not “replace” units to “reduce confusion”


    • Why? The game’s pretty balanced between races as it is now. The problem is that this balance comes from a few very good units (Ghost, Infestor, etc) instead of being spread around, so you get some neglected units. The new ones balance it out a bit more, and remove the ones they were meant to replace.

      There’s also a second expansion after this, and it would get mighty confusing if you’re forced to throw in 2 new units for each race each time.

      • If Wings of Liberty was anything to go by, I’d say this lineup will probably change alot by the time it enters beta …

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