I’ve lost count of the number of players on my friends list who got addicted to StarCraft 2 — and then became subsequently intimidated, either by the ladder or the sheer intensity of gameplay. It’s intriguing because there are plenty of other games that offer a similar rush, but I can’t think of any game where there such a degree of anxiety, almost fear, about online multiplayer.
It’s a problem that the Legacy of the Void developers are keenly aware of. Their answer: introducing new modes like Allied Commanders, alternatives to ease fans into the 1a2a3a rhythm without triggering the apprehension that ladder play often brings.
It feels like years since I’ve played StarCraft 2. I know that’s strictly not the case; I mucked around with some Heart of the Swarm a few months ago, and the playable Legacy of the Void missions at Blizzcon last year. But these were sojourns from other activities, intermissions from playing other, more enjoyable games.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that SC2 isn’t fun. But every time I play, I’m reminded of the reasons why I stopped. After getting two accounts into Grandmaster on the South East Asian ladder and competing at various tournaments with friends and foes around Australia, I was eventually faced with a daunting prospect.
If I wanted to start beating some of the better players, if I wanted to ever emerge as a credible threat, I needed to put in more time than the few hours a day I was managing. But that came at a real cost. I’d have to abandon my freelance writing — and probably any other activities related to video games along the way.
That was a price too heavy to pay, and my wrists were slowly being shredded in the process of trying anyway. So shortly after Heart of the Swarm launched, I walked away from it all. And every time I’ve played a game of SC2 since, I’m immediately reminded of all my prior habits, build timings, attack routes, micro techniques: things that I’m no longer capable of executing.
So rather than contemplate the myriad of mistakes I’m making, I just don’t play. It’s a lot easier that way.
For people like me, the Legacy of the Void developers hope that Allied Commanders — and to some extent, Archon Mode — will bring players back into the fold. It’s a co-operative, progression-based, series of missions where each player has access to a series of powers commensurate with their chosen hero.
If you want to play as Terrans, for instance, you’ll get access to Raynor and — at level 1 — a half-minute long bombardment from the Hyperion. Unlike Heroes of the Storm or previous campaign missions, however, the Hyperion’s movement can be controlled (along with the squad of Banshees that become available from level 4).
We were later told that the missions are self-contained, allowing the Legacy of the Void developers to recreate classic missions from previous campaigns (and potentially the original StarCraft) as a co-op experience.
But while the extension of content outside of the ladder is intriguing, it left the question begging: would Legacy of the Void follow in the steps of vanilla SC2 by adding new challenges?
Aaron Kirkpatrick and design producer Timothy Ismay talked about the challenge of playing Allied Commanders on Brutal difficulty, but that is a vastly different proposition to the initial, tutorial-esque, mini-missions that taught players the basics of fending off zergling rushes and the like.
It was only natural for the conversation to gravitate towards Legacy of the Void more generally, and the proposed macro changes that so fiercely split the community. The community aren't the only ones split, however, with a patch 24 hours prior nerfing chrono boost, autocasting for spawn larva and reverting the Terran macro changes to their Heart of the Swarm state.
It's indicative that Blizzard wants to change the SC2 status quo, but they're not entirely sold on the direction. Still, their attempts have been welcomed in some quarters, with Chris "HuK" Loranger — one of the longest serving SC2 players in North America — tweeting that most professionals felt Legacy of the Void was more fun than Heart of the Swarm.
Allied Commanders won't do anything to resolve ladder anxiety and it won't have any impact on balance or the professional scene. And it's curious that while you have the choice of three "commanders" — Artanis, Kerrigan and Raynor — none of them appeared in my mission as a controllable unit.
That can easily be changed for other missions. And not all content needs to have some sort of impact on balance or the wider state of competition, a sign of just how far SC2 has come from those early vanilla days.
Whether it works depends on how much content Blizzard provides and, crucially, whether the community is able to contribute missions of their own. Kirkpatrick and Ismay were open to the idea but it's not something that will be immediately supported, more out of pragmatism than anything else.
Will it fix the internal divide, let alone the public discontent, about the future of the game's macro mechanics? No. Will it be the foil that removes the intimidation surrounding ranked play? No. But Allied Commanders does give players more ways to enjoy the world of StarCraft — and that is undoubtedly a step forward.
The interview and play session was conducted at Blizzard's offices in Irvine, California, with the author travelling as a guest of the developer.