With a wide variety of skill levels and the differing opinions of players from the three races, Blizzard has their work cut out for them in Heart of the Swarm. Any path they take is likely to draw ire and stir debate; buff a unit here, deal with a thousand forum posts a day later.
But it’s undeniable that there is plenty of room for improvement with the upcoming expansion, with individual units, entire match-ups and even the general design of Battle.net 2.0 all legitimately criticised at some point over the last two years. After a couple of months of intense patching, Heart of the Swarm is starting to take shape. So to find out how things have been received so far, I spoke with some of the country’s most well-known and talented StarCraft gamers.
Daniel “deth” Haynes
Member of Team Nv, a professional gaming team which is attending the Dallas leg of Major League Gaming’s tour circuit in November
I feel that Terran as a whole is missing something. The other races have gotten some really unique and fun tools and abilities to play around that complement their existing arsenal, whereas Terran has had one of its new toys removed (perhaps prematurely). What we have right now is a slightly gimmicky version of the spider mine from StarCraft: Brood War, and a healable/tanky Hellion.
The matchups seem to be pretty similar for Terran in HotS as in Wings of Liberty – army compositions are largely the same, but the mine and hellions have been seeing a lot of use versus Protoss especially (although I think pure mech is still pretty bad for top level).
I have been pretty happy with how Blizzard have gone about balancing the beta though. There is still a lot of time for improvement and tweaks, trying new things and possibly filling the void in the Terran army. What is most impressive is how engaged they have been in the community — in the private Pro Forums especially, but also reading and engaging in many well written and constructive threads on their forums (David Kim and Dustin Browder especially).
Although I was a little sad to see the warhound disappear without much effort to redesign or rethink the unit’s role, I am heartened to see Blizzard reactively responding to community opinions and comments from professionals – rather than trying to slam a square key into a circular lock.
I think HotS will be well received by the community at large, both casual and competitive if Blizzard continue in their current direction. They have promised a vast array of features we have been longing for since release – clan support, Global Play, resume from replay and watching replays with others. I will be extremely happy to use these features, and hope they all make it into release.
I would say though, if the game is to truly seek to be well received and absorbed by the competitive community it needs a better map-making team (or to engage far better with community maps). For the casuals I think it needs to have a broader free-to-play option (which they are investigating currently I believe), and some sort of progression/rewards system needs to be implemented outside of ladder wins/points – just look at why League of Legends and Call of Duty are so popular!
Ash “Champi” Stanton
Player with Carnage eSports and winner of the AVCon 2012 Starcraft 2 tournament
I love the new units, as most of them resemble old units from Brood War, such as the swarm host (lurker), viper (defiler), widow mine (spider mine), mothership core/oracle (arbiter) and the battle hellion (firebat). I don’t recall any significant changes to any Wings of Liberty units so far in the beta, with maybe the exception of sentries not needing to upgrade hallucination anymore (which is nice). But I’m interested to see if the infestor is going to be tweaked in the future, as I feel the unit is very powerful in WoL at the moment, and there is potential for it to become even stronger with the addition of new units and strategies for zerg.
I think many things are missing from Protoss (my race), although the including of the mothership core was something that was sorely needed in WoL. It allows Protoss to have a stable static defence against Terran drops without having to commit supply in the form of stalkers, zealots and a high templar at each base along with photon cannons. It also gives us the option to recall our army back if the opponent opts for a base race instead of engaging our army.
Given that the race, to me, felt very one-dimensional that revolved around having an indestructible deathball that bounced around the map, I feel the mothership core is perfect for keeping our base a little more protected against harassment that often ends up becoming a kidney shot to our production or economy when our army’s stuck in the middle of the map.
The unranked ladder appears to be one of the best new changes so far. It’s actually identical to the normal ladder but it cloaks your league and points. I can play a ranked ladder match and match up against someone who is playing an unranked game. If I win, I’ll receive an appropriate amount of points based off the hidden MMR system, while my opponent loses no points and vice versa; if my opponent wins, he wouldn’t receive any points, but I’d lose a certain amount of points.
I’ve been thinking about whether players might be able to abuse the system, but so far it seems Blizzard has designed a method that works very well for the most part.
As far as the individual match-ups are concerned, Protoss vs Protoss has improved drastically. I’m now able to open with 20 nexus builds thanks to the mothership core (fast expansions are typically unviable in top-level play for WoL). Pylons can no longer provide power to the high ground from below, so the four-gate all-in has been greatly nerfed, and the tempest bonus damage to massive units helps deter mass colossi wars in the late game.
Protoss vs Zerg has become more interesting, thanks in part to the awful new maps: it’s not always easy to forge-fast expand, so I’ve been playing with gateway openings that focus on small aggression while using the mothership core and zealots to secure my natural. I’ve been favouring stargate play during the mid game for now, using oracles for harassment and the tempest as an answer to the brood lord/infestor composition. I think the match-up is headed in the right direction, since I don’t feel it’s necessary to all-in a zerg before they reach hive tech to win. On the other hand, I’m looking forward to late-game battles that don’t revolve around landing a perfect vortex, and the oracle’s entomb ability makes me feel more secure economically against zerg players that rush to get 80 drones.
Protoss vs Terran is a little difficult right now because of the spider mines’ ability to shut down scouting. Mech armies have also become a viable option for Terrans, instead of relying on biological units [marine/marauder/medivac-centric compositions]. This makes it fun for even the Protoss, since you get to experience a completely different style of gameplay and I think it offers a lot of potential in the future with players able to choose between aggressive bio-centric styles or a more macro-heavy, turtling style revolving around mech play.
Jared “PiG” Krensel
Full-time professional Zerg player currently staying with pro-gaming team Prime in South Korea
I’ve only played a few days before I had to go back to training on WoL and I found it to be completely unfinished and imbalanced. It’s a beta so that’s to be expected. I look forward to learning the game when it’s fully released. I think Blizzard will follow their pattern of releasing fantastic expansions that make the game vastly more complex and entertaining to watch.
With the community continuing to harangue Blizzard over the Battle.net forums and websites like Reddit and the developer constantly changing the look and feel of the game, there’s no doubt that Heart of the Swarm has many changes ahead.