The wonderful advantage of Blizzard’s methodical approach towards their eSports baby, StarCraft 2, is that it never stays the same. Take the Heart of the Swarm beta, for example. To the uninformed the game would look essentially identical, but the quantity and subtlety of some changes have made the expansion to the real-time strategy beast a completely different kettle of fish to the game which first what went live late last year.
Some units have been removed completely; others have been substantially reworked, and some haven’t changed a bit. Old strategies have been dusted off and revamped for a new age, and brand new ones are being invented every day.
To get the best picture of just where things stand before Heart of the Swarm launches next month, I rounded up some people for whom the game matters the most.
Full-time StarCraft 2 player for Evil Geniuses
“Being able to watch replays with friends/trainees/teammates was a big deal that everyone had hoped would be implemented. We were also excited at the idea of having a function that would allow players to resume from replays, so if a disconnect were to occur that game wouldn’t be lost challenging the legitimacy of whatever competition was going on at that time. Both of these features have been added so you can count me amongst the happy folk on this one.
Protoss is a lot more fun in Heart of the Swarm. There are more options, a better synergy with late game play and a more rewarding experience for the player that can multi-task better or think further down the line. In [Wings of Liberty] we had issues with the infamous Broodlord / Infestor combo. Often times it came down to a vortex or the Zerg making a critical error. In HotS we have new options in dealing with that combo, namely the Tempest and a stronger mid game.
Blizzard has done a fairly good job of interacting with the community on developing a game that casual players and professionals can enjoy alike. I think the ability to play unranked matches and practice mode, as well as having a more in-depth experience with the AI, means that as a casual player you have more options to enjoy the game. Playability is a big deal and being able to have a nice single player experience but then also not be intimidated by the multiplayer … is a good thing.”
Full-time professional gamer in Australia
“I was somewhat hoping that they would increase the supply cap as I feel one of the silliest features of Zerg is that they are meant to swarm. They did this in Brood War, however in SC2 as a Zerg with the new macro mechanics for each race you all shoot up towards 200 supply very quickly. Often as a Zerg you are forced to either go super aggressive or super greedy as middling numbers of units such as roaches aren’t worth their weight later on at max.
As a result you see a race obsessed with static defence to buy time to remax after engagements and battles often won not with a clean or impressive engage, but with a wall of spines buying time for your 2nd or 3rd remax to bowl over your opponent. Increasing this supply cap would mean the entire game would need to be reworked though so it’s not really a realistic wish.
Most importantly I wanted to see more variety of strategies, more interesting gameplay and more micro and positioning being relevant. Things like late game Terran vs Protoss was heavily Protoss favoured and late game Zerg vs Protoss was heavily Zerg favoured. This led to a lot of boring play and repetitive games.
I think the previous problem of getting maxed very quickly and sitting on lots of spines and large banks is still an issue. Other than that I feel Zerg didn’t have too many units that involved heavy micro. I think the Swarm Host MIGHT fix this problem, whilst combo-ing Vipers and Infestors with an army now takes a huge amount of control.
I feel that Zerg vs Terran is extremely hard with Widow Mines massacring ‘Ling-Bane so that you are forced into Roaches, which suck due to 200/200 problem I mentioned before. ZvP has been a lot of fun focusing just on masses of stuff using all types of basic units in a mix is very effective and fun to use. Adding Vipers and Infestors just as support rather than the [Wings of Liberty] Infestor core unit makes it quite exciting. Any issues with it I am confident will be fixed by release.
Giving Widow Mines to Terran is a great idea. Terran is the most mechanically demanding race and giving them a unit that can hold map control and deter an opponent from moving into their territory was just what they needed. Also they are quite micro-intensive so will be one of the many new units that allow the fastest players to show their skills. Likewise swarm hosts and to a lesser extent oracles.
The Viper was the most exciting and is very visually cool and fun to micro. I’m looking forward to Zerg styles adapting that involve waves of aggression to cover steady transitions through the tech tree and some really diverse T3 compositions with 5-6 unit types in them.
I earn my living from [StarCraft] so even though I don’t really have any problems with the interface for my own uses, I did want it to be improved to help accommodate the casual fanbase. Common complaints involved [the] custom game system being … inaccessible, ladder ranking being too prominent and not enough fun features and achievements for casual gamers.
There’s a lot of things that will help [such as] integrating eSports. Those that follow eSports and watch tournaments tend to be more excited to play. [An] interface that is easy and friendly – not too focused on ladder ranking (unless maybe Master level or higher), more achievements [and] most importantly is the interface has to lead very easily to a simple and obvious custom game system.”
Ethan “iaguz” Zugai
Member of pro-gaming team Frenetic Array’s StarCraft 2 roster
“The flaws Terran [had] in Wings of Liberty? Well apart from the fact that the race was balanced by the master race of Korean professionals who stubbornly refuse to do anywhere near as poorly as all the foreigners and thus kept the race as far away from buffs as possible, Terran had a few issues.
Against Protoss they are a very strong race but they only have about five useful units in macro games (Marines, Marauders, Medivacs, Vikings, Ghosts) which limits the breadth of strategies somewhat. Against Zerg they struggle tremendously to balance aggression, defence, economy and handling all their units correctly when attacking, managing drops and marine positioning all working under a clock of ‘if he gets Broodlords before I’ve dealt him some harm, I’m in for some sh*t’.
I think Blizzard are addressing that. They’re trying to force mech units to actually be good in Terran vs Protoss and they’re encouraging more ways to apply aggression in Terran vs Zerg and also making transitions smoother too, and more ways to play a longer game if you want to.
They’ve also done a good job of trimming some of the unit fat, the Hellion is now a more acceptable core unit thanks to the Hellbat switch, the energy bar on the Thor has been done away with so we can make them against Protoss without worrying about feedback (which is extremely helpful because Thors are so good vs Protoss normally, they just get too badly affected by feedback to show it), the Reaper is a much better scout and also much more accessible.
We even get mines to help throw in a little chaos and Medivac speed, a strict upgrade to a unit we use all the time. And they removed the requirement for siege tech and added +2 [to] Battlecruiser damage. There’s a huge amount to play around with.
Terran is a better race now for sure. Everyone’s getting a bunch of new goodies but the Terran stuff looks easily as good, if not better, than what anyone else got. I’m concerned about Hellbats in Terran vs Terran though, it seems a very common move to load up 4 Hellbats into a Medivac, apply speed boost and then murder all the SCVs. Back in 2011 there was a period of time in [the mirror match-up] where you could only play mech and games were decided by whoever managed to slip in blue flames into the other’s SCV line first. It was a horrible time and I’m glad the Blue flame nerf was able to fix it. But this seems like a return to those dark days.
It seems Blizzard are focusing on unit mobility and encouraging players to be more active with their stuff. Like Mutas are faster and regenerate quicker so you can keep harassing with them, Medivacs have this big speed boost, Reapers are faster and so on. And this is good for spectators since it means hopefully a more active game with more situations for a superior player to out-skill his opponent.
I wasn’t really hoping for any particular changes [to the interface] so it’s good they didn’t change any. Except for the idle worker button. A lot of the changes they have implemented are more targeted at really new players but not at the cost of pissing off experienced players, so that’s good.
The game looks like it’ll play out fantastically, it feels like it’ll be a fundamentally different game in a lot of ways. I’m definitely hoping for a much more bearable Terran vs Zerg match-up since that has been my major issue for the last year or so. I also hope it proves to be a shot in the arm for competitive gaming in Australia.”
StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm officially launches in Australia on March 12 with a launch party at Melbourne’s Federation Square, starting from 8pm.