Thursday, 28 March 2013

Heart of the Swarm

I had previously gushed about Starcraft, so with the release of the expansion, I want to make some commentary on how the new additions impact the overall metagame in relation to Wings of Liberty (WoL).

Zerg

As a Zerg player, I am happy about the changes to Zerg in the expansion. Zerg received two new units as well as a handful of game-changing upgrades in the new expansion.

I feel that the most notable of these are Hydralisk Speed and the Swarm Host. These serve to address Zerg's most crippling weakness - the midgame. Zerg can power up on drones early on and power ahead economically, but they can't really do very much with it in the midgame. Previously we had the following as tier 1.5-2 units:

  • Roaches - powerful for their cost, but they do not scale well, and you need to make a large transition out of them to get to the late game, as they are very supply-inefficient. They are also fairly easily countered by the massive bonuses versus armoured available to the other races (or by air units)
  • Hydralisks - largely a niche unit at best, they rarely saw battle, except against massive-air strategies, as on the ground, Hydras don't really cut it. They have far too little HP to be useful in most situations, and are so ridiculously slow, they cannot escape from anything, and so do not skirmish well.
  • Mutalisks - these usually serve as a harass unit, except in mass (35+) numbers. They are not strong for their cost, and usually try and avoid head-on confrontation, with a forest of spine crawlers at home to compensate. 
  • Infestors - a very odd unit, it can be one of the strongest contributors to Zerg, but it is very situational, and usually needs an army with it to do anything but harass.
That is essentially the full cast of Zerg's options in WoL; none of which serves as a particularly effective choice. Top Zerg players noted this, and the general strategy for Zerg is to try and make it to the lategame where Broodlords can overpower the other races.

Hydralisk speed helps make Hydras a viable unit, allowing a Roach-Hydra to work together a lot better, and allowing you to retreat with such a ball without sacrificing your gas-expensive Hydras. Ultimately, that is not the only thing it enables, as it turns Hydras from a niche unit to something that you can use in most games.

Swarm Hosts allow Zerg to take the offensive, without gambling massive amounts of resources. They give Zerg the ability to combat entrenched Terrans effectively with something other than Broodlords (which you don't get until late game). 

I am not really sure how I feel about Vipers. They are very cool, but I do not feel that they will affect the metagame nearly as the other HotS changes. Their Blinding Cloud could be a game-changer, and Abduct helps counter enemy siege units, which are generally a pain for the largely short-ranged swarm. I need to see more professional level play to better determine the role they will have.

Protoss

Protoss' big change comes in its air units. With the revisions to the Void Ray, and the addition of Oracles and the Tempest, Skytoss is now a viable and scary option. I like this additional option, as previously, it was basically only Robotics Facility units that formed the core of the Protoss deathball, with a transition to Archons later on.

The Mothership Core is actually a massive boon to the Protoss early game. It allows 'Toss to skirmish early game, without risking losing all of your early military, or focus on tech harder and using it to stay well-defended. 

If Zerg got a much better midgame, Protoss got more options. The Mothership gives them options early, while their later game now has an extra branch that is viable in more conditions.

Terran

Terran's changes are interesting in that Terran didn't really change, it just got better at what it already did. The new speed boost on Medivacs seems almost broken, combined with the new Widow Mines makes for some ridiculous rushes, where even a poorly executed drop can kill half a dozen workers.

Mech got a healthy upgrade, with Siege Mode no longer needing research, and Hellbats serving as a sturdier damage buffer for a mech slow push. That is good to see, as it felt like in WoL that going pure-mech was taking additional risks without any real reward.

I am expecting Terran to be nerfed the hardest as the patches advance; I would like to see a longer cooldown on the Medivac afterburners to prevent them from being spammed for long-distance travel (though maybe that is just me), as well as them possibly requiring Research to be used, as the dropping ability that they enable is nothing short of ridiculous.



I am by no means an expert player; I have not played nearly as much as I'd like to, and would need to dedicate many hours to playing multiplayer and watching professional games to have a more informed opinion on these changes. That being said, this is my initial take on the expansion.

Until next time,

-Colin

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