For those of us watching, researching and playing StarCraft 2 Beta, I can't help but notice a (perfectly healthy) preoccupation with strategy and balance; but I keep wondering whether understanding Blizzard's vision for each race would help inform how a race "should" be played. After all, doesn't mastering a race in StarCraft require the player to adopt the mentality of the race in order to master its strengths and minimize it's weaknesses?
With that in mind, I'd like to analyze the possible visions for the three races, and how it might predict the mastery of each race.
If you care to remember, StarCraft 2's original Zerg was supposed to be extremely Queen-centric, with the ability to fast travel between Hatcheries, and leveled up along with the Hive and Lair. She would cast spells on the various Zerg buildings and convert them into temporary defense structures, and you could only have one Queen at a time. Basically, when your queen died, your base was finished. What does this say about Blizzard's vision for Zerg, thematically as well as strategically?
If you ask me, Zerg was being intentionally designed to feel like the ones "on top", with a central Queen representing the power and glory of the new Zerg under Kerrigan's fist. Yes, the Zerg was always the looming threat in the story, but suddenly they've got some personality, with each base having its little "hero" protector. After all, the Queen was essentially supposed to be a WarCraft 3 hero unit, getting leveled up and managed almost more than the base itself -- at least while defending. And while this extremeness obviously changed, the Queen remains a vital unit that must be carefully managed, and is a valuable target.
Is it any coincidence that the Zerg expansion is going to be "RPG-like" according to Blizzard? Evidently they wanted the multiplayer to reflect this RPG, heroic theme, but (thankfully) decided it would be too much of a departure from the original.
The other side of the coin is the Infestor, who now occupies the same position on the tech tree as the old Queen, and was originally designed to truly live up to its name. With the ability to infest both Terran Barracks and Protoss Gateways, the Infestor's former iteration is -- in my opinion -- the key to understanding Blizzard's new Zerg vision. They are no longer content to overrun and destroy their enemies with numbers and guerrilla warfare, but want to actively manipulate and control the enemy on the battlefield.
Have you noticed that Zerg do less "evolving" this time? The Lurker is gone, and so are the mutations of the Mutalisk. Apparently, Kerrigan feels that these units have reached their maximum potential, and that their advanced forms could be better filled by Corrupters, Banelings, and Brood Lords. Thematically, the Zerg have become confident enough to do less experimentation with these key units, and have relegated the mutating to disposable Zerglings and bizarre Corrupters. Each unit that's been carried over from Brood War has become a more extreme version of its former self.
Obviously, gameplay also revolve around maximizing and protecting Queen usage at home, but also controlling the Infestor abroad. I have a feeling that the Infestor in particular will be experimented with by Blizzard until it really lives up to its "take direct control" concept, swinging battles in the Zerg's favor singlehandedly.
The Protoss have lost their homeworld, and are now struggling to adapt to the Dark Templar way of life. The vision of the Protoss have changed from being glorious and honorable, to being somewhat desperate and tricky.
Being the underdogs, the Protoss have resorted to experimental, desperate tactics. Virtually all of the new Protoss units have an ability to cast, or a trick up their sleeve. More than ever, they are relying on their mastery of time-space to fight their battles, with units such as the Sentry, Stalker, Phoenix, and Mothership making use of this technology with their abilities. While on the other hand, units such as the Colossus, Immortal and Void Ray have a distinct "all or nothing" function, with big strengths and big weaknesses. We can assume that, thematically, the old fashioned units such as the Zealot, Carrier and High Templar reflect the reluctance of the Protoss to fully embrace the new extreme tactics.
But more than anything, it is the "warp in" feature that sets the new Protoss apart from the old. Rather than simply producing units and sending them to their destinations, the Protoss have become (potential) masters of the surprise attack, with the ability to create new units quickly, anywhere there is a psionic matrix. There are important strategic implications caused by this ability.
It is my prediction that, in order to master the new Protoss, players will have to think in terms of staying as dynamic and flexible as possible, saving their resources until a good opportunity to warp is created. Units created from the Robotics Facility will be used to scout and secure map control, while Warpgate units will be created (via the Warp Prism or a proxy Pylon) dynamically, in order to adapt to what's around them. This will allow the Protoss to save their resources until a critical moment, and -- perhaps more importantly -- prevent the enemy from knowing what kind of army the player has until a moment before it attacks. The balance between traditionally-created (but "unbalanced") Robotic units, and dynamically-created (but "balanced") Warpgate units will become a fine art.
Pylons will become a feared symbol of map control, scattered across a map in order to serve as miniature Gateways. The Protoss will be the masters of surprise, especially with the Warp Prism, and this will be the legacy of the Dark Templar influence.
The new vision of the Terran is perhaps the least obvious, but seems to marked by two main characteristics: more flexibility, and less technology. If there's one thing the Terran are good at, it's adapting to a harsh situation, and their changes reflect this.
Flexibility comes in the form of transforming Command Centers, transforming Supply Depots, transforming Vikings, cliff-jumping Raiders, and the multifunctional Medivac. To further drive the point home, small buildings can now be salvaged, add-ons can have their buildings swapped, and, in the original vision at least, Battlecruisers were supposed to be individually customizable. If the Zerg thinks they are still the masters of adaptation and resourcefulness, they are dead wrong.
Meanwhile, technologically it seems that the Terran have stepped backwards. Banshees use propellers instead of the Wraith's thrusters, while the Hellion has big offroad wheels instead of the Vulture's hoverbike technology. Their functions remain similar, but the fact remains that these are low-tech unit by comparison. Even the Thor and Raven, for all their grandeur, are more bulky and primitive than the stylish Goliath and Science Vessel ancestors. This is no accident: Terrans have been driven to more down-and-dirty methods of accomplishing the same extraordinary feats.
Players who want to master the Terran, then, will obviously have to make full use of the new functionality available to them. Supply Depots will never be placed arbitrarily, always having a second function in mind; Bunkers will be built up en masse and salvaged minutes later; and Sensor Towers will monitor key areas along the whole map.
Ghosts and nukes, once considered useless in multiplayer, are now designed to become the threat they were originally meant to represent. Expect them to devastate anyone who becomes complacent. The vision of the new Terran is similar to the new Protoss, insofar as it focuses on dynamicism and shifting gears, but it's somewhat slower and laborious in its execution. Terran players will need to truly be prepared for anything, and build their bases built accordingly, while also being careful to repair, transform, salvage and swap whatever is necessary, as soon as it is necessary.
This is my interpretation of how the three races in StarCraft 2 have evolved since their Brood War iteration, and how the gameplay for each of them will need to evolve in turn. I can't wait to see whether these predictions come true, or to what extent they do. Originally posted on TeamLiquid.net's forums.
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