The units in Heart of the Swarm have gone through various changes since their announcement at BlizzCon last year. All have been tweaked, some aren’t at all the same unit they were in October of 2011 and two were removed all together. This set of new units (along with changes to the old ones) will help each race progress in aspects they currently are having trouble with in Wings of Liberty. Zerg become more aggressive, Terran become more diversified and Protoss become more defensive and mobile.
Let’s begin with what seem to be the most functional units. The Viper and Swarm Host play out very well on the battlefield. It was easy to find situations for these units to work in. They are going to provide new solutions for long range problems that Zerg experience in the midgame, particularly against Terran. Approaching situations like Marine/Tank will be more easily managed with the Viper. Picking Siege Tanks off of ledges with the Viper’s Abduct ability was very handy in helping to break into those tough Terran barricades. The ability’s range is pretty far at the moment, so I could see a potential nerf in the future similar to the Infestor’s Neural Parasite. Blinding Cloud was an excellent way to keep Banelings safe from initial Marine fire as well. Creating a dark green cloud in the targeted area, it reduces the range of units underneath it to 1. This is going to make Marine micro a bit more intensive. Having a flying caster really helps break those Marine/Tank lines and Protoss death balls due to the advantage of being able to cruise in, cast and easily escape. Not to mention completely avoiding Siege Tank and Collossus fire, which Infestors often get caught up in while trying to cast spells. Terran Marine/Tank micro tends to be less intensive vs Zerg Ling/Bling/Infestor, so the easier to manage Viper may help balance the scales in terms of micro demands.
For holding open areas and laying siege on enemy bases, the Swarm Host displayed that he is worth his weight in gold minerals. Once the Swarm Host is burrowed, it spawns Locusts endlessly, each with a 15 second lifespan (25 seconds with researchable upgrade). Though the Locusts do not stop spawning so long as the Swarm Host is burrowed, the cooldown between Locust spawns is about as long as their upgraded lifespan. The Swarm Host’s Locusts proved to be great cannon fodder while Lings and Roaches stormed in without taking initial tank shells. I was happily surprised to find that Locusts shoot air as well as ground units! Their slow speed and very short range provide a good sense of balance.
As far as Zerg alterations go, I found the Hydralisk movement speed upgrade to be far more useful than I had imagined. The unexpected Swarm Host/Hydralisk combo was tampered with by players after the HotS demo match was shown at MLG. With faster movement, Hydralisks can slither into expansions, harass and quickly move back safely behind the Swarm Hosts’ unlimited reinforcements. I have a feeling that we will be seeing a lot more Hydras on the field.
A proposed upgrade that ended up not making the cut was Tunneling Claws for burrowed Banelings on Hive tech. I would have to say understandably so. Constant fear of mobile green landmines beneath your army’s feet, exploding at any given moment would be too nerve racking and even more so frustrating for players of all races.
Protoss units for the most part are another home run. The Oracle proves to be an excellent, easy to use harasser as well as great support. Entomb is super easy to use, effective and on the receiving end, frustrating but certainly manageable. Entombed minerals HP is fairly low and breaks down quite quickly. One or two successful casts are certainly not the end of the world. But go against an opponent who is constantly poking in, casting Entomb and then darting out, your economy will suffer. Cloaking Field being moved from the Mothership to the Oracle is also a great choice. Let’s face it, in WoL, by the time the Mothership comes into play, the opponent has so many detectors mixed in a mess of units (or just plenty of scans on hand) that your Cloaking Field is useless. But with cloak being brought into the mid game, a whole new brand of strategies are on the horizon for Protoss. Preordain may seem like an unnecessary scouting mechanic given that Protoss has a cloaked scout already and hallucinated Phoenixes. Gaining 2 minutes of an enemy structure’s vision sounds a little unbalanced at first, but it might be the scouting mechanic Protoss needs to keep up with Terran scans/Sensor Towers and Zerg creep vision.
Now if any unit has undergone the most changes, it has to be the Tempest. Going from short range mass splash anti air to super long range no splash, the only thing that hasn’t changed about this unit is that it flies. With the Gravity Sling upgrade, the Tempest’s range is 22! That’s almost twice as far as a Siege Tank in Siege Mode. The extreme long range allows for interesting tactics (ex: using Observers to spot targets) and forces the opponent to come to you, making it hard for Zerg for example to set traps and pounce on your army. I found myself being kited across maps by these things. The fact they they can shoot from so far allows them to get behind walls and barriers that will slow down your ground forces. In addition, it solves the air to air problem against Brood Lords. Zerg can’t simply tech switch after losing an army because the Tempest can shoot both ground and air.
A rather untraditional unit, the Mothership Core is built on top of a Nexus of your choosing and you are limited to only one at a time. This unit is static defence with spell casting abilities. Its Purification ability allows it to attack enemies nearby, essentially making it a Photon Cannon on top of your Nexus. Mass Recall and Energize are the real star abilities in my opinion. In one match, I faced more force fields than ever before because of Energize constantly keeping Sentries fueled. For 25 Mothership Core energy, you can completely replenish any unit's energy back to full. This will help Protoss deny early harass even more and allow them to build up safely at home. Mass Recall I find to be more useful now than ever for the same reason I find the Oracle’s Cloaking Field to be an improvement. It comes into play during the mid game. Get ready for Warp Prisms warping in harassing units, hammering your mineral line (if you can even mine it) and then making a quick and easy escape. Luckily it takes 150 energy (out of 200), so it won’t be used commonly. However, if your opponent banks it up, no Nexus will be undefended as the Teleport ability allows the Mothership Core to transfer itself to any Nexus, where it can then Mass Recall army units to that location.
Another welcomed surprise was that the Mothership itself has not been taken out of the game. Sad the same cannot be said for others (R.I.P. Carrier has not arrived). Protoss players have the option of in the late game of lifting the Mothership Core off of the Nexus and using it as a semi-traditional Mothership. As mentioned before, Cloaking Field has been removed from the mother ship, but it’s previous abilities, as well as a new one, remain. Vortex now only affects ground units, so long gone are the days of Archon toilets taking out Brood Lords. This is a wise move as seeing two players dump all of their units into those black holes is so disappointing. They may as well simply a-move into each other. Stasis Field makes a return to the StarCraft scene and I expect it to be utilized quite heavily. Freezing a portion of your enemy’s army for a short period of time will drastically change the outcome of a major battle.
Now let’s move on to the race that needs the most diversity. Terran. Already in the Terran arsenal are plenty of units that often go unutilized. The reason for this that easy to use a-moving Marines and stationary Siege Tanks are a viable answer to nearly all opposing army compositions. Blizzard’s goal is to encourage Terrans to mix and match a bit more and they are on the right track.
Replacing its scrapped cousin, the Shredder, the Widow Mine operates as a dangerous trap on the battlefield. It is is very similar to a Spider Mine, except it is trained as its own unit from the Factory, not planted by a mobile unit. It burrows underground, latches onto the first unit to come within proximity (land or air) and displays a ten second countdown timer on the attached unit before exploding for 200 points of splash damage (Banelings do 20 +15 vs light). I must have lost 90 army supply in my first encounter with a couple of these things. It’s guaranteed to kill the unit it’s attached to, so the wisest thing to do is to move that unit away from the rest of your army. Though in most cases I was able to move my death sentenced units away from the core of my army, it really disrupted my micro. Trying to click that one Zergling in a pack or couple of tagged Mutas in a flock added one more task which slowed down my army commands.
Hellions are now able to transform into Battle Hellions, increasing their HP by 50% and giving them a shorter ranged attack, but with a wider cone to hit surrounding units. This is a great way to keep Hellions as a viable unit in the mid and late game after their early harass has come to a stop. WoL Hellions have already been mixed with Siege Tanks and Thors, but it is a seldom used composition due to the fragileness of these four wheelers. Not to mention, their mobility becomes invalid as they have to stay packed with their slow moving mechanical comrades. The option to transform into Battle Heallions will encourage Terrans to use even more mech play, particularly against Zerg’s plentiful light armored units.
Finally we have the Warhound, another unit created to help encourage Terran players to use mech builds. This unit however helps more in TvP and TvT. The Warhound is a mech warrior with two attacks, both limited to ground units. One is a normal gun for basic damage and the other is a barrage of missiles that automatically target mech units. So if you use this unit against a mech army, you’re getting two a-move attacks a once! Let’s say your opponent is using mass Stalker/Chargelot, with Warhounds you will be doing extra damage to the Stalkers while still gunning down Zealots and taking hits from them better than your Marines could.
Some minor changes have been applied to the Reaper. For those of you who don’t remember, he’s the little cliff hopping dude that no one uses other than coL.QXC. Reapers no longer do increased damage to structures or are able to upgrade their movement speed. In exchange they have been given a new upgrade, Combat Drugs, which allows them to completely regenerate their health outside of battle. Unfortunately, I doubt this change will make Reapers worth the investment. Their only use has always been to try to pick off a few early game harvesters. Without their speed ability, my Queens easily chased them out of my mineral lines (especially thanks to their range upgrade). Perhaps they would have a better chance against Protoss or Terran. Still, Terran players will be better off investing into Hellions for early harass and keeping them around as Battle Hellions for the mid to late game.
The bottom line with Terran is that it’s really difficult to know how to change them. Dustin Browder stated that Terrans “...have enough stuff already.” and I think Steven ‘Destiny’ Bonnell put it best when he said on State of the Game last year, “Terrans already have a ton of cool shit that they never use, so sure give them whatever.” All three races are gaining units that give them an edge over the very powerful Marine/Tank combo. Hopefully this gives Terran players good reason to mix it up a bit more.
An interesting addition to the maps are Collapsible Rock Towers that allow you to create barricades. I found myself using these quite a bit actually. When I scouted early attacks and needed to buy myself time, I would knock them over, causing them to become Destructible Rocks at various ramps and choke points. By the time my opponent broke those down, I was ready to defend. They are great to have for times when you train too many harvesters, not anticipating an incoming attack. It’s only going to bail you out once though.
Overall, this expansion is looking great and moving in the right direction. Some of the graphical changes (snake slithering Creep Tumors and new Queen model) look neat and I hope to see a few more updated character models and skins at release. The new units and changes are going to enable new play styles for all races and provide new solutions for their struggles. Despite my few hesitations, I have faith that Blizzard will deliver an expansion that will make all players happy.
People often trade what they want most for what they want at the moment.