Change, Change, and More Change
Having played a significant amount of somewhat competitive Dota 2, I am very familiar with a game being turned on its head on a regular basis. Dota's yearly revamp has become a point of excitement for players, where every year they have a new set of toys to play with and the hero balance is flipped on its head. This philosophy works well in Dota, where the huge pool of heroes with extensive counterplay as well as the pick-ban system prevent any one hero or strategy from becoming too oppressive, and of course, minor balance tweaks can be made to deal with unintended circumstances quickly. Another perk of making such big changes on a regular basis is that by the time people figure out what the best strategies are, they may be well on their way to changing and falling out of favor. Being a competitive Dota 2 player is a constant state of adapting to change.
In Starcraft II, we don't have quite the same case. Strong strategies can dominate the meta for months at a time with no way to avoid them, and it's not quite so simple to pick up a new race if you don't like the direction your race is going. Every time you make sweeping changes, you run the risk of nearly ruining the game for months at a time. Players build their playstyles and their enjoyment of the game over the course of a year, only to see them fall apart when a major change is made. For example, I built my original Legacy of the Void style around my love for Tankivac aggression, perfecting my micro as well as an array of build orders around my strength with the unit. We can see something similar in regards to ByuN's mastery of Reapers.
Completely removing a tactic (Tankivac) outside of a major expansion seems, to me, unfair to players who are caught completely off guard by such a major change. The reaper nerfs, on the other hand, are an example of a good StarCraft-y approach to toning down a strategy that is healthy for the game in theory, but perhaps just a bit too strong in practice. ByuN's reaper play is action-packed, with constant back-and-forth micro and multitasking, and the only real problem was that it was just a bit too good. For casual players who don't play the game as often, the threat of change is even more severe - it's easy to imagine a scenario where a player who only logs on a couple times a month is quickly overwhelmed by the massive strategic shift.
To me, one of the coolest things about Starcraft is that we don't need constant change for the meta to develop - we have seen proof in Brood War that even with many years of balance inactivity, new strategies can be discovered with just map pool changes and different players coming along. For example, the dominant PvZ opener of Forge FE was not even thought to be viable until the mid-2000s, nearly half a decade since a single balance change. This development was brought on solely by player innovation and map changes. In the late 2000s, we saw mech play become popular in TvZ, followed by further evolution to a bio-goliath style, and then a bio midgame followed by a mech lategame.
With this in mind, I don't agree with the philosophy of constant change in Starcraft II. It goes against the reasons I fell in love with the game - the constant pursuit of mastery, developing strategies bit by bit with the tools you are given. Everyone gets the same tools, and it's what you do with them that sets you apart. Even with something as simple as 2-base marine tankivac all-in, I spent an entire year ironing out different parts of my build orders, overall strategy, and execution, just to have it completely removed.
While some may argue that major design changes can improve the game, Blizzard had their chances with two major expasions - Starcraft II is now seven years past release and the people who are still playing the game are the ones who enjoy the game as it is currently designed. Alienating your remaining fanbase that has already dwindled from the glory days doesn't seem practical, even if the game does end up "better" in the long run. It's understandable to make changes when strategies become too dominant, but change for the sake of change is not something I see a need for in Starcraft II.
The Elegance of Simplicity
Now independent from the idea of whether or not you think change is a good thing, I'd like to discuss another core principle of Starcraft that I believe Blizzard is straying away from. One of the trends I see in the patch changes is overcomplicating units - it's no longer enough for a unit to do just one thing, and it's no longer enough for an ability to just do one thing. Some examples:
- Mines now are invisible only before they shoot, but after they shoot, they're visible despite still being burrowed
- Cyclone Lock On fires faster, but only for the first few attacks
- The High Templar can now attack, because just casting spells wasn't enough
- The Observer now has an active ability
- Infestor spells function differently on creep and off creep
These changes are a continuation of changes we saw throughout HotS and LotV, where, for example, the Immortal gained an active ability (that was later removed), the Hellion gained a transformation, the Battlecruiser gained a new ability, etc. Overall, there just seems to be a trend towards ability overload, and unit mechanics getting more and more complex to be shoehorned into designated roles.
Many of the most entertaining moments in Starcraft history have been created by units that do nothing but the simplest tasks - move and shoot, with perhaps one simple ability like stimpack or blink to give the unit a unique identity. Units did one or two simple things, and we didn't have a whole bunch of conditionals and abilities surrounding every unit interaction. One of the biggest things that people freak out about is something like ByuN's ability to target banelings with marines - literally nothing but attacking a unit with another unit! But we recognize the skill that such a tactic requires and are rightfully in awe of an all-time great player's ability to use a simple unit in ways that mere mortals cannot.
To summarize, I feel that Blizzard's constant design changes as well as the actual changes themselves are both taking Starcraft II in the wrong direction. Not because I think the actual changes have a negative effect on gameplay, but because they are detaching Starcraft II from some of the core principles that make the Starcraft franchise the best RTS games of all time.