Blizzard’s phenomenally successful StarCraft II continues its march towards perfect-play balance between the vastly different Protoss, Terran, and Zerg races with Patch 1.3.3 (released May 10).
Naturally, you can’t please everyone, and as StarCraft II play styles and build orders evolve that perfect balance becomes a moving target – but it is nice to see a developer take the comments and play results as seriously as Blizzard does. Casual StarCrafters tend not to notice or care about these kinds of tweaks, but each one makes a difference in the high-level e-sports play that the original StarCraft pioneered.
The complete list of changes can be found – here. However, we have pulled out the major ones for analysis and discussion below.
But first, there are two terms that any StarCraft devotee should know.
- Macro – Spending your resources effectively. A player who focuses on a macro style of game will often focus on his economy first and spend the resources as quickly as possible (ideally with a good unit composition) to overwhelm his foe.
- Micro – Controlling individual units (or groups of units) so they are their most effective. Having an excellent macro game will ensure success much of the time, but the other key to winning in StarCraft is your micro. Simple examples include moving weakened units to the back of your army and having specific units attack other specific units to take advantage of their strengths. These changes require fast hands and faster thinking, and make enormous differences in your success.
The Archon is now a massive unit and its attack range has been increased from 2 to 3. Notably, these changes allow this underused unit to bust through the force fields placed by Protoss sentries and stop Terran marauders from kiting them all over the map. Previously, Archons were seldom used unless the high templars (it takes two high templar caster units to meld and transform into one Archon, losing the templars in the process) were cornered with no mana. It may not be the most cost-effective strategy, but having a couple of upgraded Archons in an army doing terrible splash damage to land and air as well as and soaking lots of up-front damage could be very effective.
The warp gate technology research now takes 20 in-game seconds longer (to 160 from 140) which is a very long time in the early game when this tech is being researched. The reliable “four gate” strategy (where a Protoss player builds four gateways with a single mining base to macro the maximum army with his resources) should be weakened just a little bit by this change, though there is some speculation that the extra mining necessitated by the extra research time allows the eventual push by the Protoss player to be more even powerful. It seems that this makes the change a slight offensive buff while providing a slight defensive nerf, as a push by the opposing player during this window could be more effective.
When salvaged, bunkers now refund only 75% (from 100%) of the minerals used to build them. A common strategy would be for Terrans to bunker-up to protect their expansions and then salvage the structures as they moved out to attack the enemy. Twenty-five fewer minerals (per bunker) could make a difference in the early game, and those rare instances where a Terran needs the extra money to save himself from destruction during a base race (or similar situation) might see this change as being definitive. For our money, this feels more like an aesthetic change to boost verisimilitude (after all, it doesn’t make much sense that you would salvage every single resource in a building you just blew up).
Thors now have energy, which it uses to launch its powerful 250mm Strike Cannons. This makes Thors with max energy (200) vulnerable to the Protoss high templar’s feedback ability, which could have devastating consequences if the Protoss is able to micro their templars effectively. Enemy Terrans can also use their ghosts to EMP enemy Thors, though this is arguably the lesser of the two major effects this tweak has.
The Zerg infestor, a powerful caster unit that lacks any kind of normal attack, has been slowed (from 2.5 to 2.25). This appears to be a big minus, though players who have trouble microing their infestors in their main army might appreciate that those big grubs now naturally stay closer to the rear.
Spore crawlers can now root themselves in 6 seconds (down from 12), which is pretty huge. Defensively, this makes it much more viable to move your “static” defenses in response to an attack, and offensively this makes them much more useable to set-up lines of attack closer to the enemy’s base. Again, casual gamers will probably see this as being a non-change since they would more likely just leave their spine crawlers where they built them, but higher-level Zerg players will surely appreciate the change.
As always, small changes like these are as powerful (or as detrimental) as a player can make them; it comes down to the individual’s ability to scout, surprise, macro, and micro effectively. Did your main race get the change you were hoping for?