In part two of my review of Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, I’ll be covering the changes to multiplayer.
I should preface this all by saying that I am very bad at Starcraft II multiplayer, so I’m not going to be commenting on the state of balance or anything like that. This is just my opinions on what’s fun as a player and a spectator.
New multiplayer units:
Obviously, the most interesting change to multiplayer is the new units added to all races.
Initially, I was rather critical of the new units, but I feel a bit better about them now. I still think the tempest is pretty boring, though I will admit it has its uses, and I do agree that Terrans kind of got the short end of the stick. Widow mines are cool, but hellbats are just a really weird and confusing firebat rehash.
I still think the new Zerg units are cool, though — vipers are absolutely hilarious to watch in action. And I am grateful that they didn’t end up scrapping units from any race.
As a Protoss player, that race is always what I most care about, and I’m mostly happy with what we got — tempest aside.
Probably the most interesting addition is the mothership core. It’s made of tissue paper, so you have to be careful with how you use it, but its mass recall ability opens up a lot of possibilities for early aggression, and it’s helpful for base defense, as well.
A slight downside is that the mothership core is actually a lot better than a full mothership, meaning the upgrade is only going to be useful for identifying noobs or trolling your opponents.
Oracles are also quite a welcome addition. After countless revisions, they ended up being a very scary harassment unit capable of annihilating entire mineral lines in moments. Protoss have never really had any good options for harassment before now, so this is a big deal.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned I’m very, very bad at harassment. This bothers me because it’s a strategy I really enjoy, but it seems to lose me the game every time.
At least I can enjoy it as a spectator.
Taking the sting out of failure:
The other major changes to multiplayer seem designed to take some of intimidation factor out of competitive play. I’ve already covered the new training tools, but that was just the beginning.
The multiplayer rewards in Wings of Liberties basically only came one way: win ladder matches. Hundreds upon hundreds of ladder matches.
HotS changes this by introducing an RPG-style leveling system. Things like spending resources and killing enemy units awards you experience for your current race, and the higher level you are, the more decals, portraits, and unit skins you unlock.
The interesting thing is that you still earn XP even if you lose your match — though you obviously get more from winning. This seems like a pointless palliative at first, but it really does make defeat feel a bit less painful and make the ups and downs of competitive play easier to bear.
You can also get experience from more than laddering. Unranked play and even matches against the AI still earn XP, so players of all stripes can get their sexy new unit skins.
Speaking of unranked play, it’s probably my favourite new multiplayer feature. There’s nothing Blizzard can do to eliminate ladder anxiety entirely, but unranked play helps a lot. It allows players to get all the benefits of ladder — like MMR-based matchmaking — without the risk of losing your ladder standing.
My ladder rank may be nothing impressive, but I’d still rather not sink any lower. Gold league I can live with. It’s refreshing to not have to worry about suffering the indignity of a demotion to silver after a losing streak.
Still not perfect:
With all that being said, HotS does nothing to address many of my long-standing complaints about competitive play in Starcraft II.
My biggest complaint is that the game is so utterly skewed towards economy as the most important factor that, for most players, you can pretty much ignore combat entirely if your macro is good enough. You can just a-move your units into the enemy base and go back to macroing.
I don’t think that’s a good design for a game that’s supposed to be about epic, fast-paced combat.
It’s also a fact that nothing at all happens during the first three or four minutes of the vast majority of games. If something does happen, it’s usually someone doing an all-in cheese strategy, and nobody wants to see that.
One of the reasons I like to watch replays from Husky is that you need a complete goofball like him to make the opening minutes bearable.
I don’t see how this could be changed without completely redesigning Starcraft II. All I can say is I miss hero harassment and creeping from Warcraft III.
I would love a mode that lets players begin with pre-established bases, but again, it’s too big a change to ever become the norm at this point.
* * *
Overall rating: 7.5/10 An evolutionary improvement, not a revolutionary improvement.