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Killing two mutalisks with one thor: Starcraft 2 multi-player analysis.

What could be my toughest analysis yet, a look at the multi-player balance in Starcraft 2.

For those that read my played games list then you know that I've been playing Blizzard's Starcraft 2 a great deal. I've been attempting to learn the Zerg side but have spent time with all 3 and having watched more replays and video casts on SC2 then I care to admit, it's time to test my analytical skills and breakdown each side.

The main reason why I'm posting this here and not over at the SC2 forums is simple, the elitism over there is strong and most people will look at my silver rating and scoff at anything I have to say. For this analysis I'm not going to be talking about nerfing any of the sides but instead talk about improvement.

Terran: Terrans right now are considered by a lot of the fan base to be the most overpowered of the three currently. Watching replays and playing as them it is easy to see why with how many of the pro players are moving to Terran and the majority of the wins. However even as I come from a Zerg background I'm going to argue that the Terrans are not overpowered but in terms of development, feel like the most completed race.

In my opinion it is due to no small part that the first campaign was developed for the Terran side. I'm not going to breakdown the campaign for this entry but there is one detail I want to mention. In the campaign the Terran side has access to a lot more units than they do in multi-player. To Blizzard's credit they made the right choice to "thin the herd" for two important reasons.

First is that Terran would truly be overpowered if it had access to all those toys, such as powerhouse melee units, even more defenses and more. Second is that it would make the Terran side bloated, units like the firebat and medics have their roles fulfilled by new Terran units and having so many options available would cause a lot of the units to be simply unused.

Let's talk about strengths, when it comes to being versatile Terran easily outmatch the other two. Each unit in the Terran army has a secondary purpose or feature allowing them to be viable in most situations. Vikings are long range anti air units who can also land to back up the ground army and Thors are powerful units against air and can destroy most non armored units quickly. The ability to swap add ons between their unit producing buildings allow them to change their game plan easily, going from producing cheap units quickly to higher tech units.

Moving upward with tech with the Terran is the most vertical of the three. What I mean is that by building one structure it opens up the opportunity to build something else that is viable. For example if I build a barracks it means that I can now build an engineering bay or a factory, then if I build a factory I can then build a starport or armory. In essence the buildings that I produce as the Terran will naturally give me the tools and units I want without going down any dead ends. The only two exceptions to this rule are fusion cores and ghost academies that allow you to build Battlecrusiers and Ghost respectively

What has been dubbed the MMM ball or Marines Marauders and Medivacs is arguably the most versatile troop composition in the game, with the ability to attack all potential enemies and the ability to heal or power up with stimpaks. When it comes down to it, the Terran side has the biggest play book of the three and it is up to the other two sides to keep up. This is why TvT matches are the most interesting of the mirror matches as both players can have completely different yet viable strategies to use.

Trying to find a weakness with the Terran is hard and where the outcries of overpowered come from. The only one I could really think of is if you catch the Terran with their pants down, either completely countering their forces or attacking them while they're in motion leaves you with a window of opportunity to go in and possibly win. As I mentioned at the start this entry is not going to be about nerfing at all as in most cases it is better to fix what is lacking instead of breaking what is working.

At this point I would call the Terran side "done", they don't need any new features nor do they need to lose anything.

Protoss: Moving on we have the Protoss, which currently sit in the middle of the three. From the original SC and now in SC2, the Protoss are the quality race. In 1on1 encounters the Protoss units are arguably of a higher quality than their other race counterparts. One reason is due to the higher damage and second is the shields that produce another layer of health for them.

Two new features to the race have mixed things up considerably for the Protoss. First is chronoboost, which can be used on any building to decrease the amount of time for whatever that building is doing, either producing units or researching an upgrade. Second is the ability to transform Gateways (the default unit producing structure) into warpgates allowing the Protoss to warp in the majority of their forces to anywhere on the map that they have Prism energy. These two additions allow the Protoss to quickly get a sizable army on the field fast and can wipe out armies with shear muscle.

The Protoss have a wide variety of units at their disposal, such as Dark Templars who can just destroy someone who doesn't have detectors and Void Rays which can ruin the opponent if they are caught without adequate defenses. In many cases just having one or two different units in your army can be enough to break through with just raw power but a Protoss player that has a diverse army can be terrifying for their opponent. Having an army of Void Rays attacking your base while colossi and stalkers cloaked by a mother ship are coming up your front door is not a happy time.

In terms of weaknesses the Protoss are obviously the most expensive race in the game. Losing your entire army can be a death sentence due to the cost of rebuilding. Also the Protoss race doesn't tech up as smoothly as the Terran, meaning that it is harder to switch to a different troop composition in mid game compared to the other two when you compare cost and time. If you see the buildings the Protoss has in their base, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect, however being able to challenge the army is another story. Completely hard countering the Protoss army will leave them very vulnerable as it will take time for them to get the necessary counter units up.

It's hard to suggest changes for the Protoss without hurting their concept as the quality race. I would lower the production time on their horizontal tech buildings (templar archives, dark shrine, etc) slightly to allow the Protoss to make that necessary tech switch a bit easier but still keep the cost.

The problem with suggesting units and restructuring with the Protoss is that by making them more complete like the Terran at the same time pushes the Zerg down farther.

Zerg: Talking about the Zerg is going to be tough, as a Zerg player I'm going to come off as biased no matter what I say about them. As things stand right now the Zerg are considered to be the weakest of the three and have the most calls for needing improvements.

Let's start with what is new about the Zerg, like the Protoss the Zerg have two new features. First are queens, which aid in larva production (all Zerg units evolve from larva) as well as acting as early anti air. In SC1 the only way for Zerg to increase the larva production was to build more hatcheries (main building of the Zerg), now a queen can use an ability to spawn larva quicker allowing the Zerg to create more units quicker.

The other new feature is how Creep works. Creep is the substance that spreads across the ground and allows all Zerg structures (with exception to extractors and hatcheries) to be spawned there. Also Creep now gives the Zerg player line of sight to anywhere that the Creep has spread to along with unit speed bonus; using Creep tumors spawned by the Queen allows you to slowly but surely coat the entire map with the goo.

As it stands right now the Zerg are the most macro oriented race to play as, to be effective you need to be constantly spreading the creep for vision, while having larva spawn to create units, while of course dealing with enemy forces trying to kill you and scouting out said units. This alone makes the Zerg a high level race to play as and also makes balance talks about them tricky as some complaints are from people not knowing enough about the race while some are legitimate complaints.

The Zerg's biggest advantage comes from their late game effectiveness, once they are fully teched up and with multiple expansions, they can easily pump out massive amounts of units to fit any situation. Of the three sides the Zerg in my opinion is the strongest with their combination of late game units and easily mass units. Unfortunately it is very hard for the Zerg to survive that long and where the problems come in.

First off is the lack of versatility with the units. With the Terran and Protoss sides their early units both complement each other and can handle most situations early on. The Zerg however lack a true anti air unit until they tech up and don't have access to the majority of their units until later in the game compared to the other two.

On the subject of teching up, the Zerg is the most horizontal of the three, In order for the Zerg to get access to their highest tier of units they need four buildings: a spawning pool, a lair, infestation pit and a hive. With exception to the spawning pool none of the other buildings will also net you a main army unit by itself such as the Roach or Hydralisk. With the Protoss and Terran, when they build a structure that unlocks a higher tech at the same time it gives them a new unit or units that can be easily incorporated into their army. The Zerg basically have to make the choice between teching up vs. building structures to unlock their army.

The problem with suggesting chances for the Zerg is how to keep things balanced between the other sides. I've read on the forums people calling for new units, restructuring the tech tree and more. What it comes down to is what role the Zerg are supposed to play in Starcraft 2, as right now they seem to have a split personality disorder.

Currently there are two popular trains of thought about how the Zerg should be. Some say that the Zerg should be a reactionary race, meaning you build X I counter with Y. The other is that the race should be about swarming, which is, I out number and out produce you into oblivion. From what I've seen and played as however, the Zerg are not good at either right now.

Let's talk about reactionary first, other then ultralisks, corruptors and banelings there are no other Zerg units who are strong against specific unit types. In order to be able to be reactionary, units need to be able to specifically counter units which for the most part with the Zerg army they don't.

For point two, in order to overwhelm you need a lot of units (duh) which once against the Zerg doesn't excel in. With exception to the zerglings there are no other army units that have one supply. With units that are weaker in a straight up fight you need to have an overwhelming force to win, but once again until you reach the late game it is not possible. Zerg units are expensive in terms of gas to build and with the reliance on tier 2 and up means that you will be scrapped for resources which is why the macro side of things is so important. Until you have enough resources to have at least three or more expansions up you won't be able to produce or afford a lot of units at once. Instead of having cheap weak units or strong expensive units, the Zerg have cheap expensive units.

The best example of this thinking in game would be the roach unit. The roach is a tier 1.5 unit that costs two supply like the marauder and stalker from the Terran and Protoss side respectively. However it is very slow, shortest range, and requires three different upgrades to be effective. The unit was toned down in the beta but as it stand right now the unit needs work in my opinion. Right now it costs too much both in terms of upgrades and stats to be worth it to get. Either the unit needs to be made a bit stronger (to be reactionary) or have its cost lowered so that while it's weaker it would be easier to mass them more compared to stalkers and marauders (to be like a swarm).

So is there some magical way to completely balance the Zerg? I among my Zerg brothers wish. However one other important point that also is a great design question, is how do you balance something that gets better as the game goes on? Currently the Zerg's window of opportunity happens later on in the game, mostly past the 10 or 15 minute mark. This means that at the start the Zerg are very susceptible to early aggression that can destroy the Zerg's macro play or outright beat them. If the Zerg become stronger then what is happening is that we move the window of opportunity earlier.

On the other hand if the Zerg become too strong then to balance it Blizzard may weaken the Zerg's late game potential, or in essence swap the weakest time and the window around. It would be so easy to suggest more units for the Zerg and be done with it, but would we be breaking the balance instead of fixing it?

Personally I think it all boils down back to my point about the Zerg's play style, if the Zerg want to be reactionary then change stats around to match that; if they want to be swarm like change things that way. As it stands right now the Zerg really don't have a unique advantage until the late game but without adequate defenses and units, it's hard to last that long.

Blizzard recently remarked that they are still looking into balancing issues before releasing a patch and they said that there are builds to be discovered yet for the Zerg. I would like to comment on that by saying if Blizzard could drop us a few hints about these builds that would be nice. As that would help at least alleviate some of the frustrations of playing as the Zerg right now.

Personally I don't think that the problem is lack of units, but it comes down to that the units the Zerg have are less useful then their Terran and Protoss counterparts, but still cost as much. Zerg simply have more things to keep track of compared to the other sides and when everything gets added together it creates one major headache for the Zerg player.

At this point I could just start listing every little buff, tweak, suggestion that I would like to see but the challenge still stands on how to make the Zerg better without making them too overpowered. In my opinion the first thing is that Blizzard needs to do is lighten the macro load required by the Zerg. Make spawn larva and creep tumors easier to manage and require less attention by the player. Next defenses need to be enhanced, as the Zerg lack the ability to wall in like the other two. The amount of time required to deploy should be decrease and attack damage should be increase to compensate for the lack of adequate Zerg defenses.

One crazy idea that came to mind about Zerg defense structures was to have them work similar to creep tumors that once you have one built you can spawn another one nearby, still costing resources but not requiring a drone to sacrifice. That way it is easier to get Zerg defense structures up without completely killing your economy early on.

The best thing to do with the Zerg is to start small; I do not think a grand restructuring of the race is needed but rather a few small tweaks here and there. I’m curious to see what Blizzard’s plans for balancing are; for right now however after the countless beatings online and for the sake of my blood pressure I've decided to take a small hiatus from playing Starcraft 2. I'm curious to see if this entry will find its way over to the forums as I do lurk over there.


P.S. Perhaps renaming this entry to having 6 mutalisks killed would be more apt.

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