RPS chum Rich Stanton has been contemplating the loss of a classic Terran unit over in the Heart Of The Swarm beta. Here are his thoughts on the matter.
Let's not beat around the bush: I love building Marines. Starcraft II may as well be called 'Marines' for me, because making lots of these little guys and then sending them off to destroy alien forces is pretty much all I've done for the past two years. Terran scrubs represent! Starcraft II rather encourages this, I think, because there isn't really a better option for the Terran army than Marines. Sure, the odd fancy-pants will try Hellion openings, and gods among men like Thorzain can dominate with all-mech strategies – but for a bog standard Terran like me? Marines mate. A few Marauders, couple of Medivacs, if it's Zerg or Terran then add a few Siege Tanks. It is often said that the Terran army in Wings of Liberty has more options than any other, which may be true, but things begin and end with the Marine.
So for Heart of the Swarm, the second of what will be three Starcraft II games (Episodes? Installments?), Blizzard's goal for the Terran army is straightforward – make Mech as viable as the Marine. Every substantial addition to the Terran army in HotS comes out of the Factory, the second rung on the tech tree, a building that in Terran vs Protoss matches is currently used as a flying scout. Rather than for building anything
There were four new Factory units in HotS's early days, two of which have subsequently been removed. The zone-controlling Shredder didn't even make the beta, dropped in early 2012 because it apparently confused players and overlapped with Siege Tanks (I never got to use one). The Battle Hellion and Widow Mine are still in, and we'll come to them. And then there's the Warhound, unceremoniously dropped a mere two weeks into beta.
As we'll see, the removal of the Warhound was probably the right decision – but also lost is the concept that went with it. The Warhound was the poster-boy for Terran vs Protoss in Heart of the Swarm, the unit that would make a manly Mech build against those uppity aliens have a bit more punch. At the moment almost every Terran plays out this matchup with a bio force, and if it reaches lategame said bio force dies to the AoE of the famous deathball. Generalisation much? Sure: but over two years of playing and watching Wings of Liberty, Terran bio vs Protoss is overwhelmingly how this matchup seems to pan out.
So the Warhound had a few things going for it. It was a mid-tier unit, something you could get out relatively early and amass in huge numbers as the game wore on – and, most importantly, it had an anti-mechanical attack. The Protoss army is almost entirely mechanical. This unit was intended to be our bread-and-butter, the stalwart of a Mech army that could finally teach those curvy-faced jokers who was boss.
Didn't work out like that. Blizzard's reason for removing the Warhound came down to two letters: OP. The Warhound's damage-dealing potential was impossible to face, even for specifically anti-mech units like the Immortal. Blizzard rather amusingly said it was 'a bit too all-round', which led to the creation of the brilliant Youtube video 'Warhounds are not a bit too all-round', which uses the sandbox to show an equal supply of Warhounds trashing everything in the game.
OK, the Siege Tanks did well. Amusingly enough, the Warhound was supposed to be a Siege Tank counter in some respects. But the problem is obvious: they wreck most everything in equal supply. From this comes countless other issues, perhaps the biggest being the Warhound's ability to annihilate workers – in other words, it was so good you could use it as both a frontline troop and a raiding unit. That ain't right. It was lovely though.
This leaves the Terran race in Heart of the Swarm in a familiar situation. Because now the beta feels exactly like Wings of Liberty, and you're using nothing but Wings of Liberty tactics with an odd sprinkling of the two new units that survive.
So what have we got? Battle Hellions and Widow Mines. The first I find hard to get excited about, though I have been using them – after a game gets past a certain point, if you're using Hellions, you've got to give the upgrade a bash. There are situations where they're much, much better than Hellions, but is it the kind of unit you'd build a strategy around? No way. It's a situational transformation, one that can be very useful indeed, but outside of toasting Zealots it's not an army backbone.
Widow Mines are more interesting, because they're usually talked about like a direct replacement for Brood War's Spider Mines. They don't really work like that. Providing you were building Vultures, which you always were, Spider Mines were spammable in great deathclumps, so you could booby-trap flanking paths pretty much for free. The Widow Mine is its own unit – constructed at the Factory for 75 minerals, 25 gas, and taking up 2 army supply. That investment means building too many will cripple your main army; too few, and you're not covering much ground at all. This is why, though I've tried them out plenty, I'd never build Widow Mines in a game I wanted to win.
“I would put the challenge out to our Terran players,” said SCII's lead designer Dustin Browder on the Blizzard forums. “With the units in their current state, can you go mech or partially mech against Protoss? In this beta does it have to be bio? If it still has to be bio, what modifications to the current units should we make to make it more viable? Or is it really impossible without Warhound or something like Warhound?”
All I can say is that in the Heart of the Swarm beta I do what I did in Wings of Liberty, which is build a tonne of bio and then a sprinkling of other units to complement it. Judging from the pro games in the beta I've watched, many Terrans much better than I are doing the same. Without the Warhound, an all-purpose mech stalwart, that's the problem. I wouldn't dream of telling Blizzard what the solution is – Wings of Liberty is a classic. It's the kind of game that shows how talented Starcraft II's designers are, and then something like the Warhound's swift removal (two weeks into a beta after two years in development) shows how seriously those same people take player feedback.
But there has to be something, because with the loss of the Warhound there is a gap where new Terran options should be. Not to mention that in simple 'fancy new toys' terms it makes Heart of the Swarm an unexciting prospect for a big chunk of its playerbase – do you want to pay £40 for a Hellion transformation and a mine? From the scrubby Terran perspective, and perhaps this speaks to my own limitations, playing Heart of the Swarm's beta doesn't feel different from Wings of Liberty. There's nothing fresh about it, I'm building the same things in the same patterns, everything is overly familiar. And we all know what that, eventually, will breed.