Star­Craft II: Le­gacy Of The Void

PC

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Star­Craft II is hard. That’s the cor­ner­stone of its ap­peal as a com­pet­i­tive game, and the rea­son that – prior to the rise of the MOBA – it was re­ally the only eS­port to gain se­ri­ous and sus­tained in­ter­na­tional trac­tion. But its im­por­tance to the scene is fad­ing. While Bl­iz­zard’s RTS has never been in dan­ger of sput­ter­ing out en­tirely, the past few years have sug­gested that com­pet­i­tive Star­Craft has fi­nally found the lim­its of its fan­base. Its growth has stalled a few leagues short of League Of Leg­ends, and as its most prom­i­nent per­son­al­i­ties dab­ble in mak­ing new names for them­selves in other are­nas – some head­ing to the game’s up­start stable­mate, Hearth­stone – there’s a sense of mo­men­tum ar­rested. Star­Craft is sim­ply no longer as vi­tal to the health of eS­ports as it used to be.

This isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the fault of Bl­iz­zard or Heart Of The Swarm, the 2013 ex­pan­sion that Le­gacy Of The Void will fol­low. It was, and re­mains, an ex­cel­lent game. The is­sue is ar­guably more se­ri­ous than that: a ba­sic de­gree of com­plex­ity com­mon to the se­ries as a whole that re­quires work both to play and to ap­pre­ci­ate. Star­Craft II is hard, and if LOL is foot­ball, this is chess. That it has filled sta­di­ums is com­mend­able, but the lim­its of its mass ap­peal are not sur­pris­ing. The closed beta test for Le­gacy Of The Void, which went live in March, rep­re­sents the be­gin­ning of Bl­iz­zard’s con­certed ef­fort to re­vi­talise Star­Craft II as an eS­port. It also aims to pro­vide new ways for novice play­ers to get started with the com­pet­i­tive game, and for ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers to teach them. Th­ese goals are re­lated, but they don’t al­ways play well to­gether: even as it gets eas­ier to teach, Star­Craft gets faster and more de­mand­ing.

The most vis­i­ble changes ar­rive in the form of five new units – two each for Pro­toss and Zerg, one for Ter­ran – with a sixth hu­man­hum op­tion cur­rently un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. The ad­di­tions have two things in com­mon: they are all sit­u­a­tional, and they re­quire a high level of man­ual fi­nesse (‘mi­cro’) to use ef­fec­tively. Re­turn­ing from ’98’s Brood War, the Zerg Lurker is a bur­row­ing unit that does splash dam­age, pro­ject­ing spines in a long, straight line when enemies come into range. Po­si­tion­ing is key, but the re­ward for get­ting it right is more flex­i­ble de­fen­sive play than the Zerg are tra­di­tion­ally ca­pa­ble of. The other new Zerg unit, the Rav­ager, is a Roach evo­lu­tion that acts as a siege unit with its man­u­ally tar­geted, de­layed-im­pact Cor­ro­sive Bile abil­ity. It’s great against build­ings and en­trenched po­si­tions, but in the right hands it can also snipe fast-mov­ing air tar­gets. Of the new set, it’s the one we’ve seen the most of in the beta, per­haps due to the pre­ex­ist­ing pop­u­lar­ity of its base unit.

The Pro­toss have a new pri­mary unit in the form of the Adept, a shield-bear­ing ranged fighter with the abil­ity to project a ghostly ap­pari­tion of it­self that is con­trolled separately from the main unit. This phan­tasm is fast and in­vul­ner­a­ble, but can­not attack, and af­ter a cou­ple of sec­onds the Adept warps to and takes the ghost’s po­si­tion. It has tremen­dous po­ten­tial for ha­rass­ment and clutch es­capes, but is very tricky to use. The Dis­rup­tor is eas­ier, and more im­me­di­ately sat­is­fy­ing. It’s a float­ing orb that can’t attack tra­di­tion­ally, but can trans­form into an en­ergy form that al­lows it to phase through units and move at in­creased speed. Af­ter a de­lay, the Dis­rup­tor re­turns to its pre­vi­ous form while do­ing sub­stan­tial dam­age to all around it. We’ve seen it dev­as­tate massed Zerg armies and de­stroy un­guarded min­eral lines. It’s ex­tremely ex­pen­sive, but its dam­age out­put marks a change of pace for the Pro­toss, who have tra­di­tion­ally favoured hit-and-run and at­tri­tional tac­tics.

The sole Ter­ran ad­di­tion is the Cy­clone, a mis­sile buggy that can lock onto a tar­get and attack while mov­ing so long as it re­mains in range, even if line of sight is bro­ken. Those we’ve en­coun­tered value it as a hit-and-run op­tion, a cheaper al­ter­na­tive to the Ban­shee that’s vi­able in fac­tory-cen­tric strate­gies.

Changes to ex­ist­ing units are just as im­pact­ful. Ter­ran Bat­tle­cruis­ers can tele­port any­where on the map with­out line of sight; Or­a­cles can cre­ate army-trap­ping Sta­sis Wards; Cor­rup­tors can project Void Ray-style chan­nelled dam­age onto build­ings. There’s far more, but the uni­ver­sal prin­ci­ple is the same: the higher your ef­fec­tive ac­tions per minute, the more you’ll get out of the game.

The feel of Star­Craft II as a whole has shifted, too, thanks to an ac­cel­er­ated early game. Play­ers start with an in­creased num­ber of work­ers, do­ing away with the quiet time that used to pre­cede the first ma­jor build or­der de­ci­sions. Early ex­pan­sion is en­cour­aged by changes to re­source dis­tri­bu­tion in bases, a macro-scale in­crease in com­plex­ity to match the mi­cro-scale changes else­where. Ca­pa­ble and pro play­ers will do tremen­dous things with th­ese changes, and early signs sug­gest that Le­gacy Of The Void will be very healthy for com­pet­i­tive Star­Craft II as it is now. It may well pull in a new view­er­ship as a re­sult. It’s less likely, how­ever, to grab new play­ers: this is a hard game, and it will only be get­ting harder when this ex­pan­sion’s pro­longed beta phase comes to its con­clu­sion.

Two heads

Ar­chon mode adds the abil­ity for two play­ers to con­trol a sin­gle base and army. It’s named for the Pro­toss unit that is formed when two Tem­plars sac­ri­fice them­selves to form a su­pe­rior be­ing, but the mode it­self is more pan­tomime horse than fused en­ergy god. It’s a good dis­trac­tion for high-level play­ers, who get to ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing in two places at once, as the pros some­times seem to be. It’s less suc­cess­ful as a teach­ing tool, since the new­comer can’t see the cur­sor move­ments or hotkey uses of their tu­tor: you can tell some­body what to do, but you can’t re­ally show them how to do it. The com­mu­nity may well make a com­pet­i­tive mode of it yet, but it’ll never sup­plant Star­Craft

II’s core for­mat.

The feel of Star­Craft II as a whole has shifted, too, thanks to an ac­cel­er­ated early game

ABOVE As in pre­vi­ous games, dra­matic maps and set­pieces will be avail­able in the cam­paign, but aren’t in the mul­ti­player for ob­vi­ous rea­sons. The cur­rent beta maps are straight­for­ward. BE­LOW LEFT Con­clud­ing the ‘tril­ogy’ of Star­Craft II games, the cam­paign mode will con­cern the re­turn of the Xel’naga, an­cient cre­ators of both the Zerg and the Pro­toss. Star­Craft’s nar­ra­tive has gath­ered a huge fol­low­ing de­spite its rather for­mu­laic na­ture

Man­ag­ing in­di­vid­ual units within armies started out as the pre­serve of the very best Star­Craft play­ers and is slowly be­ing folded into the game’s re­quire­ments – it’s cer­tainly where the most ex­cit­ing plays come from

The Ter­ran Cy­clone of­fers an al­ter­na­tive to tra­di­tional ground strat­egy, which pre­vi­ously re­volved around en­trenched po­si­tions and slow-mov­ing battle lines

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