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StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Beta Preview - Changing the Game

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Since the first time I installed the original StarCraft, it has been my favorite Real-Time Strategy (RTS) title. The closed multiplayer Beta for StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void (LotV) is finally here. With it comes a plethora of changes that creates a fresh experience for veteran players through new units and old unit rebalance. Furthermore, LotV introduces an exciting new multiplayer game mode, aptly called Archon Mode.  

StarCraft II, known to some as “Virtual Chess”, still needs some balance changes in LotV to become the penultimate version of the beloved Blizzard RTS, but that is exactly what the Beta is for.  

Resource management – An aggressive change to early game macro

Blizzard made a mammoth change to the early minutes of the game that could change the way macro-management (macro) during the first few minutes work in its entirety. The starting worker count is now twelve, up from six across all three races and the supply cap increased to fourteen.

The effect of the increased worker count creates a faster paced early game experience, throwing all known early game timings out the window. The change is an excellent move by Blizzard, as it reduces the downtime at the start of games and offers the player more choices. For example, players can now scout right off the bat without having to worry too much about losing the economical advantage of scouting later in the game.

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The second big change comes in the form of Mineral patches. Instead of 1500 Minerals on every patch, half of the patches now have 750 Minerals, yet gas remains unchanged. Early game expansions are much more prevalent now, as the change forces players to expand aggressively during early game. As players expand more and more, harassment opportunities increase and base management becomes a fast-paced affair.  

Control over additional expansions in the “Macro-game” is a pivotal aspect of LotV, which leads to tons of early game action; in part due to the new units and skills available in the Beta.  

New units and skills and balance changes

The Beta focuses on multiplayer balance, as players test out the new units of each race. In the latest build, races feel completely unbalanced. However, the apparent lack of balance might be due to players still figuring out how to handle the new sets of units and skills, so I will try to not call out “over-powered” or “broken matchups” just yet in my explanation of the units below.

Protoss Adept:

The Adept is a new Tier One ground unit with normal movement speed and a ground-only ranged attack. The unit utilizes a skill called “Psionic Transfer”, which sends out a copy of itself that cannot attack or be attacked; after a fixed duration (seven seconds), the unit teleports to its copy. Using “Psionic Transfer” effectively requires a lot of micromanagement (micro), yet the harassment potential in the enemy worker line is immense. The Adept is one of my favorite new units and a brilliant addition to the Protoss arsenal, as the mobility it provides is essential to the aggressive early game.

Protoss Disruptor:

The Disruptor is a Tier Two unit produced at the Robotics Facility that is powerful against any enemy force that clumps its units together as well as worker lines. The unit has an ability called “Purification Nova” which deals a burst of Area of Effect (AoE) damage. When you activate the ability, the unit becomes invulnerable and gains movement speed for four seconds, emitting a blast of energy in a circle around it. If the opposing team is not careful and micro’s his/her units away, large clumps of units are destroyed in the process.

Terran Cyclone:

The Cyclone is a Tier Two factory unit is, at the time of writing, probably the most lethal early game addition. The unit can lock onto a target and deal damage over time while moving, creating Terran early game harassment potential the likes StarCraft II has not seen since the introduction of Reapers. In the hands of a highly skilled player, the Cyclone feels almost unstoppable early game, unless you invest in costly additional base defense.

Zerg Lurker:

Finally, the Lurker has returned to StarCraft. Previously part of StarCraft: Broodwar, the long awaited Zerg unit makes a Zerg player like I jump with joy. The Lurker is a Tier Two unit that morphs from the Hydralisk den. It incorporates line-based splash damage and has a Tier Three upgrade which increases its attack range. The downside to using the Lurker is that it can only attack while burrowed. However, while burrowed there is nothing more satisfying that setting traps for unsuspecting enemy Marines and they get wrecked running into a line of Lurkers.

Zerg Ravager:

The Ravager is the saving grace of the Zerg arsenal in a Protoss versus Zerg matchup. Zerg players have always struggled early game against Sentry “Forcefields” and the only way to previously break said “Forcefields” was with the Tier Three Ultralisk unit. Thankfully, the Tier Two Ravager unit, which morphs off the Roach, has an ability called “Corrosive Bite”. The ability is a skill-shot which impacts on an area after a short delay. It can hit both air and ground units, yet the best part of it remains the ability to destroy any “Forcefields” on contact.

You might have noticed that the Terran only has one new unit. At the moment, Blizzard has not added a second Terran unit to the game; yet I am sure they will in a future patch.

Apart from the new and exciting units, LotV also introduces a wealth of additional balance changes and skills to older units. For example, Medivacs can now pick up Siege tanks without the need to "unsiege" the tanks. Battlecruisers now have the ability to jump anywhere on the map via “Tactical Jump”, at the cost of energy.

In the Protoss camp, the Immortal’s “Hardened Shield” passive ability has been removed and replaced with “Barrier”, an activated ability which grants the Immortal a limited hit-point shield and the Warp Prism can now pick up units from a distance.

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The biggest change to the Zerg comes in the form of a nerf to Swarm Hosts. Instead of automatically spawning Locusts, the ability now has to be activated and has a much longer cooldown. To compensate for the nerf, the unit can now fly over terrain, creating a wide array of new tactical options for the Zerg siege unit.

All these balance changes mentioned and much more create exciting new tactics and shift the metagame from a slow paced early game to a fast paced, harassment orientated affair. Even as a player who has experienced around 2000 StarCraft II games across Wings of Liberty and Hearth of the Swarm, all the changes feel daunting.

Archon Mode – Two players, one base

If all the balance changes, aggressive early game and new units are just too much for you to handle, Archon Mode might be the solution. Two players can queue together and play as a singular entity, creating some of the most fun experiences I have ever had in an RTS.

Playing with your partner, you can decide which player controls which aspect of the game. A duo can work together and share every action, or they can agree to split the workload. For example, one player can only build workers, expand and build additional buildings / upgrades, while the other focuses on micro of units.

Alternatively, both players can macro, whilst one does drop harassment and the other is in control of the main army. The only downside to a macro / micro division of tasks is that early game the micro player has little to do but harass with a single worker or a few early game units. Thankfully, the early game progression is much faster, as stated in the first part of this article.

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The possibilities for Archon Mode are nearly endless. Communication is vital to a team’s success and makes for some funny moments. For example, playing Zerg with my partner was a mess for the first few games, as both of us tried to control the Queens spreading creep.

Archon Mode could potentially change the way we see competitive StarCraft II as well. Two professional players at the top of their game working together could be a sight to behold. Hopefully, some Archon Mode tournaments will pop up in the professional scene once LotV releases, probably later this year, but the game has no official release date just yet.

Closing Thoughts

LotV could revitalize StarCraft II with a wealth of balance changes, new units, an increased pace of early game macro and the exciting new Archon Mode. Blizzard has done an amazing job so far in creating the new units that compliments the game’s shift to a faster paced metagame.

The multiplayer closed Beta stands out as one of the best RTS experiences I have ever had. The amount of polish is already evident in every aspect of the game and I am positive the full game will offer a worthy end to the StarCraft II trilogy.

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