Quintin Smith also contributed to this article.
So you’ve got access to the StarCraft II beta, but you suck. The Zerg swarm your base within seconds. Your economy never grows fast enough for you to build more than a few marines. If you do manage to survive longer than five minutes, you discover your enemies have three bases each while you’re still stuck at home. Battle.net has become the school playground all over again, right down to the kids who call you names which are definitely not your real name.
Don’t feel bad, chum. It’s not your fault. StarCraft II is hard in ways other real-time strategy games aren’t. Where expanding your base in Supreme Commander 2 is a useful tactic, only in StarCraft’s multiplayer crucible is it essential, and while almost any strategy game can be won with a quick rush, only StarCraft’s ghastly Zerg are famous for it.
In fact, only StarCraft players ever become famous for their ridiculous strategy gaming skills, because it requires a level of skill other game’s don’t dare ask of their players. The sequel is still being nurtured through the beta stage by Blizzard, but its principles are already in place, and they’re much the same. Enter an online match of StarCraft II without attack plans, counters and build orders already in mind, and you will be almost instantly ruined.
So it’s time to get good. It won’t happen overnight, or even just by playing it. You’re going to have to read about it, think about it, make lists and hone your mind till you’re a sleek, focused StarCraft II mouse-clicking machine. All you need is a guide to help you get there. This guide.
In the following pages we explore the principles of StarCraft II, guide you through the strengths and weaknesses of its units and give you the strategies you need to get better, fast.
Note: While the following tips are separated into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced sections, this is just the foundation for not totally sucking. Just because you can do all 14 tips, doesn't mean you're a pro. Happy hunting.
1) Build economy
Everything you build in StarCraft II requires crystals or vespene gas. Begin by having at least two Gatherers on each crystal deposit. As you grow, build Vespene Geysers and have at least three Gatherers on each.
2) Resource growth
Your economy is never finished. Keep building more Gatherers constantly, and once you’ve got your Vespene Geysers, expand to new resource patches. One tip for Terrans: build spare Command Centres within your existing base, and fly them out to new resources around the map, filled with ready Gatherers.
3) Spend thrift
Spend resources the moment you get them and never queue units up. It’s tempting to queue and make things easier on yourself, but you want all of your money going to work on creating or upgrading things right here and right now. If you ever have more than 200 crystal or gas, spend it. If you ever have more than 600 crystal or gas, you’re an embarrassment.
4) Zerg rush
StarCraft’s signature ‘oh-shit’ attack is simple to orchestrate. Build a Zerg hatchery that excretes larva, and then a spawning pool to turn those larva into Zerglings. Once that’s up, spam the nasty critters until you’ve got a crew ready to scuttle. Rush now!
5) Stop Zerg rushes
On the receiving end of a Zerg rush early on? If you’re Terran, block the ramps up to your starting point with supply depots and throw out a barracks focused on churning out marines. They can hide behind the buildings and shoot the Zerglings. If you’re a Protosser, a few Zealots can take down a rushing zergling force.
6) Watch replays
Every match you play is automatically recorded, right down to how your opponent moved his camera. When you’re beaten, watch the replay, see the mistakes you made and where your foe went right. Copy them next time - it might not work, but it’ll make you better.
7) Always scout
It warns you of incoming attacks, lets you check enemy research, and pick the moment to launch your own strike. When a match starts send a Gatherer to scout to their base.
8) Group troops
Your troops are idiots. Grouped together they’ll wander aimlessly and fire irregularly. Use command groups (Ctrl + a number key) to keep the same units together, put ranged troops on the back-line and melee specialists up front. Then focus their fire by manually picking individual targets in order to kill enemies double-quick.
9) Micromanage fights
All races have ‘spellcasters’ that come preloaded with sets of super-useful battlefield abilities, but they won’t just use them off the bat. Cycle through your men in battles, chucking out powers as they become available and useful, and your other units will reap the rewards with buffs and murderous powers.
10) Plan your build
Working out what to build on the fly gets you killed – aimless research ties up invaluable resources. Set up a few standard builds to deal with typical enemy forces: for example, a Terran marine force is out in minutes after building five SCVs, two supply depots, and a barracks with a reactor. This predefined plan takes the strain from your brain.
11) Memorize hotkeys
In StarCraft, the mouse is your attack finger, pointing at foes and shouting ‘kill!’, but it’s the keyboard that’s in charge of vital maintenance. Learn important hotkeys – S for the Terran SCV, for example – and practise, until you can build a force without needless, second-wasting mouse clicking.
12) Try the Infestor
It spawns Infested Terrans, controls enemies with Neural Parasites and spews Fungal Growth, but doing any of this draws all the fire in the world. The Infestor is a fat, expensive slug with no direct attack, but it’s range of uses have thus far proved more micro than most players can handle. The trick is shielding them with troops and personally firing off their abilities.
13) Master the Viking
A terrible ground-to-ground mech that can turn into a terrible air-to-air jet. It takes several seconds to change from one vehicle to another, and as a result relies on scouting so good it’s practically clairvoyance.
14) Protoss Mothership
Too many players fling these at the enemy like Frisbees, when the truth is they’re support units to be coddled and protected. Use the Cloaking Field and Vortex abilities to hide friendly forces while locking down enemy defenses, and the Mass Recall power to draw reinforcements into the fight (or your assault force back out).