The hive cluster is under attack!
With the closed beta in full swing and drastic balance changes happening weekly, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is inching closer and closer towards completion. But what effect will the expansion have on Blizzards reigning RTS champion, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty? Do the new campaign and additional multiplayer units justify the cost of leaving behind WOL for good?
We decided to pit our resident StarCraft geeks, Lucas (1-1-0) and Brian (0-0-0), against one another to find out if this Zerg-tastic expansion is everything its cracked up to be. Read on to see if you side with Lucas, the cynical skeptic of HOTS greatness, and Brian, the optimistic cheerleader for team Kerrigan and co.
Lucas says: HOTS can only fracture the playerbase
Lucas: Blizzard has made it clear: HOTS multiplayer will be separate from WOLs ladder, which will leave miserly gamers in the dust if they dont want to pony up for whats essentially the same core game. But even worse, the pros will only play where the moneys at, and if WOL tournaments arent dropped cold turkey immediately upon HOTS release, the pro scene will be cleaved in two as well. Splintering your fans like that cant be beneficial to SCs long-term health--and isnt it a little depressing to think that everything youre mastering now will be thrown out the window when Legacy of the Void arrives?
Brian: Im sure there will be late adopters like there are in any game when a sequel or expansion is released, but with other franchises like Call of Duty, the bulk of the community will make the move to the latest release. The transitions between these games is much easier due to the intervals between their release. The split in the StarCraft tournament scene between Brood War and WOL was because there was a 12-year gap separating the two. Theres a much smaller gap between the release of WOL and HOTS, which will make the transition much easier.
Brian says: The UI changes alleviate the barrier of entry
Brian: Normally, gauging the saturation of your base would require you to highlight the workers harvesting minerals and count the rows of units selected. Seasoned players know that the ideal number of workers required for full saturation without diminishing returns is three workers per mineral patch. Without doing any outside research, new players are left on their own to figure out these mechanics. Accelerating the learning curve allows more people to understand and enjoy the game.
Lucas: Thats a welcome adjustment, yes--but with HOTS changing the way some units function in very subtle ways, as well as the addition of a slew of new units, can only serve to confuse Gold-and-below League players. Plus, a few UI tweaks wont make up for the biggest barrier to entry: the need to memorize hotkeys for every building, unit, and ability.
Lucas says: We dont want to encourage this kind of storytelling
Lucas: I can barely remember who Arcturus Mengsk is, or why Im supposed to be mad at him. Im skeptical that well ever see Matt Horner or Gabriel Tosh ever again--not that they made much of an impression when they were around. With each chunk of story spaced out by two-plus real-world years, between three games each costing full price, its hard to recall the bits and pieces of plot, and I worry that the same fate will befall HOTS side characters. Its also hard on our wallets (and our nostalgia for classic Blizzard storytelling) to buy single-player campaigns with no conclusive, stand-alone ending.
Brian: Did you really think a movie like The Empire Strikes Back was going to end with Han Solo being frozen in carbonite and Luke finding out that Darth Vader is his father? The defense rests...
Brian says: The new campaign is sure to impress
Brian: Im anxious to see how the story pans out, especially after the ending cinematic for Wings of Liberty. Yes, I watched the leaked video and that is not going to deter me one bit from playing the hell out of the campaign. This is a story that many fans, including myself, are invested in, and it currently spans three games over the course of the past 14 years. We cant forget about achievements either. Im sure there will be enough to keep people busy.
Lucas: Theres no question that WOLs campaign was amazing. But from what Ive seen of Kerrigans quest, it all looks unnervingly samey to the previous game. Researching nominal upgrades, chatting with NPCs in between missions, and amassing the occasional army again overpowered opponents--I hope Im wrong, but it feels like weve been here before, and Blizzard may not be able to keep the variety going.
Lucas says: The multiplayer isn't different enough to warrant another $60
Lucas: Okay, so pricing hasn't been officially announced as of yet. But when Blizzard teased the fresh units being prepped for HOTS at Blizzcon 2011, I was stoked. Now, after seeing the recent beta patch notes? Not so much. With the warhound, shredder, replicant, and new nydus worms all no-shows, its starting to feel like the increasingly shrinking amount of new content wont live up to the kinds of expectations I have for the typical Blizzard expansion. Also, where in Zeratuls name are my Reavers at?!
Brian: Nothing is final just yet. We are still in the beta phase afterall. Weve already seen the Warhound completely removed and significant changes made to the Widow Mine and Oracle. Its still too early to tell what the release version of the multiplayer will be like, and if its anything like WOL, there will be significant changes down the line as well. I am confident there will be enough things to be stoked about when Blizzard is ready to release HOTS.
Brian says: The new units and abilities will add more diversity to the constantly evolving meta-game
Brian: The multiplayer component of Starcraft is constantly changing. Strategies that were once current may end up forgotten as players learn to adapt and counter them. The introduction of new units and the addition of new abilities for existing units will create a surge of strategic variety as players experiment with the new choices available to them.
Lucas: I fear that the excitement for the new flavor of the month builds will fade shortly after HOTS release, simply because players will have a much easier time figuring out two additional units per race instead of entire new strategies as they did in WOL. With so few new functions added to each race, Mech will still be Mech, Gateways will still be Gateways, and Zerg will still be macroing up. Its unlikely that the basic strategies for each race will change all that drastically after the introduction of HOTS units, for better or for worse.
Lucas says: This shouldve been a campaign-only expansion
Lucas: Think about it. Instead of having two separate ladders, which will stunt the growth of WOL indefinitely, why not just make HOTS an all-on single-player package for a reduced price and deliver the multiplayer updates for free? The health of the StarCraft brand depends almost entirely on its multiplayer community; players who are just in it for the epic story wont be the ones returning for years after the games released. Plus, if this explicitly stated-as-such expansion is priced at $60, that will no doubt be a harbinger of dark times for players at the mercy of Blizzards business model.
Brian: Its hard to cater to everyone. There are plenty of players out there that are content with just playing the campaign without touching the multiplayer or vice versa. A lot of people will be extremely angry if Blizzard charges only for one and not the other, especially if theyre on the wrong side of the fence. I dont think many people will mind paying $60 for a game that will provide them with hours upon hours of enjoyment, especially if theres no subscription fee.
Brian says: HOTS will level the eSports playing field
Brian: eSports is constantly growing and its extremely fun to watch. Id have to say one of the most exciting moments in eSports this year was watching the remaining Korean Brood War pro players (KeSPA) finally transition out of Brood War. Although their switch to StarCraft II was late, it made a huge impact considering how much they improved over a short period of time. With Heart of the Swarm, it will be interesting to see what the playing field looks like when everyone has a fresh start. Competition is good for any sport and thats what HOTS will deliver.
Lucas: By eSports standards, WOL was a baby that was just starting to learn how to walk. But now, the existing meta-game and all the tactical information its garnered will be smashed under HOTS Zergy talons. By releasing the expansion this soon, Blizzard is essentially stunting WOLs growth to a crawl, while all the production values, balance changes, and bug fixing will likely be focused squarely on HOTS. Guess that sucks for those pro players who like WOL the way it is.
Lucas says: Swarm Hosts look like zit-covered mushrooms
Lucas: Well, they do. Plus, compared to those lovable, invisible Lurkers from Brood War, these guys stick out like sore, pus-filled thumbs.
Brian: Theyre the gift that keeps on giving. Now stop being ungrateful!
Brian says: Cross-brand swag
Brian: Two words: Kerrigan Wings. If the suspected collectors edition bonus item for Diablo III does come to fruition, youll be the most badass thing to hit New Tristram since uber-bosses.
Lucas: Yeah--if I hadnt uninstalled D3 weeks ago.
Spawn more overlords
So, whats your take? Will HOTS be the second coming of StarCraft II, like Brian says, or will it be a wedge dividing the game as Lucas fears? Answer the poll and comment below to let us know who you think won this Great Debate.
Great Debate pits two editors in a head-to-head battle to debate some of gamings hottest topics. Have a subject you want them to discuss? Let us know in the comments and well wrangle some editors to talk it over.