StarCraft II: Heart of Swarm still doesn’t have a release date and neither does its “sometime in summer” beta, but Blizzard was eager to demo the expansion’s new multiplayer units in Anaheim, CA. There, thousands of MLG players were able to build and take command of these new units, while the company gained valuable gameplay and balance feedback. The changes between the last game, Wings of Liberty, and this unfinished version of HoS were pretty surprising, especially on the Protoss side. Yes, this game is still going to be a Zerg-focused expansion, but every race is getting game-changing unit upgrades.
Game Director Dustin Browder detailed the new multiplayer units to us, but not before repeating the usual “this is all a work in progress” song and dance. Interestingly enough, he went a step further and backed it up with some slides of scrapped units from Wings of Liberty that had concept art, models and animation. “They weren’t good enough. You haven’t seen them. You never will.” So, however finished it may sound today, it’s not done, according to Browder. With that point made, here are the tentative unit upgrades that may change your StarCraft multiplayer strategy once again.
On the Protoss side, the Tempest ship turns up the volume to level 22. That’s the astonishing firing range of this new capital ship. By comparison, the Terran Siege Tanks have a range of 13. So while the Tempest is an expensive and heavy option to build, its ability to harass both air and ground enemies from twice the range of most other units is unmatched. It may be a good replacement for the once-popular Carriers, which aren’t in the current multiplayer build of HoS, as Blizzard hasn’t made a final decision on their status.
The Oracle is another Protoss harassment unit, but one with more tactical abilities like Entomb. Entomb temporarily blocks mineral fields from being harvested, meaning that you can unleash devastating economic sanctions on your StarCraft Axis of Evil. Preordain, another Oracle ability, gives players a cheat sheet for targeted enemy units and technology being researched. Cloak Field, meanwhile, does exactly what you’d expect: it temporarily cloaks everything around the Oracle.
Mothership Core, with a build limit of one, is a nexus attachment with four abilities. Purify acts as a defensive, long-range attack around the base when there’s trouble at home. Trouble abroad? Initiate Mass Recall, which quickly transports units back to the Mothership Core. This is ideal for saving units after you realize you just committed to the Koprulu Sector’s version of Pickett's Charge. Energize helps you add energy to targeted units or buildings. Finally, Teleport allows you to move the Mothership Core (remember, you can only have one) to any other nexus structure in your Protoss army.
The Terran, the focus of the last game, has also been given a “stimpack upgrade,” starting with the new Widow Mine unit. This Factory-built explosive burrows in the ground, pops up when a at least enemy unit moves into range, and detonates about 10 seconds later. Right now, it’ll deal a devastating 200 damage on the one enemy unit it attaches to as well as a smaller amount of damage on nearby enemies. The caveat to using Window Mines is that they are rendered useless if the target dies before the 10 seconds expire. This makes them not ideal for battle, but for protecting your base from intruders like dropships and the new Oracle units.
The Terran’s Warhound is powerful walking ground mech, but it too comes with limitations. Described as anti-mechanical units more nimble than a Thor, Warhounds can lay down some pretty mean auto-firing missiles. It’s just that the missiles are reserved for vehicles. That finally gives you the upper hand versus other Terrain players who constantly use Siege Tanks.
Existing Hellions are getting an upgrade in Heart of Swarm in the form of Battle Hellions. Right out of the factory, this unit comes in a new “tough guy mech” form instead of its original, faster, on-four-wheel mode. Being a little slower does have its advantages, as additional hit points and a stronger flame attack with cone-like range make the Battle Hellion a superior close-combat unit.
As the stars of Heart of Swarm, the Zerg have some significant upgrades, Swarm Hostchief among them. It actually can’t attack anything when above ground and moves as a snail’s pace. When the host burrowed, however, it’s game on. Swarm Host units start releasing a continuous stream of small Locusts that creep up on enemies in siege fashion. Best of all, the never-ending supply of Locusts don’t cost minerals, gas or inventory - this plague is on the house.
Battlefield-manipulating Viper units fly best with Swarm Hosts and speed-upgraded Hydralisks. That’s because their Abduct ability physically pulls targeted enemies toward them. At that point, the enemies can still fire (which is why Vipers need backup), but the lone enemy is completely separated from, say, the siege line where it came from and thrown into the lion’s den of Swam Host Locusts and Hydras. Viper also has a Blinding Cloud ability that reduces enemy attacks for a short period of time, but once you see the Abduct move in action, you won’t want them to do anything else besides that.
Along with the aforementioned Hydralisk speed upgrade that makes them nimble on both creep and regular terrain, the other Zerg boost that has us existed is the Ultralisks Borrow Charge ability. This power-and-speed upgrade lets the hulking mammoth-like creates burrow faster and rise-to-target enemies without the few seconds of daze that made them vulnerable.
More To Come, Maybe Not Everything You See Here
There are a lot of standout upgrades here: the 22-range Tempest from Protoss, the unwanted-guest-reducing Window Mine from the Terran; and the Lurker-like siege attack stream of Swam Host from the Zerg. There’s just one obstacle between you reading about these units and actually commanding them on a map: Blizzard’s drive for perfection. It seems as if even with a Zerg expansion, they’re not about to rush Heart of Swarm.