StarCraft II Multiplayer Panel at BlizzCon 2011

Dustin Browder, David Kim, and Josh Menke from the StarCraft II development team took the opportunity to talk about the state of play in StarCraft II, and of course, new multiplayer units for Heart of the Swarm on the Panel Discussion stage this afternoon at BlizzCon 2011.

Game Director Dustin Browder got the discussion started with a look at balance in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, from global aggregate matchups to tournament results. For the most part, the observed balance across matchups was even, with some exceptions like masters' level ZvP favoring zerg on the European ladder, and terrans dominating GSL Code S in tournament play. The team has recently been examining the effects of patch 1.4 changes on the protoss vs. terran matchup which had aimed to reduce the effectiveness of the Terran 1/1/1 build, among other things. The increase to range on immortals has helped. Currently the development team is considering a nerf to EMP, as well as other changes, to further improve overall balance.

The coming of the Heart of the Swarm expansion set gives the development team opportunities to address game balance in multiplayer StarCraft II in more over-arching ways than would be possible through patches. With the chance to add and remove units, Heart of the Swarm will allow the team to more effectively address race weaknesses, spice up certain stale matchups such as ZvZ or PvP, and address missed opportunities in existing units. Browder reiterated that the game is a work in progress, nothing is final, feedback is crucial, and the forthcoming StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm beta will be extremely useful and informative.

Game Designer David Kim continued with an in-depth appraisal of all three races. Here's an outline of what's new in Heart of the Swarm multiplayer:


  • Issues and weaknesses
    • Thor is too slow and clumsy
    • Race has difficulties in handling mass zealots in late game
  • New units and abilities
    • New "battle mode" for hellion - transforms like a viking
      • Battle mode hellion has more hit points, moves more slowly
      • Shorter, wider arc on flame attack, and stronger
      • Gives terran a beefy front-line fighter in the late game
    • Warhound
      • Smaller, more nimble version of Thor
      • Effective anti-mech ground weapon to help break siege tank lines
      • Anti-air attack with splash damage
    • Shredder
      • Robot that emits channeled, area of effect damage when immobilized
      • Damage automatically shuts off when an ally moves into range
      • Gives terran cheap zone control, but can't be used near main army
      • Is still very work-in-progress
    • Thor
      • Moved to late game, more hit points and damage
      • Can only have one, like mothership from Wings of Liberty


  • Issues and weaknesses
    • Mid-game difficulties with siege and controlling areas
    • Missed opportunities with certain units like ultralisk and corruptor
  • New units and abilities
    • Ultralisk
      • Existing version is bulky and has difficulties engaging in battle
      • New burrow charge ability lets it dive underground and get into the fight easily
    • Viper
      • New caster unit with detection -- replaces overseer
      • Has abilities like blinding cloud to help break entrenched positions
      • Abduct ability allows it to pull units to itself -- pull siege tanks or colossus out of death balls
    • Swarm host
      • Zerg artillery for map control and siege
      • Burrows into the ground, and continuously generates small creatures to attack
      • Feels very zerg-y


  • Issues and weaknesses
    • Needs more raiding options
    • Needs area of effect, anti-air attacks
  • New units and abilities
    • Tempest
      • New protoss capital ship, replaces carrier
      • Anti-air splash damage for mutalisks and other aircraft
      • Has direct air-to-ground attack as well that isn't splash
  • Replicant
    • Special unit that can clone itself into any non-massive unit
    • Allows protoss to also take siege tanks or infestors from enemies
    • Is very expensive
    • Still very much a work-in-progress, not-final unit
  • Oracle
    • Caster unit used for raiding and harassment
    • Can disable enemy structures, or prevent miningwith its abilities
    • Doesn't actually kill or damage anything
    • Mothership is cut in favor of this unit

There were some other adjustments and additions in multiplayer Heart of the Swarm. Some of the more interesting changes include the reaper gaining the ability to quickly regenerate health when out of combat, though its building attack has been removed. Battlecruisers will also get a new cooldown-based ability for a speed boost.

On the zerg side, banelings will be able to move while underground, through a late-game upgrade, while hydralisks will get a speed upgrade for off-creep movement. Corruptors will also have a new channeled ability called siphon. Siphoned buildings take damage over time, while the zerg player gains minerals as the building is being damaged.

Finally for the protoss, two new abilities have been added to the nexus. One is a mass recall, allowing protoss players to quickly return armies home, while the other is a defensive ability that temporarily gives any structure additional shield and building armor, as well as a weapon similar to a photon cannon.

Before taking questions, the StarCraft II developers reminded everyone that everything is still very much work in progress and subject to change.

What do you think about the StarCraft II multiplayer experience?