The yearly major balance changes were announced two weeks ago. This post is to share my impression of the proposal.
I know this post is a little late, but I am busy with other things (e.g., moving). The later update last week on 25 September led me to edit the draft for this article again.
I am not going to go through every single change. Rather, I want to talk about what the proposal implies in general. Then, I share my opinion on a few specific changes.
State of development
In the Legacy of the Void era, Blizzard have a consistent pattern to announce a major redesign changes proposal in August for the subsequent calendar year. Hence, the community expected Blizzard to announce the major balance changes some time between the last WCS and Blizzcon this year too. While Blizzard announced the expect proposal recently, it is very different to what we have seen in 2016 and 2017.
The proposed changes are a lot less drastic than what we had last two years. The titles reflect that: The last two announcements are titled “design changes”, and the latest one is titled simply as “balance revamp”. The proposed changes are mainly tweaks to accentuate or attenuate the specific roles of the units. This suggests several things.
First, from a design perspective, Legacy of the Void has reached a mature stage. There is no obvious design issue as of current understanding. Mothership Core is an example of questionable design, and this is resolved by replacing it with Shield Battery and Nexus recall. Unless you change the design philosophy at its core, Legacy of the Void is unlikely to leap to another level.
Second, which is related to the first, balance changes from now on are likely to be minor adjustments to the existing framework. The current state is reasonably balance, and major changes may tilt the scale in a negative way.
Third, Starcraft may be in full maintenance mode. The proposed changes reflect Blizzard’s view on the current state of the multiplayer mode. If they perceive the main game mode has moved to a mature stage, they will invest less resource on it. It is likely that they will continue to do what they do with Co-op, but I expect even fewer and smaller changes for multiplayer. Of course, I have faith in Blizzard making necessary adjustments if the balance is moving in a bad direction.
Quality of life changes
Similar to last year’s proposal, Blizzard introduced some quality of life changes. The separation of burrow and unburrow hotkey is a great change, but I cannot say the same for those Protoss’ changes. Gateways now automatically change to Warpgates after the Warpgate research is completed. It seems random because I doubt Protoss players would suggest this change if they were asked to make one quality of life change. My impression is that Blizzard want to make the game easier and accessible by simplifying and streamlining things that do no involve strategic decision making. Their premise that Protoss players always turn Gateways into Warpgate after research fits well with this line of thinking. In a similar vein, there is a Chronoboost bar added to the building, and it is not documented in the list of changes.
The Warpgate change is not well received by the Terran players. It is not because of the change per se, but rather Terran players felt left out. Just to list some quality of life changes in these two years:
- Observer and Overseer
- A new ability to grant the unit 25% more vision and keep it at a stationary position for easier usage of the all-army selection button.
- High Templar
- High Templar now has an attack that prevents it from moving forward when the A-move command is used.
- Adepts will continue with their last issued command instead of stopping after using Psionic Transfer.
- The hotkey for burrow and unburrow is separated into two hotkeys. This improves unit control.
- Gateways automatically transform into Warpgates after Warpgate research is completed.
- A bar indicating the timer of the ability is added on the building.
You may want to point out some Terran changes that I have “left out”, but it is likely that I consider those changes as non-quality of life changes. Blizzard have indirectly defined what quality of life changes are when they provide their justification for the Warpgate change.
Ideally, once Warp Gate research is done, newly built Gateways are always transformed into Warp Gates. This isn’t the most strategic or mechanics-intensive decision, so we are testing out making it automated.
Accordingly, quality of life changes should simplify certain aspects of the game from the player perspective, and these changes should not involve strategic or mechanics-intensive decision. The strategic element is obvious. For example, you do not want to have the Queen to auto inject when it spawns, because a player may want to use the energy on creep spread instead. The mechanics-intensive element is debatable. The existing changes suggest Blizzard have a certain set of metrics to measure what is too much. To them, using the all-army hotkey with multiple Observers/Overseers moving with the whole army is…… well, something worth addressing with a buff. They add an attack to High Templar to prevent them from moving toward the opponent unintentionally, but they do not do that to a comparable unit like Infestor.
Based on Blizzard’s criteria, here are two good quality of life changes for Terran:
- Building (Barracks, Factory, and Starport) lift up ability is disabled when the Tech Lab is researching.
In case you aren’t aware, the upgrade on the Tech Lab will get cancelled if you lift up the building. There is no strategic reason to lift up the building when its Tech Lab is researching something. Even if you do, it is a lot better that players have to cancel the research before lift up than to have the upgrade cancelled accidentally when the building is lifted up by mistake. Also, if you want to argue that this change does not qualify for the mechanics intensity aspect, I want you to read the above list of changes and repent.
- Bunker unloads units in it when it is salvaged.
Terran cannot salvage a Bunker that has a unit in it. When Terran want to salvage a Bunker, they obviously want to and have to unload the units. If Blizzard think that the Warpgate change is justified, then this Bunker change is a no-brainer.
Why do Blizzard not make these changes for Terran? Some told me that it is just racism from Blizzard. Clearly, it is not in Blizzard’s favor to overlook a specific race. Then why? I thought of several plausible reasons.
It is plausible that Terran is relatively less represented in the Blizzard team that manages these changes. I don’t mean it in a way that the staffs involved favored the races they main, but rather they are less exposed to the player perspective of the other races. I do not know about the issues with having burrow and unburrow on the same hotkey because I do not play Zerg. But I cannot help but agree with the Zerg players once they explain it to me.
The other plausibility is that Terran do not voice out as much. I sometime have an impression that Terran players pride themselves as the race that is most mechanically challenging, so they do not discuss minor uncontroversial changes that improve quality of life. Essentially, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. The fact that /r/starcraft has more threads about Terran whining than Terran actually whining about balance does not help.
It is also plausible that there are fewer authoritative figures for Terran whom Blizzard would trust for changes proposal. Terran are generally least represented in the non-Korean professional scene. Some suggest I should communicate ideas with Blizzard myself but I am a nobody. First of all, I’m a shit ass player who suck at the game. I don’t mean it in a humble way, as I am just bad. That is why I always write in an argumentative manner (implying it is up for debate) rather than a conclusive manner. I actually wrote to a Blizzard community manager before and I did not even receive a reply. I was expecting a typical diplomatic email that goes along the line of thanking your input but not considering it in practice (after all, that is one of the many emails they receive). Thus, it is clear to me that Blizzard ask the community for feedback but they only limit themselves to certain channels and individuals. Voices are not heard.
On the community side, I notice there are good suggestions but whether the changes fit the quality of life criteria is up for debate. Below are two good examples:
- When Marine, Marauder, and Ghost are selected, Ghost is not the first unit selected in the command card.
- This allows Terran to have Stim as the first spell and not have to tab to the next set of command for Stim.
On paper it seems like a simple quality of life change, because Terran generally want Stim instead of situational spells as the most accessible spell in command. The reason behind this awkward setting is the default unit hotkey priority, which denotes which unit gets selected before others in the command card when they are selected together. Spellcasters are priorised for easy spell casting. But this seemingly good feature is not working as well as intended when the main units have an important spell and they are pushed back in the priority order.
I can confidently say that this is the biggest factor discouraging players to use Ghosts. Why can’t Terran players use multiple control groups and have Ghosts in a different group to the bio? Terran players need to micro the bio units by box selecting them in small groups, so control groups are not going to help much. If Blizzard think Protoss and Zerg need a buff to Observer and Overseer to help them with the use of select all army hotkey, then I will like to hear what their opinion is on this issue.
There are two solutions to this. First, players are allowed to set their own unit hotkey priority order. This benefits everyone. I am not sure how difficult it is on the programming side though. Second, Blizzard can change specific units’ priority order. In this case, Ghost (and Raven) can be pushed behind Marine and Marauder. The issue is whether this is universally accepted as a change for the better. All in all, it is more than just simplifying a certain process.
- Allow players to choose which side of the building to put the add-on.
This is brought up all the time. The spawn location affects how much the add-on position can influence the outcome of the game. In other words, something beyond the players’ control (i.e., spawn location) affects the outcome of the game via the add-on position. I had written about this in depth previously. Then, why can’t this be fixed? One reason I can think of is that the building can block the add-on if it is on the other side, so players cannot click on it as easily as they could if it is on the current default side. Hence, it complicates things beyond just quality of life.
Blizzard always try to ensure every unit has a place where it can perform well, and Battlecruiser does not have a clearly defined role. Thus, I was expecting Battlecruiser updates this year. A simple way to make it less of a bench warmer is to improve its numbers (stats and cost), but I doubt it can reach a sweet spot. If the stats improvement is little, it makes no difference. If the stats improvement is good enough to make a difference, players are likely to mass produce it and A-move because it is a very one dimensional unit. Blizzard are spot on in their evaluations: “At maximum upgrades, few units can stand up to a Battlecruiser, but when first produced without upgrades, basic ground units like Marines and Hydralisks can effectively counter it.” This logically leads to non-numerical changes like being able to attack while moving. The most recent GSL final was also a timely reminder to us that over-buffing Battlecruiser can be catastrophic to TvT late game (see first vod below). TY also had shown us that Battlecruiser can be feasible in certain conditions for TvP late game (see second vod below).
Raven’s change fits well with the intended unit design. The rationale behind the initial redesign is to make it a support unit, or put it in another way, to make it less effective by itself. Recently, Raven is becoming increasingly common in TvT and TvP. Raven is good in the early game defense against Cloak units, and it is huge boost to the subsequent Siege Tank Marine push. With this change, Blizzard double down to ensure Raven is not mass-able, and I think that is reasonable from the design perspective. However, this change directly affects how useful Ghosts can be in TvZ late game. I attribute Ghost’s recent drop in popularity in TvZ late game to Raven’s last Anti-Armor Missile damage nerf. Before the last change, Ravens’ Anti-Armor Missile damage made it very difficult for Zerg to swarm the Ghost army, and this provides room for Ghosts to activate their Steady Targeting ability. It is extremely difficult to use Ghosts against Zerg without Raven’s splash damage, so I expect Ghosts’ usage in TvZ late game to not increase with this Raven change.
I have mix feelings toward Cyclone’s nerf. On one hand, I am happy to see Blizzard share my sentiment that Cyclone is too dominant in the TvT early game. On the other hand, the change is a nerf to Terran’s early game in TvP. Cyclone is the option to stabilize against early Protoss Gateway pressure. The potential of committing to multiple Cyclones can keep Protoss honest, and this is best illustrated when Terran hide their production buildings from Protoss. With that being said, the reduction of one armor may not make that much of a difference in TvP, because Stalker and Adept have a longer attack cool down than units like Marine and Zergling.
The Nydus Worm changes look great. Nydus Worm in Legacy of the Void usually ends in a polarising manner. It is either the defender outright dies to it or the attack gets shut down hard, and there is little room for counter measures. All these factors do not align well with the game design philosophy. The changes may lead to a rejuvenation of the Symbol style multi-Nydus attack.
As a Terran player, I am so happy to see the Queen and Creep changes. Zerg’s macro mechanics (i.e., Larva injection), map vision (i.e., creep spread), and defense capability are all attached to Queen. I totally agree with Blizzard’s stand that “the Queen might be a bit too “catch-all” of a unit right now”. It is interesting to see Blizzard pick on the Transfusion ability to reduce Queen’s utilities, and I think it is a good start. Transfusion does not have a direct effect on the key utilities, so it is less likely to shake up Zerg’s fundamental set up that players are familiar with. In my biased opinion, I will like to see Queen’s anti-air attack to decrease by one (reverting previous buff), but this may have other unwanted negative effects. For example, Warp Prism may be too good in PvZ if Queen’s anti-air range decreases by one. Thus, the Transfusion change is a good starting point to balance Queen’s all-rounded role.
Warp Prism control is a good indicator how good a Protoss is, and it looks overpower in the hands of good players. The issue with Warp Prism is a little bit like the one with Queen. It is such an integral part of the fundamental aspects of the race that it is risky to make changes to it. The pick up range is definitely the first thing I would like to change for obvious reasons, but I want to see a buff on its shield. The decrease in pick up range for the increase in shield is clearly a net nerf. But, importantly, these changes together re-distribute players’ influence on the battle outcome more evenly. With the current pick up range, it is down to Protoss’ micro ability to get the most out of the Warp Prism, and there is relatively little the opponent can do to interact with it. The decrease in pick up range provides the opponent more room to target down the Warp Prism, while the increase in shield allows Protoss players to balance usage and risk (players can wait for shield to regenerate before they send the Warp Prism in again). All in all, I hope Blizzard increase the shield of Warp Prism on top of the range nerf.
The Disruptor changes suggest Blizzard are not sure what to do with the unit. In some ways, I prefer the current Disruptor from a design perspective, because it allows the opponent to have the counter play to send a unit to detonate the Purification Nova. The current Disruptor is strong against Terran, but the old/new Disruptor is strong against Zerg. While the current Disruptor has the potential to friendly fire when the melee units of both sides engage, this is never an issue against Terran (bio are range units). Protoss now send one Purification Nova at a time to force Terran back, so it is extremely difficult for Terran to engage into an army with a few Disruptors. I think Disruptor is a unit that should be redesigned to fit better with Blizzard’s design philosophy to reduce sudden game ending moment.
Overall, I am positive about the current proposed changes (because I’m Terran). It will be nice to see Blizzard implement those no-brainer quality of life changes for Terran I mentioned, and I also hope to hear what they have to say about the unit selection priority for bio.
The other thing that got my attention is the changes of the 25 September update. The changes for Queen, Creep, and Warp Prism are announced in the later update but not in the original set of proposal. I cannot help but to think that Blizzard have reservation for these changes, which in my opinion are the most influential changes of this year’s proposal. I expect more changes after Blizzcon.