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Gamereplays.org's Thoughts On Blizzcon And StarCraft 2 Zerg

By Church - 2nd September 2009 - 11:17 AM

Blizzcon '09 has come and gone, but we all had fun. Many of us from Gamereplays.org were there, and we got plenty of playtime between us. Elegy and I will be discussing our impressions of the Zerg. While I will write this in the first person, I am referring to what both Elegy and I, along with others with whom we discussed the game and experienced it with.

On the whole, Zerg seems to have become a more defensive race than in StarCraft. Because of new gas set-up, one needs two geysers operating at full capacity to equal one geyser in StarCraft. As such, a Zerg attempting to go for a fast tech build will quickly find they lack minerals, as almost half of their workers are on gas, instead of only about one quarter.

Because of this, many of the builds at Blizzcon focused on Hatchery tech units, either Zerglings or Hydralisks, and the mass production thereof. Lair tech feels to expensive and overspecialised to get, apart from using it to get to Hive.

Mutalisks, once the airborne bane of many a player, have been reduced in effectiveness greatly. The biggest change is the removal of explosive damage, which dealt 50% base damage to small units. In the original Starcraft, this made units like Photon Cannons and Missile Turrets easy enough to knock down with nine to eleven mutalisks. The other change is subtler, and that is the micro.

Although the attempts to change the pathing engine to allow muta stacking did help, the mutalisks still tend to spread out while firing. This may be simply a result of not understanding the new system, but they do feel less eager to stack nonetheless. The other change is that mutalisks have a turning time. It isn't much, but it can hamper the right-click based micro. On the other hand, Hold position micromanagement has been improved, as the mutalisks will fire before slowing down. This means that one can use Hold position, and then click ahead of the mutalisks to keep them at speed. It will be quite interesting to see how mutalisk micromanagement evolves throughout the beta and retail of StarCraft 2.

Roaches, another Lair tech unit, seem to have a weird niche. They can be effective against Terran Hellions, due to their health and regeneration, but against most other units, hydralisks would probably do just fine, cost less, and come sooner. It seems that the roach remains a rather conflicted unit. While Roaches are effective against mass Hellion, their utility seemed to lack in the overall metagame. As they are relatively slow, Mutalisk tech to counter mass Hellion proved to be more effective for the additional mobility and containment that they offer.

Infestors, the replacement for the defiler, are somewhat subpart. They lack Dark Swarm and Consume, which really made defilers the powerhouse support unit they are. Mind control, which has been on the Infestor for some time, seems to be only cost-effective against Colossi, and possibly Siege Tanks.

Hive tech brings some much-needed muscle to the Zerg. Ultralisks return in full form, and then some. If the old ultralisks were mutated cows, the new ones are mutated elephants. They are about the size of the Hatchery, they can once again take a great deal of damage before dying, and with the cleave ability, they make excellent crowd control. All in all, a major improvement over the original. Mind you, they are expensive enough that fielding more than four or five is somewhat impractical, but that is a lot as it is.

Lurkers are somewhat overpriced and placed too high. I don't know why they remain at Hive tech, now that hydralisks have returned to tier 1.5, but they are. They also cost double the StarCraft cost, without any stat changes, and have a specific tech building, instead of an abstract upgrade. That last one may seem inane, but it is a big difference. Now it is relatively easy to stop lurkers, as they need a lurker den to upgraded, which can be destroyed. This would cause all currently spawned hydralisks to be unable to morph. With the cost and tech requirements, it is difficult to use them cost-effectively.

Corruptors and Brood Lords were not used much. Air units did not come up much, and those that did were either Vikings, which mutalisks dispatch easily, or phoenixes, which come out too early for corruptors to matter. Brood Lords were only found to be effective against massed Colossi, at which point you are probably dead anyway.

Now, on to the low-tech units. Zerglings, the iconic Zerg unit. Scourge of many a battle.net newbie facing a five for the first time. Much cursed and reviled by the enemies of the Zerg. Well, enemies of the Zerg, Blizzard seems to have listened to you, and nerfed the zergling with vigour, at least against Protoss. The most notable change is that it takes about eight zerglings to kill a single zealot, as opposed to four. While this may seem not too bad, consider that four zerglings cost the same as one zealot, and that eight cost double. The old dancing micro is no longer useful, though pulling back injured zerglings remains a staple in keeping them alive. The change away from explosive damage types also affects Zerglings a lot, making rushing or running by photon cannons next to useless. While with proper micromanagement they can do quite a bit, zerglings require more support than in the original. On the other hand, this could be considered not as much of a nerf as initially expected, as the Queen unit allows the Zerg to out produce the Protoss player in this regard with ease. The Queen also builds faster than a Hatchery, costs less minerals, and is mobile.

Hydralisks look to become the new iconic Zerg unit. While they do suffer from the lack of explosive damage, they also benefit, as now their attack will do more damage against small units than before. Mass hydralisks off of one base was also found to be a very effective build order at Blizzcon. One thing to keep in mind is that hydralisks definitely need the speed upgrade to be effective, much like in the original. Lastly, the range upgrade has been removed, though Hydralisks start with upgraded range, much like Terran Marines automatically start with the U-238 shell range upgrade.

The Queen turned out to be about the best unit to have as Zerg now. Between the defensive ability and larva spawning power, queens are a mainstay for Zerg. Simply put, queens act like a hatchery mixed with a sunken colony, for 150 minerals. They require a spawning pool, much like the Zerglings, and should be built as soon as possible.

Build orders, while a difficult aspect upon which to speculate, have changed little. It should be noted that in StarCraft 2 , Zerg gets 2 control from a hatchery, instead of one, so most build order equivalents to StarCraft have the necessary supply increased by 1. However, the effectiveness of each build has changed a lot. The best build found was a 13 pool, roughly equivalent to a 12 pool in StarCraft. Essentially, it involves getting a spawning pool, hatchery, queen, and spine crawler in that order, while building zerglings to defend. It is known as a 13 pool because one is at 13 supply when one builds the spawning pool. The 12 pool in StarCraft was used for a while as a defensive and economic build, but was dropped in favour of the 12 hatchery, as that is more economic and doesn't sacrifice much in timings. In StarCraft 2, the equivalent 13 hatchery does not have enough to defend, and so falls apart when attacked. As well, since tech is harder to build with the new gas setup, and mutalisks are less effective, this build order is overall ineffective.
Build orders focusing on earlier attacking units, such as a 10 pool, worked well enough, but were not extensively tested. The effect that a 10 pool build would have on Zerg economy was not determined by anyone I saw. On the whole, the 13 pool build was considered the most effective. This is a stark contrast from the Zerg in StarCraft, where each match-up had at least two different builds that could be effective in different situations. However, this is really early on, so who knows what will happen. The heavy macro management style of play in StarCraft didn't exist until about 2001, three years after release, so we'll see what comes of StarCraft 2 in this regard.

In terms of match-ups, Zerg seemed to be quite defensive. Protoss players tended to go for a 2-gateway zealot rush, which required at least two spine crawlers, a queen, at least 18 zerglings, hydra tech, and good micromanagement. From here one could fight back and take advantage of the Protoss' lack of tech. Against Terran, the Zerg could take the offensive, but the Terrans tended to wall in, which meant the Zerg could contain at best. Mass hellions would often follow, which required roaches. Against anything else, a combination of mutalisks, hydralisks and zerglings handled it.

On the whole, Zerg feels a lot less flexible than in StarCraft. Hatchery tech seems to be the most useful until an opportune moment presents itself to get Hive tech, and very few build orders were effective, given the Zerg's gas requirements for tech. Regardless, I am hopeful for StarCraft 2, and feel that it simply needs some work to make the tech requirements and effectiveness more even across tech levels.

This is the first part of a series of articles on Gamereplays.org's thoughts on Blizzcon, stay tuned for the next few articles!

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