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BlizzCon 2011: SCII: Heart of the Swarm panels reveal new and existing unit changes

During a StarCraft II panel at BlizzCon, game director Dustin Browder, balance designer David Kim, and senior designer Josh Menke discussed some of the new units included in the expansion, as well as changes being implemented to existing units, and revealed which units would be retired from service.

New units, balancing

Browder started the panel off discussing online balance as well as the aforementioned new multiplayer units in Heart of the Swarm.

When the team looked at balancing, it took many things into consideration, such as the differences between light and heavy play, and which style was most prevalent in certain regions. For example, in Korea, the Terran has an advantage over Protoss, while in Europe, it's the Zerg which has the advantage.

As far as the Zerg's concerned, Kim said the Zerg have trouble countering a well-entrenched players early in the game. With this, the team decided to retire the Overseer and replace it with the Viper, which is basically a Zerg spellcaster unit.

With the new units, Browder started off discussing the Terran faction units, along with voicing his disappointment with the performance of the Thor, and there not being an option to counter a Protoss late Zealot rush when the charge ability is being used.

However, he said since the Terrans have enough gameplay options, the team didn't want to give them any extras. So instead, the Hellion will gain a transformation ability.

When the ability is used, the Hellion transforms from fast and lithe, into a slow and tough Battle Hellion.

Shredders, will put out radiation which will cause continuous damage to units near it, but will shut off when an ally is within radiation distance. Warhounds are a faster, smaller version of the Thor which operates as an anti-mech unit. It can be put to best use against Terran or Protoss vehicles in the air or on the ground, and will allow the Thor to become more of a role unit with better damage output.

Players will also be limited to one Thor at a time.

Here is a list of the unit changes coming with Heart of the Swarm, courtesy of GameFront:

  • Shredder - When deployed will deal 20 damage per second to anything with it’s range. If any of your units (other than shredders) are near this unit, the field will not be deployed. In mobile form, the Shredder has no attack, but when set to stationary mode, it channels area-effect damage to both the air and ground. If a friendly unit enters the range of the Shredder, the weapon shuts off.
  • Hellion Battle Mode -When transformed, the Hellion will gain in hit points and get a stronger flame attack that covers a short arc in front of it. This makes the Hellion more effective in late-game fights against large clusters of light units such as Zealots
  • Warhound - A small, walking ground mech that wields an effective anti-air weapon with splash damage, much like the Thor from Wings of Liberty. The Warhound is smaller and much more nimble, though it gives up some range on its anti-air missiles in exchange for this mobility. The Warhound also wields a small ground attack weapon that does additional damage to mechanical units, making it particularly well suited to taking out enemy Siege Tanks. It’s not particularly effective against non-mechanical units.
  • Viper - An armored, biological flying unit with three unique abilities. Blinding Cloud temporarily reduces the attack range of all ground units inside the cloud to melee range, and prevents energy-based abilities from being used. Abduct allows the Viper to physically pull a unit to the Viper’s location. Finally, the Viper has a one-time ability called Ocular Parasite, which allows it to detach its eye stalk and meld it onto any friendly, non-massive unit, turning that unit into a detector.
  • Swarm Host - Slow moving, armored biological ground unit without a standard attack. When burrowed, the Swarm Host spawns a continuous stream of slow-moving melee units called Locusts (limited lifespan) that can be used to lay siege and pressure entrenched enemy positions.
  • Locust - This light biological unit is tougher than Boodlings or Zerglings, and can help tank damage from siege tanks to prepare for a Zerg attack.
  • Replicant - The Replicate ability allows it to permanently transform into any non-massive unit in range. They’re expensive, so cloning a Zergling would not be very cost effective, but transforming into a specialized unit like a Raven, Infestor, or Siege Tank make for strategic options for the Protoss.
  • Oracle - A Psionic warship, built from a Stargate, that uses several unique abilities to raid and harass the enemy. The first is Entomb, which can temporarily block mineral fields from being harvested. Another ability, Preordain, grants vision of a targeted enemy building, allowing the protoss to see which units or technologies are being researched. Rounding out its kit is Phase Shift, which phases a target building, preventing it from being attacked, using its abilities, or granting technology. Not only can structures like missile turrets be prevented from attacking, but using this ability on a zerg Spire would block the production of Mutalisks, Corruptors, and air upgrades.
  • Tempest - A new capital ship that deals massive area-of-effect damage to air units. It also has a standard ground attack, but its chief role is to help gain air superiority.

Changes to multiplayer units

With new units and balancing in mind, Chris Metzen, VP of creative development, detailed changes coming with the expansion during a multiplayer panel, and one of the biggest changes is the ability for Banelings to move while burrowed.

Reapers will be able to regen health, Battlecruisers are getting a speed boost for short periods of time,  and the Hyrdras are getting a speed upraded as well.

The addition of a Corrupter spell which can be cast onto buildings to gather resources called Siphon was announced as well. So now, when a player needs minerals, the won't necessarily have to build a hatchery.

New Nexus abilities are on the way for Protoss buildings, one of which is Recall which  can pull back a units in trouble. This will allow the Protoss players to be more assertive, and if they find they are getting in over their heads - warp. A new defensive ability which will turn a structure into a photon cannon is also on the way.

Cloaked Ghost will no longer lose energy while cloaked. Instead, a one-time cost will be charged to stay cloaked for a certain amount of time - the cost and duration has yet to be announced, but when cloaked, Ghosts will now regain energy.

With Warhounds as the new anti-air unit, Thors will no longer be used for air-attacks. As mentioned above, players will only be able to have one at a time now.

Below, you will find a  highlight video of the multiplayer panel from the event, as well as some screenshots and art.

Still no exact date for Heart of the Swarm.

Information on the StarCraft II panel was gleaned from the following websites, with out humble thanks: D'toid, Gamespot, PC Gamer, and GameFront.

About the Author

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Stephany Nunneley

News Editor

Half-blind/half-dyslexic, bad typist, wine enthusiast, humanitarian, intellectual savant, idiot savior, lover of all things nonsensical, animal hoarder and highly sarcastic.

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