The private beta for upcoming final part of the StarCraft II trilogy, Legacy of The Void, is in full swing. Sadly, I didn’t get an invite, but I did read an interesting opinion piece by Eurogamer’s Rich Stanton, raising concerns as regards Blizzard’s changes to the game’s economy that as an avid, albeit in absentia fan, I share.
About 15 years ago I was playing the original StarCraft online via Battle.net far too much for my own good. Any similarly grizzled veteran will tell you that the game’s economy was simple to learn but very difficult indeed to master. Predictably, some players weren’t too keen on sinking hours into honing their macromanagement skills and just wanted get on with blowing up Hydralisks and spamming Carriers.
To service this need emerged the ‘money map’ phenomenon. The multiplayer maps that StarCraft shipped with featured deliberately limited resources, but before long, homemade creations that offered both minerals and gas in absurd abundance started doing the rounds. Furthermore, hacked versions of official map editor, StarEdit, allowed mineral patches to be placed directly next to players’ starting positions rather than a minimum set distance away. This, and stacking them on top of each other many times on the same tile, drastically increased the rate at which players’ coffers would fill.
Bear in mind that this was all long before automatic matchmaking became the norm, when manually browsing lobbies was the only way to get a game, and hosts were free to select any map they desired. The practice of playing money maps was disappointingly widespread, but not entirely without merit as it did at least allow newcomers to get a feel for the game’s balance in terms of each unit’s most effective counters.
So, what does any of this have to do with Legacy of The Void? Well, for its multiplayer component, Blizzard are planning to double the amount of workers each player spawns with to 12, doubling the rate at which resources can initially be harvested by extension. The idea is clearly to make the game more accessible to newcomers by reducing the early game ‘downtime’ and negating the threat of rush tactics. But my worry is that this change will be at the cost of the nuanced economic tug-o-war, that to my mind, is the very essence of multiplayer StarCraft, in a similar way to the money maps of old.
Sure, Blizzard have counterbalanced their proposed changes by reducing the amount of resources some base sites have, necessitating more frequent expansion, but this is cold comfort for those whose macromanagement skills have been shaped by the very specific pacing that they’ve become intimately familiar with over the years.
Google ‘StarCraft II strategies’ and you’ll find many builds outlined and ordered to the second for your cramming pleasure. I’ve always mentally noted the broad strokes and winged the specifics, but many follow them to the letter. What of that now? And what of all those units and abilities designed specifically for early game harassment; aren’t they facing at least partial redundancy now that players are seemingly being encouraged to turtle and tech (box themselves in and make a beeline for the biggest and most powerful units)?
Blizzard aren’t afraid to make sweeping changes and then retract them if they don’t work out, so nothing’s set in stone at the time of writing. For now, however, large question marks loom over what kind of legacy ‘The Void’ might leave in its wake.