StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Hands On With New StarCraft II Units
by Adam Biessener on Jun 08, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Platform PC
Publisher Blizzard Entertainment
Developer Blizzard Entertainment
Rating Teen

Blizzard gave a sneak peek at a handful of new units currently raising hell in the development of the first expansion to StarCraft II as it closes in on beta. From the show floor of the MLG Spring Championship, we took them for a spin ourselves.

The idea behind adding new units to StarCraft II’s multiplayer is to give each race new options in areas of the game that they’re currently pigeonholed into certain strategies. The Protoss, for example, aren’t terribly effective early-game raiders or pushers. Terran-versus-Terran matches skew dramatically toward mechanical matchups, with their biological infantry units rarely used. The Zerg have a heck of a time assaulting heavily fortified positions. Each of the units and abilities we saw today is tailor-made to give players of each race a more varied toolbox in an area they’re currently thin.

We’ve seen some of these units before, but it’s worth going through the whole list again to get a fresh look at where Blizzard is at with Heart of the Swarm multiplayer development as of now.


Widow Mine
A basic factory unit – no tech lab or armory required – widow mines leap up and attach themselves to the first enemy unit that comes within range, detonating after a few seconds for huge splash damage to that unit and anything around it. They move under their own power and cost supply like any other unit, and are cloaked and immobile when armed. Widow mines are a fantastic tool to break up big army masses and protect your workers from enemy raids.

Enemy mechanical units giving you trouble? Build a few of these mechs and watch their army melt. Warhounds have an auto-casting missile attack that automatically targets any mechanical unit in range for heavy damage. Say goodbye to your sentry/stalker problems.

Now possessed of the ability to transform into a walking mech form with dramatically upgraded armor and health, Hellions are a much more versatile unit in Heart of the Swarm. Their flamethrower becomes a cone attack instead of a line in this form. Currently the transform ability has a relatively long animation, so plan ahead.

The speed boost ability for the iconic terran battlecruiser takes energy, meaning fewer yamato cannon shots, but should more than make up for it by getting your fleet into the right place at the right time.

These infantry have lost their building-demolishing charges in favor of a passive regeneration upgrade that quickly refills their health outside combat.

The terran standouts to me are the hellion change – holy cow are these guys powerful now – and widow mines. The damage from the mines is exceptional, they scoot around the map quite quickly, and you can really pump them out with a reactor add-on for your factory. And I’ll never say no to a boost for battlecruisers. Once my favorite StarCraft unit, always my favorite StarCraft unit.


Swarm Host
This new artillery-style zerg unit is the coolest thing I saw today. Swarm hosts continually spawn air- and ground-attacking temporary locust units while burrowed, which is a nightmare for detection-impaired opponents. If your enemy doesn’t have good micro skills, sending in locusts just ahead of your main advance absorbs quite a bit of damage your real army doesn’t have to take.

A new flying caster for the zerg, the viper has the terrifying ability to yank a unit from a range of nine (turrets, for reference, are range seven) to its position. This is about as hard of a counter to an emplaced siege tank as has ever existed. Thors, archons, and more will all learn to fear the viper. Additionally, vipers can create a blinding cloud that reduces any biological unit’s range to just one – a deadly threat to the iconic marine/marauder ball.

Burrow charge now lets ultralisks effectively teleport short distances, making it far easier to get these hulking death dealers where they need to be. Ultralisks have lost their frenzy ability, though.

Changelings can now be spawned at range, making them much harder for your enemy to spot.

A new upgrade allows hydralisks to move faster while on off of creep. [Correction: Hydralisks already had an on-creep speed boost. Thank you commenter zlynch for the reminder]

Spawn hosts look gross, but they’re awesome on the battlefield. Like all casters, Vipers require a higher skill level to use effectively, but their abilities should be devastating in skilled hands. As cool as transforming hellions are, spawn hosts are total game-changers. On the plus side, since I don’t play zerg online, a few humiliating losses should teach me to get better at detection.


Reminiscent of the zerg guardian aspect, tempests are big expensive fliers with an insane range – currently 22 when upgraded, dwarfing every other StarCraft II unit’s reach. They’re relatively slow, though, and don’t hit all that hard.

The oracle is a fast, harassment-oriented aircraft that can shield mineral fields, preventing them from being harvested until the forcefield expires or is destroyed. Cloak field replaces the mothership cloaking passive, cloaking everything but the oracle itself (or any other oracles), but it costs energy unlike the old mothership ability. Finally, oracles can temporarily grant vision and detection to a building.

Mothership Core
Before building the full-on mothership, protoss players can create a much cheaper mothership core. The core attaches to an existing nexus (and can teleport to any friendly nexus) and provides defensive firepower, a powerful mass recall ability, and the capability to recharge a friendly unit or building’s energy at the cost of its own. Later, you can upgrade the mothership core to the terrifying mothership. Like the mothership itself, the core is unique – you can only ever have one at a time.

The mothership’s cloaking field is gone (moved to the oracle), and vortex now affects only ground targets, but the new stasis spell puts the mothership itself and all nearby air units into invulnerable frozen time for 20 seconds.

The previously announced replicant unit is currently cut from Heart of the Swarm multiplayer, like so many units before it.

Carriers are on the chopping block. StarCraft II design director Dustin Browder says that the team is going back and forth every day on whether to include the iconic protoss warship.

You’d think that the tempest would be the standout of the protoss units with its ability to fire energy balls from extreme range, but the mothership core had a far greater impact on how I approach both playing and fighting against the protoss. It comes out so early, and its abilities are so strong, that it single-handedly changes the math for offense and defense alike.

I have no illusions about just how far I am from a pro-level StarCraft II player, but even moderately skilled players around my level shouldn’t have too hard of a time seeing how easily these units fit into existing strategies as well as entirely new tactics. Even so, Blizzard took great pains to remind everyone at the event that these units could change or be removed before release, so don’t get too attached to them when you get your hands on them in beta – which should be coming up soon…although Blizzard’s definition of “soon” doesn’t always line up with the rest of the world’s.

For video of the new units in action, check out the trailer Blizzard released earlier today.

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StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

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