With all the fawning and fanfare over Starcraft 2, it’s easy to highlight how long it’s been since the original Zergling simulator debuted, and how much has changed and improved.
But as accumulated play time increases and more and more aggressive, odd, and cheesy builds emerge, it’s just as easy to overlook how little Starcraft has actually evolved. Where is the modern RTS dynamism and evolution gamers have been waiting for?
Turns out they missed it. It was called Warcraft 3.
Let’s Do The Time Warp Again
Let’s imagine for a minute that you’ve never played Warcraft 3. While it’s highly unlikely you went 11 years without at Blizzard RTS fix, please put your imagination to use momentarily. Here are a few things you might remember about Starcraft.
- Three races with several overall differences
- A good balance between micro and macro
- Strong, character-driven storyline
- Endless online replay value
- Terrible, terrible pathing
- Idiotic spellcasters
- Mediocre graphics engine
With this limited information, it seems the obvious checklist for sequel updates would include better pathing, better casting, better graphics, and removing the option for easily-massed Protoss air superiority. And if that’s all you were looking for, Starcraft 2 delivered.
But why set the bar so low? And, more importantly, why accept such middling changes when the majority of Starcraft 2’s improvements were actually just carry-overs from Warcraft 3?
After all, it was Warcraft 3 that introduced smartcasting, advanced action queuing, autocasting, the archetypal Blizzard 3D RTS camera, and dynamic RPG elements. Blizzard simply copied/pasted the most basic elements from their previous RTS into its other money-printing franchise. But, as far as innovation goes, the improvements end there. It would appear that all of the major RTS evolutions from Warcraft 3 simply went extinct, along with the Dodo and the Dark Archon.
More Cheese, Please
Right off the bat, it should be stated that Top Tier Tactics and its subsidiaries heavily endorse cheese plays. After all, what could be more fun than running into an opponent’s base with 10 workers and 4 Zerglings at the 3 minute mark?
Given that (and as evidenced at EVO 2006), nothing says anticlimactic like seeing a long-awaited match end in an instant KO. And while rush strategies are certainly defensible, they introduce a rock/paper/scissors meta-element to the game that has already claimed victories from jerks pros like Idra.
Warcraft 3 decreased the random value of cheese by giving every race two early-game countermeasures.
- Humans had Militia (workers could become fighters temporarily) and more durable, versatile towers
- Orcs had burrows (think Supply Depot + Bunker in one) and spiked buildings that hurt attackers
- Undead had Ghouls (units that were workers and fighters) and supply buildings that doubled as towers
- Night Elves had wells that restored HP/mana and oh yeah their buildings were fucking Ents
In addition to each of these race-specific defensive measures, the hero system made cheesy rushes a huge gambit, since a hero could make or break a rush. If you didn’t bring a hero to a rush, it could easily fail. But if you brought one and lost it, you were certainly doomed.
Why didn’t Starcraft 2 include some kind of anti-cheese measure?
The easiest response is “It wasn’t in Starcraft 1.” While that’s true, neither was this feature in Warcraft 1 or 2.
Another response might be “It decreases the skill required of the game.” That response is ridiculous. While cheesy builds like 5 pool/6 pool Zerg rushes can be defended, they almost certainly can’t be scouted, meaning beating them is a matter of rock/paper/scissors.*
The defensive countermeasures in Warcraft 3, if anything, forced even novice players to perfect their micro and weigh risk/benefit more carefully when committing to assaults. Contrast this to memorizing simple rush builds and A-Moving the pre-specified units into your foe’s main.
Is this a pro method of winning? No. But neither is playing Paper in every initial round of RPS.
Yet it loses only 1/3 of the time.
Read Part 2 of this article here.
*In this scenario, Rock is Teching, Paper is Rushing, and Scissors is staple army construction