In what should be the last of my Warcraft/Starcraft changelog rants, I’d like to talk about the biggest shocker I encountered upon learning Starcraft 2’s launch details. It wasn’t the in-game RPG talkathon, or the Lost Vikings homage. It wasn’t the inclusion of a Mothership or the exclusion of Lurkers.
It was the astounding fact that no 4th race was being added to the game.
I know this isn’t a universal sentiment, but let’s face it: many players of the original Starcraft expected the Xel’Naga or something like them to make a playable appearance in Starcraft 2 multiplayer. The entire storyline of Starcraft revolved around this mysterious progenitor race, with many hints dropped regarding what they were like, what their role in the lore was, and how badass it would be when they showed up.
10 years later and the homecoming cake is stale, the soda is flat, and the Xel’Naga still haven’t responded to our Evite. In the immortal words of Stephanie Tanner, “How rude!”*
But that’s not the only disappointment. Blizzard took a decade to push out Starcraft 2, but saw fit to leave the established trio of races species (come on, they’re not races) largely untouched in regards to gameplay mechanic differentiation. These issues beg the question: Is Blizzard afraid of ethnic diversity?
Adding a Fourth Race
Now, I’ll be the first to say a fourth race/species/whatever isn’t strictly necessary. After all, most competitive sports only feature one specie: humans. But considering the hype for the Xel’Naga and Blizzard’s success in incorporating four races into Warcraft 3, it’s simply startling they didn’t try.
“But WiNG, Starcraft was already balanced with 3 species!” you might say, if you wanted to be wrong. Sure, it was balanced, but so was Warcraft 2.** Yet Warcraft 3 doubled the number of factions involved. Doubled. And, dozens of patches later, it was pretty damn balanced.
What are the benefits of adding a fourth race? Simply put, diversity.
Four races mean many more matchups. Why watch another TvT on Lost Temple when you could watch an XvZ? Four races also mean much more racial differentiation. A fourth race could have a large number of permanently flying buildings. Or perhaps all of its units grow stronger or weaker over time.
A new race could feature the ability to clone enemies, or change their damage type for versatility. While I’m not arguing any of these off-the-cuff ideas are balanced, they are just a sampling of possibilities.
Which brings us to the second point…
Greater Racial Differentiation
Now we all know that races aren’t all the same. The Irish race is generally poor and bad at tanning, but makes up for this with magick. The South African race has access to powerful alien weaponry (I saw this in a documentary), but weaker buildings. The South Korean race has a very strong macro and micro game, but units die if they forget to eat and drink before entering battle. It’s all a tradeoff.
The original Starcraft had a decent amount of racial differentiation. Some examples:
- Terran buildings burn, but can be repaired; Zerg buildings heal, Protoss buildings have shields
- Terran Supply Depots do “nothing,” Zerg Overlords are useful units, Protoss require additional Pylons
- Terrans can build wherever they want, Zerg and Protoss get fucked
Obviously there are a few more differences beyond that, but you get the idea. All of these differentiators were brought into Starcraft 2, with the addition of a few more (Warp Gates, burrowing Supply Depots, better Creep spreading, etc). My only question is: Why didn’t they do more?
Look at Warcraft 3. Every race has different mechanisms for the most basic gameplay mechanic: harvesting resources. Night Elves could remote mine with Wisps. Humans could increase wood production. Undead had no gold travel time. Orcs made funny sounds. It was all very interesting.
Why, for instance, do Zerg Drones need to harvest vespene gas when their gas-extraction building is a living structure? Why not increase its cost, but make it auto-mine gas? Why can’t Protoss buildings research their own Hardened Shields? Why not make Terran units at under 10 HP bleed to death?
Again, these questions aren’t meant to be balanced suggestions, but merely starting points for greater gameplay diversity. Warcraft 3 featured much more diverse mechanics than does Starcraft 2; surely some of this creativity could have been put to use?
Starcraft 2 is definitely a great game, but it could have been more. Instead of perfecting Starcraft 1, it could have revolutionized the RTS genre. Yet on so many levels, it fails to incorporate important evolutionary steps taken by Warcraft 3 and many other RTS games that debuted after the original Starcraft.
At this point, it’s highly unlikely such drastic changes will be undertaken. At best, the upcoming expansions will offer 1-3 new units and 0-2 new buildings. As for everyone waiting for the next RTS revolution?
Start praying for Homeworld 3.***
*Top Tier Tactics does not endorse Full House in any capacity except in situations where its use may help government officials coerce information from illegal combattants.
**Yes, we all know Bloodlust was overpowered.
***Homeworld 1 & 2 were the greatest RTS games ever produced.