With Starcraft 2 patch 1.3.3 live, the Protoss tech tree has taken another leap away from de facto Colossus tech and into exciting new realms where Zealot/Archon play pays off and Dark Templar can transition into something other than losing your whole fucking base.* 4 Gate also faces setbacks that make non 4 Gate openings more viable, which is even more refreshing to see in PvP at all levels of play.
As various data are showing a steady convergence of Starcraft 2 tournament results towards an almost completely balanced game,** it seems like everything east of Aiur is finally finding a place both in casual play and in top tier battles. From Forge first expands to Templar tech to robotic death and Phoenix harass, is there anything that isn’t winning games for our favorite psionic aliens?
Oh, right. Capital ships.
Let me ask you something really quickly: What Terran unit does nobody use?
The answer is Firebats, because they’re not in the fucking game. But, facetious responses aside, there is no correct answer, because (at least among higher level players and pros), every Terran unit serves some kind of purpose. Even Reapers, who saw their most popular build orders utterly decimated, have been making a comeback as a versatile harassment and scouting option.
Even in the Zerg camp, almost every murderous little critter available has found a role in the Swarm. Sure, Ultralisks are probably a bit underrepresented among Tier 3 technology, but they are still capable of copious amounts of carnage in the right place at the right time.
Up until recently, Protoss players could probably name Archons among the least represented units in their ranks, appearing only when High Templar suffered from premature evocation and were left milling around with zero energy and assurances from spouses that it happens to every sorceror. But with massive, mid-ranged Archons, enemies are suddenly faced with fewer trigger-happy HTs and more belligerent blue balls being shoved in their faces.
It’s no surprise Archons’ buffs are welcome, since it validates Templar tech at a time when it is sorely needed. Dark Templar were, prior to this update, as much of a gamble as ever, and High Templar were still consoling themselves over the loss of their magical jewelry. Enter the ability to merge these guys into an army of Forcefield flattening, Roach roasting, Marauder melting machines and the option of building a Twilight Council just got significantly more appealing.
But what about Carriers? And the Mothership?
The secret is out: nobody really uses Fleet Beacon technology. While Carriers and the Mothership have always been niche units rarely trotted out due to expense and how easily they die to dedicated anti-air forces, the removal of Void Rays’ Flux Vanes upgrade sealed these ships’ fates as Joke Tier technology. Yes, on paper a Carrier has great range, high damage, and a lot of HP, but in reality they take two fucking minutes to build, plus 32 more seconds for a full compliment of Interceptors. What will your opponent be doing two minutes from now? Good luck guessing, but most likely he or she will be roflstomping your buildings while your Carriers complete just in time to be shot down by Vikings, Corrupters, or Blink Stalkers.
The Mothership, which has admittedly seen a little more play than its full-figured fleetmates, remains a gimmicky, expensive gambit. Since you can only build one and they can’t be hallucinated, they’re basically warped in with giant “Kick Me” stickers pinned to their flight decks, and their laughably slow movement means any engagement that wasn’t planned with a maphack enabled will probably result in this maternal mammoth kicking the bucket three seconds into the engagement.
Of course, Colossi die just as quickly as these units to dedicated anti-air, so what’s the problem? Why don’t we see more Fleet Beacon play?
The Fleet Beacon itself costs more than other Tier 3 buildings: Unlike Templar and Robotics tech, the Fleet Beacon costs 300/200 up front. While it’s not an enormous financial investment compared to a Robotics Bay, it’s a gamble when moving forward with a tech path that doesn’t include detection, splash damage, or motherfuckin’ Archons.
Carriers and the Mothership don’t counter anything: What exactly are Carriers supposed to beat? Almost everything a Carrier would be good against, like Siege Tanks, buildings, and Ultralisks, a Void Ray could take on just as easily, if not better. In theory, Carriers should fare more favorably against Marines and Hydralisks, but these units can quickly extinguish Interceptor squadrons, forcing a retreat and an expensive rebuilding process. Even in cases in which Carriers do pack a bigger punch than Phoenix/Void Ray compositions, the resource costs (not to mention the time) associated with Carriers , a Fleet Beacon, and Interceptors can often dissuade the tech upgrade.
As for the Mothership, its singular presence means that even if it countered a unit with its neutrino laser beams, it can’t really be counted on to win an engagement with guns. While its spells are useful, the weight and investment of the Mothership can make the risk of gaming for the perfect position to cast them an unsavory endeavor.
You’re too slow: Aside from their laborious gaits (easily running at half impulse speed, if not slower), Carriers and the Mothership just take too damn long to build. At 160 seconds for a Mothership and 120 seconds (plus 32 to stock up) for a Carrier, the return is so far temporally removed from the investment that almost any enemy action in the interim is disastrous. By comparison, a Battlecruiser builds in just 90 seconds, and while a Carrier could be Chronoboosted out at a similar pace, Interceptors cannot.
They just aren’t cool: While this is almost certainly not the reason Fleet Beacon ships rarely make it into the theater of battle, these units don’t have the weight they used to. Carriers in Brood War were terrifying to behold, and the Mothership used to have cool spells that fucked shit up. Again, these aren’t the reasons you don’t see these capital units in the sky, but it sure doesn’t help.
What possible changes could bring Fleet Beacon tech into the spotlight?
Ultimately, making Carriers or the Mothership more powerful statistically is probably a bad idea. Carriers en masse can certainly do a lot of damage, and ramping up their damage, health, or speed will probably turn them into “I win” craft that would quickly dominate. Similarly, the Mothership has seen so many revisions in part because its previous incarnations were game-stopping and broken. Returning to a time when a Mothership meant your foe was about to face Independence Day scenarios doesn’t sound great either.
In my humble, unskilled opinion, the best solution to Fleet Beacon technology would be to simply lower the costs and risks associated with it. What if the Fleet Beacon itself cost 200/175? Or if Carriers and the Mothership took 100 seconds and 120 seconds to build, respectively?
The results would be uncertain, but isn’t that what custom maps and the PTR are for? Until changes are made to bring these behemoths back, I guess we won’t know. And I guess the Carrier will continue to remain the loneliest unit in Stacraft 2.
* Copyright 2010, Day.
** Of course, Heart of the Swarm will throw this right out the fucking window. And you will love every second of it, as long as you get your Lurkers.