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StarCraft 2 Patch 1.1.3 has been deployed, introducing new Battle.net game filters and a minor Thor AI adjustment:

General

New game categories have been added to filter Tower Defense and Tug of War custom maps.

Tower Defense Filter - Empty at the Time of Testing

Balance
Thor
This unit will now prioritize attacking ground combat units over Medivacs.
Bug Fixes

Fixed a desync that could occur when trying to watch replays that had a dependency on bank files.

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Surprise, it’s a patch! The newest update to StarCraft 2 is here and it brings with it some of the changes previously announced and a few more surprising ones. While it was scheduled to hit later this year as a part of an “eSports patch”, Blizzard apparently felt it was urgent enough for the game right now, releasing it as a pure balance patch. Here’s the complete list of changes:

General

  • Players will no longer receive achievement toasts while their status is set to “Busy.”
  • The messaging when attempting to load a saved game or replay from a previous version has been clarified
  • Adjusted the amount of points earned and lost by random team participants to properly reflect the strength of a player’s teammates.

PROTOSS

Buildings


Nexus life and shields increased from 750/750 to 1000/1000.

Void Ray

  • Damage level 1 increased from 5 to 6 (+4 armored).
  • Damage level 2 decreased from 10 (+15 armored) to 8 (+8 armored).
  • Flux Vanes speed upgrade bonus decreased from 1.125 to 0.703.

The Protoss Nexus’ hitpoint increase is quite likely a means to nerf the dreaded Marauder drop indirectly. Marauders, with their incredible anti-armor bonus damage and Stim ability, make for awesome commando teams: load up a Medivac or two with Marauders, drop them behind the mineral line, Stim up and watch the Nexus go down in blue flames in a few seconds. This mission will now take Terran players 33% more seconds to accomplish.

The Void Ray change is an interesting one. It continues the trend of Void Ray nerfs throughout the beta, further making the charged-up Void less and less of a flying doomsday weapon of laser death – and almost completely nullifying its use in fast “cheese” strategies. On the other hand, it makes the non-charged Void Ray less ineffective, perhaps transforming this unique unit into a more casual weapon. Interestingly enough, against armored targets and without being charged-up, the Void Ray will only begin being less effective than its pre-patch state after 12.6 seconds. Of course, up to this point, Void Rays were rarely sent into battle in their non-charged state, as players would first charge them up on remote buildings, destructible debris, or even their own units.

It will be interesting to see whether the Void Ray finds its niche on the Battlefield, now that its high price doesn’t mean terrible damage but the unit remains so fragile.

TERRAN

Buildings


Barracks requirement changed from Command Center to Supply Depot.
Supply Depot life increased from 350 to 400.

Medivac


Acceleration reduced from 2.315 to 2.25.
Speed reduced from 2.75 to 2.5.

Reaper


Nitro Packs speed upgrade now has a Factory Requirement.

Thor


Energy bar removed.
250mm Strike Cannons is now cooldown-based on a 50-second cooldown. Ability starts with cooldown available (useable immediately after upgrade is researched)

The Medivac, a staple of Terran play and a part of the dreaded M&M&M ball, is getting a small reduction in speed. This change is likely meant to keep the Terran slightly less mobile, as other races often have to utilize their mobility to hit the Terran when their forces aren’t around; it’s hard to go toe-to-toe with the Bioball.

The following video includes a great example of a dying, desperate and broken Terran fighting back with his last immortal Bioball against an almost maxed-out Zerg enemy. And winning.

As previously revealed, the Reaper is getting two nerfs in the form of a delayed Barracks and an even more delayed speed upgrade. Here’s what we wrote about the issue when it was first discussed:

Despite being completely ignored by players in the mid and late game, the Reaper is slated to be hit with more early-game nerfs. While on paper, Reapers have the potential to be great economy harassers and tech-deniers, their extreme fragility makes even the puniest defensive measure a prohibitive obstacle – and these can be found anywhere beyond the first few minutes of a game. It’s unclear what Blizzard has in store for the Reaper, but for now, it will definitely see a lot less play.

ZERG

Buildings

  • Hatchery life increased from 1250 to 1500.
  • Lair life increased from 1800 to 2000.
  • Spawning Pool life increased from 750 to 1000.
  • Spire life increased from 600 to 850.
  • Ultralisk Cavern life increased from 600 to 850.

Corruptor

Energy bar removed.
Corruption is now cooldown-based on a 45-second cooldown. Ability starts with cooldown expired (must wait for full 45-second cycle before usable).

Infestor

Fungal Growth now prevents Blink.

Roach

Range increased from 3 to 4.

As promised, the Zerg are getting the better end of the deal with this new patch. Their buildings will now be more resilient, the fragile tech buildings less deniable by other races.

Fungal Growth will now prevent Stalkers from Blinking, as well as Siege Tanks from Sieging, Vikings from transforming, and units from Burrowing. The added Roach range adds a new dimension of play to these units, which can now compete with other ranged units much more efficiently, be used in masses without loss of firepower in the back lines, and break down chokes with added ease. After all the Roach nerfs throughout development, these hardened Zerg bugs are finally catching a break.

Bug Fixes

  • Fixed an issue where players could not cast the Feedback spell on Point Defense Drones.
  • Fixed an issue where the Phoenix would continue to channel Graviton Beam after the target died.
  • Fixed an issue that would cause Larvae to spawn and be hidden behind Zerg eggs.
  • Fixed an issue where players were unable to navigate to the Single Player page or watch replays after canceling map downloads from the queue.
  • Fixed a desync that could occur on user-created maps with custom mod dependencies.

Another interesting change today is to the Corruptor and Thor, both having their mana pool stripped and their abilities put on cooldown instead. Since both units have only one ability, which – especially for the Thor – are not easily cast, it makes sense to remove their mana pool altogether. This change mainly affects the Protoss High Templar, since its Feedback ability can no longer one-shot Corruptors or halve the lives of Thors who don’t even have their ability researched.

Overall, it appears that this patch furthers Blizzard’s agenda to make the game more “carebear-friendly”, removing more early game “cheese” strategies and making sure low-level players aren’t abused by them – even if they were never much of a problem in high-level and professional play.

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Dustin Browder, Lead Designer of StarCraft 2, has posted a lengthy and interesting article detailing StarCraft 2’s race usage and win percentages as well as gameplay balancing plans for the next patch.

For the Zerg race, the present looks grim (but the future seems bright!) – Blizzard’s numbers show that less than a quarter of all players play as Zerg.

Protoss are played 38.5% of the time.
Terran are played 38.0% of the time.
Zerg are played 23.5% of the time.

These cross-league statistics leave no doubt as to which race drew the shortest popularity stick. Indeed, the Zerg have become increasingly harder to play as the meta-game settled in with both Terran and Protoss openings being “simpler” than the Zerg’s fragile early game.

Reapers - Keeping the Zerg annoyed and contained early on

In reality, however, players that willingly pick Zerg are not the underdogs comapred to their Terran and Protoss opponents. The Diamond numbers are actually quite reassuring, displaying a fairly balanced 3-way relationship, while Platinum is currently favoring Zerg in terms of win percentage.

Win % in Diamond (accounting for player skill)

49.6% win rate for Protoss when fighting Terran.
52.8% win rate for Protoss when fighting Zerg.
49.6% win rate for Terran when fighting Zerg.

Win % in Platinum (accounting for player skill)

56.3% win rate for Protoss when fighting Terran.
47.3% win rate for Protoss when fighting Zerg.
44.5% win for Terran when fighting Zerg.

Win % in Gold (accounting for player skill)

61.0% win rate for Protoss when fighting Terran.
61.1% win rate for Protoss when fighting Zerg.
49.5% win rate for Terran when fighting Zerg.

Win % in Silver (accounting for player skill)

63.6% win rate for Protoss when fighting Terran.
50.7% win rate for Protoss when fighting Zerg.
51.6% win rate for Terran when fighting Zerg.

Win % in Bronze (accounting for player skill)

59.0% win rate for Protoss when fighting Terran.
55.1% win rate for Protoss when fighting Zerg.
45.4% win rate for Terran when fighting Zerg.

Interestingly, while the Zerg are not as popular – likely due to being slightly less comfortable to play with, as Chris Sigaty himself had said recently – it is the Protoss vs Terran match-up that appears to be in need of balancing, especially across the lower leagues. We’ve highlighted those numbers in green. Curiously, Diamond-level Terrans enjoy a slight advantage over the Protoss – probably because of much better use of EMP, abundant M&M drops, and efficient Reaper micro at these higher levels.

Dustin also took the time to preview some of the balance changes planned to be included in the next patch:

•    We’re increasing roach range. This will allow roaches to be more effective in large groups, giving the zerg more options in the mid to end game.

The Roach has received many nerfs throughout its life in StarCraft 2, and this change will definitely help settle the score in its favor. By giving extra range to the Roach, large groups of these units become much more viable. Not only can more of them shoot over their brethren on the field, but they’ll also offer nice support when Ultralisks join the battle and clog-up the front lines with their massive size. Busting up walled ramp-chokes will surely become an easier task as well with more Roaches firing.

•    Fungal Growth will now prevent Blink, which will give zerg a way to stop endlessly Blinking stalkers which can be very challenging to deal with in large numbers.

•    The Barracks are going to require a Supply Depot, which will impact a lot of early terran reaper pushes.

•    The reaper speed upgrade will require the Factory, which is meant to weaken a lot of the early terran reaper attacks that dominate so many matches, especially in team games.

Despite being completely ignored by players in the mid and late game, the Reaper is slated to be hit with more early-game nerfs. While on paper, Reapers have the potential to be great economy harassers and tech-deniers, their extreme fragility makes even the puniest defensive measure a prohibitive obstacle – and these can be found anywhere beyond the first few minutes of a game. It’s unclear what Blizzard has in store for the Reaper, but for now, it will definitely see a lot less play.

•    We’re making a number of increases to the health of zerg buildings, which will make the very vulnerable zerg technology structures more resistant to raids.  We don’t expect these hit point changes to have a super significant impact on the game, but the current numbers felt way too low.

All in all, this patch will definitely make the Zerg’s life easier. However, since it doesn’t address any of the complications in Zerg play that we mentioned in our post on the subject, it’s not clear that it will actually increase the amount of Zerg players. That will remain to be seen.

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Despite the release of the first major balance patch for StarCraft 2 last week – or perhaps because of it – many discussions about StarCraft 2’s state of balance have been taking place, possibly even more than during the beta, when things were constantly changing and before people have had the chance to experiment with the game thoroughly.

Is StarCraft 2 balanced? While only little time has passed since the game’s release, many already argue that the game is not as balanced as StarCraft 1, especially when it comes to the Zerg race. The Zerg have indeed been on the receiving end of quite a few nerfs during the beta. Particularly of note is the Roach, originally geared to be a fast, cheap, regenerating tank unit – which, during the beta, has had its armor rating reduced from 2 to 1, its supply cost increased from 1 to 2, its burrowed move speed reduced by 30%, and its regeneration changed and nerfed again and again to the point where it now regenerates more slowly and only while burrowed – a research that is only available at Tier 2, unlike in the original game, where Burrow is Tier 1.

Indeed, many players complain about the Zerg’s lack of viable options in the early-mid game: the limited ability to tech and macro at the same time (making a Queen prevents the Hatchery from being upgraded to a Lair); the extreme need to be reactive against Protoss and Terran early game attacks, which are themselves more diverse than what the Zerg can field during that period of the game; the much more demanding macro mechanic, requiring constant attention that one is severely punished for lacking; the lack of mobility before creep tumors can spread, and the competition between those and energy reserved for injecting Larva. All of these issues and more are even making some pro-gamers rant about the state of the game, a few going as far as as “threatening” to switch to a different race and to stop playing Zerg altogether.

IdrA, one of the most famous American Zerg players, has published his thoughts on the recent patch here.

The balance problems in early game ZvT come down to the fact that terran is simply stronger and much more diverse early on, zerg has to rely on hard counters to have any chance to survive, but cant scout in time to implement them.

Interestingly, in a recent interview, Chris Sigaty, StarCraft 2’s lead producer, said that he himself finds Zerg difficult to play and that he tends to avoid the experience:

I avoid playing Zerg as much as possible because I find them to be just more complex in general. Zerg, or rather larvae management is harder for me to deal with, so I don’t enjoy playing them as much.

On the topic of 1v1 balance problems, Chris does not seem convinced that any exist:

You can go up and read on the forums at any one time and there are a bunch of different theories about balance and imbalance. We’re being very cautious about making large swinging changes right now because at the highest level things are actually very strong. The things that we’ll probably be addressing are the 2v2 and larger scale games. Ultimately, the 1 to 1 is what we want to keep as sacred as possible, but as a result right now there are some things that we need to address in the 2v2 at the higher level. We’ll be looking at ways to do that without affecting the 1v1 balance.

Discussing the next patch, Chris slates it to be released by the end of this year, calling it “the e-sports patch”. Finally, and after months of being in demand, chat channels will be introduced:

largely our e-sport patch. A couple of big things that will be in there are support for the season rolling, so players can look at the history of how they did in past seasons. There will be bugfixes, balance changes and tweaks, too. Chat is the other major thing we want to get in there next patch. We’ll also add more significant features to the editor.”

Lastly, Chris makes a comment regarding balance and the time it took to achieve it in StarCraft 1:

[Balance] is an ongoing process that, honestly, will take a year of longer to do. Even after Brood War was released we still patched and continued to drive towards a really solid final balance.

Will patches be enough to balance the game, or will an expansion, introducing new units, be necessary for that purpose? Is the game balanced right now? Is the Zerg race “broken”? If you have an opinion on the subject, now’s the time to voice it! We are putting up a new poll on the sidebar to the right to investigate what you think about this important issue.

***

Chris Sigaty also took the time to talk to PCGamer about the upcoming BlizzCon 2010 event and, most importantly, Blizzard’s decision to not show any aspect of StarCraft 2: Heart of  The Swarm at the convention.

We’re still working on the details [of the expansion],” explains Chris, “and the last thing I want to do is to talk about theoretical things instead of talking about what’s real.

However, Blizzard will hold a story panel with a Q&A with the fans, tying some loose ends from Wings of Liberty. Some Heart of The Swarm bits of information can be expected despite the promises to the contrary.

http://www.sc2blog.com/2010/07/08/starcraft-2-beta-phase-2-begins-brings-patch-16/
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