Okay. I have no idea if this is actually going to work.
I haven’t played StarCraft 2 in weeks, mostly because I’ve been taking it too seriously. It’ s one thing to want to improve one’s performance and quite another when it overshadows having fun in a game or making time for other distractions. I simply don’t have enough free time to devote to both improving StarCraft 2 and being a writer.
What I would like to do, then, is compile The Art of Thor into one place and make it available for public consumption. Maybe a downloadable PDF, maybe a cheap e-book, something.
I’m nowhere near an expert on the game, nor will I ever claim to be. But I’d like to think that the advice I’ve given has been helpful to some, if not entertaining. I could be wrong, of course.
What do you think? Can The Art of Thor work as a standalone guide to the StarCraft 2 newbie, or is it best left in the past?
He who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven.
StarCraft 2 encourages aggressive play. It’s why we see so many infantry rushes. But your foot soldiers are not the only weapons at your disposal if you want to bring the battle to a swift end. Not every player will agree, but the mid to upper echelons of the tech tree hold some very powerful tools – air units.
Air power quickly came to dominate the battlefield in the 20th century, and the battlefields of StarCraft 2 are not terribly different. Producing units that fly not only provides vital and rapid intelligence but often opens up options that might not normally be available with earlier technologies and forces. While every race has the means to carry out drop play, that is a subject for another post, as there are some general aspects of that tactic that apply to all races. In this article I wanted to discuss specific units from each race that can cause a major swing in momentum.
Zerg – The Mutalisk
One of the first mutations available to a Zerg player that spawns a Spire is that of the dreaded Mutalisk. It’s a versatile and relatively inexpensive flyer with good range, splash damage and the capability to target both air and ground units. As in the first StarCraft, even a small flight of Mutalisks can form the spine of a fearsome airborne Zerg swarm.
When accompianied by Zerglings or Banelings they are particularly resilient to return fire from the ground. They’re effective at harrassment and assaults on the enemy mineral line. Also worth considering is the fact that every moment your opponent spends chasing your Mutalisks or building anti-air defenses is one less moment they’re spending building units to attack you directly or counter a mixed ground assault. These are all uses for Mutalisk to consider as your Spire emerges from the creep.
Protoss – The Void Ray
Like all Protoss units the Void Ray is a lovely construct of sweeping curves and glimmering crystals. It is not, however, terribly fast and is somewhat fragile when it comes under focused enemy fire. This is balanced with its cost, its range of vision and the fact that the longer its beam is active, the more effective it becomes. At their apex they burn through buildings with frightening speed. Like the juggernaut, a well-managed flotilla of Void Rays may take a few moments to gather momentum, but once they do they are very hard to stop.
It is important, then, to ensure the Void Rays get where they’re going unmolested. Scouting routes, distracting the enemy’s units and feinting at their base entrance all increase the longevity of your flying glass cannons. Ideally, your opponent should not know that a dozen Void Rays are reducing their buildings to slag until the moment they turn their beams on the base. I’ve heard of some players who turn their Void Rays on each other just before making their assault. They switch targets at the right moment, of course, before destroying their own units, but this is something of an advanced technique. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about it – I play Terran.
Terran – The Banshee
Bashees, unlike Mutalisks and Void Rays, cannot attack air units. Like Void Rays, they’re somewhat fragile. Like Mutalisks, they’re relatively inexpensive. However, what sets them apart from the other racial air units we’ve discussed is a seperate technology that must be researched: the Cloaking Device.
Invisible to all but detectors, Banshees with active cloaks are every bit as effective at harassment and mineral line assault as Mutalisks. They also shine in support of an infantry or tank advance, where they can surgically remove problematic units while the ground units soak up damage and push forward. As with Mutalisks, they can cause an opponent to scramble in building detectors or air defenses, allowing you to rapidly respond with a follow-up attack or a quick change in tactics.
Of course, all three races are vulnerable to early attack if they go for air tech early in the game. Base defense and proper build execution are crucial. However, if you can hold off initial rushes and keep your economy flowing, the power and versatility of these relatively basic air units may surprise you.
Ghosts are the sort of units made for this type of attack. Art by Shiramune
Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.
The very genre of StarCraft 2 lends it and the study of its nuances to tactical reasoning. It’s called a real-time strategy game for a reason. If no actual strategy was involved, it’d be a real-time blowing-crap-up simulator. And while lots of stuff blows up but good in your average StarCraft 2 match, most of those explosions are due to at least one of the players involved implementing some form of strategy.
Therefore, when you’re preparing to attack the enemy, your actual aim becomes to undermine their strategy with yours. There are multiple ways to do this, and I’m going to discuss three in particular, all of which could be subjects in and of themselves in terms of proper execution. And when I figure out exactly how to pull these off well, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Being caught out of position has been the downfall of many a military operation. With a little intelligence and preparation, you can predict the route the enemy is going to take and prepare a force to deal with them in transit. You may try to flank them from one or both sides, wait until they pass to rake their formation or harass them at multiple points. But the biggest damage you’re doing is actually psychological.
Provided you were careful with the disposition and placement of your forces, your opponent will not have seen the ambush coming. They thought they had a clean route right to your front door. They might have already been thinking ahead to the order in which they were going to burn your base’s buildings down. And then lo and behold, their forces are under attack. It’s a plan that can deprive a key push of momentum, buy you time to build up your own forces or simply a way to keep your opponent off-balance.
Similar to ambushes, a feint sets up your opponent’s expectations and then knocks them down with authority. An example would be using close-range or melee units to harass the defenses or resources of the enemy, pulling them back when their counterattack begins and bringing the enemy into range of the more powerful artillery you had lurking just out of range, hidden by the fog of war. If your force survives you can continue pushing into the enemy position, and even if it doesn’t your opponent must now rethink their units and deployment to compensate for this new information.
Beyond the mere exchange of fire, however, a canny player can work a feint from a different perspective. For example, a Terran player is likely to begin building Marines. If the Terrans’ opponents are the Protoss, and a few waves of Marines or Marauders break on the Protoss defenses but do a little more damage with each push, the Protoss player may opt to build Colossi to compensate. However, the Terran player has actually developed his air power and when the ‘death ball’ approaches, the Protoss player faces a squadron of cloaked Banshees that use the Marines & Marauders as backup units.
This is just one example, and I’m certain you can think of others.
Ultimately, all of the strategy, tactics and unit composition of any plan hinges on one thing: having enough resources to pull it off. From the start of the match any player worth their salt is sending workers to collect minerals, harvest gas and expand the means of production. They are dilligent, tireless and essential to building bigger, more impressive units.
They’re also quite vulnerable to attack.
A potent strike on the mineral line of an opponent can slow or cripple their efforts. In some cases your opponent will quit entirely (especially if they believe they’ve been cheesed). Early harassment, steathed units or a focused push can absolutely gut their economy. Not only do you deprive them of the resources those gatherers were collecting, they must also expend time and resources to build more. You can use this opportunity to surge ahead in general army count or push higher into your tech tree.