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November 15, 2017

Re: Starcraft 2 Patch 4.0

Patch 4.0

Yesterday on November 14, Patch 4.0 went live for Starcraft 2. The ladder is now free-to-play and big design changes were done to the competitive multiplayer. All co-op commanders are now available up to level 5 for free. Han and Horner were released as a new co-op commander (preview) together with the new map Part and Parcel (preview). All patch notes can be found on the official site. Overall it's a great step forward for all Starcraft 2. There were problems with game crashes, but I'm sure those will be quickly resolved. In this post I'll go through and comment on some bigger changes related to co-op. I hope I won't sound too critical as I'm mainly focusing on problems. There are a lot of other great changes in this patch.

New co-op commander: Han and Horner 
I can't properly critique this commander yet, as it will take time for H&H to show their true colors. My speculations that I made after Blizzcon are still rather accurate. Right now the options for unit compositions seem rather limited (reasons are listed in the speculation post). H&H also slightly suffer from the lack of static defense. However, high mastery levels might alleviate these issues, and especially the mastery focused on the Magnetic Mines seems to be very useful. The Salvage mechanic isn't particularly strong, and the intended synergy with Mira's on-death effects is rather weak. The fact, that the effect on the ally is only half as strong, is very disappointing considering how weak it already is. This also goes against increasing the variety of co-op gameplay. Top bar abilities are decent. The Precision Strikes are rather situational and very supply expensive. Fortunately Sovereign Battlecruiser, while expensive, are very supply efficient - providing around double DPS/supply of Carriers and Raynor's BCs. That offsets rather supply inefficient H&H army. Space Station Reallocation and Call in the Fleet are decent, but overlap somewhat.

Overall, the commander is interesting and fresh. It doesn't seem overpowered, which I'm glad for. The true power will show later with full masteries and in the hands of skilled and experienced players.

New co-op map: Part and Parcel 
This new map was recreated after the image of winning RTC map made by Buswolley. There are few issues players will encounter when playing the map:

  • The constant need to manually target each structure containing desired parts is an unnecessary chore that adds nothing to the game. Plus sometimes it can be hard to tell apart a structure hiding parts from map doodads. Furthermore, players need to collect the parts after the structure is destroyed. That is not fun in any way. Player units should at least attack those structures automatically with low priority over enemy units. 
  • The next thing is the music playing while Balius is on the move. Changing currently playing music is fine, but forcing music on players that have disabled in-game music and are listening to their own songs is definitely not good. Players either have to mute the game or their own music. The music should be either played in the music channel - this way it would only affects players that are listening to in-game music, or it should be completely replaced by other sound effects.
  • Hybrid fights are messy. It might get better when players get more familiar with the map, but the clarity of battles, which has been a focus of Starcraft design for so long, is gone. Hybrids are constantly teleporting, splitting and there are too many effects that players are left wondering what is going on.
I'm surprised we are dealing with such issues in the 14th co-op map. Moving on, the Bonus Objective is again very early into the game. But in this case, I don't think it's a mistake. Blizzard is likely aiming for Bonus Objectives to be more difficult and thus compensating for the lack additional difficulty after Brutal.

Fenix has been struggling for a long time and now several big changes were made to him. I think the changes are good, but not quite there yet. Changes to TDW and bonuses it gives were needed and they are going in the right direction. Avenging Protocol still seems to be only useful for Kaldalis and Talis, but at least it's better. I like the Conservator change a lot. Anti-air capability wasn't particularly improved. Overall, these changes will not make ground builds for Fenix completely viable, but it's a step forward.

Interceptors now cost 15 minerals. I don't think it's a step in the right direction. Carrier builds were never overpowered in co-op. They were only dominant for Fenix, because all his other options were underperforming. There is no need to nerf carriers and this change made carrier builds even less interesting. Furthermore, it makes adding carriers into mixed compositions less attractive. That is the same issue as we had with the last carrier nerf, which was eventually reverted and for a good reason.

Tactical Jump         
In their effort to standardize Tactical Jump across all commanders it's changed to require vision. Firstly, Hyperion doesn't require vision, and so players will be still be uncertain whether they can or cannot jump without vision. Secondly, it would be completely fine if Tactical Jump didn't require vision for any units, as Horner's fleet alone isn't very strong and neither are Raynor's BCs. Thirdly, this is a huge nerf to Swann who often relied on Hercules for mobility, and lacks the ability to scan. Dealing with Void Rifts will be very hard for Swann now. 

Stukov mech
The range of Infested Siege Tanks in siege mode is increased from 13 to 18. The range of Infested Diamondback's Fungal Snare is increased from 5 to 8 and Caustic Mucus deals 4x more damage. Those are not bad changes, but I don't see the goals they were trying to achieve. Infested Siege Tank were already Stukov's best mech unit. The change to Fungal Snare is a good one, but Diamondbacks need a way to deal with heroic air units (Nemesis Hybrids, Loki, Leviathan, etc.). These are not bad changes, but they are not solving the problems that Stukov mech has.

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