StarCraft II Unit Review: Protoss Void Ray

EDIT 8/16/2010: This post was written on 3/22/2010, during the Starcraft II beta. Since then, the numbers have slightly changed, but the overall strategy is unaffected.

If a single unit is sent into the base of an unprepared enemy, and that unit is a Void Ray, the game is over. (I’ve been on both sides of this.)

Void Ray

In other words, the Void Ray is, in certain situations, the most powerful unit in the game. This is mainly due to its Prismatic Beams, a passive ability causing the Void Ray to  increase its damage level every few seconds, with up to two damage jumps. For a quick stat lookup of the Void Ray, see the StarCraft II website, and for some more detailed info on the damage increasing, see this TeamLiquid thread. (Note: This info is now somewhat irrelevant.)

Okay, so how does one build a Void Ray? Well, it’s at the same tech position as the Scout in the original StarCraft, and is available immediately upon completion of a Stargate. Its cost (200/150 in beta, now 250/150) is overall similar that of an old Scout (275/125). But it is significantly stronger, especially in air-to-ground.

Because it deals damage faster the longer it attacks, the Void Ray is best used against large units—capital ships and buildings. Carefully controlled, however, the Void Ray can be powerful against smaller units as well, if it charges its attack to level three first on a larger unit. This means the Void Ray should be a very micro-intensive unit. You’ll have to constantly choose the right targets to attack.

For more detailed analysis, I shall split this by 1v1 matchup. (Also, any numerical values below are based on the beta as of 3/22/10. Specific statistics are likely to change in the future.)

Protoss versus Protoss

Interestingly enough, Void Rays are most potent in this skirmish, for two reasons. One, most Protoss units are huge anyway, so the Void Ray does not waste much firepower. And secondly, Protoss do not have great anti-air defense with just early ground units. In fact, one cheesy but potentially deadly strategy is to rush a Void Ray at the enemy Nexus. If your opponent is caught off-guard, you win. Sure, a couple of Stalkers will easily overpower a Void Ray, but if the enemy is massing Zealots and/or Photon Cannons, then the Void Ray works. Photon Cannons will beat Void Rays, but a Void Ray can simply go around the Cannons or, if the enemy is not careful with Pylon placement, it can destroy the Pylon powering the Cannons.

If you want to execute this rush, you’ll need some type of base defense early: a few Zealots and Photon Cannons (try to avoid Sentries as they consume a lot of gas that the Stargate/Void Ray will need), and maybe a couple Stalkers will do. If possible, place the Photon Cannons strategically as to damage an attacking ground force before it enters your base. Zealots should block the ramp (assuming there is a choke). This way, any attacking force of Zealots will be destroyed by ranged attacks, while a more mixed force should suffer a disadvantage due to the strength of Photon Cannons and possibly the high ground.

To do this Void Ray rush, it is necessary to scout the opponent and at the same time try to prevent his ability to scout you. Scouting is the key to this strategy. When the enemy Probe gets in your base early, send a Probe right away to chase it. When you have Zealots, block the choke. (Or defend it with Cannons.) For your own scouting, since gas is going to be the more important resource, it would not hurt to warp in a Pylon or Assimilator inside the enemy base, just so you know what’s going on for a longer amount of time. Building Assimilators in the enemy base is even stronger for the Void Ray rush: you at least delay your opponent’s ability to gather gas. And if you delay your opponent’s gas, you also delay his ability to build Stalkers or Stargates.

Okay, what if the enemy has Stalkers when your Void Ray arrives? Then your rush will appear to be a failure. If there’s just one Stalker, it might be possible to begin charging up on the Nexus, as the fully charged Void Ray should be able to take out a Stalker. But if he has multiple, your best bet is to pull back the Void Ray. At this point you have two options: play normally with a slightly higher tech but weaker economy, or continue on this air rush with the Mothership. What? How can the words “rush” and “Mothership” be in the same sentence? Well, perhaps it’s not a rush, but you’ll want to get a Mothership as soon as possible after the first Void Ray. A Fleet Beacon should come very quickly. You can use the Void Ray to scout the map. While the Mothership is building, construct another Stargate and another Void Ray. I had a game where my opponent, upon seeing my first Void Ray, tried to catch up to Void Rays as well, but it’s quite mathematically known that Mothership + Void Rays > Void Rays. With a strike force of a Mothership and two Void Rays, you should be able to demolish your enemy’s Nexus, shooting down things that get in the way.

Economically, you will probably have an excess of minerals while warping in the Mothership; that is a good time to expand. And make sure you fortify it with a few Photon Cannons. Warp Gates are very helpful for defense as well.

Okay, so that’s just for rushing with the Void Ray. If you want to use it “normally,” you’ll normally want a Mothership anyway. Besides, your Void Rays, not your Mothership, will be dealing the brunt of the damage once you reach an enemy. Normally, if you have a sizable group of Zealots, Stalkers, Void Rays, and Carriers under the cloak of a Mothership, you’ve got an unstoppable army. (3-4 Carriers is enough, for confusion. I would focus on Stalkers and Void Rays; Zealots can also be used sparingly.)

Protoss versus Terran

This is slightly more difficult; you’ll have to worry about an early-game Marine + Marauder attack. Or, even the Marine + SCV rush, which has recently surging success. To really survive against this, you’ll need a lot of Zealots and a lot of Cannons. Massing Cannons is extremely productive. Also, you’ll probably want to go with a Void Ray + Carrier + Mothership attack rather than just Void Rays. However, you’ll want to obtain an early Void Ray anyway to possibly harass your opponent’s economy and/or expansions. Just be careful: If your attack is too slow, your opponent’s Scanner Sweep can pick up on your aerial intentions. If possible, do a lot of teching. Upgrades, especially in weapons, will help. If map space allows, you can even consider moving your main air force out of your main base, just so a Scanner Sweep won’t get vital information.

Warp Rays, the old Void Rays. Picture by Blizzard.

A mixed aerial assault should work. Go for the enemy main base—you’ll want to take out as much economic and production infrastructure as possible. And don’t attack through the main entrance; hit the base from behind or from the side. Again, the Void Rays should be able to take out the Command Center, while the Carriers and Mothership deal with defenders. If you don’t like the idea of an air-only attack, bring in a Warp Prism and warp in ground units from Warp Gates. Stalkers will normally be most useful.

For example, in one game I had a Mothership, two Carriers, and two Void Rays—in total, a very small force. My opponent had a much larger ground army of Marines, Marauders, Hellions, Tanks, and Vikings. After he began an unstoppable attack on my expansion, I sent the air force into his main base. Even though my opponent managed to wipe out my expansion completely, he resigned because his main base was indefensible. I had a Warp Prism with me and warped in 7 Stalkers into the enemy base as well.

The one unit you really need to watch out for are Vikings. If your opponent masses Vikings (in large numbers these are extremely good against Protoss air), then you’ll need to respond with a lot of Phoenix. They really don’t do that much damage against Vikings, but you’ll like their capability to act as shields for the rest of your air force—a Viking needs 9 attacks to kill a Phoenix, and to kill a Void Ray, a Viking will need… 10 attacks. So a Phoenix will take nearly as much time to kill as a Void Ray. Phoenix are also fast, and can chase enemy Vikings that run.

If the enemy goes Battlecruisers, well, Void Rays counter those.

Definitely watch out for Ghosts. The Mothership is especially weak to EMP—it instantly loses half its total health. I’m not really sure how to counter this; just make sure weapons and armor are upgraded sufficiently. If you can spot the Ghost, a Phoenix’s Graviton Beam should disable it and allow other Phoenix to kill it.

Protoss versus Zerg

I have the least experience in this type of matchup, so please excuse my mostly theorycrafting here. Overall, Void Rays don’t work as well against Zerg, due to the defensive anti-air capabilities of the Zerg Queen. Plus, most Zerg units are small, and hence Protoss ground armies work better. For air superiority, especially against Mutalisk, you’ll want to build a fair number of Phoenix. If you have about 2/3 as many Phoenix as your opponent has Mutalisk, you’ll do well.

For the sake of numerical comparison: A Mutalisk needs 20 attacks to destroy a Phoenix, whereas a Phoenix needs only 6 to kill a Mutalisk. Phoenix cost more (150/100 versus 100/100) and take more time to build, so having fewer in numbers is fine. Besides, Phoenix are faster than Mutalisk. Having Void Rays can help nonetheless—they can be powerful raiders as well as Overlord hunters. Plus, they can lure the enemy to send a lot of Mutalisk, providing bait for your Phoenix.

Against Zerg ground-based anti-air, however, you would be at a loss. You’ll probably need a ground-based army as well. I haven’t really tested the strength of a Mothership + Carriers + Void Rays + Phoenix army against a Zerg defense force of Mutalisk + Corruptors + Hydralisk, but it seems that mass Hydralisk will nevertheless win.

Actually, just thought of this. If you do have air superiority, you can still win with a Phoenix + Void Ray combo—the Phoenix can use Graviton Beam on the Queen, allowing the Void Ray to destroy it and/or the Hatchery structure. So, looks like Void Ray structure demolishing is back on.

Edit: It turns out the Void Ray is just as effective against Zerg. My strategy is to fake an early Zealot push so that your opponent builds lots of Roaches, while using a proxy Stargate to pump out Void Rays. Make sure to keep the first Void Ray back and only attack once you have two Void Rays. This is to destroy the Queen. At this point, you’ve either won immediately, or will meet resistance in the form of Hydralisks.

If so, build a Fleet Beacon immediately (!) and get a Carrier and a Mothership. I would throw in an air attack upgrade as well, since you have the Cybernetics Core. Meanwhile, you’ll have built another 2-3 Void Rays, so your air army will consist of 4-5 Void Rays, a Carrier, and a Mothership. Keep everything in the Mothership’s cloaking field, and try to fight on the edge of a cliff, so that if your opponent sends Hydras, you can just pull back the Mothership and have the Carrier and Void Rays continue decimating the Hydras. Because the air force is very gas-heavy, you’ll probably have a lot of spare minerals, so build a Zealot army that can check expansions.

Micro the Mothership and Void Rays carefully enough, and you’ll eventually be wiping out entire armies without losing a single unit. The Carrier is there really for intimidation and confusion. The counter the Mothership is the Corruptor, so a small number of Phoenix should be built as soon as your opponent realizes you have a Mothership. Or you could go with extra Carriers.

StarCraft II Beta Overview, Cont’d

This is a continuation from my post StarCraft II Beta Overview.

In the last post, I mentioned among other things the apparent lack of improvement for the Terran and Zerg in comparison to the Protoss. Improvement, that is, in capability from the original StarCraft to StarCraft II.

Now I am going to change my opinion on that. After extensive play, I found Terran to feel just as innovative as the Protoss. Perhaps it was because I was trying only old units at first: Marines, Siege Tanks, Battlecruisers. These units are pretty much the same. On the other hand, old Protoss units like the Zealot and Dragoon, which is now the Stalker and Immortal, gained new abilities. Perhaps this is why the Terrans felt so unimproved. But as soon as I started using new units—Reapers and Vikings especially—the Terrans seemed to be a lot stronger.

The Reaper was especially impressive. In the last post I said that the Reaper’s cliff jumping did not add much power to the Terrans, but I found this statement to be totally wrong. That game, I was against Protoss. I set up a generic Marine plus Supply Depot defense, and then built 12 Reapers. I sent the Reapers on a raiding mission through a roundabout path, and the opponent’s army must have been on the offensive—it was missing from its base. I managed to destroy the Nexus just as the Zealots and a couple of Stalkers made it back to defend. At that point, the game was virtually over.

Overall, the Terran units seem to fill all the needed roles, and the units work together well. The only unit I have a problem with is the Banshee. It seems completely redundant. I built a few for testing purposes, but in an actual game I have not ever felt the urge to build one. Basically, the Banshee is an air-to-ground attack unit. But Terrans already have three ground units that can hit ground-only: Marauders, Hellions, and Siege Tanks. And each of these has a special effect: slowing, line splash, and area splash. The Banshee simply doesn’t help. True, it has the special ability to cloak, rendering it invisible. But Protoss Observers, Zerg Overseers, and Terran Scanner Sweeps all cause the Banshee to be useless—the Banshee can’t attack air units, so if you happen to have a group of cloaked Banshees, and see an Overseer (or suspect that there’s an Observer and use Scanner Sweep to reveal one), you can’t do anything about it. Then why not include air-to-air units like Vikings with the group? Well, then it would somewhat ruin the point of an invisible air force.

Other than the Banshee, however, the new Terran units seem amazing. The Reaper I have already mentioned. My next favorite is the Viking, an air-to-air flyer that can transform to a mechanized ground unit that can attack ground targets. That said, my main use of the Viking is for anti-air (as Terrans, without the Goliath, don’t really have any other good way to counter air). It is very effective against capital ships, or any large air unit. A few Vikings can punch serious damage into a small Carrier fleet. Vikings are fast, cheap, strong, and efficient. The ground form is pretty useful—it’s especially good for raiding.

Regarding other units, in gameplay I feel the Siege Tank is much stronger than it was in StarCraft. In the original, it dealt 70 damage per hit in Siege mode, but had a 50% damage reduction (down to 35) against small units like Marines and Zealots. Now it deals 60 damage, but with no damage reduction—a damage bonus of over 70% against small units. It also has slightly more range, 13 instead of 12.

The Marauder is a very interesting unit: it comes really early in the game, and is much tougher than a Marine, with 125 hitpoints and 1 armor as compared to 45 hitpoints and 0 armor. Plus, it does as much damage as a Dragoon did in the original StarCraft: 20 to armored (large), 10 otherwise, and has an additional slowing effect per hit. Marauders are also classified as Biological (as well as Armored), allowing Medivacs, which come later in the game, to heal them.

I would still say that the Hellion and Thor are not as amazing as the other new units, but are strong nonetheless. Ghosts and Ravens are the Terran spellcasters, and are both pretty powerful. The Raven’s Auto Turrets are especially good. And meanwhile, the Ghost has access to nuclear launches much, much earlier in the game.

Did I mention Ravens?

With that, I’d say the Terrans and Protoss (see last post) are both well made. But the Zerg still seem to offer the player fewer options. Roaches are extremely powerful, but are somewhat boring to use. They have Burrow, but how boring is that compared to Charge, or Blink, or cliff-jumping?! The Protoss, with Warp Gates, Warp Prisms, Charge, and Blink, became more mobile than before. Terrans, with Thors, Vikings, Reapers, gained raw power and mobility (though it’s also easier to turtle with upgradeable 6-slot Bunkers as compared to 4). Zerg seems to have gained little. True, my opinion on them might change the next few days, as it did for Terran the past few. Maybe I haven’t adapted to the feel of the new Zerg yet. Whatever the case, I can still say StarCraft II is looking incredible so far.

StarCraft II Beta Overview

After playing a few games of StarCraft 2 beta, I find it bears more overall resemblance not to the original StarCraft, but to WarCraft III. That is, the game feels more like “WarCraft III Sped Up” than “StarCraft with Better Graphics.” And this is by no means a bad thing—StarCraft 2 is much better right now than either StarCraft or WarCraft III.

Its ties to WC3 are numerous. First, it’s in 3-D. Even though most real-time strategy (RTS) games after SC are 3-D, there is still the obvious graphical resemblance that any WC3 player will notice. It is not enough to say, of course, that just being in 3-D makes games similar. There are plenty of 3-D RTS games that look like neither WC3 or SC2. But SC2 just appears familiar. The following pictures, for instance, are of similar-looking air units from three different games—the SC2 Mutalisk, the WC3 Gargoyle, and the Rise of Legends Glass Dragon:

(Note: None of the images in this post are mine.)

SC2 Mutalisk
WC3 Gargoyle
RoL Glass Dragon

Notice that the Mutalisk and the Gargoyle look very similar. The Glass Dragon is similar in shape, but different in about everything else, such as the head, the large body, the wing texture, and the wing spines.  Compare to the original 2-D Mutalisk:

SC Mutalisk

This demonstrates the earlier point: The SC2 Mutalisk looks far more like the WC3 Gargoyle than the original Mutalisk—the merit of three dimensions is enough.

Okay, enough with graphics. Blizzard games aren’t known because of their graphics—they are known because of their gameplay. And here, SC2 bears another resemblance to WC3.

A bunch of other factors aside, the key difference between SC and WC3 gameplay is that SC is more intensive on macro and WC3 is more intensive on micro. Macro is the control of numerous units, structures, upgrades, attacks, and resources in numerous places, while micro is the control of a small number of units but as efficiently as possible. In SC, most units cost 1, 2, or 3 supply, and the supply cap for each player is 200. In WC3, most units cost 2, 3, or 4 supply (heroes—5), and the cap is 100. In reality it’s lower than that, because an income tax for unit upkeep is incurred at 50 supply, and a still heavier one at 80. The point is that a player can easily have over 50 combat units at a time in SC, whereas an army of 9-18 units is normally enough in WC3. But in SC, most units rely on brute attacks, while almost each WC3 unit has at least one special ability (and heroes have multiple special abilities, not to mention items). That’s not to say that SC doesn’t have micro or that WC3 doesn’t have macro, but that is the general case.

And SC2 has seemed to shift towards more micro, and hence, towards WC3. Let’s just look at the Protoss beginning lineup:

  • Zealot: Original has no special abilities, other than a speed upgrade. In SC2, it has Charge, which, although autocasted, must be used intently, and requires more micro than a purely passive skill.
  • Dragoon: Original has no special abilities. It has split into two units: Stalkers and Immortals. The Stalker has Blink, a teleport which is extremely micro-intensive, and the Immortal has a hardened shield that at least requires a lot of attention.
  • Sentry: Not in original. Has several useful active abilities.

That is not to mention the overall gameplay shift towards micro. A base unit with rally point on a mineral or gas field will now tell the worker to actually mine (as in WC3), rather than just sit there, so it is not necessary for you to scroll back to base and tell worker units to mine. You can also issue multiple commands in sequence (as in WC3), so you could tell a Probe to warp in two Pylons and then return to gather minerals; this would take a few hotkeys, a few clicks, and before the first Pylon even starts, you can set your focus to other units. You can also select multiple buildings (as in WC3), so it isn’t necessary to hotkey different production buildings.

The repetition of the phrase “as in WC3” in the preceding paragraph is not accidental. It is actually a point I’ve wanted to make for some time now. I remember when SC2 was first announced, and people were asking Blizzard, “Is feature X going to be implemented,” I knew that if it was a feature that was added from SC to WC3, it was going to be in SC2 as well. (I’m talking about gameplay mechanics features, not features like heroes or moon wells.) I was especially appalled by SC forum goers complaining about smart-cast and auto-cast, when they had no idea what those were, and were even using them synonymously. (A WC3 player with any knowledge of gameplay mechanics would be immediately dazed upon reading such posts.)

Perhaps I’m ranting here, but I want to correct the notion shared by many SC players that SC is still the definitive game in the RTS genre. Sorry, its multiplayer balance is bloody good, but just about everything else is outdated. Just look at the things I talked about in the last two paragraphs—SC needs a revamp. And SC2 does a mighty fine job of that.

Even on my first play, the SC2 gameplay experience was perfect. Blizzard masterfully combined SC and WC3, and made it into a far better game. All the outdated user interface stuff from SC was removed, as were all the cumbersome gameplay complexities in WC3. Basically, they took the best of both worlds (or universes, as the case may be) and brought them together into the next definitive RTS. Plus, they have two expansions in store—two more opportunities for perfection.

I do have one concern, and it has to do with balance between the races: not in terms of power, but in terms of capability. If we just look at new gameplay features, the Protoss seem to out-specialize the Terrans and the Zerg.

Picture Credits: Blizzard

Most Protoss units have some sort of innovative ability that did not exist before, and as a WC3 player, I was especially pleased in that, for the most part, there were no copied WC3 abilities. The most impressive ability actually was not of a combat unit, but of a building: the Warp Gate. The ability to warp units directly to the battlefield is an ingenious idea—major props to whoever thought of that. Besides that, I thought the Immortal’s shields were extremely unique, and the Colossus’ cliff-walking, laser sweeping attack, and susceptibility to anti-air attacks made it a very special unit. The Void Ray’s accelerating damage via prism focusing was also extraordinary. The Mothership looked amazing and gave the Protoss a very personal feel.

Terran and Zerg, however, felt like the same races in the original SC, the Terrans more so. What special gameplay capabilities did they gain? Almost nothing. And I’m not talking about things like the Reactor Core—all this does is increase the rate of production, or modify a stat rather than add something new. Protoss gained a lot of new moves. Terran seemed for the most part the same. The Command Center’s upgrading is quite cool. Vikings, the transformers, were pretty cool, but didn’t make much sense. If they could attack the air from the air, why couldn’t they attack air from ground (or ground from air)? Banshees seem about as useful as Valkyries, considering that Terrans have so many anti-ground attacks already. I’m fine with the removal of the Goliath, but not with the removal of effective ground-based anti-air. Now Terrans will have to use Vikings and Battlecruisers to defend the skies. If anything, it seems that the Terrans lost their personality after the removal of the super-fast Vulture and its Spider Mines. In the original, if you had to point out one thing the Terrans had that the other races could not easily counter, it would be the Vulture. And again, it’s fine if a unit is removed, but something awesome better replace it. And the Hellion is currently lacking in awesomeness. Other new things, like Reaper cliff-jumping and Supply Depot submerging, don’t really add that much power to the Terrans. I think the Raven is probably the best thing the Terrans gained.

What solution to the Terrans would I propose? Simple. Make the current units more awesome. Buffing their stats isn’t a good idea—adding cool abilities is much better. And definitely include a good ground-to-air unit.

So, what about Zerg? They gained enough new abilities to be interesting, but not as much as the Protoss. The new role of the Queen is very appealing, as are the concepts of the Baneling, Roach, Corruptor, and Nydus Worm. These are the units that evoked a feeling of awe upon first sight. Not as awesome as the Protoss new capabilities, but enough to make it significantly improved from the Zerg in the original SC.

I’m really looking forward to the map editor. There is a major point I must make here: The SC2 map editor will be able to do anything. Really? Yes. Again I was appalled when SC players and map makers posted numerous questions asking whether the SC2 editor will have certain features; Blizzard just said yes, yes, yes. In one of their FAQs, they had the question along the lines of, “Will the editor be able to—,” with the answer, “Yes.” The reason the questions were appalling was because nearly every single feature requested was already in the WC3 map editor, released five years prior to the announcement of SC2. Most SC map makers who haven’t touched a better editor will think the SC editor is extremely powerful (and it is), but the WC3 editor makes the SC editor look like an abandoned baby. The WC3 editor can already do anything. True, it’s clumsy in some areas, but its functionality is unsurpassed in the field. And SC2 is just going to be a better version of the WC3 editor—it will do anything, and even more.

Doubters of the game need not worry; StarCraft II will work. Blizzard has again created a masterpiece.

Edit: After further beta testing, I wrote an addendum to this post, mostly about Terran.

Edit 2: As of beta patch 9, the map editor is out! Here’s my blurb on the StarCraft II Map Editor.