At the end of Brood War, Kerrigan was proud of the battle that raged throughout the Koprulu Sector, much of it had been spawned by her web of deception and manipulation. The shattered Protoss heritage, the frail Terran empire borne from unbridled corruption, everything in the Brood War had been masterfully woven. With the Overmind dead twice-over, Kerrigan assumed sole sentient control of the swarm, it was hers now. Yet with the entire sector finally ripe for the taking, she vanished.
Four years have passed and once again, battles rage across the sector; the Zerg have evolved in some definitive ways while maintaining a sentimental connection to their predecessors. Now, even the mighty Ultralisk can burrow its massive frame beneath the surface in ambush, completing the Zerg mastery of the subterranean. Some strands of Zerg genealogy have faded with the constant demands of evolution, while others have been strengthened; more species have been assimilated into the swarm, acquiring the many lethal traits that the Zerg have inherited. The Swarm has risen again.
This editorial is an in-depth consideration of our multiplayer Zerg gameplay experience so far. We'll look into what has changed and provide opinions regarding the new-found uses in the structure of this fearsome swarm. There has been a lot of discussion revolving around this race in the community: a lack of variety in the units, the strength of Hydralisks, the potency of Roaches... This editorial will examine some of these discussions and provide our take on the Zerg as they stand now in the StarCraft II Beta.
Examining the Traits of the Individual Zerg Strains
The host of various units, and the vital roles they've been bred specifically for, allow the Zerg to retaliate appropriately to any opposition they may identify as a threat. Their skill in quickly adapting the composition of their armies because of centralized production at the hatchery allows the race to adjust in moments with a mix of units that complement and synergize with each other. The following is an examination of each individual unit and also how they weave into the Zerg Swarm as a whole.
The Zergling remains one of the staple units in any Zerg army and has kept hold of the same role as it held in Brood War. They can still shield ranged attackers, such as Hydralisks, from engaging more valuable units. The Zergling's speed is neccessary to flank and surround surrounding enemy forces, denying them a retreat. In open areas, such surrounds will usually destroy the opposing army. Their speed, especially with upgrades, makes them useful for fast raids into expansions and undefended bases. These roles make the Zergling very compatible with other Zerg units; the Zergling can give other units some breathing room to maneuver and deal damage. Also, past the early game, Zerglings are a big threat to Thors and Immortals that cannot handle swarms of small units. Although this unit is most effective in the early-game, its usefulness keeps Zerg players producing Zerglings throughout the game.
Banelings and Zerglings breaking down a Terran wall
The easily acquirable Zergling can morph into the Baneling, which is the Scourge of the ground. They deal a lot of damage against light units (20 +15 vs Light), so Banelings are a good counter to each race's starting units (Zerglings, Zealots, Marines) and also some mid-game units such as Hydralisks and Dark Templar. This makes them a reasonable investment in the small transition from Tier 1 to Tier 2 as long as there is enough aggression; they deal 80 damage to structures, meaning you don't need a lot to take down supply buildings (Supply Depots, Pylons). With a Zergling/Baneling mix, you can cause enough damage to choke blocks to keep your enemy cautious and hesitant to expand. When the going gets tougher for Banelings, which would be when there are sizable amounts of Tier 2 units on the field, there is the option to burrow them and use them as mines (Banelings have the ability to detonate at any time, even while burrowed). Banelings burrowed at Xel'Naga Towers and choke points can guarantee you some free hits to some costly armies, such as M&M balls or even Colossi. This should be done if an ambush could pressure the enemy or if some Banelings are left over, either because of teching up or producing more effective counters. Even when teching up, it is very useful to have at least a few Banelings lying around if you get a Nydus Network or Infestors; Nydus Network can get you inside the enemy base to quickly destroy key structures, and Infestors can use Fungal Growth to immobilize the enemy as Banelings roll out. As a final note, it's essential to make the most out of each Baneling simply because they are very fragile and are a one-time use. If one Baneling can cause enough damage to warrant a price of 50 minerals, 25 gas (25/0 for one Zergling, 25/25 for one Baneling), they should be used in situations that allow for maximum effect.
The Roach is the most common Zerg unit, dealing decent damage and has high durability. They have amazing harass potential if burrow-move is upgraded. Unfortunately, the timing of Roaches means that the enemy may be able to produce counters, most notably Marauders because of their 10+10 armor damage to Roaches (and reducing the movement speed of the already-slow Roaches). If going for a Roach-centric build, maintaining frequent aggression and acquiring expansions is important for a Zerg player to be able to create a superior number of Roaches or to tech up and get Hydralisks and/or Mutalisks. Because of the Roach's range of 3 and the Hydralisk's range of 5 (6 when upgraded), they automatically make a good double-layer when attacking. Along with a few Zerglings, the Zerg player can get three rows of damage-dealing units. Mutalisks fit well with Roaches because they cover each other's weaknesses quite well: Roaches can eliminate Marines and Missile Turrets, while Mutalisks can chase down Marauders and Medivacs. The Roach remains a reliable unit from start to finish, and is often mixed in with other units.
Roaches defending an expansion
Also, the Roach has three different upgrades, all of which give the Roach a significant boost. The Roach's speed upgrade gives it much faster movement speed, which reduces the danger of being kited; without the speed upgrade, many units can kite Roaches with no trouble due to the range and speed differences. The speed upgrade also applies to burrow-move, which must also be upgraded. The burrow-move upgrade allows the Roach to move while burrowed, gives the Roach some stealthy harass options, and can be a very large thorn in the enemy's side. Even with Scanner Sweep, Roaches can move out of the detected area, using their high regeneration to survive some attacks. Unlike the movement speed and burrow-move upgrades, which are available at Tier 2, the regeneration upgrade is available at Tier 3. This regeneration improves the Roach's survivability. There's not too much to say about this upgrade, except that it allows the Roach to withstand more hits, but doesn't create a huge difference in large-scale battles where they may be killed in one shot.
The Hydralisk returns from Brood War, but now as a Tier 2 unit. It is still very versatile; most Zerg mid-game armies are mainly composed of Hydralisks. This versatility makes Hydralisks very capable by themselves, so other units are commonly used to support the main army or to fulfill more specific roles, such as harassment or scouting (unfortunately with their HP at 80, Thors can one-shot them, Psionic Storms devastate them, and Colossi fry them very quickly, so their versatility is reduced after late mid-game). As mentioned above, the Roach/Hydra mix is very strong because the Roaches act as the front wall, tanking hits for the Hydralisks to spray a lot of damage. In later mid-game, Hydra/Muta is effective because the Mutalisks can harass and contain the enemy as the Hydralisks gain free reign over the map. Mutalisks are also great for taking down Siege Tanks and Colossi, which are the Hydralisk's strongest counters (although the Thor is just as deadly to both Hydralisks and Mutalisks). As for upgrades, the Hydralisk only has the range upgrade, which increases their range by one. This upgrade is a must-have against air units and fast-hitters, because the increase in range compensates for their slow movement.
Mutalisks are positioned at Tier 2, putting them around mid-game. These fast-moving air units are extremely effective harassers; five of them can kill any worker unit with one volley, be it SCV, Probe, or Drone. Constant harass could put a big dent in the enemy's economy, but many people forget that harassing is double-edged sword. A player who is harassing will not have the same amount of macro as when he isn't harassing, so finding a good balance between Mutalisk micro and unit production macro is essential. There is also the competition between the Hydralisk and Mutalisk; the Hydralisk is greater at head-on battles because of their strength over infantry and air, but Mutalisks are more mobile and able to harass. This unit gives Zerg players many decisions to deal with in Tier 2.
Mutalisks attacking a Protoss base
From the enemy's perspective, a possible response to Mutalisk harass is to make a substantial investment into base defenses: Photon Cannons, Missile Turrets, and Spore Crawlers. This gives Zerg ground units a chance to shine; Roaches should do fine against a few Photon Cannons, especially if Hydralisks are mixed in, and Missile Turrets and Spore Crawlers are absolutely no problem. Making a Nydus Network is also recommended, as the large number of base defenses means fewer resources for combat units and more opportunities to use Nydus Worms. Another possible enemy response is the production of hard counters, probably air. If the enemy makes ground counters, making Roaches to kill them or Banelings to destroy buildings could soften them up to the point where Mutalisks can harass again. If the enemy makes air counters, a sharp tech switch to Hydralisks would be devastating. You could, in actuality, win a game by massing Mutalisks, but it wouldn't be likely unless you have a massive economic advantage.
The infestor is a spellcaster unit for the Zerg that feels like a mashup of some Protoss casters from Brood War. It currently has three spells: Terran Infestation, Fungal Growth, and Neural Parasite. Terran Infestation spawns an Infested Terran onto the battlefield, but it is very slow and not incredibly strong. It only costs 25 energy, so multiple can be created, but they serve as small distractions at best. With the Infestor's burrow-move it is possible for them to get behind a mineral line, unburrow, spawn a few Infested Terrans and then burrow again. This would be a good form of harassment for the Zerg besides the Roach and the Muta. Fungal Growth is similar to Psionic Storm, except that it immobilizes its targets and reveals cloaked/burrowed units. Neural Parasite is a channeled Mind Control, which is permanent but having a short range, and can only target ground units. Any units controlled by Neural Parasite will be released if they stray too far from the Infestor. Therefore, this skill is best used from up on a ledge and aimed at high damage dealers, such as Siege Tanks, Thors, Immortals, Colossi, and Ultralisks. In practice, the Infestor isn't extremely useful and isn't too effective for its cost. Some patches have changed the Infestor, from removing and adding skills entirely to tweaking pre-existing skills. The Infestor, through all the different patches, had its role shifted from a stealthy frontline support caster to a fragile, vulnerable defensive caster.
Some trivia for Infestors is that any workers captured by Neural Parasite can actually create buildings, even Drones, a Neural Parasited Drone can start spawning a building, and that building will remain yours even if Neural Parasite is cancelled during the spawning process. Infestors can Neural Parasite other Infestors, which in turn can Neural Parasite other Infestors, and so on.
As part of the Zerg air arsenal, there is the Corruptor, which can only attack air units. With a bonus against Massive units, the Corruptor is effective against Battlecruisers, Colossi, Brood Lords, Motherships, and Carriers. Even though it is an air-to-air unit, it is less useful than the Mutalisk because of its air-only limitation, its weakness towards anything not Massive, and a higher resource cost (50 more minerals than Mutalisks). Phoenix are much faster then they are, and Vikings deal more damage and have a longer range. The only effective mid-game uses for this unit are destroying Colossi, as six Corruptors can take down a Colossus in moments, and disabling base defenses with its ability. The Corruptor's ability, Corruption, can disable any building from production or function. For example, Photon Cannons will not be able to fire, and Gateways will not be able to produce units. This ability isn't permanent, but it gives ground units a bit of time to take them out in safety. With only these small, specific roles, the Corruptor really isn't worth producing except for getting Brood Lords in the late-game.
The unit that the Corruptor can morph into, the Brood Lord, is basically the Guardian redux. It is an aerial siege unit with the unique ability to spawn Broodlings wherever it attacks. The Brood Lord deals damage when it attacks a target, but it also spawns Broodlings next to the target. The Broodlings are ground units with a timed lifespan and little bit of damage, but their function is more to block units from reaching the Brood Lords than to do actual harm. The Broodlings mess with the AI and pathing of ground units, making them change targets and walk back and forth instead of attacking the Brood Lords. Although Brood Lords are rarely seen in large numbers, they are very powerful, and are almost always the endgame finishers of the Zerg army.
As a small note, Broodlings are affected by the Melee upgrade and Carapace upgrade. Broodlings also spawn from all Zerg buildings upon their destruction, excluding Extractors, Spine Crawlers, and Spore Crawlers.
The Ultralisk returns from Brood War, retaining basically the same role as the Zerg's tanking base-smasher. Ultralisks are rarely seen because of their position on Tier 3. They can take down hordes of smaller units and raze entire bases, but by Tier 3 there are many counters to the Ultralisk on the field (Thors, Immortals, air units). This means that the best way of using this unit is against massed units out in the open (such as massed Marines, Zealots, or Zerglings), or in combination with the Nydus Network. By transporting Ultralisks into a base, they can tear down all the buildings with ease, ignoring enemy forces if necessary. If used properly, Ultralisks can quickly turn the tide of battle.
The Overlord is one of the two supply-sustaining units for the Zerg (the other being Overseers), and also has a very useful ability: Excrete Creep. Excrete Creep allows the Overlord to drop and spread creep underneath it while it remains stationary. This ability is automatically researched once a Lair is completed, and doesn't cost energy to cast. Naturally, it works very well with Creep Tumors, which may be unable to spawn up or down a cliff. Excrete Creep can allow Creep Tumors to be made in hard-to-reach positions, thus spreading the creep further. The downside to this ability is that the Overlord must remain stationary to sustain the creep; if the Overlord moves, the creep underneath it will shrink away unless there is a Hatchery or Creep Tumor nearby to keep it alive.
Overlord providing sight for a Nydus Worm.
The great thing about spreading creep is that Zerg units gain a movement speed boost while on creep. Some creep spread on the battlefield allows Zerglings and Roaches to close in faster, thus taking less damage before attacking and being able to deal more damage before dying. There is also the option to move up some Spine Crawlers closer to your enemy. People have suggested using Excrete Creep to deny expansions, but a burrowed Zergling is cheaper and more effective; an Overlord may be killed with a simple Marine or Stalker, but a burrowed Zergling cannot be killed without detection.
Also, different from Brood War, Overlords do not have detection and have to morph into Overseers to detect cloaked and burrowed units.
When Overlords are morphed into Overseers, they lose Excrete Creep but gain detection and the ability Spawn Changeling. This ability allows the Overseer to create a unit that morphs into an enemy unit, proving to be an excellent scout. Although boring in its use, the Changeling can walk around the inside of an enemy base unharmed, allowing you to see everything. This is reminiscent of the Parasite ability that the Queen had in Brood War. In addition, a Changeling wall is also frustrating for opponents, such as when several Changelings block a choke point (Changelings are not attacked by default; the player has to manually attack them). Essentially, the Changeling has some uses that aren't the most interesting, but undoubtedly useful.
The Queen is a very important unit for the Zerg, providing a large boost to macro. Its abilities Create Creep Tumor, Spawn Larvae, and Transfusion add a whole new level of Zerg gameplay. Create Creep Tumor creates a Creep Tumor on creep. Creep Tumors have the ability to spread creep, are burrowed by default, meaning enemies need detection to see them, and can create another Creep Tumor at the cost of becoming "inert," meaning that it cannot create any more Creep Tumors. This means that a Queen could create a Creep Tumor, and that one Creep Tumor can leapfrog and spread creep all over the map, provided that the enemy doesn't kill them. Creep Tumors can be killed when they are being created however, since during that time they are not burrowed. Create Creep Tumor's main advantage is increasing movement speed and providing vision, also able to be used for linking expansions for better defense and faster reinforcements. This ability really contributes to Zerg being a macro race and allows the Zerg far more vision and mobility.
Spawn Larva is pretty straightforward: it creates four larvae on any selected Hatchery/Lair/Hive. This means that Queens give a big boost to Zerg production rates, and gives Zerg a greater focus on macro. Spawn Larva matches the Larva production of around 1.5 Hatcheries, so not only is the player encouraged to keep up production, there isn't a necessity to create a third Hatchery in the main base (compared to Brood War, where many Zerg players created a Hatchery to keep up unit production). Instead, the Zerg player can take another expansion without severely losing an advantage in production. Unfortunately, another side-effect of Spawn Larva is the importance of each individual Hatchery; if one Hatchery is taken down, the fact that you lose a target for Spawn Larva means that you are actually losing about 2 Hatcheries (rounding down, because there are pauses between each cast). This shifts the Zerg mindset to be much more protective of expansions relative to Brood War.
Transfusion heals a selected Zerg building or unit, and is very useful for healing defensive buildings and healing Mutalisks. Mutalisks, after a sweep over an enemy base, sometimes have only a few hitpoints left. Transfusion heals 125 hitpoints, more than enough to fix the Mutalisks maximum of 120 hitpoints, so extra Queens specifically for Transfusion is usually a good idea. Once the Mutalisks are healed up, they can move out to harass again. In terms of defense, Queens can greatly lengthen the lifespan of Spine Crawlers and Ultralisks, which could prove vital to fending off an enemy push. Even in an assault, a few Queens can really raise the survivability of a Zerg army. Overall, the Queen is really useful for many aspects of Zerg gameplay.
This section will look at the race match-ups for Zerg.
First thing to do every game is to send the initial Overlord to scout. Against Protoss, you should be able to fly around to figure out what he is teching to, and also have some forewarning about 3-Gate mass Zealots or proxy Gateways (if they are making proxy Gateways, their base will be surprisingly empty). Against Terran or Zerg, the Overlord can't stay as long because air-attacking units can be produced faster for Terran or Zerg (Marines or Queens). What is most important to look out for with the Overlord is fast gas, cheese builds, or rushing. If the enemy is not doing something incredibly ordinary, going 13 Pool is the common Zerg opening. Scouting with a Drone is usually unnecessary, unless the map is very large and your Overlord didn't find the enemy on the first guess.
Against Terran, going for an Extractor at 16 Drones is a versatile strategy. It allows you to get enough gas to produce a Zergling/Baneling army or a Zergling/Roach army, both of which are very effective in the early game. Banelings are great at early aggression, being great at destroying Terran wall-ins. If the front wall is broken, Zerglings can move in and swarm Marines and Marauders inside the base. Roaches on the other hand, are durable attackers that can keep Terrans contained and pressured in the early game. Unfortunately, Terran frequently go M&M&M, therefore relying on Roaches for an extended period of time is not recommended. Marauders deal incredible damage towards Roaches, dealing 10 damage +10 damage with their bonus towards armored. Banelings, however, can hinder the tech and abuse the enemy enough for them to be unable to produce a large number of Marauders. But if early aggression is based around Zerglings and Banelings, Hellions could quickly take down your army. Either way, with enough pressure you can expand and tech safely. In Tier 2, going Hydras is better than Mutas because of the strong counters (Marines, Vikings, Thors) and heading a frontal assault or invading via Nydus Worm. If you have an economic or tech advantage over the enemy, you could even get a Nydus Network before Hydralisks and pump Zergling/Baneling or Zergling/Roaches into the enemy base. Throughout the game, keeping the enemy from producing a substantial amount of counters and tech switching to keep them on their toes is important. If the game lasts until Tier 3, getting Corruptors and Brood Lords is the last resort and a probable game-winner. You could also make Ultralisks if you have a Nydus Worm and pump them straight into the enemy base, destroying buildings with the 60 damage that Ultralisks deal towards structures. Resistance inside the base may prove problematic, since the Ultalisks' large size will severely hinder their mobility between buildings. In the case of Terrans making a push with Thors, Infestors can Neural Parasite them from a safe position (higher elevations at a choke, for example) and greatly turn the tide of battle. Because Neural Parasite has an unlimited duration as of patch 5, the Thors can be kept in your base for defense, particularly against air units.
Against Protoss, Banelings are not as potent; it is more effective to give Zerglings the speed upgrade rather than morph them into Banelings. With the speed upgrade, Zerglings can get a fast surround against Zealots and Stalkers, proving to be a cheap and effective army in the early game. Their strength is greatly increased with melee attack upgrades, and because of their attack speed, mobility, and superior numbers, even one upgrade is enough to make them deadly against early-game Protoss. Also, going Roaches is important to push back mass Zealot rushes, and with burrow-move there are more harass opportunities in the early-game and early mid-game compared to Terran. Cannons are stationary so Roaches can maneuver around them, and Observers come out in the mid-game unless the Protoss is allowed to tech up. After Roaches, going Hydralisks if the enemy gets Stalker/Sentry-centric army and going Mutalisks if the enemy gets Stalker/Immortal-centric army is good (although Protoss players frequently build a fast Robotics Facility after seeing Roaches, planning to counter with Immortals). Of course, in either case there needs to be a good mix of Roaches and Hydras or Mutas so that the enemy doesn't produce one mass and swat down your army. With Hydralisks, you want to hunt down expansions and hold out for Nydus Worm to get past the enemy's defenses. With Mutalisks you want to harass enough to gain an economic advantage to mass an army in order to land the killing blow. It's a good idea to get a few extra Queens to heal your Mutas; Transfusion heals 125 hit points which is enough to fully heal any Muta. Transfusion could also be used in the later game to preserve your Brood Lords.
Looking back a bit, at Tier 1.5 Roaches should do well against Zealots and Stalkers, so it's good to keep up pressure and aggression so that they can't obtain Immortals, or worse, Colossi. If the enemy goes Colossi, going Mutas or Corruptors is a must to support your Roaches, and if the enemy is going Immortals, going Hydralisks to save resources to tech to Nydus is a sound strategy. Unfortunately, because of the Roach's short attack range, Forge fast expands are viable for the Protoss. In this case however, Mutalisks are able to avoid the main point of defense to hit the weaker main base or simply to go around and hit the expansion. Stalkers are decent against Mutalisks, and there aren't other units for the Protoss that can cost-effectively counter them. But considering the long-run, Nydus makes the most use out of your ground army, and is a great method of mobilizing slow units on large maps. The sight of Mutalisks means that the enemy will turtle, probably creating a large anti-air zone before you can gather enough Mutas. Nydus, on the other hand, is more difficult to defend against; it can appear anywhere, including inside the base, so unless the enemy invests too many resources into static defenses a Nydus should easily pop up in a blind spot. Also, expanding and defending expos are easier with Nydus. Again, at Tier 3, aim for Corruptors and Brood Lords to finish the game.
The ZvZ game is focused a lot on Tier 1 and Tier 1.5. Games are usually decided a small amount of time after Tier 2 is reached. Early aggression is key in this matchup, and is decided mostly on macro, seeing who can produce more units and capture more expansions. Zerglings should fight each other in the early game, and the next step up is Roaches. Baneling Nest is not a good option before Roaches, because after Banelings eliminate the enemy Zerglings then you have Zerglings face off against Roaches, which is not an effective use of your remaining Zerglings. So while Zerglings and Roaches are fighting, the builds branch out. A Zerg player may go Baneling to destroy key buildings (especially because Zerg have very few but very important buildings) and obliterate enemy Zerglings, or they may go Mutalisks to harass and have free reign over Zerglings and Roaches. Hydralisks should be teched to if you have better map control than your enemy and they produce Mutalisks instead of Roaches (Hydralisks are very effective against Mutalisks, and are stronger than Mutas cost-for-cost). In this situation, a few Hydras should protect the bases and the rest should aid the main attack force of Roaches and Zerglings. Upgrades in ZvZ are more important than in other matchups because of the constant aggression and focus on macro. Games should not reach Tier 3.
Here are some build orders that have been found, produced by the community that are quite commonly used and effective in 1v1 games.
- 10 Overlord
- 14 Extractor (3 Drones on it when finished)
- 14 Spawning Pool
- 15 Overlord
- 15 Metabolic Boost
- 15 Queen
- 10 Overlord
- 14 Spawning Pool
- 16 Hatchery
- 17 Extractor (3 Drones on it when finished)
- 16 Queen
- 18 Overlord
- 10 Overlord
- 14 Spawning Pool
- 17 Extractor
- 17 Overlord
- 17 Roach Warren
- 16 Queen
This was an overall look at the Zerg race, with its units, army mixes, and matchup strategies. There will surely be more tweaks to the game as the beta progresses, but the topics discussed here should help Zerg players in improving their game in general. The examples and strategies discussed should not be so specific for them to become outdated in one patch We hope you enjoyed this editorial and wish you some happy Zerg gaming.
Zerg Tips and Trivia (From the Zerg section of the StarCraft II UI Tips and Tricks article)
- Zerg Hatcheries have two rally points which can be assigned. One rallies drones while the second rally point sets the destination of any other unit. Each will automatically be set based on if you click on a resource or not. Queens by default do not have a rally point
- Hatcheries can all be assigned to the same control group such that when the Larvae is selected it will select every Hatchery's Larvae simultaneously which can all be given the same rally point.
- Each Zerg egg can be given its own rally point.
- Nydus Worms can have their own rally points. They can even be used to manually and "safely" mine from a separate mineral spot.
- When a Nydus worm erupts from the ground everyone can hear the announcement even if they don't see the origin of the Nydus Worm. It's comparible to a Nuke in that fashion.
- Overlord troop dropping has no announcement noise along with it which is nice for expanding on islands or trying to sneak units to assault the flank of a base.
- The Overlord's Creep Drop ability is toggle-able. When activated the Overlord will always drop creep unless it is in transit.
- Changelings can't be loaded into a Nydus Worm.
- An Infestor can be instructed to move to a location burrow move to another location while underground unburrow cast two Infested Marines and then sneak out again all in one go.
- The maximum number of Larva that can be achieved with Spawn Larva is 19 after which Spawn Larva simply replaces existing Larva.