BlizzCon 2018: Things to look forward to in Starcraft II

A lot of the attention surrounding this year’s BlizzCon was naturally focused on major announcements such as Diablo Immortal and Hearthstone’s Rastakhan’s Rumble expansion. However, a little time was set aside for StarCraft II as well, specifically during the ‘StarCraft II: What’s Next’ panel.

StarCraft II might not be as hot as World of Warcraft or Overwatch right now, but during the What’s Next panel Blizzard made sure to let fans know it hasn’t forgotten about the venerable RTS title. In fact, StarCraft II fans have a number of exciting new additions to look forward to in 2019, including a new in-game War Chest, a new Co-op commander, Twitch spectator rewards, and more.

War Chest/Twitch Integration

Blizzard is working hard on a fourth in-game War Chest for StarCraft II which includes a collection of new player portraits, unit skins, sprays, emotes, and banners. For the first time ever, players will also get to earn a brand new cosmetic item type: building skins. These skins allow a player to change the look of all the buildings for their chosen faction. Some example building skins include a sleek ‘Special Forces’ look for Terran, a glowing red ‘Forged’ makeover for Protoss, and a cybernetic ‘Simulant’ alternative for Zerg.

These new War Chest items will be earnable through gameplay, but they’ll also be available through the Twitch streaming platform. Players who spectate official StarCraft II e-sports matches using a Twitch account that’s linked to their account can earn War Chest items just for watching. Blizzard hasn’t yet outlined exactly how this system will work but it says more details should be coming soon.    

Zeratul Co-op Commander

The other major focus of the What’s Next panel was the newest playable commander for StarCraft II’s dedicated Co-op mode: the iconic Dark Templar Zeratul. Blizzard said one of its biggest goals was to make Zeratul feel as unique as possible since he is technically the second Dark Templar to join the Co-op commander roster (after the previously released Vorazun).

Unlike other Co-op commanders, Zeratul can be controlled directly on the battlefield. This direct control actually ties into his signature ‘Prophetic Vision’ ability which involves locating and securing Xel’Naga artifacts spread around the map. Zeratul starts out with only a single top bar ability unlocked, but as the player secures more Xel’Naga artifacts they can both unlock new abilities and empower all of their basic units. The player will even have multiple options for each new ability tier, allowing them to more precisely focus on their preferred playstyle and strategies.

More information on Zeratul’s unique functionality and abilities can be found here

Miscellaneous Updates

More balance changes are coming to StarCraft II’s Versus mode, with a particular focus being put on late-game match progression. Blizzard is still ironing out the final details but players can expect tweaks for powerful late-game units such as Ultralisks, Tempests, and Battlecruisers.

Lastly, Blizzard also provided an update on the Google DeepMind A.I. learning experiment. Using the StarCraft II API, DeepMind’s AI agent was apparently able to learn the game’s basic rules very quickly and even managed to best the game’s toughest difficulty levels using strategies such as worker rushing. By analyzing replays from top-tier players, the AI agent also seamlessly picked up on advanced strategies such as macro-unit management and cannon rush defense.

DeepMind said it hopes to publish a more in-depth report of how the AI agent integrated with the StarCraft II API in the near future.  

For now, Blizzard is keeping specific release details for the above features close to the chest. However, fans can expect to see all of the above and more added into the live StarCraft II client in 2019. Stay tuned for more details as we transition into the new year.