Last week, I talked about Protoss as a race and promised more detailed thoughts on the Oracle to come. This week, I'll talk about why I felt like the unit was confused in design, and what bothers me about it – and yet, why I'm not too concerned about it yet.
The Oracle received more changes during the beta than any other aspect of the Protoss race. It was overhauled in all but one of the beta balance updates, and none of its current abilities even resemble those it started with. Remember Entomb? Phase Shield? Void Siphon? Preordain? Time Warp also used to be on the Oracle, not the Mothership Core.
Its primary use, harass, is now served by the Pulsar Beam – which turns the unit into what's effectively a faster Banshee as long as energy lasts. It gives the unit an attack that deals 14 damage plus 10 to light, allowing it to two-shot workers and marines (without combat shields). As a result, Oracle openings are extremely common against Terran – as if you produce multiple Oracles and they don't have marines ready, you can decimate their worker line and even kill off all their marines: far more damage than Phoenixes were ever able to inflict.
The remaining two spells, Envision and Revelation, are for utility. Envision turns the unit into a detector, and Revelation temporarily gives you permanent vision of all units in an area. While these abilities are decent enough, they don't really synergize with its role as a raider. It feels more that Envision was placed onto the Oracle just to encourage people to open Stargate without fear of Widow Mines or Dark Templar, effectively eliminating all risk from the opening with that plus the nexus cannon. Revelation just feels awkward, and with the ability to obtain perfect vision of your opponent, continues to drive Protoss towards deathball dancing.
And really, why did we need a speedy worker killer from the Stargate anyway? The Phoenix already did that. The Oracle's speed and harass potential cause it to completely take over the Phoenix's early game role. But because Pulsar Beam is so strong, and scales so well with additional Oracles, it opens up a slew of new all-ins. And you have to open Stargate to get it, which delays your Twilight or Robo tech – meaning if you fail to deal damage, you're extremely behind. And unlike Phoenixes, they completely fall off in the late game.
Now, that's not to say that the Oracle isn't working, or is hurting SC2 as a game. Because it's not. It just doesn't quite feel like it fits into the game very gracefully, and demonstrates the greater issue with the Protoss race. Protoss is strongly based around the “gimmick” of warp gates, and completely constrained throughout the midgame by the incredible strength of force field. If these two things are to remain completely unchanged, adding additional units to the game that bolster “solid” Protoss play is extremely hard.
It's shown since BlizzCon 2011 – none of the three originally proposed Protoss units are currently in the game, while Zerg retained both of theirs and Terran retained one, with the 'theme' of the Shredder being reworked into the excellent success that is the Widow Mine. Terran and Zerg have extremely recognizable themes of play, had very well-defined holes in Wings that the development team competently filled with great new units. But I have a sinking feeling that the team isn't quite sure where to go with Protoss, as thematically they've been all over the place. It's hard to really 'describe' Protoss as a race in StarCraft II like you can Zerg or Terran.
Again, let me be clear. I'm not saying that the game is or isn't working right now. This is entirely a commentary on the meta-design of the game. In fact, it's precisely because I'm so happy with most of Heart of the Swarm that I bring these concerns up. As I wait for the Tempest and Skytoss as a whole to fall into their eventual place, and for the game to settle in, it's still hard to offer a full judgment on the state of Protoss. But when I was trying to write my thoughts on the Oracle last week, it blew up into something this long.
Because I really just don't know what to make of it. The unit confuses me, and feels awkward to me, but it works. The games are good, and Korean players have already moved away from the silly Oracle all-ins. Rain used a single Oracle in combination with a hallucinated Phoenix in a really clever strategy against Flash in Proleague, taking advantage of its ability to do work on its own – which the Phoenix couldn't do. Is that supposed to be its role? A solo harasser, speedy and requiring little production time commitment, meant entirely to catch your opponent off guard? That doesn't seem like a recipe for stable, long-term play – especially with proper scouting and if it became predictable.
But for now, players are coming up with new ways to try and give this unit a role. They've moved off the all-ins and into experimentation. For now, that's enough.