Monday, March 21, 2011
Starcraft 2: A look at Banshees
Looking at Starcraft 2 from a distance now that I have not played it seriously for quite a while, there are quite a few units that piqued my interest as to why would the Blizzard design team create them.
Today we'll be looking at possibly one of Terran's better units: The Banshee. I'm just going to go ahead and say that I'm mostly a Terran player (booooo) and I'll try my best to be as unbiased as possible. Before we proceed, there is one fact I have to bring forward:
1) Terran can easily tech to Starport
I would love to observe the Banshee on a tier by tier basis but seeing how Terran can access their tier tree really really fast, comparing by tiers immediately becomes invalid. We know that a two port banshee build can come around the mark when a normal zerg player is barely teching to Lair if done right (unless he's fast teching of course). Thus, we must look at how other races can defend against it at the early stage.
VS Banshees Early Game
We know that Protoss won't really have a problem with banshees considering that most Protoss get Stalkers and Sentries early in the game. If they somehow get forge first instead of gateway to get cannons, it shuts down the entire banshee play if they are well placed (not saying that it's a viable high level strat tho). They will easily overwhelm whatever early harass Banshees can do until they get cloak in which the Protoss player would want to go for their Robo for the Observers while on their way to getting their dreaded Colossus. Hmm, doesn't seem to have anything really problematic there. The banshee will just need to catch the Protoss off guard and that is a problem of dynamics, not mechanics. It's the same thing is Terran with marines being the bulk of their army.
Zerg however, has a bit of a problem. They are a reactive race and they will build units mostly based on what they see or guess. If the Zerg gets faked by a factory reactor into two port and cause them to build roaches in fear of a mech army, it's an early gg there. Zerg's tier 1's only defense against air attacks are the rather immobile Queen and considering Banshee's dps, the limited Queen count and the fact that they are usually not together, it's easy to see how two banshees can easily overwhelm a base protected by one solitary queen. Luckily, banshees take a long time to build and are slow to travel so this somehow indirectly 'balances' the issue interestingly. Also one banshee isn't as bad as two. A standard 1/1/1 banshee opener wouldn't scare the Zerg. The 2 port banshee will. Also, I doubt any zerg will build a Evolution Chamber into Spore Colony that early in the game. If they do that early in the game, they are slowing their expansion which they sorely need.
Then we consider the Cloaking Field upgrade. It's really really expensive and getting that upgrade mostly means you aren't getting the second banshee. Again, Zerg has a problem and this time it's their detector options. I'm honestly still not used to seeing Overlords as non-detector units like their SC1 counterparts. I'm not sure how would a Zerg would react to that. Getting Spore Colony means it forces them to build Evolution Chamber instead of rightfully saving minerals for another expansion or tech. And sacrificing even one drone will drop their economy in the long run.
Interestingly though, this MIGHT be balanced out by the fact that one banshee can't really kill anything fast enough to compensate for the cost of the cloaking field AND the banshee itself. Also they need to use energy to keep their field up, so the harass can't last forever. Then again, it might just kill off a queen. Yikes? Is losing one queen bad (which takes quite some time to die, leading to banshee energy depletion)? 150 minerals, and on a separate spawn timer (does not hatch from egg etc). It MIGHT be the case that the trade is not good at all. If I see invisible missiles I'll probably just go "ARGGG LAY EGGS, USE UP ALL MY MANAS AND RUN!!" and start building another queen. It really seems that having more queens is a solution. It gives you decent air defense, it is on a separate spawn timer which does not hinder your main army production, and it helps in spreading creep and more. If 2 port banshee comes into play, I think having more queens than banshees is a pretty good trade. For one, you are not losing gas. A dead queen (if you have many) is nothing compared to a dead banshee. But hey, if you didn't guess the banshee play, what are your queens going to do then when a 3 racks MM ball comes knocking at your door?
From there, it might be trivial if you are going for the normal expand into lair tech whatever. Get mutas and watch the Terran scream and all. Is it balanced? I'm leaning on the 'no' side. Zerg is a reactionary race. What they don't see they guess. Terran's strength lies in their versatility, so right off the bat, it's bad for zerg theoretically IF the Terran manages to keep the Zerg in the dark. I've seen easy wins when the Terran just do a reactor factory fake into 2 port banshees even at high level play (Idra vs someone i can't remember). Zerg sees and react by getting Roaches. Thinking about it, it doesn't really seem fair. Does it really go into a guessing game?
VS Banshees Mid - late game
Moving on, I'd like to talk about Banshees in mid-late game. Think back to all the replays you've watched. It's strange isn't it? It's a late tech unit, yet it's hardly used in the mid-late game. In fact it's suuuuper rare to see banshees late game unless you are going 1/1/2 into hellion drop into lotsa banshees + MM against Protoss (since Banshees rape everything on the ground). However, recently I have seen Protoss going Stargate builds so it's not gonna be viable now (or in the near future at most). Weird isn't it? I know that Protoss uses everything they have when they advance thier tech tree. Just scan their army every minute. Zealots, Stalkers, Sentries, Observer, Immortals, Colossus, High Templar shiz. For Zerg, they only skip units if they have to, but you do see all of them in some matches at mid-late game. It's not like you don't see hydras, mutas, infestors and broodmother late game. They are all being used! Wow, now I feel like switching to Zerg and Protoss. All of them are being used, how cool is that?
But banshees? Tier 3.5 into the Terran tech and no one uses them after they are built? Seems strange to me. Maybe it's on purpose; I mean, there are lots of Terran units like that. It's not like you will get Thor if you are bent on playing MMM, especially against Protoss. I do agree that they are probably meant to be JUST a harassing unit. The high cost, the damage, the build time and the cloak seems to point that direction. Then again, if they are just harass, what about medivac drops? We all know how damn good medivac drops are, so why go through all the trouble of teching just for banshees? If you are spawning close air, would you go for banshees or just medivac drops?
Banshees usage in overall game plan
From here it seems that the Banshees seems a little overshadowed. They are a cool unit, great for harassing to the point of being part of a really solid build at ONE point, but are they worth the trouble when you know there is a cheaper and much more effective? It feels to me that they are hanging dangerously somewhere between "Use" and "Don't use". In other words, I think that they are too specialized and not doing what they do better and more cost effective than a plain old medivac drop. Also, with medivacs you can leave your starport on reactors.
Ultimately, Banshees main strength right now comes from the fact that they can be obtained very early in the game considering how far down the tech tree it actually is. prinnyd00d mentioned that they are early Dark Templars with flight, which is true to an extent. Too bad the missiles are not invisible :p I think that's the only point that keeps them from being as usefulaas Dark Templars (good harassers and good to mesh into the army). Then again, since Terrans get them early, it's definately gonna be too overpowered. Banshees are dreadfully good enough early game. I'm not saying they should be good too mid-late game, but just look at the design of the unit itself. A late tier unit, used in early game but not used late game. Yet it's all fine and dandy. It's quite intriguing.
Thanks for my good friend prinnyd00d for linking this awesome banshee harass.
And a side note, don't banshees look like Orcas from CNC?