I really dig StarCraft II’s co-op missions. It’s a great mode to dive into to partake in some PvE goodness with a friend (or a complete stranger). Unfortunately though, despite there being a good variety of maps and commanders on offer from the get-go, the overall experience of this portion of StarCraft II can wear thin after a while.
Thankfully, Blizzard aren’t content to leave co-op missions as is. They’re constantly looking to improve the mode, and have already done so by throwing in a new map – chain of ascension – for example. They’ve even included some neat new features like mutators and masteries, which extend the life of the mode even further. New commanders are being added too, obviously. We’ve already seen Protoss’s Karax thrown into the game and very recently, Zerg’s Abathur.
Unlike the former though who was given out to players for free, the Zerg evolution master comes at a cost of $4.99. Is Abathur worth the cash? I took him out for a spin to find out.
Abathur has some neat abilities at his disposal. The most important one I found was not Mend – his global AOE heal (which is useful, believe me) – but rather, his Toxic Nests. Basically, they’re mines that can be placed anywhere on the map (as long as there is sight of the location) and they provide creep, dealing a fair amount of damage to any enemy silly enough to walk over them.
Toxic Nests are especially useful when it comes to starting a mission off on the right foot. Instead of rushing to pump out an army for a looming enemy attack for example, I threw down a good few mines at the top of my ramp, which made quick work of any early pushes. This gave me time to focus on my economy and tech, instead of having to worry about micromanaging units.
The mines are only useful for so long however. I found that when the larger battles brewed and army sizes grew, they took too long to place and activate. Don’t get me wrong, Toxic Nests are still great for supplementary damage, but let’s just say you cant hide behind a wall of them forever, at least not unless you want to die an embarrassing death.
Aside from these cool tricks, what makes Abathur especially unique as a commander is his ability to evolve his army as the game goes on. When an enemy is destroyed, they drop little green orbs called essence. Collecting these grants units extra health and a much quicker attack. Let a unit rake in enough (100) and they can then evolve into something a lot bigger and stronger within seconds.
Brutalisks and Leviathans are hulking beasts, with huge health pools and incredibly strong attacks. Only a handful of each can be out on the battlefield at anytime however, which keeps things balanced.
Still, three of each along with a supplementary army of smaller units is usually enough to make mincemeat of any opposing force. Don’t micromanage well enough though, as in monitor the health of your super units, and they’ll go down quite easily.
I found balancing the collection of essences and micromanaging units to be very enjoyable actually. On one map I played for example, I started out with just a handful of roaches. Using them and carefully placed mines, I was able to take on much larger armies and eventually evolve an early Brutalisk. Drunk with power, I let it move ahead thinking it could tear down any enemy alone. This unfortunately was very short-sighted of me. My poor little big creature died at the hands of numerous smaller enemies.
On another map I played, I decided to just pump out numbers. What this meant is that not a single unit was able to harvest 100 essence as all the little green orbs were being shared between my huge army. Sadly, I never got any Brutalisks or Leviathans, but I did have one kickass force that had extra health and a much faster overall attack speed.
The ideal thing to do of course, is combine both the scenarios above. I did this on one of my later runs. Early on I made sure only certain units harvested essence, and thus were able to evolve quickly. I then supplemented my hulking beasts with smaller units, who I shared essence among willy-nilly. What resulted was an unstoppable army of death (with both big and small units), which was damn fun to move around with on the map.
I can very easily recommend Abathur, whether you’re a fan of Zerg or not. The fact that he costs actual money though will definitely be a sore point for some. I don’t think he’s priced unreasonably however. I’ve already plugged in a few extra hours into co-op missions thanks to the Zerg evoltion master, and I’m definitely going to put in a whole lot more.