The Protoss army returns in StarCraft II with a vengeance. Wielding the same familiar weapons of war as before with new faces and a handful of entirely new units, previous Protoss lovers will feel right at home with the warriors of Aiur in the sequel. The Protoss army in general still fields incredibly tough units, at a price premium, and has incredibly powerful abilities and casters in the right hands. The wrong hands will cause more harm to your own army than to your opponent's! Easy to learn, yet difficult to master, we cover the ins and outs of the Protoss Gateway army with this quick primer!
The Gateway Units - Everything you need to win.
The Protoss gateway army is a mix of potent casters and brute force that tends to cut Marines in half.
Zealots - The tough warriors return to make your enemy's lives hell early on and provide a deceptively strong front line in all stages of the game. Zealots still weigh in as the strongest and toughest base units around, and still command a high price of 100 minerals each. You get what you pay for though, and Zealots are one of the highest sources of pure damage in the Protoss ground army. The downside is they need to be in constant melee contact with the enemy for this advantage to really be felt. Smart players will use your lack of speed against you and kite you around, making your Zealots seem worthless. This is where the new Charge ability comes into play. Not only does it raise the base movement speed a fair notch, it also gives them a burst of speed to blitz the first target in range every so often. This upgrade is basically necessary to keep using Zealots after the early game, and though it weighs in at a hefty 200 minerals and 200 gas, enables Zealots to slice and dice opponents with relative ease.
Stalkers - The Dragoons of the previous game are no more, and in its place the Stalker rises up. Stalkers are ranged combat units that function much like a Dragoon, but with a much lower base damage and a slight bonus against Armored forces. They are the basic unit you go to for fighting air units, and due to having fairly good speed and range, make for excellent troops to work en masse with and micro extensively to defeat superior numbers with. The Blink ability is used for exploiting that advantage further, and enables a short range teleport for all Stalkers with a fairly short cooldown. A good blink can catch raiding air forces off guard and net you a quick kill or two, and you can use the ability to great effect raiding yourself! Be careful though, as being Armored targets a lot of units excel at killing these, and these lack sufficient punch to kill most armies alone, even with upgrades and micromanagement.
Sentries - A new unit from the ground up, the Sentry is a target no more durable than a High Templar. However, the Sentry excels at defensive operations rather than offensive. It is also the only caster-type unit that also has an attack, and this attack can also hit air! Do not underestimate the Sentry attack, it seems like a little boring laser, but it does damage remarkably fast for a support unit. As is the case with most support units though, it's quite expensive at 50 minerals and 100 gas each. You only need a Cybernetics Core to enable these and Stalkers.
* Force Field is a relatively cheap ability that tosses down an impassible blockade to land units. If any units are there, they are pushed aside. This ability is absolutely amazing when employed well and enables you to defend chokepoints with ease, split up opposing armies and conquer them one part at a time, and set up defensive screens to protect your army from the inevitable mass Zerglings. The more their units have to run around, the more damage your ranged units can dish out!
* Guardian Shield is an interesting ability that creates an aura around the Sentry. All ranged damage dealt to friendly units is reduced by 2. This can backfire if you're not careful and basically paint a HIT ME target on your Sentry, disabling the aura instantly on death. Control them carefully when using this ability. It's a great counter to Terran Infantry!
* Hallucination returns to this unit. You can now create clones of any unit, even ones you haven't even built yet. This can enable some crazy tactics, such as creating Void Rays early on to fool your opponent into thinking you're going fast air. These units do no damage, but can still take damage for your army. Use them!
Dark Templar - A shadow passes by the opponent's forces as they march to your base. It reaches the workers and begins a dance that is impossible to describe, but beautiful to watch. Worker assassination is the specialty of the Dark Templar. These units are highly expensive, and now require their own technology building that takes over a minute to create and 250 gas. Production of Dark Templar from there is 125 minerals and 125 gas for each one, and note that these units don't even come close to the survivability of a Zealot or Stalker under fire. Use them sparingly and wisely and you'll see great results. Note that after the SCVs lost their max HPs, Dark Templar now kill those in one hit as well. Slice and dice!
High Templar - A unit that needs no introduction, the High Templar is one of the most threatening units in the game as long as it has Energy. The Psionic Storm can still be called down onto opponents, albeit with less damage and a smaller radius than before. Nevertheless, good aiming of this ability wins the game almost instantly. It takes a lot to get to these units though, as much like Dark Templar they have their own expensive building and even then Psionic Storm must be researched before it can be used to turn the tide. On top of this, High Templar are still 50 minerals and a whopping 150 gas to produce, and are frail at only 40 shields and 40 hp. Before Psi Storm is researched, you can use the Feedback ability from the Dark Archons to get some use out of the pre-Storm High Templar. This ability destroys all energy on a target and converts each point to damage to that target. This will outright kill any high energy caster, and cripple big units like Thors if they are sitting on too much energy. Guard and use High Templar well, and you'll win. Fail, and you wasted tons of resources that will probably cost you the game.
Archons - The mighty Archon still has power overwhelming, but now shares its High Templar roots with the Dark Templar, and 2 of either can now form an Archon. Archons are no longer instantly destroyed by an EMP from the Terran Ghost, now that EMP only destroys 100 shields. They do heavy damage with very slight splash, and have a bonus against all organic units, which basically means the entire Zerg race. Unfortunately the great reduction in splash damage has destroyed their usefulness in fighting off droves of Zerglings and Mutalisks, and these have very little time to attack against any smart Terran player. You'll rarely see Archons except in the most extreme of High Templar play where Archons are formed in the heat of battle once High Templar are out of energy.
The Stargate - Carrier (and others) has arrived.
The Protoss Fleet combines specialized firepower with units that demand counters from your opponent, such as rage quitting.
Phoenixes - The fastest unit in the skies, the Protoss Phoenix is a light air unit that shreds other light air units with its dual laser strikes. It has zero weapons to deal direct damage to ground, and since it strikes twice, fares poorly against enemies with heavy armor upgrades or high base armor to begin with, such as capital ships and Brood Lords.
If you're having trouble with Mutalisks, Banshees, Ravens, or just want to scout and see what the situation is in your opponent's base, the Phoenix fufills this role better than any other air to air unit. They're tougher than they look as well, sporting 60 shields and a solid 120 HP while only costing 150 minerals and 100 gas each. Keep in mind that you aren't going to win against Corruptors, and Vikings will give you a run for your money, so pick your fights carefully with Phoenixes and run as needed.
When the skies are yours or you come under attack by a heavy ground force, there's the trusty Graviton Beam. Channeling this on a target picks it up into the skies, and leaves it to die to your other Phoenixes in short order. You can also use it on heavy units of the enemy, such as Immortals or Siege Tanks, to disable them while your ground forces do the dirty work. This ability only costs 50 energy so you can throw it out there quite often. 3 Phoenixes can even raid an economy by lifting and blasting workers with the only limitation being how quickly you can press G and click. A unit not to be underestimated, but not to be massed unless you're crazy.
Void Rays - While looking fairly harmless, the Void Ray becomes a monster once the prismatic beam is unleashed on a target. The damage from these starts out slow, and after two animation changes and sound cues, the laser reaches full power and gains a devastating attack power boost against Armored targets and any other target as well. To put things in perspective, a pair of these targeting a hatchery can bring it down in about 15 seconds at full power. That's scary stuff, and assuming they live to reach full power, makes Void Rays the weapon of choice against large air units. If you think you can evade the beam and make it reset, it's not as easy as you think. The Void Ray maintains its charge for several seconds after it stops firing, and can even fire while moving towards a target. The only way a unit can escape from a Void Ray is death, or by being quite fleet of foot. If the latter seems to be a problem, there's an upgrade to increase the Void Ray's speed greatly at the Fleet Beacon, making it almost on par with Mutalisks and Phoenixes. They are somewhat frail and expensive however, packing only 100 shields and 150 HP but costing a painful 250 minerals and 150 gas each. You have to control these well--they may melt opponents at full laser charge, but they also wither quickly themselves under any kind of fire.
Carriers - The iconic air unit of StarCraft, the Carrier now comes prebuilt with 4 interceptors and no longer needs an upgrade to build to its limit of 8. If you've never seen a Carrier in action, the Carrier itself sits at long range and dispatches a swarm of little fighters that pelt a target over and over again. The little guys can be shot down, but will retreat to the Carrier for repairs when heavily damaged.
Each interceptor costs 25 minerals to build and each carrier has its own build queue for interceptors. Now you can even auto-cast the build interceptor option, and every time a interceptor is shot down, it will instantly begin building another one if you have the minerals to support it. On top of that, there's now an upgrade to dispatch the entire fleet of interceptors in short order whenever they engage, rather than slowly releasing the swarm.
All of this power comes with some drawbacks though, and Carriers are still incredibly expensive at 350 minerals, 250 gas, 6 population, and that's not even counting additional interceptors. They also lost a little durability, and now only sit at 300 HP and 150 shields. Each race has a powerful counter to capital ships, so if you're hoarding Carriers, you better hide them well and strike before they build the appropriate counter. A devastating unit nonetheless!
The Mothership - Signifying the end of the game, the Mothership brings both firepower and incredible special abilities to the battlefield. You can only have one of these at any given time, and they cost 400 minerals, 400 gas, 8 population, and take over two minutes to build. If you are planning on getting one of these out before you win, you'll need to Chronoboost it constantly. And by it, I mean your Nexus. That's right, the ultimate Protoss sign of power comes from the same place as the lowly Probe. What the hell?
These are vulnerable to the same things Carriers are, and while they are more durable, they are also far more lucrative of a target. They also move slowly. Guard it carefully and use the following abilities, and you'll likely win effortlessly.
Permanent Cloaking - Everything near the Mothership is cloaked from sight. This includes units AND buildings, making it entirely possible to stealth a series of Photon Cannons while under attack or hide your expansion from view. The Mothership itself is still visible and vulnerable though, making it a beacon for all things painful from the opponent's anti-air.
Mass Recall - Stealing another ability from the Arbiter, the Mothership can spend 100 energy and summon a rather large area of units to its position in short order. You can use this to bring reinforcements to the battle before all is lost, or you can fly your Mothership over an expansion or behind the enemy's lines and summon your army to a position they are not prepared for it at. Be careful of area of effect abilities when using this though. Things like Hunter Seeker Missile, Psionic Storm, and Fungal Growth will ruin your hopes and dreams if aimed atop your Mass Recall.
Vortex - Summoning a black hole from outta nowhere, the Vortex sucks in friend and foe alike in an area, and persists until the spell ends. All units inside the vortex are completely invincible and will be returned to the battlefield after 20 seconds have passed since the Vortex was used. This can be used to split your opponent's army, making your life far easier by letting you crush one half, and then wait outside the Vortex with open arms. Open arms with Zealot Psi Blades mounted on them, of course.
The Robotics Facility - High Priced Units for High Stakes Maneuvers
While fairly optional, the power of the Robotics units is not to be trifled with. All of these units can cause your opponent a great deal of grief.
Warp Prisms - The Warp Prism replaces the Shuttle, and while it still has many of the exact same features (carries ground units, dies to a stiff breeze, has a speed upgrade) the real reason to build these lies in a new special ability. The Warp Prism can deploy into a mini-Pylon field at any given time, and while it cannot move in this form, it does power nearby buildings and more importantly, allows you to use Warp Gates to call in ground forces anywhere you can deploy a Warp Prism.
Some players keep one with their main forces and deploy it the moment things get heavy, enabling them to summon in several units to try and sway the battle in their favor. Others will use this ability to sneak in units at the back of their opponent's base, whether it be via Warp Gates or the classic drop method. Still others will pick up a Colossi and use it like a Reaver, dropping it to fire one shot and then picking it back up to dodge counter attacks. They are fairly expensive at 200 minerals each, so be careful with your sneaky tactics. Walking into one missile turret can spell a quick doom for it ... and anything inside it!
Immortals - The final word in pushing a defensive position, the Immortal is a heavy unit at 100 shields and 200 HP. They're costly at 250 minerals and 100 gas each, and a high 4 population. But what they bring to the table is highly unique--as long as the Immortal has shields, all attacks above 10 damage are reduced to 10 damage. That Siege Tank shot? 10 damage. Spine Crawlers or Photon Cannons? 10 damage. On top of this, the Immortal excels against all of these units offensively as well. It only does 20 base damage, but a whopping 30 bonus to Armored units and Structures.
This means an Immortal can kill a Siege Tank in 4 shots, or 3 with one weapon upgrade. You can also imagine how fast they demolish defensive structures with that bonus.. If you're having trouble with Zerg players using Roaches and Ultralisks, Immortals blast them to pieces with incredible speed and efficiency. You have to be careful though--these units fail badly against swarms of smaller units. Zealots, Marines, and Zerglings all don't take the bonus damage from being light units themselves, and all do less than 10 damage per hit, making the hardened shields of the Immortal worthless. Keep them covered with Zealots and High Templar to strike down the little guys while the Immortals go to work on the heavy targets!
Colossi - Towering units that resemble something from War of the Worlds, these are similar in use and effectiveness to the Reaver from StarCraft. They bathe units in a quick line of fire with dual Thermal Lances. The shot pattern is aimed at the target unit to the outside, and the lasers cross the target to the other side. To put it in better words, the shot resembles a T. The unit is where the lines meet, and the top of it is the perpendicular laser path the Colossi fires in. This makes the Colossi exceptional at melting lines of ranged units of any kind.
The Colossi doesn't care about cliffs, the unit's legs are so tall that it can walk up and down levels of elevation with zero effect. If the enemy is in a position where it can be harassed from high ground, the Colossi is weapon for the job. Being so tall does have its disadvantages, and the Colossi can be attacked by ground based units, and shot at with anti-air weapons. Since the Colossi is considered both Armored and Massive, it's vulnerable to the Capital Ship counters as well as units such as Immortals.
Since they weigh in at 300 minerals, 200 gas, and 6 supply each, they need to be guarded well. With proper support and good targeting though, you will leave nothing but charred remains in your wake with a few of these in your army. Be careful of hordes of Zealots and Zerglings however. If the enemy seeks to surround you, use the cliff-walking ability to your advantage and retreat to a position where they can't hit you, but you can incinerate them!
The Protoss army still has their mighty shield regeneration ability on all units. It works a little differently now, as no regeneration will occur when the unit has been damaged lately. After 10 seconds have passed though, Protoss units will begin to regenerate quite quickly. This goes for buildings as well, so finishing the job on your Protoss opponents and retreating the wounded in small engagements can give you little advantages that eventually add up to a win. The Protoss forces are strong, expensive, and have good abilities, but they all need to be used in tandem with each other to produce victory reliably against the forces of the Terrans and Zerg. We'll cover how to best use each of these units in depth soon, so hopefully you can get access to the beta or pick up the game at launch and familiarize yourself with the forces of Aiur!