Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
The real-time strategy genre of games seems to be at something of a crossroads.
While the relentlessly clonelike feel of many of the Command and Conquer spinoffs of a few years back has thankfully lessened, the number of truly innovative games seems to be waning, as well.
The baseline quality of these games is rising, but on the other hand, the creativity and simplicity that are both required for a truly great title seem to be lacking.
From the creativity (and concomitant complexity) of Empire Earth to the unabashedly derivative Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, recent entries seem to be searching for that magical “something” – that balance, that vision, that story – that made Homeworld and Starcraft so memorable.
One of the earliest developers to explore the genre, and one many (mistakenly) believe to have originated it, is Blizzard Entertainment.
Warcraft II is a game known to practically every computer gamer alive over the age of 20, and its follow-up, Starcraft, established a fan base that even now – four years after its release – is simply unbelievable.
With every release Blizzard has further cemented themselves as the genre’s 500-lb. gorilla, and the fan reaction to their newest work, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, hasn’t been so much a question of whether it’ll be worth buying so much as if they’ll be glad they bought it afterward.
The game was destined to be a smash hit, failure or not—the question really is, will Blizzard keep it up, or will they stumble down the lonely road to obscurity Lucasarts paved a few years back?
“Difficult to see the future is,” maybe, but all the same it seems likely that Warcraft III will continue to strengthen Blizzard’s stature among gamers.
While it’s not particularly revolutionary, Warcraft III is still a potent mix of characterization, gameplay, and balance, something close to the pc version of Warpath.
It’s almost good enough to make even discussing its merits and flaws such a waste of time, in fact, since it’s effectively covering so much familiar ground.
For those of you who didn’t already know what you were getting into, however…
Set 13 years after the events in Warcraft II’s expansion pack, Through the Dark Portal, the game starts in an idyllic human camp, with two longtime friends joking with one another.
The story that the game goes on to tell from such a humble start is truly epic, and destruction, betrayal, and revenge are recurring themes throughout the piece.
With yet another nod to Tolkein, the game insists on leaving nothing in the game world as it was before the start of the story, and it leaves the player feeling like he or she has actually gone from place to place with the game.
Hoping to improve on the success of Starcraft’s three balanced sides, there are now four playable sides, with the fifth group of powerful villains only usable by the AI.
The two new sides, the Undead Scourge and the Night Elves, both have elements of the Protoss and Zerg to them, and while special care has been given to each race to make them more unique (gone are the identical human footmen and orc grunts,) they still don’t feel as distinct as Starcraft’s Big Three.
While each race rewards particular styles of play, they just don’t require it the way the earlier game did.
The interface, as mentioned above, remains essentially unchanged from earlier games.
Left-click selects, right-click for action, and no groups larger than twelve.
However, whereas previous Blizzard RTS installments tried to continually increase the size of the armies one could field, Warcraft III stands as a stark departure from this trend.
Past armies of forty, one’s economy is penalized, and nobody can field a basic army of ninety units all told.
When compared to Starcraft’s 200 units, the look and feel of Warcraft III is a definite shift towards the individual.
This shift is most strongly felt in the nature of the individual units in combat.
Many units have special abilities, and while some of those abilities can be auto-activated (such as the human priests’ heal skill,) the majority of them must be individually triggered.
These potentially game-changing special abilities, coupled with certain high-damage, low-hit point heroes, make micromanagement more important to this game than to any Blizzard product before it with the possible exception of the Diablo games.
The story is a grim, sweeping tale of otherworldly, demonic invaders told through 32 missions almost evenly divided among the four sides.
As mentioned above, betrayal, deceit, and revenge are rife, and for having as friendly, almost cartoony a look as the game does, the single-player campaign is chillingly serious.
This gives the game a certain lopsidedly disarming quality; as dark as some of the settings get, one can still click like mad on one character and earn a bizarrely hilarious response.
While smaller developers have tried more extreme measures to attract attention to their games, like the Kohan series’ tactical gameplay innovations and Battle Realms’ surreal game world, one thing that stands out about Warcraft III in many ways is how very straightforward it is.
The game world is established, the interface is tried and true, the off-the-wall sense of humor remains, and the 3D graphics are still familiar.
At the same time, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this isn’t really all that different a game from the previous entries, and not necessarily the best.
If you have the desire to return to a land where orcs were green, the skeletons were white, and elves occasionally came in purple, it’s tough not to recommend it.
It’s probably already in every RTS fan’s library anyway, and it should be.
Blizzard has done it again!