Review by BrianJamesBlue
"A RTS that removes much of the strategy and focuses on the player"
Warcraft III is a great game, but probably not the way you would think. This game follows Blizzard's usual approach of making games that are fun to play by focusing on the basics. The basics they use here, though, are not real strategy like you would find in other RTS games, but rather making the player carefully manage every aspect of the game that they can.
Warcraft III is pretty nice to look at. The graphics are cartoony, using low amounts of polygons, and the textures are on the low-res side, but the game uses good designs and a wide color palette to easily make up for this. The animations in the game are all well done, but keep with the cartoony aspect. The graphics are always put together in a way that keeps you from really noticing them. They certainly do not detract at all from the game, and help to give it a fantasy feel.
Standard stuff for Blizzard. The game has quiet and unmemorable music, but it does it's job nicely, and helps to set the mood. War drums are the standard, here. The sound effects are rather nice, though. Every sound comes out just as you would expect it to, and every time there should be a sound effect, there is. I get the feeling that the sound is just there to add to the feel of the game, and it certainly won't win any awards on its own. Clicking on each unit causes it to say a quick phrase, and repeated clicking brings some amusing lines. Every character has their own voice and lines, but this is to be expected. Quality stuff, but not outstanding.
I had difficulty rating this aspect, and I will explain why. Warcraft III is supposed to be a real time strategy game. Unfortunately, you will make very few strategic decisions that will decide the outcome of a game. When playing online, you will go into a game with a preset plan, and your plan will be very similar to your opponents. In every game both players will make the same three buildings as quickly as they can, send a small force to disrupt the enemy economy as quickly as possible, send their heroes out to kill nearby creeps (map specific computer controlled enemies), build up a force at their main base as quickly as possible, and then full scale attack their opponent. I have only seen slight variations on this basic strategy, and they usually do not work. The only choices you have to make are what race to use, what order to make buildings in after your initial three, when to send your first force, and when to send your second force. You do not even have that much of a choice about when to send your second force, because there is a low limit to the number of units you can have and as your numbers increase, you get a tax on your gold intake. This all adds up to give you a feeling that most of the strategy is removed from the game. Since so much of the strategy is taken out of the game, however, this adds a huge new focus on the player, something that I have never seen in any other Real Time Strategy game. The player that wins will be the player that is able to maneuver their forces better while continuing an economy at their main base. When I say maneuver forces, I mean down to the individual unit. You will only be able to hotkey small groups of units, and your main force will be your hero units that gain experience and level up. You need to keep an eye on the health of every individual unit, and keep them from taking damage while maximizing the amount of damage they deal. You will frequently be retreating for a few seconds, just to turn around and pounce on any stragglers from the enemy forces. All the time you are doing this, you will be pressing hotkeys to build new units, and assigning your builders to make more buildings. This is a lot of micromanagement, and leads to a lot of fast paced and almost frenzied clicking and button presses. I feel like this is the very essence of gameplay, though, so I gave it a full score.
I felt like I had to split this game up into offline and online ratings, since Blizzard goes out of their way to make them different. The offline campaign is far more varied than simply skirmishing with the computer. There is a central story (which I will examine later), requirements, and limitations placed on you in the campaign mode. The offline mode does an excellent job of highlighting the differences between the four races in Warcraft III. You start the game in a brief tutorial campaign as the orcs, then you must play as the humans, undead, orcs, and nightelves, in that order. Each campaign is divided into missions, and each mission has specific objectives and limitations aside from "clobber the enemy with everything you have." The earlier missions in each campaign force you to use a very limited number of different types of units, and really helps to serve as an introduction to each and every individual unit. In fact, as the missions allow you to use new units, the words "New Unit Available" will pop up on the screen with a brief description. As you go through the campaign, you will be given heroes. Each hero earns experience to level up, and earns stats and spells as they level up. They all have mana and inventories, just as if this were an RPG game, and they keep their experience, spells, and items as you go from one mission to the next. This helps you get very familiar with the hero characters, their spells, and the items they can obtain. Since you keep the same heroes and have the same types of units available to you as you complete the campaign, the campaign almost feels like an RPG. The campaign mode definitely delivers some of the best the game has to offer, as it also gives the player more strategic decisions than the online game by imposing conditions and unique objectives on them. For example, in one of the undead missions you have to defend a character for 30 minutes. This leads to completely different gameplay than the standard attack each other games. Other campaign missions will require your hero to go through maze-like levels with only a small number of supporting units, once again completely different from the online style of gameplay. For those that like the online gameplay, though, there is a very advanced skirmish mode in addition to the campaign mode. In the skirmish mode, the computer has three difficulty settings, labeled Hard, Normal, and Easy. More accurate descriptions would be Insane, Difficult, and Idiot. The computer, as you can imagine, has advanced micromanaging skills, and it takes full advantage of them on Normal and Hard difficulty settings. This is excellent practice for the online portion of the game, and enjoyable in its own right (though I still think the campaign is far better).
I thought I would put the story rating right after the offline rating since they are connected. The story is an intriguing fantasy tale that relates all races to each other, and manages to get the player to have a true interest in each race. The heroes of each race are all a part of the story, though some of them have far smaller parts than others. The story is brought along by introductions to each of the missions, by the missions themselves, and by outstanding cinematics at the end of each races campaign. You will find that you really want to know what happens next in this fantasy world, and the story will keep you playing the game to find out.
The free online gameplay through battle.net is excellent. Players can chat, play custom games, play warcraft III mods, play with a party of friends, and be instantly matched with somebody of somewhat similar skill level in one on one, two on two, three on three, four on four, or free for all battles. There is clan support, friends support, and full stats recorded. Players are given experience based on their stats, and given a level based on their experience. As players gain levels, they are matched with higher level players, and get new icons to put next to their name in the chatrooms. The game ranks the players based on experience in ladders that can be viewed at www.battle.net. The games are usually completely lag free, even on dialup. Unfortunately, I have seen problems where Battle.net has recorded a loss when the other player disconnected, but this is a minor blemish on an otherwise very successful system. There is an impressive mod community, playing user made maps (which are the equivelant of mods in Warcraft III, as the entire game can be altered) at all times. The online offering from Warcraft III is large and well implemented. Please note that since the Frozen Throne expansion pack was released, the majority of Warcraft III players have moved to that, leaving around 10,000 players playing around 400 games at most times on Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.
All over all, Warcraft III offers a well rounded, rock solid gameplay experience. From playing online, to advancing the campaign, you will have fun with this game. A recommended buy, preferably along with it's expansion, the Frozen Throne.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 08/09/06
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