Review by Bobo The Clown
"Real Time Strategy Near Perfection..."
Few companies produce games like Blizzard. Years of development, endless play testing and character balancing, and unbelievable hype in PC gaming circles are all signs of a Blizzard game. They have yet to disappoint - the triple headed monster of Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft has dominated the sales chart. The long development phase ensures that every Blizzard product is polished right from the start.
Warcraft 3 is no diversion from this pattern, having been delayed more than the latest Nintendo project, but of the same superior quality. The heavy emphasis on real time strategy (RTS) remains, but it is enhanced by a complete overhaul to plot development, character interaction, and the graphical engine. These changes evolve Warcraft 3 into a game which more contains the overall tightness of Blizzard’s other RTS champion, Starcraft, while still keeping the unique traits of the series.
The change is noticeable immediately upon starting the single player campaign mode. Gone is the static map with an archaic scroll text informing you of your mission objectives. In its place are three dimensional cut scenes and the occasional full motion video. The tired yet true two dimensional “top down” perspective has also been scrapped. It has been replaced by an overhead camera system. While the perspective is still two dimensional, the character models now have depth, and the camera allows you to zoom in or out, depending on the action.
Warcraft 3 is no longer a game which relies solely on gameplay to carry its reputation as legendary. The flat grunting characters have been wholly replaced by snarling, living, breathing creatures complete with their own mannerisms and nervous ticks. Characters now *feel* alive, instead of just stale mass-produced units. The level of detail is amazing for each and every character, whether it is in a cut scene or a full motion video, or even during actual gameplay. Even facial features can be seen upon close inspection. There is enough variety between races and terrain to never get that stale, “been here already” feeling.
This is only one half of the presentation equation for any game, though. Thankfully, Warcraft 3 is just as stellar when it comes to the aural aspect. All major characters receive extensive voice acting, while minor characters and units also have smaller speech palettes to select from. Unlike many other games with voice acting, the voices chosen seem appropriate for the character - orcs do not sound like little girls, and night elves (an all-female race) do not speak in deep manly tones. Even if this is a problem, subtitles and the ability to turn off speech completely are present. To top off the audio raving and ranting I am currently employed in, I will also say that you can distinctively identify combat by sound effect, something I have never been able to say for another game.
A lush full motion video elaborates the tale of Warcraft 3. The humans have rounded up the remaining orcs from the previous wars, imprisoning them in concentration camps. The once fierce race has become docile; their ferocity and bloodlust has been lost with the defeat of their demon overlords, the Burning Legion. The last remaining free orc chieftain, Thrall, struggles to wake his race out of their collective doldrums and to rebel against their oppressive human masters.
However, the humans themselves are hardly better off after the exhaustive war. The fragile political alliances kept during the war have fractured beyond repair; ambitious councilmen grab for power as the influence of their elderly king wanes. In addition, a powerful cult in the frozen wastelands to the north is rapidly gaining popularity with the promise of equality to all. The rise of this cult coincides with that of the undead, a demonic army which serves the frozen lich king.
This is merely the beginning of the epic that is Warcraft 3. The story is told from the perspective of the playable races - humans, orcs, undead, and night elves. It is easily the most in-depth plot I have seen in a RTS game. At the heart of the motives for war in Warcraft 3 are the reasons for war in reality: ambition, greed, revenge, vengeance, freedom, and peace.
The gameplay core of previous Warcraft games remains largely intact. Careful personnel and resource management is the key to Warcraft 3. Missions are usually of two varieties - seek and destroy or base construction. Seek and destroy missions are seemingly simple tasks, like finding your way out of a dungeon or escorting a unit, while base construction requires you to actually produce units and harvest resources yourself. All commands are carried out through menus, which can be accessed by the keyboard and mouse.
The inhabitants of Warcraft 3 have yet to rebel against harsh feudal systems, it seems. Regardless of race, all units can be split into three rough categories: worker, military, and hero. The names and abilities of all units involved vary from race to race, but they can all be sorted into these basic groups. The social hierarchy of Warcraft 3 mirrors that of medieval England, with the few heroes ruling over a warrior caste, which protects and depends upon the production of the peasants.
The workers perform all of the grunt work in the game. They mine gold and harvest lumber, which allows unit and building production. They’re also in charge of repairing these buildings when they’re damaged by the enemy. Workers are usually only present for strategic battles, not seek and destroy missions. They tend to be relatively fragile, and poor fighters.
The military units occupy the most space in Warcraft 3. There’s around a dozen per race. They’re unlocked as you complete stages and as your workers create larger buildings. The balancing for these units is incredibly well-done; gone are the days of mass producing one unit to devastate an entire town. A lumbering blood orc with mammoth strength might be easily felled by an aerial wyvern that it can not counterattack. That same wyvern falls prey to the archers piercing arrows though, which support the blood orc. However, the blood orc and the archer are both singed by a spell from a nearby mage, who in turn can be easily bashed to pieces by the blood orc. Warcraft 3 is an enormous tree of checks and balances. For the first time, balanced formations of aerial, ground, healing, and support units must be used.
However, the new development of heroes can tip the scales in Warcraft 3. Heroes are the characters directly involved in the story. They carry over from one battle to another, unlike your amassed army. Much like a character in a roleplaying game, heroes gain experience for defeating enemies, and can use equipment and regenerative potions. As if these advantages weren’t enough, heroes also receive powerful spells to use and boast the highest stats in the game. A fully equipped level ten hero is nearly impenetrable to all but mass assaults from lesser units or confrontations with other heroes.
But this incredible power presents the only substantial balancing issue of Warcraft 3. A mighty hero’s only weakness is running into a mightier hero. Entire hordes of orcs can be burnt away by one spell, or the dead remains of six fully powered knights can be resurrected. Simply put, at times heroes can be far too powerful, ruining the fragile balance that has already been established. A minor problem in my mind, but others may feel this “cheapens” gameplay and makes it too easy.
Warcraft 3 offers many features to help both the novice and hardcore gamer. There are extensive in-game hints, while new units and buildings are explained thoroughly by pop-up text menus. “Hovering” your mouse pointer over practically any unit in the game will tell you the purpose of said unit. A gentle learning curve for the first few stages of each race allows you to adjust to their distinctive characteristics. If you’ve never played a RTS game before, then Warcraft 3 is an excellent game to start with.
Even experts will praise the new additions to the Warcraft series. You can now queue unit production, which eliminates the chore of having to constantly check your barracks for production. Rally points for your produced troops can now be set. Combat itself has also been improved - magical units can autocast certain spells, allies will automatically help you, and formation movement is now possible. These new features allow Warcraft 3 to surpass the lofty heights set by Blizzard’s other RTS game, Starcraft.
Aside from hero strength, there is only one “flaw” in Warcraft 3 that many complain about - the unit cap. To sustain your units, you need to build structures that provide food, such as farms and moon wells. You can raise your limit all the way up to ninety. However, the more units you have, the greater toll it places on your finances, as money is needed to upkeep your large money. Once you hit forty units, you only receive seventy percent of mined gold. Another hit takes at seventy units, allowing you to only take four out of every ten gold pieces. Also, not all units are created equal. A fire breathing dragon might take up nine food units, while a human peasant might only use one. The greater the unit, the greater the resources consumed.
This is a stark departure from past Warcraft and Starcraft games. Emphasis has been shifted from character quantity to quality. Gone are the days of creating two hundred human knights to rampage the enemy base. Since units are harder to produce, and the quantity aspect has been significantly reduced, the other side of the scale has been appropriately tipped. Units in Warcraft 3 are far stronger than those in past games, to a rough ratio of two to one. Equipment upgrades take a greater precedence; it’s important to upgrade your existing army rather than risk paying an upkeep penalty. The style of play is different, which is a problem to many longtime fans, but it is a welcome change that makes Warcraft 3 feel fresh in a genre which relies upon disposable characters. Every unit you produce in Warcraft 3 is important, and there is little sacrificing production.
Warcraft 3 is a Blizzard game. Therefore, it includes all of the extra options you would expect from any decently produced PC game. A full multiplayer mode is available, with several different options of play available. There is a thriving mod and map community. Regular patches from Blizzard help sort out inequalities in the gameplay, even though the product was more than finished coming straight out of the box. An expansion has already been released.
Just buy this game if you own a computer. You’ll be happy then, and your life will have meaning.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/24/03, Updated 07/24/03
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