Review by UltimaterializerX
"Every example of how NOT to make a video game."
With the perfection of Starcraft, Diablo and Diablo 2, gamers have come to demand excellence from Blizzard. Problem is, those are the only three games made by Blizzard worth playing. Nothing else they've done is remotely good, and Blizzard has since opted to design skinner boxes instead of video games.
As such, the atrocity that is Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne was allowed to hit store shelves in its current state. Not to say it doesn't have some good spots --- the music and graphics are excellent, though we all know "it does graphics and music well!" is bad news --- but overall, one has to wonder how a meticulous company like Blizzard fell into the Square Enix zone and decided to put graphics and music above gameplay and polish. It's not even that the gameplay is bad; it is historically bad. Not one single aspect of this game's design is good, and in many ways it's like Blizzard never bothered play testing any of this stuff.
The Frozen Throne's storyline is an extension of Reign of Chaos, but most of the events are extremely predictable and a good deal of the single player levels are a chore to play through. Furthermore, it becomes painfully obvious as one plays through single player that the effort put in is lazy at best. The Night Elf campaign ends more anticlimactically than Halo 2 and has the most annoying missions and setting in the game, half of the Undead missions are a direct redux of Starcraft missions, the only good parts of the Human campaign are the gimmick levels, and there is no Orc campaign at all save for a secret, bastardized RPG meets RTS campaign in which the story has nothing to do with any events seen prior. Naturally, Blizzard saw fit to take that Orc campaign style and have it be the main focal point of multiplayer. Even sadder is that said bastardization of the RTS enterprise in the Orc "campaign" is the most fun you'll get from Frozen Throne single player, which doesn't say much. Blizzard grew so lax with development that certain unit quotes from the characters are directly taken from their lines in the story.
But surely, a great company such as Blizzard makes up for such faults with multiplayer! This is after all what they're famous for: free, fun, and deceptively deep multiplayer action. Unfortunately, multiplayer in Warcraft 3 is about as broken and imbalanced as possible. While it's a difficult task to properly balance four races, Blizzard is so far off the mark in this venture that an epileptic seven year old with one functioning eye could have done a better job.
The main reason for multiplayer imbalance comes from the god-awful hero RPG system. Blizzard's cute little idea for Warcraft 3 was to stray away from what made Starcraft great, and instead focus on heroes leading their armies into battle. Proper for antiquity perhaps, but terrible for balance in a real-time strategy title. 1-3 units can so wildly fluctuate the outcome and balance of a fight that balance becomes a sideshow for aesthetics. Battles are no longer about winning, but how good 1-3 units look while winning. There's really no overstating how bad the hero system is until you start playing multiplayer. Get ready to lose, a lot, and a lot of the time it won't be because you were outplayed. It'll be because the other guy has better heroes or got better item drops from creep camps.
Oh, you thought I was kidding about the RPG nonsense? On every map there are creep camps, item shops and even a tavern that you can buy heroes from that have nothing at all to do with the race you're playing. It is fully possible for two players of equal skill to have a completely imbalanced match because one guy got better item drops. Never mind being able to buy healing potions, invincibility potions, teleportation staves that can instantly remove units from trouble, and even items that allow ground heroes to attack air units when they would normally be unable to.
And it gets worse. Much, much worse. Further ruining of RTS elements in Warcraft 3 exist due to Blizzard's idea to introduce RPG elements into multiplayer RTS gameplay. Heroes are not only more powerful than any of your units, but they gain experience points and more special skills as they accumulate kills. And it cannot be overstated how stupid the item system is, making heroes even more broken than they already are and making the entirety of multiplayer a mess not worth playing. Go watch a replay some time. Two different players can kill the exact same creep spawn, yet only one may potentially get a game-changing item. Even dumber is how good some of these items are. Rather than having movespeed aura exclusive to the Undead race, creeps can drop an item that can give a hero and his army Unholy Aura. Now everyone can be Undead! It works for plenty of other things, not to mention resurrection items, summoning items, and even recruiting mercenaries from shops. This is all fundamentally imbalanced in every possible way and games never come down to actual player skill. If similar gameplay were in Starcraft, Blizzard would have gone down as a laughingstock and Command and Conquer wouldn't be as niche a series. Given the current state of affairs, one wonders if this wouldn't have been a better course for gaming's history.
The hero RPG system causing Warcraft 3 to be the worst RTS ever made is hardly an exaggerated claim. The perfect example of this is Orc's Blademaster unit, who can put the other player at an irreparable disadvantage at the very beginning of every game with little to no risk to himself or his base. All Orc needs to do is get a BM out as fast as possible, learn Wind Walk, waltz into the other base and kill off a few worker units. The other player is now at an economic and strategic disadvantage because they have to devote resources into invisibility detection and making more workers. It is wholly possible to win entire games by building only a Blademaster, which is as far away from proper balance as there is. The easy fix here is starting heroes at level 0 instead of level 1 and forcing them to earn their first skill, but Blizzard has long since proven it has no common sense about game design and only cares about exploiting people through skinner boxes.
On top of the ridiculous hero system, no semblance of balance is found in the races either, assuming you're even lucky enough to have a game in which units and races matter. Blizzard defends themselves by citing 50-50 stats across all levels of play in all races, completely ignoring that the in-game AMM system is supposed to yield 50-50 stats by pairing you up against opponents of similar skill --- if you can manage to avoid smurfs that is, which is one of many Battle.net ills that end up on Blizzard's ever-growing backburner of tasks that never actually gets finished. Just look at how long it took them to add a skill/stat respec into Diablo 2.
The reality is that Night Elf is by far the best race in the game, countered only by heroes from other races and everything Orc does. Not counting their heroes, they have the most ridiculous abilities and more than one imbalanced unit. Other races do break through every so often (Elf is literally defenseless against an Orc player with two brain cells to rub together), but time has shown that Night Elf is the best across the board. That is not balance, nor is the rock-paper-scissors nonsense Blizzard has become infatuated with. It's not like in Starcraft when three entirely different races somehow found perfect harmony among their chaos. It took very rare exceptions for balance issues to appear in Starcraft. In Warcraft 3, they're all part of the game and cannot be rectified.
Lastly is a very dumb mechanic called upkeep. In a nutshell, if you have 50% capacity on units then the game only gives you 70% of the gold you actually earn. Good lesson on how capitalism works, but bad game design. And if you get near full capacity on units, you only get 40% of the gold you earn. Essentially, what Blizzard is telling us here is that they want an RTS specifically designed around having less units. There is literally nothing defensible or enjoyable about any aspect of the gameplay in Frozen Throne.
The one bright spot in Warcraft 3 is custom play, which has grown bigger than the game itself yet says more about the genius and creativity of the community and map editors than it does Warcraft 3. But as for Warcraft 3 itself, you'll get more entertainment from reading the game script and downloading the soundtrack than you will playing. Which is needless to say, completely ridiculous. It is a shame GameFAQs doesn't allow for scores of 0/10, because this is one of the few games that actually deserves that score. There is nothing whatsoever to defend here.
Blizzard needs to be out of the game design business, because they have long since proven they have lost the ability to make good games. Activision buying them and Bobby Kotick instilling his devilish business practices into the company only made things worse. The lone good thing about Warcraft 3 (Dota) was taken over by Valve, which might be the only company in gaming capable of doing things right anymore. Starcraft 2 is multi-part cash grab nonsense where a full game is being broken up into three parts and sold as three separate games, Diablo 3 looks worse with each new news release, and we are still getting updates to World of Warcraft because 12 million people have fallen into the game's unethical reward systems. Activision-Blizzard is the most overrated, overhyped company in all of gaming -- all based off of only making three good games! -- and almost no one else would have so many people allowing them to get away with this stuff. Even old standbys like Nintendo, Capcom and Square-Enix have tons of detractors these days. But for whatever reason, everyone defends Blizzard's bad game design like a girl on the internet being white-knighted by a bunch of nerds who will never leave their mom's basement.
It is time to stop letting Blizzard get away with this nonsense. Vote with your dollars and stop buying their pittance wares until they learn how to make good games again.
Reviewer's Score: 1/10 | Originally Posted: 07/16/07, Updated 10/03/11
Game Release: Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne (US, 07/01/03)
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