Review by Andy787

"The War wages once again."

Warcraft 3 --the latest Blizzard game-- is here, and if you know anything about Blizzard or Warcraft, stories would be a daunting task you should think, but for the most part, Blizzard overcomes. The manual pryou'd realize the sheer meaning those words encompass. For the unitiated, Blizzard is arguably the most prolific developer in all of PC gaming, and Warcraft one of their longest running series. Warcraft is a real-time-strategy game, set in medieval times of knights and magic, lumbering monsters and blood thirsty orcs, and features an extremely rich and detailed history (as Blizzard's PC games do, featuring novel-sized stories accompanying their games). So as you can see, a Blizzard release is a huge deal in the gaming world, and this one in particular, as it is the long awaited sequel to their flagship strategy series!

Given all the pressure put on Blizzard to surpass what they've created before, out-doing their previous stories would be a daunting task you should think, but for the most part, Blizzard overcomes. The manual provides you with a very detailed history on things that have happened since the last game, a great introduction to the new races in the game (more on them later), and really gives you much more insight onto the whole game and world of Warcraft. Now on the other hand, the in-game story is very, very slow for most of the beginning, lacking the climactic twists and turns past games were noted for until very far into the game. Make no doubt that the story does pick up, but it definitely takes work to get to the good stuff.

Now once you actually get into the game, the first thing you'll notice in WC3 is the obvious change from 2D graphics to a brand new 3D engine, a first for Blizzard. Many were afraid we'd lose something in the translation to 3D in RTS games, but like many others titles, and now WC3 have proven, 3D in an RTS is a beautiful thing to behold. The character models and structures in WC3 are breathing (literally) with life and personality, and the environments are just magical. In other news --and you may want to read this twice over to let it sink in-- the water in WC3 actually MOVES! Gasp! Yes, gone are the blankets of stagnant 2D mass we used to call 'water' in previous RTS titles, replaced in WC3 by beautifully coded 3D algorithms.

WC3 is packed with detail as well. Units leave tracks and foot prints as they walk, molding the ground textures in real time. Fallen units decay into fleshy skeletons, and eventually become one with the Earth. Birds fly about and animals wander your battle fields. The game's world is really painted together extremely well, giving a real impression of life. Another thing to note, is that much of the story is also conveyed with the help of the game's new 3D engine. The camera moves around all cut-scene-like as important units converse and move the plot along.

The graphics have their fair share of downfalls, though. The main being that the character models are made up of some really pointy polygons, which often makes the would-be hulking, blood lusting, killing machines of your army look like a band of stick men. Another problem arises in the in-game cut-scenes. Most of the time, these epic, melodramatic moments look sloppy because they're all forced to use the animations of the game's actual unit, so it's not uncommon to see a mammoth-like Dreadlord running his ass off to move three feet. Anyway, downfalls aside, WC3's graphics are very solid, and the 3D engine really ads a whole new perspective (or dimension ;)) to the personality of the game, to say the least.

Speaking of personality, that's probably the sole reason why Blizzard's games are just a few notches above the rest, as their games always pack in tons of feeling. Maybe it's the often hilarious voice samples of the units, poking fun and embracing all kinds of popular culture, from Austin Powers to Bevis and Butthead. Or maybe it's the sheer emotion of the little guys. You can really get a feeling for each of the unit's attitudes and personalities just from their little portraits and voice samples, from the 'I'll try my best!' peons, to the 'I'll do as I wish' chieftains.

Aside from the excellent voice samples and the solid sound effects, one area that the game really doesn't do much in is the sound. Back ground music, in large part, is very low key in WC3, featuring a classical-like mood but lacking in any real substance. Like I said before though, the voice work is truly exceptional, and the sound effects are certainly above par, so the lack of decent music isn't too disappointing.

Finally, with the audio/visual departments taken care of, we can get to the meat and potatoes of any Blizzard game --the gameplay. Warcraft 3 has some really big shoes to fill in the gameplay area, considering how extremely balanced and tight the gameplay was in Blizzard's last RTS (Starcraft), but for the most part, WC3 fulfills it's goal. Make no mistake about it, WC3 doesn't break (much) new ground like their past games, but what it does, is takes everything they've done well in the genre, and just improved upon it. Control is streamlined a bit, the interface is a bit more intuitive, and pathing (units getting lost and going where you don't tell them to) is practically a non-issue now.

Now what they did change, almost completely, is the pace of the game. In past strategy games, the goal was largely to take over the enemy base by just amassing as huge an army as you were given the ability to, and just swooping in for the kill. But in WC3 however, the limit of units you can command is severely reduced, instead making you resort to actual strategy, using each unit's individual pros and cons to build as well rounded an army as you can strategize, and using all of their abilities to the fullest.

To even further the strategic value of the game, Blizzard has made a major new addition to the game (and genre) in the form of heroes. Heroes are just like any regular offensive unit, but instead of always being the same as everyone else, the more you fight with the heroes, the more powerful it becomes, gaining experience and levels with fighting. With each level you gain, your heroes' maximum hit points and magic points increase, but more importantly, they're given a point which they can use to level up one of their four magic spells. Each of the heroes has a different set of magic spells, and all of them are unique and offer their own strategic importance. High-leveled heroes are often the sole factor of a winning game, because while powerful alone, when used with an army of other units, most heroes benefit the entire army.

And finally, another big addition to WC3, is the addition of two more races, the undead and the night elves, from WC2's two (humans and orcs). Now while it may seem spectacular having four races now as opposed to Blizzard's previous highest (Starcraft with three), the races in WC3 aren't nearly as dynamic and different as those in SC. I really wish it weren't so, but it's true, none of the races in WC3 are nearly as unique (gameplay wise), though they all have their definite differences, they just aren't as defined as other titles. Not to say they aren't all much, much different personality-wise or aren't all as balanced as other games, because they are. They're all very, very different aesthetically, and they're all balanced out very well. They just don't play too much differently.

Now one of the core elements to all of Blizzard's PC games, and a true test to the balance of any strategy game, has always been the online-multi-player. So how does the heroes system factor into the multi-player? Well, it's actually a mixed bag. While it definitely opens a lot of strategic elements, it also makes many games just a race to level up your hero. So in essence, it's kind of a double edged sword, but rest assured, the system is generally more good than bad, you just have to get a handle on how it all works. To add to the online experience, Blizzard's well known is, as always, easy as pie to navigate and find games to play in, not to mention keep track of all of your buddies in a much improved buddy list feature. To tell the truth though, I still think Starcraft has a bit tighter online gameplay than WC3, but WC3's is still very, very good, and should provide countless hours of replay value after you've had your fun with the single player.

All in all, Warcraft 3 is an excellent game, and certainly a worthy sequel to Warcraft 2. It's not a revolutionary game, it's just a damned good one. With superbly balanced gameplay, beautiful graphics, solid sound, and infinite replay value via, WC3 continues Blizzard's track record of magnificent games. And that, as they say, is that.

Final Score: 1----------2----------3----------4----------5----------6----------7----------8---------9.1-----------10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/27/02, Updated 08/02/02

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