Review by Aganar

"This ain't Starcraft, but a superb game nonetheless"

After an eternity of waiting, Blizzard finally released the much sought-after Warcraft III. For those who don't know, Warcraft is a real-time strategy from Blizzard, highly regarded. And, their last RTS, Starcraft, was hailed as the greatest RTS, and one of the greatest games, of all time. Warcraft III is a bit disappointing if you were expecting a successor to Starcraft, but if you look at it as an innovative little break away from the traditional RTS's, then it is still an amazing game.

The graphics have changed from the Starcraft style. Instead of the futuristic realistic style, it has reverted back to the medieval pseudo-realistic style. However, with the addition of the new races, the art style now resemblance more of the Diablo II art style. It bears the darker demonic style from the Diablo series, but still the themes and characters of Warcraft. For the people who have no idea what the hell I'm saying, the character designs look more akin to mythological paintings, with demons and high elves, etc. If you want see some of the original character sketches, check out The Art of Warcraft. My comments will make sense then.

As for the graphics themselves, it is mixed. Since they decided to brake away from Starcraft's hand-drawn sprite characters, the characters are in 3d. While it is interesting to see them in 3d, and they are impressive, for some reason on close inspection they still look very blocky. I do wish Blizzard had improved a bit on this. But, they couldn't really be expected to, since this really is their first game with 3d characters. Another thing you'll notice is that the characters are finally proportional. So, a giant dragon which is supposed to be able to destroy mountains and devour behemoths in single bites, really is that huge!

The game is now in full 3d, as you will now notice. The characters, the backgrounds, the special effects, everything. As I said before, the characters are a bit blocky, but it is so much fun and cool that you really don't notice. Since it is in full 3d, some new features have been added. One is a rotate-able camera. So, you can have it behind a warrior when you are following him, or switch to in front of a massive horde as they run to clash into the enemy. Along with that, you can also zoom in. It's only if you zoom in that you really notice the blockiness anyway. But, zooming in can be awesome when viewing replays. There is nothing more fun then zooming in as an army clashes with another. Another thing to notice is the stunning FMV's, which are arguably Blizzard's best yet.

The story is good, but they leave way too much open. If you have played Warcraft II, expect a continuation from it. The Humans are now the alliance, however, so there are some dwarves. Since the story is complicated and difficult to explain, I will only tell you that it is interesting. Most of the game revolves around killing the Undead and their demon overlords, and stopping the acts of the Lich King. While compelling, the ending is intentionally cut off so you are left with a bunch of loose ends. And now, with the expected announcement of the expansion pack, we know were all of the loose ends went. One nice thing though about the single-player is each mission has a miniquest you can do to get some additional items to help you out.

Now for the gameplay. This is the hardest out of anything to explain. It's so new and innovative, yet somewhat oldschool at the same time. And yet it's better and worse than Starcraft. Argh! To put it simply, it's Starcraft meets Diablo set in the Warcraft universe. However, had I said that, people would stand there with blank faces. So, I'll try to go more in-depth for how to describe it.

If you have played any of Blizzard's real time strategies you know what to expect. You gather resources with your worker units, build other buildings with them, recruit soldiers, upgrade them, destroy the enemy. Now, before I get into what Warcraft III does, it is imperative that you realize what was done before it. Warcraft invented the formula. Warcraft II improved upon it by adding new units and refining it. Starcraft refined it even more. But, what is important about Starcraft is that it added a totally new dimension to the formula. Instead of simply two races, which were pretty much exactly the same, they made 3 totally different races. That was a huge step. Now, Warcraft III takes it a step further. While it does have 4 different races, the humans and the orcs are still very similar. The new step it adds is the RPG elements.

First of all, there is now more of a focus on unit spells. Before it was rare for a person to have a spell unless he or she was a spell caster. But now, every other unit has at least one or two. And, some of the better spell-casters even have training upgrades to refine the spells. But nothing could've prepared anyone for the huge jump in units. In the older games, you had characters throughout the storylines, which were essential for the single-player. They were known as heroes. Well, this has taken it a step further. Heroes are no longer single-player only. Heroes are now build-able units. You can only have three, but it is still an amazing progression.

Heroes are your ultimate units. They are your leaders in combat. They are your chief spell casters in sneak attacks, and they are you lifesavers in ambushes. Heroes are your aces in the hole. Not only are they stronger than the average unit, but they level up. The more units they kill, the more experience they get. As they gain more experience they become stronger and learn more damaging spells. At level 6, they learn an apocalyptic spell which can change the tide of battle.

That, however, is not the only influence received from Diablo. No, there is one which is much more obvious. Your heroes even have inventory! They can collect items from fallen enemies such as a potion of life (even NAMES from Diablo!), which can heal them during battle. Or, they can even pick up special weapons like Claw of Attack+6, which will increase their damage when equipped. That puts even more focus on your heroes. The other influence from Diablo is some of the units, which derive from Diablo characters (*cough*Necromancer*cough*).

You will find yourself always wanting a hero whenever you attack. When you attack some neutral monsters to get some gold, you will always want to bring your hero, since he will have the best shot at killing them, and gain some experience while he is at it. When you battle you will want them to be at the front row to cast their spells, attack the enemies, or maybe even heal your own units. If you think they're important here, a startling fact: In the beta, units could not even MOVE outside their base unless they were following a hero!

Another great thing about Warcraft III is the amazing variety of heroes in the game. There is no race which was screwed hero-wise. Each one has their own heroes. And all of them have at least one hero which is utterly amazing. The Humans have their Archmage, a very powerful mage on a horsemen, whose first attack can be devastating in battle. The orcs have the Blademaster, a fast warrior who can create multiple images of himself and do even twice his own damage on a critical hit. The Undead have a tie between two: The Dreadlord, a demon from hell who can put people to sleep during battle, give surrounding characters a life bonus for every enemy they kill, and at later levels even summon a demon! And, the Death Knight, who uses dark vampiric powers to attack the enemy. Finally, there is the Night Elves, who possess the Priestess of the Moon, a powerful huntress on a tiger, and, probably the coolest Blizzard character ever made except maybe Tassedar, the Demon Hunter. He is a blind male elf with incredible fighting skills, wielding two scythes and great speed. His most noticable ability, is his final one, where he transforms into a giant demon himself!

Anyway, onto the gameplay itself. I'm sure you're tired about hearing of heroes. The gameplay is...strange, to say the least. Unlike Starcraft where the main focus was about gigantic battles, Warcraft III focuses more on strategic battles. It's more about balancing your team with just the right amount of spell-casters to be able to counter this person's unit, and then making your own units powerful enough to take them out. Arguably its more challenging and more fun, but it also comes with the downside that it involves much more micromanaging. And, no one really likes micromanaging. Another way they have downgraded the battles is by reducing the amount of food you can have down to 90. And the heroes take up 5 a piece.

But, it's not to say it's not fun. It is still extremely addictive. The more you play the more different patterns you experiment with. The point of the some of the game is managing your time, trying to get everything build as fast as you can, getting your heroes ready and built up for attacks. Since there is a day and night system, often you will try to build up as many units as you can before nightfall, so you can attack at night and avoid the creeps (neutral units which will attack if they spot you by day), and avoid some enemy turrets.

Blizzard now also put much more of a focus on teamwork. You are expected to work with your friends no matter what race any of you are. Every race has a million different strategies to use, and to overcome anyone you must be versatile. And, if you are, you can experience some of the most fun battles ever recorded. I must say, there is very little things more fun then watching your friend's heavy melee units duke it out with the enemies, but then send the enemy home crying when your necromancers come through and make a whole other army of the undead. Ah, memories.

Sound and Music is a good bag. The music consists of a few themes like Starcraft. Most of them are well done and are the type you can listen to for hours and never really notice or get annoyed by them. Sound is top-notch. Not only are all of the in-game sounds great, but also the voice acting is superb. Blizzard has always had good voice acting, and this is no exception. Most noticeably was the continuation of the unit quotes. In older games, the more you click on the unit, he may start shouting some strange phrases. This time Blizzard may have gone a bit overboard. Instead of just being threats from the characters, they are now hundreds of hilarious sounds raging from random insanity to Monty Python, to random movie quotes, to references to Starcraft, to TV humor. It doesn't get any better than that. Hearing the Treants shouting ''Only you can prevent forest fires'' cracks me up every time.

As for Replay Values and extras, this is about as far as you can come. First of all, if you beat the game on hard, you get to see a special sequence with 3d marines battling 3d zerglings and hydralisks, then being destroyed by some weird space orc creatures. The multiplayer is some of the most addictive multiplayer available now on the net. And Blizzard has done their best to make awesome. Also, they have encouraged you to battle against players with their new ''matching system''. In this system, you will be arranged into teams where you will be placed against people with about your skill level. It's an interesting system, but you can only improve your profile by doing this. And, as we all know, it is never good to rely on a human to win. You will always find some moron ally who will spend the entire game massing the first unit and then yelling at us when he gets attacked and destroyed.

I didn't think it was possible, but they somehow managed to succeed Starcraft in the map editor. You can pretty much do anything you ever wanted to. You can give non-hero units hero powers and vice versa. You can make nearly any time of gameplay. They added variables, which programmers know make nearly anything possible. And, my favorite, you can place cameras around the map for cut-scenes or video sequences. If that's not enough, you can also have special effects like rain and lightning. And, you are no longer restricted to wave sound files. You can now import mp3's! All of this lets you do pretty much anything. Since you can also use any props from the game, people have been testing their abilities by just building the biggest city imaginable and posting screenshots. One site even had the idea of just making a movie using the characters and having all kinds of different moving cameras, cut-scenes, etc. The sky is the limit.

Overall, Warcraft III is still an outstanding game. However, it is not Starcraft. Perhaps it is because while WC3 tried making some innovations, Starcraft simply made a couple and perfected the old ones. So, Starcraft still remains the ultimate Real Time Strategy. Warcraft III is still in second, but due to its tedious micromanaging, loose-ended story, and down-sized battles, it's just not quite up there. Sorry guys. But don't be discouraged. There's always Warcraft IV to return to your roots!

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/29/03, Updated 01/29/03

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