Blizzard sure is a funny company, they remind me of ID Software sometimes. They haven’t released a whole lot of titles, but they have yet to make a bad one. Blizzard’s series of excellent games started back in 1994 with the release of War Craft: Orcs & Humans, followed by the even more popular War Craft 2: Tides of Darkness. After those two titles we’ve seen games like the Diablo series, which also has sold extremely well, along with Star Craft which hasn’t exactly sold badly either. It’s hard to pinpoint the key-ingredient in what makes Blizzard’s games so great, but by looking at them it’s clear that the gameplay is what makes people play games that are many years old, even now. The third installment in the Warcraft saga has been greatly anticipated for a long time now, partially because of the multiplayer beta, which some have loved, while some have hated. This time the orcs aren’t fighting the humans; rather there are two new sides, the undead and the night elves. Thing have suddenly become a lot more complicated.
It’s strange how the reactions towards Warcraft 3 can be put into two categories: those who “the graphics sucks! Blizzard sucks!” and there’s those who have a few brain-cells, who look at more than just the graphics. It’s true that the polygon count for the characters, buildings and environment in general is fairly low, but there’s a reason. In Asia a great deal of the young population have grown very fond of Blizzard’s Star Craft. In fact, they have huge tournaments, and it’s actually a lot more publicly acceptable to be really good at a game, which in other parts of the world would make you look like a nerd. One of the reasons that a lot of people in Asia can play Star Craft is because of the low system requirements. People who cannot afford high-end PCs can still play the games, and this is something Blizzard has considered in Warcraft 3. By not stressing the PCs as much as characters with higher polygon count would, they let more of their current fan-base play their latest release. Smart? Indeed it is.
Another reason behind the somewhat outdated graphics is the time it takes to develop games at Blizzard. Since their company is fairly small, and without as many programmers (etc) as for instance Electronic Arts, they need more time to develop their games, so if the engine powering Warcraft 3’s graphics looked great in the beginning, it’s obvious that after the long development it’ll look not as impressive as earlier. But regardless of their motives and reasons, outdated graphics is still outdated graphics, and the graphics score would be higher if it had the specs to boast about.
However, there’s more to a game’s graphics than the polygon count. You can have a technologically awesome game, and still end up with terrible graphics. It all depends on the artistic skills of the people behind it. Creating four different sets of atmospheres, ones for each race, is difficult. Obviously, there are legions of different units, structures and such that all need a different look, and in my opinion Blizzard did a great job. Not only do they have distinct looks, but they also have nice looking effects and basically the ingredients you could want. Secondly, the maps you play on are nice and diverse, ranging from dark forests to tundra’s, to even cities. To make the maps seem even more alive Blizzard has added things like animals that run around calming waves and such, along with neutral creatures, which will be discussed later in the review. The forests have never been so cool, while still managing to keep the somewhat cartoonish image of its predecessors.
Sounds / Music:
A Warcraft game wouldn’t be a Warcraft game without the sound of swords clinging, and clubs bashing skulls. In this department Warcraft 3 is better than it has ever been, and because of the two added races you obviously need a bigger assortment of sounds. One of the things I’ve found humorous about Blizzard’s games is that the unit acknowledgments are really strange when clicked on several times, and in that department Warcraft 3 doesn’t disappoint. It’s rare that I actually laugh of a real-time strategy game, but this can really be entertaining when you’re waiting for upgrades to build, or downtimes in general. However, the first acknowledgements are really dull and repetitive, but this really is expected and didn’t annoy me greatly.
The music, which sounds a lot like it did in the earlier games, continues the tradition of entertaining, but not being so loud that it makes it harder to think. I will not say it’s great, but at least put on a modest enough volume to work well.
The gameplay is another one of the great things in Blizzard games. Neither one of their games have been at the top of their genre in regards to graphics, but letting even new gamers pick up their games, learning the game very quickly, and loving it for a long time is something Blizzard have become experts at.
Quite a lot of things have been added into Warcraft 3 that wasn’t there in the last game, and I will start with the added races. Now you can choose between playing with humans, orcs, night elves and the undead. All of them have awesome capabilities, but also sides of them that other races are better at. Starting with the humans, who are proud knights of the light, and some qualify as paladins. They fight with steel and might, have relatively weak units, but can attack well both on the ground, with ranged weaponry and as well by air. The orcs, who we also know from the two previous games, are warriors of fury and muscle. They fight ferociously, with great ground troops, powered by huge weapons and thick armor. Yet, while being ruthless on the ground, they somewhat lack aerial capabilities. Thirdly there are the night elves that rely more on ranged attacks and stealth. They’re people of the forest, and as ridiculous as it may sound; some of their “buildings” may even stand up, move around and fight an opposing enemy! How’s that for protecting yourself to the last second? Finally there are the undead, who are the people that the humans fight in the single player campaign. These occult and downright creepy people rely a lot on spells, poison and the power to raise the dead. Their units range from tiny foot soldiers, to bigger units like the “meatwagon”, to even a huge dragon. The undead reminded me a bit of the Zerg back from the days of Star Craft, as they can only summon (yes, summon) buildings inside their territory, which is depicted by scorched earth.
But, unlike the Zerg and their rush attacks you cannot play the huge army strategy any more, for several reasons. First off the maximum unit count has been lowered to only 90, and because of a nice innovation called Upkeep. Every single one of your units require things for them to exist, such as food, new equipment etc, and as you create more units the upkeep rises. In the beginning you will have no upkeep to worry about, and everything you mine and lumber will go into your pocket. As your upkeep rating increases you will get less gold when mining, so you really should try to keep your unit count low. In fact, attacking with smaller groups of units has been a goal from Blizzard’s side, so using cleverly selected units, and a hero, can often destroy an entire enemy camp. Heroes are also one of the major additions to Warcraft 3, and they introduce the Warcraft series to role-playing elements. When building your camp you can make a building that lets you summon heroes, with different skills and powers. So, let’s say you summon a vicious orc warrior. Just after “birth” he starts on level 1, which means he’s fairly weak and with few special abilities. But, as you use him in battles he will gain experience, and after a bit of fighting he will reach level 2. After each level he, or she, will become more powerful, in terms of hitpoints and damage dealt. Secondly, when reaching a new level you can learn a new skill, or build upon a previously learnt one. An orc warrior for instance, can usually learn aggressive powers, which deal more damage than normally, whereas a human knight can learn healing spells etc. The heroes are definitely an interesting addition to the Warcraft series, and I’m sure people will need to rethink their old Star Craft strategies when migrating.
Scattered around on the maps are things like gold mines, goblin stores (where you can buy healing potions and such), and other more or less valuable things that are important to secure. It’s just that you are no longer alone with your enemy on the map, neutral creatures protect these valuable resources, and both you and the person you’re playing against will have to fight these critters. Not only do these critters make the maps more “alive”, they’re also a valuable resource for experience, and it is very important for your heroes to go after these, to hopefully become more powerful. And finally, the artificial intelligence is really good in single player, so you will need to start memorizing the hot-keys right away! But still, on a few maps where you need to remove forest to actually get to your enemy the computer isn’t too bright, but on normal open maps it’s really efficient and smart.
Regarding multiplayer options Warcraft 3 is very similar to other real-time strategy games. The most popular option is using Battle.net, where you can very easily find people to play against, which can in fact be a lot of fun. There you will find people of all skill levels, so that is officially recommended by yours truly. Also, there is nothing stopping you from playing Warcraft 3 on a LAN, but keep in mind that it this time only supports TCP/IP.
This is one of those games that people either hate or love. You can argue whether Blizzard has just made a 3d version of Warcraft 2, but when looking at all the new and exciting additions you should definitely get a different experience than in most other rivaling games of the RTS genre. It’s almost impossible to redefine and revolutionize the real-time strategy genre, because Blizzard has already done just that several years ago. This is a downright fun game, with a decent storyline, decent graphics and sounds, and awesome gameplay with new exciting ideas. Play this game a lot, Blizzard deserves it.