There is no company in the PC
gaming world quite like Blizzard. Up until very recently their games had a spotless
reputation that stemmed from both their dedication to uncompromising quality and the fact
that they always managed to be about 20 times more fun to play than anyone elses.
The Blizzard mystique was a powerful thing, and for gamers the release day of every new
Blizzard game was an Event, something you might even skip work for. We awaited the arrival
of Warcraft II and Diablo and Starcraft (and even their expansions) with an anticipation
that rivaled that of Star Wars fans, and we were rewarded with some of the best,
longest-lived games ever made. Then came Diablo II. While it wasnt the unmitigated
disaster that, say, Episode One was, it was a bit of a disappointment. While fun to play,
it was buggy, it was graphically dated, and it was one hell of a lot like Diablo. Of
course, it sold a bajillion copies, too, but there were some grumblings from the hardcore
that maybe Blizzard had lost its touch. So while I awaited the release of Warcraft III
with just as much excitement as usual, that excitement was tinged, for the first time,
with just a little doubt.
Oh me of little faith. With
the release of Warcraft III, Blizzard has yet again managed to catch lightning in a
bottle. While theres nothing very revolutionary here, Warcraft IIIs
combination of stellar graphics, killer setting and story, addictive real-time strategy
gameplay, and unstinting polish makes it a spectacular gaming experience, one that easily
places it in the ranks of Blizzards best games. Again, if youre buying
Warcraft III because youre expecting something entirely innovative, youll
probably be disappointed. Youre probably also misguided; novelty for noveltys
sake has never been a Blizzard trademark--refining existing genres with an eye toward
maximum gameplay and fun has.
Those familiar with Warcraft II will feel, at least intially, right at home in
the world of Warcraft III. Races include the beloved Orcs and Humans, but also two new
additionsthe Undead and the Night Elves, both of whom play very differently from our
two more familiar races. In the single player game, each race gets a campaign of about
eight missions or so. The single player campaign begins with a short introductory orc
campaign that serves to provide both narrative background and a tutorial. This combination
of narrative and gameplay is one of the most impressive aspects of Warcraft III, and it
continues throughout the long but never dull single-player campaigns. Each campaign
gradually introduces you not only to each races units and their capabilities, but
also to their backgrounds and motivations. For the most part, mission objectives are
varied and extremely well-integrated into the storyyou rarely wonder why youre
doing something, and many missions are sprinkled with cut scenes and optional quests that
really draw one into the game. As is a Blizzard trademark, the games storyline is
ambiguous and deep and the characters memorable, as memorable here as Kerrigan and Duke
are from Starcraft.
a real-time strategy game, Warcraft III plays very differently than Warcraft II or
Starcraft. Dont expect to build up massive armies that cover the board, to hoard
resources, and to be able to use rush tactics. The emphasis here is on small units and
individual heroes, and as such gameplay probably owes more to the Warlords: Battlecry
series than Blizzards designers would care to admit. While Warcraft III contains the
usual resource-gathering and base-building component found in most RTSs, it is here
somewhat streamlinedpeons only gather gold and lumber as resources and build farms
for food. Nevertheless, resources must be carefully managedthe population limit in
Warcraft III caps at 90, and as your population grows an "upkeep" penalty
automatically skims a percentage of the resources gathered by your peons. This makes it
much more difficult to field a large force and accrue a vast surplus of resources. Since
buildings seem to produce unitsespecially more powerful onesat a slower rate
than most RTSs, the kind of "rush waves" typical of most RTSs are
very difficult to replicate here.
This places a welcome emphasis on heroes and small-unit tactics. Heroes are
probably the most significant gameplay innovation in Warcraft III, and the aspect that
most differentiates it from Blizzards previous RTSs. Each race can avail
itself of three different kinds of heroes, each with access to different abilities and
spells. As heroes progress in the game, they "level up", RPG-like. Not only does
this add to their base statistics, it also allows you to buff up the various abilities and
spells they specialize in. Heroes will also find magic items aplenty scattered over the
board, and this combination of high stats, powerful abilities, and magic items makes
heroes incredibly powerful, though never quite invincible. Since Blizzard realizes that
losing a hero can be a devastating psychological experience, the game allows you to
resurrect slain heroes at altar structures.
to units, dont expect your structures to pump out innumerable zerglings, either.
Though each race has a wide variety of very distinctive units (and you can sometimes
employ units from other races), they are not as "dispensible" as your typical
RTS unit. Theres no real fodder unit, and each unit can access special abilities. I
dont know about you, but in most RTSs Ive found that special unit
abilities (with a few exceptions) arent all that usefulfast production and
swarming tactics tend to carry the day more than careful deployment. Thats not the
case in Warcraft III, where careful deployment and small unit tactics actually pay off. Of
course, each armys units and structures add to its personality. Humans are adaptable
jacks of all trades with lots of guns; Orcs are tough melee nightmares with brutal magic
spells; Night Elves are stealthy and quick; and the Undead have resilient undead hordes
buttressed by powerful and nasty magic spells.
Besides fighting the other races, youll find that Warcraft IIIs
maps are loaded with NPCs, which the game calls Creeps and Critters. As you move across
the map towards your enemy, youll find it populated by various hostile creatures.
This contributes towards deeper gameplay in two waysfirst, it discourages rush
tactics by forcing you to fight through NPCs before coming to grips with your enemy;
second, it gives your hero a chance to gain experience and valuable magic items.
Overall, Im very pleased with Warcraft IIIs gameplay; the emphasis
on smaller units and careful resource management means that mindless rush tactics and
bunkered in bases are no longer the sine qua non of successful generalship.
Well see how this works out in multiplayer when battle.net opens up to Warcraft III
on July 3.
The games graphics are nothing short of spectacular; Blizzard has finally
made the jump to a 3-D engine, and everything--from the units to the terrain to the spell
effectsis colorful and vibrant and well-designed. Of course, the games
cinematics are just breath-taking; can someone talk these guys into doing a full-length
feature? The only graphical problem I have with the game is the rather limited camera.
Though you can change resolutions, the amount of area you can view of any map is quite
fixed. While the games camera allows you to scroll sideways and to pan from overhead
to ground-level view, it never allowed me to zoom either in or out as much as I wanted to,
and the lack of a rotating camera is an utter mystery. This can sometimes effect gameplay,
tooIve lost more than one unit behind a building I could not see behind. Sound
is excellent, and multiple clicks on units will elicit a wide variety of really funny
comments. Just another example of the kind of attention to detail and polish that makes
Warcraft III such a joy to play.
Ill comment more on multiplayer later, after Ive spent some time on
battle.net, but the LAN games Ive played have been very good. Of course, its
too early to tell if Blizzard has missed a killer strategy, or if one race is more
powerful than another, but in the games Ive played so far the races seem fairly
well-balanced. The multiplayer game ships with over 40 maps for anywhere from 2-12
players, and includes an easy to use and powerful map editor, so this baby has legs.
Well update this review as we wade through the intricacies of Warcraft
IIIs multiplayer component, but for now I have to give Warcraft III an unqualified
and enthusiastic rave review. It recaptures the Blizzard magic in a way I havent
seen since Starcraft; in fact, I think its Blizzards best game yet--and one of
the best PC games Ive ever played.