WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos
It was hardly the most surprising announcement of the show, but Sierra's 'top secret' Warcraftlll was finally unveiled at ECTS and turned a few heads in the process.
Rather than stick to the tried and tested real-time strategy genre, developers Blizzard decided to pen their own - the RPS, or role-playing strategy game. Whether Blizzard's new addition to the gaming lexicon catches on, we shall see, but the game is sure to take off in a big way.
Borrowing a look reminiscent of Bullfrog's post-Molyneux graphical direction, Blizzard have decided to follow the growing trend for full-3D strategy games. But the movement of the various units (skeletal animation for each), and the impressive variety of the terrain easily dwarfs others' attempts, and the wealth of story-driven, in-game cut-scenes brings a cohesive story rich with scripted events. Each unit, especially the hero in charge of them, has been given an injection of personality by way of 3D animated portraits that occupy the corner of the screen.
Battles will be a lot smaller in scale than in previous Warcraft games, with resource management kept to a minimum and base building left almost automatic. Instead Warcraft 3 features heroes that gain in experience, a dynamic interface that provides many attacking options and a number of NPCs with which to interact and mindlessly slaughter. Experience points will be doled out to the heroes throughout the game, and gold will be the currency needed to expand the ranks.
Six races will feature (humans, ores, demons, dwarfs - and two yet to be decided), each distinct in overall ability, with around 15 different units available to each. Magic will play a major part, with a range of spells that will be devastating in effect and appearance. Graphically, it's very I well polished already - but, unfortunately, we have at least a year to wait until Warcraft III appears.
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When is a real time strategy game not a real-time strategy game? When it's a role-playing strategy game, it would seem, as this is how Blizzard is touting the third instalment of its immensely popular Warcraft series.
Arguably its most highly anticipated title ever, Warcraft III represents something of a departure from the current generation of real-time strategy games, as well as a sizeable leap from previous incarnations. Now in full 3D, as opposed to the top-down affairs of yore, Warcraft 3 can be conveniently described as a 3D RPS. Clearly the very mention of role-playing is enough to send shudders down the spine of any normal, right-thinking person, with its connotations of real ale, unkempt facial hair, questionable personal hygiene and limited social outlets. However, by introducing role-playing elements to the Warcraft universe, Blizzard intends to elevate strategy games to a new level of interactivity.
Instead of focusing on resource gathering and accumulating massive numbers of expendable units, it is hoped that Warcraft III will immerse players in a more dynamic world, making the game environment much more compelling. You will control smaller, more powerful forces as they embark on adventures, complete quests and interact with non-player characters, while simultaneously devising strategies to succeed in the ultimate goal of defeating your opponents. It's an ambitious idea, but the game's producer, Rob Pardo, is convinced that it's the way forward.
'The guys didn't want to make the same game again. When we started, we didn't even call it Warcraft III. It was going to be a new game in the Warcraft universe. We've been arguing back and forth about whether to call it Warcraft 3. We finally decided to call it Warcraft III because it takes place in the same world, and it is based on events of previous games. It is the sequel to Warcraft II, and it does have real-time strategy elements. We said as long as we make people understand the differences of this game, then we should call it Warcraft III."
So is the emphasis on strategy or role-playing? "It is still primarily a strategy game. There will still be town management and resource management. The player will be building his units and heroes from their hometown and building up a tech-tree to enable higher end units. The main difference is that we want to add role-playing in an interesting way."
Kill The President
These comments were echoed by Mike Morhaime, president and co-founder of Blizzard, who was moved to announce: "With the release of StarCraft, we felt that we reached the pinnacle of what could be accomplished in the current generation of strategy titles. Our goal with Warcraft 3 is to carve out a new direction for strategy games by incorporating the interactive dynamics present in role-playing games and applying them in a competitive strategic combat environment."
Ah yes, combat - the crux of any decent strategy game. Until now, Warcraft has always been about ores and humans kicking the living daylights out of each other in a quest for supremacy. Warcraft III is set to complicate things further by offering six different races, each with unique units, magical abilities and weapons of war. Blizzard is currently keeping its cards close to its chest, but we can confirm that humans and ores will be back, along with a debut appearance from demons, leading to all manner of other-worldly shenanigans.
Rest assured that there will be plenty of scuffling, as Blizzard are aiming for a ratio of 30% base managing and troop organising, against 70% tactical combat, questing, and interacting with the world and NPCs, which is approximately the reverse of most RTS games.
With such emphasis placed upon it, clearly the combat will have to be something special. Whereas Blizzard's previous strategy games had normal units and heroes, Warcraft III will now have normal units, hero units, and named heroes. The named heroes will be unique and legendary characters that propel the story - much like Kerrigan and Zeratul in Starcraft - while the hero units will be the special units that you group your regular troops under.
Blizzard says there will be about six heroes per side, and that they will gain experience, advancing in level and power. Heroes will be vital because you won't be able to group or control units without them. You won't even be able to scroll around the map any more. Instead, you will only be able to jump views between towns and heroes. These heroes will gain extra abilities as they go up in level, and, as in Diablo II, they will be able to choose from a variety of skills as they advance in level.
During combat, there will be more options and, due to the emphasis on fewer units, less micro-management. Each unit will have a special skill so, for instance, the grunt will be able to go berserk, the minotaur will have a bull rush and the wolf rider will be able to throw nets. Budding wizards needn't feel left out, as there will still be traditional spellcasters with even more advanced abilities.
As for the story, it carries on from Warcraft II, and is largely the kind of sub-Tolkien nonsense you'd expect. However, fans of the Warcraft universe may be interested to learn that it combines elements of the long-since ditched Warcraft Adventures, the developers at least culling something from the canned title, including a few characters.
The story is clearly something that Blizzard considers important, and Pardo says: "You saw some of that in Starcraft, and we're just taking it to the next level. There will be lots of in-game cut-scenes - both little ones and big ones. We'll go as far as our creativity lets us go. You see what Half-Life did to action games? I'd love to do that to strategy games."
It's an ambitious aim, but if anyone can, Blizzard can.