WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos
My story begins many years ago (mist floats eerily past the page), in a land across the great sea, where a bloody conflict raged between the two mighty tribes of Blizzard and Westwood. Driven by their lust for supremacy but blinded by a bitter, short-sighted rivalry, the great tribes slowly became complacent. Their predictability bred weakness and lethargy, until the conflict faded away like a dying star, and the drums of war fell silent once again. An uneasy peace settled across the land. The tribes’ loyal subjects drifted from the battlefield, lost souls looking for a new purpose - a new leader who could lead them once more to glory and honour. But during this age of emasculation, new powers were moving across the land, threatening to extinguish the tribes’ hopes for a return to a golden age. The resounding crash of the drums of war danced across the land once more, like a thundercrack which heralds the storm. From the darkness emerged two new heroes, the Shogun and the Warrior King, who swept aside their rivals like the tides of the sea with their revolutionary tactics and devastating new technologies.
Now, years later, these two, once great tribes, stand on the brink of extinction as they prepare to make one final stand upon the field of warriors. Led by two great heroes, the all Commanding and Conquering General of Westwood and the one they call Warcraft III of Blizzard. It is his story that I shall tell you now, as he stands proud at the helm of his men. a chilling battlecry engulfing the world, and his once dominant tribe clinging on to the strands of supremacy, as fragile as a flame in the wind. The day of their judgement has come.
A Long Time Coming
Well it’s finally here, and quite honestly, it’s about time. After four looong yeaaars of holding our breath, turning blue, killing a gazillion brain cells and then repeating the process a thousand more times, the wait is finally over. However, before we delve into the depths of the game, cogitate on its nuances and developments and generally spew out gasps of exaggerated admiration or spat-out hatred, let’s just skim over the background story. You know, just in case you haven’t played either of the past two Warcraft titles. Or in case you were still one ejaculation away from existence back then. Ready? Right here we go.
Set 15 years after Warcraft II - in which a titanic battle raged between human and orc clans, led by heroes with names sounding like a nasal passage being cleared (Khadgar, Ner’zhul, Azeroth, etc) - war is once again brewing after a period of peace. The suppressed Orcs, under their new Warchief Thrall, are threatening to take back their conquered lands, and a new, more sinister evil is brewing, connected (or so a wizened old mage who cross-dresses like a bird believes) to an ancient prophecy, regarding the return of demons to the world. OooOOooh, spooky stuff indeed. Anyhow, after the stunning (and I mean rip-your-eyes-out-in-pure-disbelief stunning) intro, you’re thrown into the first of five campaigns. Or four and a quarter if you want to be pedantic about it.
Four In One
The first thing that strikes you is that you don’t just get to play one story from two perspectives. Nonononono! Instead, you get to play one ever-evolving story over the course of these campaigns. And it works superbly. But more on that later. Starting off as the Orcs in a prologue campaign, you then move onto the Human, Undead, Orc (again) and finally Knight Elf missions, which when added using an advanced form of algebra (2+9+9+8+9), approaches almost 40 levels in total.
Longevity then, is not a problem. However, before you skip round the room in over-optimistic exuberance, let me just ask you to reserve your judgement until we’re finished. So then, onto the critical part. Gameplay.
Hmm, OK this is a tough one to call. But call it I must. Admittedly, the Warcraft series has always prided itself on its ease of accessibility, speed of gameplay and manic battles. In fact, Blizzard has carved itself a niche, no, a cavern, when it comes to this style of game. And Warcraft III is no different. For all its 3D splendour and array rbly rendered and animated units, it still holds dear the very essence of its predecessors, and subsequently very little has changed in the lay department, have to build a base, resources, build up an ile fending off groups of enemy marauders who to their credit, intelligently pick out and attack the weak MHoints of your base in an attempt to annihilate your I loyal subjects and skewer their heads on stakes outside your fallen city walls.
But let's just pause for a second and think about this... WarcraftII is pushing on towards its seventh birthday, which in human years would make it more wrinkly than a severely dehydrated prune. No matter how much of a Warcraft fan you are (I still kiss my Warcraft II pillowcase every night and my Warcraft II Y-fronts are still my favourite pair of pants, so I reckon I could be considered an enthusiast), it’s hard to get away from the feeling that this third instalment is very much entrenched in the past. It’s a feeling that follows you round unshakeably, wheedling its way into your psyche until you realise that you’ve seen it all before. In fact, anyone who knows their RTS from their YTS will recognise that Warcraft III is ultimately, horror of horrors, a build-and rush-strategy game. There I’ve said it. But it is. However, before you cut out my photo and throw kitchen knives at my groin in disgust, allow me to explain myself.
First off, if you’re a Warcraft fan, relax. Breath in... breath out. There, that’s better. It’s not nearly as bad as you may think, and if you’ve taken a sneaky glance at the score, you’ll already have realised this. But there are some glaring issues which need to be mentioned.
In the seven years since its predecessor took the world by storm, both the RTS genre and PC games as a whole have moved on massively. Not only graphically but in terms of gameplay, strategy and tactics. However, at least 60 per cent of the missions in Warcraft III involve building up a few bases, amassing as many troops as possible and then mindlessly wading into the nearest enemy encampment, clouting anything which moves round the head until it drops off, and generally hoping your forces can overwhelm your adversary. After this it’s back to base, build more troops, attack a different enemy base, return to your base, aaaaaand relax.
However, despite an excellently implemented line-of-sight feature (which allows you to use the terrain to avoid the enemy instead of mindlessly attacking everyone you come across), the 3D world isn’t used to any other notable effect. Your zoom function is very limited and you can’t rotate the camera properly, making the impressive visuals look tired fairly early on. As if that wasn’t enough, there are no formation options, flanking bonuses or terrain advantages, such as using the gradient to get the upper hand over an enemy lower down. All too often you feel as though the landscape is dictating the tactics to you, funnelling you down set routes rather than offering you a wide variety of strategic options. Why, why, why, why, why? And why once more? It’s OK in Diablo II. It’s not OK in Warcraft III. Slap wrist. The likes of Shogun, Warrior Kings and Cossacks have shown us the way forward and in contrast, Warcraft Ill's simplistic approach just feels, well, old.
On A More Positive Note
But enough pessimism. There’s much to be enjoyed and plenty to eulogise about. Many of the non base-building missions add a refreshing change to the drudge of constructing and killing - such as escorting convoys and holding out for a set time against hordes of rabid enemies. The much vaunted 'Hero’ element is alsc superb.
Throughout the four main campaigns you’ll get to control a selection of these champions, from a Scottish-accented dwarf who looks like Father Christmas to a powerful wizard(ess), whose breasts alone are enough to take out an entire legion of enemies. Just wait till you see what she can do with her magic wand.
Each of these heroes has their own diverse and well-thought-out set of spells and abilities. Strong RPG elements mean that as they gain levels, the heroes become both more powerful and adept at their spells - which can be levelled up as you see fit. In combat, your hero is your central unit, and can seriously swing the tide of a battle. Because you manually control their spells, it’s up to you to strategically use them to your best advantage, be it to heal some of your troops or cut down the enemy with devastating magical assaults (for more on this see the It’s A Kind Of Magic panel). They also carry a small inventory that you can pack to bursting point with magical items found during the course of your adventures. Despite my earlier rant about a lack of tactical choices, Warcraft III does offer some interesting touches. Units can’t see as far at night, meaning cunningly positioned ambushes can be used to surprise your opponents (especially good in multiplayer). The Al is very solid and units will back each other up intelligently, with healers coming to the aid of their lacerated comrades. Best of all, the game is almost bug-free.
And it gets even better. Oh yes. Because I’ve saved the best until last. An aspect of Warcraft III that elevates it to heights worthy of greatness. I’m not talking about gameplay... not thinking about the graphics or sound. No, I’m talking about... storyline.
The Plot Thickens
Never in the history of RTS games has there been a more compelling, beautifully presented, well-acted, uncliched plot than here. A story which pulls you so far into its world you just won’t want to leave until the end credits roll gently away and the carnage you have left in your wake becomes just a fading glow of smugness and achievement inside your neglected stomach. Because no matter how annoying some of the missions become, you’ll never want to stop playing.
Never want to stop pushing onto the next cut-scene, be it in-engine or one of the truly incredible FMVs that Blizzard excel in.
The plot (played out from four very different perspectives), takes on a sinister twist-ridden direction, surprising you time and again with its brilliant unpredictability. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you are undecided by what I’ve said so far as to whether to shell out your copper collection for this game, then let this be the decider. If you love a good yarn, then don’t miss this one, you really will be depriving yourself of one of the finest plots ever to grace a PC game.
The End As We Know It
But how, I hear you ask, does my story end? Will the mighty Warcraft III, new hope of Blizzard, manage to stand against the mighty Shogun and Warrior King? Or will it be swept aside, left bleeding a slow, pathetic death, reaching out to its vanquishers and coughing out its last with a mouthful of blood? Heed what you have read and decide for yourself, for the outcome of this final battle is ultimately up to you. Whether you align yourself with the tactical freedom of Shogun and Warrior Kings or the simplicity and accessibility of Warcraft III is your choice. But choose wisely my friends, because the RTS war is about to commence.
One Story, But Four Very Different Sides
Of the four sides on offer, the humans are probably the most well-rounded, while the Undead excel defensively. They also have the ability to raise the dead, meaning once the enemy has lost a number of units, the Undead shamans can resurrect them and turn them against their one-time comrades. Nasty.
Orcs are easily the most powerful offensively, although their defensive capabilities are about as daunting as an under-fives football team's rearguard. The Knight Elves not only have the advantage magically, but can also conceal themselves well at night. As for the choice of units, overall the selection is pretty well thought out (many units have unique, upgradeable abilities), and range from standard foot soldiers to mighty fire-spewing dragons. Ultimately though, during the base-building/conquering missions, it’s pretty unimportant which side you're playing as, as victory tactics are almost always identical.
Download WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos
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My name is Martin Korda, and I am a multiplayer Warcraftaholic (patronising applause). It started with the odd game here and there, a couple at lunch and then a couple after work. But it didn't take long before I started binging. Jumping onto Blizzard's incredible Battlenet server - which automatically matches you up with a suitable opponent -proved too much of a temptation, and soon I was embroiled in hazy all-nighter sessions. Weekends disappeared faster than a tub of lard at a fat club. However, it didn't stop there. As I strived to climb up Blizzard's real-time world league table - accessible 24 hours a day from the website - the addiction soon began to worsen.
Lager To Whiskey
I started to move on from mere one versus one games, sneaking off during work hours to the dank sanctuary of PC ZONE'S ADSL room to indulge in the harder stuff - 2vs2,3vs3 and 4vs4 games and finally, free-for-alls-instead. It wasn't long before my colleagues became suspicious, throwing sour-faced sideways glances at my permanently empty seat. Within a week, they'd found my hideout and dragged me back to my desk by the ears, as I kicked and screamed: "Just one more game, I just need ONE MORE GAME!" But it didn't make any difference. The frantic RTS gameplay, the challenge of real-life competition and the four subtly varied races (orc, human, night elf and undead) to play as, soon laid to rest any doubts I had that the multiplayer game would suffer from the repetitiveness of its single-player counterpart, and my addiction deepened. As the orcs I attacked mercilessly, using their offensive strengths to my advantage, but I used the defensive might of the humans to staunchly repel raids and hit the enemy on the counter-attack.
Whiskey To The Priory
Time and again I failed to beat off the cravings, using ever more pathetic excuses to slink off downstairs (I need to take some screenshots. I forgot my pen. I think my nose fell off in the basement and I need to go and look for it, etc) every time being exposed as the pitiful online-inebriate that I had become by my now clued up work mates.
I tried concentrating on the downsides of my addiction, such as the annoyance of having my games disconnected midway through, due to sporadic problems with the host server. I tried to hate the game by staring for hours at my monumentally poor first few results brought about by the steep learning curve and the quality of the opposition. Played:10. Won:1 (due to opponent quitting mid game). Lost:9. But to no avail. The need to improve and its pure simplicity make it a multiplayer dream, and the lack of lag on even an ISDN line make it a joy to play. Build a base, raise an army, level up a hero and then clash with the enemy in a bloody battle of wits. Simple. Brilliant. But I realise I have a problem. I know my life is disappearing down the drain like a bulletshaped turd down a U-bend. And I know I need help. But before you drag me away, lock me in a darkened room and watch me dribble chicken broth down my man-bib as I strive to conquer this affliction, let me have one more game. I just need ONE MORE GAME! Please?
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.
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.