Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne
If you were to make a wish list for WarCraft III, it’s a pretty safe bet that a brand new 3D engine would be right at the top of it. Blizzard is well aware of this and has been busy creating its own 3D engine to give its fledgling fantasy RTS a new breath of life, and bloody good it looks too from what we’ve seen. We tracked down Blizzard’s Bill Roper to find out what progress they’re making with what is set to be one of the biggest releases of the year.
"We are very excited over the progress of WarCraft III, especially in regard to how different it is from the other real-time strategy games we have played or created," claims Bill. He continues: "The focus on controlling fewer units but managing the strategic elements of the battle makes for a truer test of skill among our best players. At the same time, it adds a level of personality and familiarity with every unit in the game that is appealing to people who have not played strategy games."
That may be, but with countless fantasy RTS titles dropping onto store shelves around the country seemingly out of nowhere every month, we wondered what Blizzard was doing to make its game stand out from other, less-beardy offerings. The introduction of two new races (the Undead and the Night Elves) is a welcome one, but what else is new? We don’t know, but Bill does... "The introduction of elements from role-playing games, such as Hero units, items and skill trees, make this game an incredibly fun experience. Building up a named Hero to eventually have several spells and items and then unleashing him against an enemy force is very satisfying, and gives the player an additional sense of accomplishment, past simply defeating his opponent’.
The decision to introduce role-playing elements into what is essentially a realtime strategy game is an intriguing one, and could prove decisive if Blizzard manages to get it right. A system where your most important units gain levels and improve their skills providing you can keep them alive is likely to make for a more tactical game than we are used to in this genre, given that most RTS games charge you with building as much as you can as quick as you can, and then killing everything in sight as fast as you can. Coupled with the new 3D engine, the RPG elements should make for a very different WarCraft experience. This is a good thing: the old 'if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ adage is often just an excuse to make the same game again with a different name and rake in the cash. This game deserves to be as big as we believe it will be.
Download Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
When Blizzard Entertainment produces an expansion pack it's usually done properly. Over the years Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo II have all been blessed with superb addon packs; Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne now continues that trend in glorious fashion.
This 26 mission continuation of the number one fantasy RTS on the PC offers more of everything in every department. There are more units per faction (with a particular focus on spell casting and aerial units), there's more graphical variety in the landscapes, the maximum army size has increased and the hero limit is now four instead of three. And of course, there's more of that epic story...
Events in The Frozen Throne take place several months after the defeat of Archimonde and the Burning Legion at Mount Hyjal. The latest twist concentrates on the nefarious intentions of the deceitful half-demon lllidan and the death knight Arthas and their mission to overthrow the shattered tribes of Azeroth and claim the scarred world as their own.
The campaign allows you to control three races. You start as the Night Elf Sentinels, then move on to the Human Alliance before finally taking over as Arthas and his Undead Horde.
Curiously, there is no significant Orc chapter to the campaign; however there is a short Diablo-esque RPG bonus campaign where you control a half Orc, half Ogre Beastmaster as well as a kind of half Orc, half Rastafarian shaman known as a Shadow Hunter. Level design is enormously varied. The hero-based action sequences of the kind mentioned above are frequent and make for refreshing diversions from the usual base-building/busting exploits. But even slow-burning, resource focused levels contain more fleshy mini-quests than Warcraft III.
The great thing is you're constantly encouraged to try out special abilities. The Night Elf hero Maiev for example has the ability to 'blink' meaning she can reach previously inaccessible parts of the map in order to search for mana/gold/health and other useful bonuses.
The introduction of new buildings is another huge gameplay improvement. You can now hire mercenary units such as Giant Turtles and Orc Hermits from outposts dotted around the landscape. And for the first time ever in Warcraft III boats are available. OK, with just two nautical units to choose from, it's not exactly Rise of Nations, but what the hell - it's naval combat, sort of.
And to round things off, frequent visitors to Battle.net will be delighted to hear that the whole multiplayer aspect has been radically overhauled. New skirmish maps, clan options and tournaments are there for your never-ending pleasure.
The only downside in what is clearly a work of sublime beauty is the $20 price tag. But you get what you pay for, and with this you are getting an awful lot, so ultimately it's more than worth it. In short, your copy of Warcraft III is not complete until you get The Frozen Throne. It really is that good.
If A Game sells a million copies it is considered to be a huge success. So when latest in Blizzard's strategy series sold in excess of a million boxes in the space of a week, the developers were probably quite impressed, not with the volume of course - since Blizzard is used to multi-million sales - but with the sheer speed at which gamers snapped it up. Mind you, considering Warcraft's long-suffering fans had to wait nearly eight years for the sequel, the haste with which they opened their wallets isn't so surprising.
Rather fortuitously for those veteran fans that are still alive, the wait for WC3's first add-on won't be quite as arduous or as lengthy. Due this summer, Blizzard is hard at work creating four new campaigns for The Frozen Throne that will follow on from those of the original game, with three Heroes searching for some trinket or other that will give them ultimate power and rid the world of evil. Or something like that - suffice to say the storyline is intricately layered and compelling in the finest Blizzard tradition, but a lot less interesting on paper than it's sure to be when you play it first-hand. And who are we to spoil the fun? Interestingly, the Orc campaign dispenses with the need to find the titular icy shitter, Blizzard instead promising a pure RPG-style affair - no resource gathering and base building required or en masse slaughter to endure - something of a first for an RTS game.
The focus of Warcraft III was of course on its Hero units; specialist one-off troops that held special abilities, weapons and spells. Frozen Throne introduces a new Hero to each race, plus five Neutral Heroes, each of which will wield a dizzying array of magical attacks; from the Blood Mage who can summon a fiery phoenix, to what appears to be a pissed-up panda bear with the ability to gag his enemies with his alcoholic breath.
Ships are also making a welcome return, though only to the single-player game unfortunately, and warlords can now build shops and sell back items that they don't want. A bunch of other new units, items and item shops are also in place, all of them currently undergoing rigorous testing in the multiplayer betas. In addition, the new expansion will include an advanced toolset for players wishing to create their own Frozen Throne campaigns, including facilities for adding cut-scenes and voiceovers.
With its touches of humour, RPG leanings and frantic action, Frozen Throne looks like it will complement Warcraft III perfectly. It's doubtful whether WC virgins will be tempted in by such a heavily story-driven solo game, but the already brilliant multiplayer is only going to get better. Fastest-selling expansion pack ever? We wouldn't bet against it.