Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos Review
publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
developer: Blizzard Entertainment
PII 400, 128MB RAM, 8MB Video Card, 700MB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jul 01, 02
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You know, when you wait for something for years (ever since I finished WarCraft II, to be more specific) and think all the time how brilliant it will be, and then after all that time it appears, and it is even better that you could have imagined, it is somewhat hard to be impartial towards it. Over the last four days, whenever anybody phoned me to check whether I was still living or inquired about my health, I would simply reply with something like: "All is well, good Sir, mine armies are progressing rapidly towards the west. We are having some problems with raids from the north. However, if I build a tower on the west ford of the river I can flank them with mortar..."And, well, you get the picture. Therefore, I shall try to be as impartial as I can in judging this game, but you must give me pause for overly frequent use of superlatives in doing so. Now, let us begin...
What you do in death echoes in eternity...
Burn, baby, burn!
The WarCraft universe expanded quickly over the years. For that matter, since its beginning in 1994, we have witnessed four video-game editions (Orcs and Humans, Tides of Darkness, Beyond the Dark Portal and finally Reign of Chaos) and three official novels (Of Blood and Honor, Day of the Dragon and the Lord of the Clans), as well as a number of fan-fiction short stories and user-made campaigns. All these books and games created a full-blown world with a number of different races each with rich culture and history. What is more, they introduced an entire cosmic system, which is a sort of potpourri of various religions and belief structures (taking most from Greek Mythology and Christian dogma). First, I thought I would give you some insight into all these, but seeing that the text will be getting a bit on the lengthy side already, I decided to just skip that bit. If you are a true WarCraft fan, you probably already read the novels and finished the games, and if you are not... well, I would suggest you do so. The plot and the narrative in WarCraft III are relatively straightforward, and you will be able to follow most of it even if you never heard of Azeroth, but you won't be able to grasp the epic magnitude of what is actually going on and fully enjoy the experience with no previous knowledge. Therefore, if I were you (and had no previous WarCraft experience), I would at least first read the manual which (besides detailed technical and statistical information) offers a short history from the aspects of all five races in question, and visit a couple of sites which deal with the topic. A good place to visit for a short glossary of important names and places and some more historical info would be Legends of Azeroth (http://legends.warcraftiii.net).
Daemons' blood is thicker than... regular... blood...
As I said, there are altogether five major "races" in WarCraft III: the Human Alliance, the New Horde, the Undead Scourge, the Night-elves or Keldorei, and the daemonic Burning Legion. Each of the "races" is actually an alliance comprised out of several different races and animals or creatures they tamed; for instance the Human Alliance consists of humans, dwarves and high-elves; the New Horde recruits orcs, trolls and tauern, etc. Only four of these are actual player races and can be controlled in the campaign and multiplayer games. The Burning Legion (or the Daemons), are practically an NPC race which you have to fight. Their behavior has been scripted, and they only have about half-a-dozen units.
The rest of the creatures you can see on single-player or multiplayer maps are either critters or creeps. Blizzard first introduced the critters concept in WarCraft II; they were these funny little sheep and seals which moved about randomly (and exploded if you kept clicking them... as they still do) and had no real purpose but to make the maps look more lively. Creeps, on the other hand, can and will try to hurt you. They come in all sizes, from the little gnolls and murlocs to huge red dragons. I have seen more than two dozen different critters in the game.
Each race has three specific heroes and nine to eleven different units and buildings. All races have been smartly devised and well balanced, and in despite of the fact that they all rely on the same three resources (gold, wood and food), controlling each of them requires unique strategies and solutions, due to their different resource gathering techniques and resource models, as well as there extremely versatile units and technologies... but more on that when we speak of gameplay...
Uncle Lothar wants - you!
It took me less than four days of maniacal play (more than sixteen hours per day) to finish the campaigns on normal level. The campaigns can be played either on the Normal or Hard level of difficulty, but if you have a lot of trouble with a certain mission (have to restart it a couple of times), the game will offer you to reduce the difficulty to Easy. The game starts with the introductory Orc campaign consisting out of two tutorial missions in which you assume the role of Thrall, son of Durotan, War chief of the New Horde. In these opening missions you will have to get in touch with a mysterious prophet after he appeared in your dream, and then, following his advice gather your people and head westwards across the great sea towards the ancient lands of Kalimdor. These opening missions have actually a second role, they are also the built in game tutorial. These missions will guide you systematically through principles and methods of gameplay, so that you shouldn't have any problems in coping with the game even if you have never played a real-time strategy before. Each campaign has eight missions apart from the Human campaign which has nine (Night-elf campaign supposedly also has the eighth mission, but it is hidden and has to be triggered like the Zeratul's discovery mission in Brood War). Another great thing that we can expect from Blizzard games is that the plot is a lot more than a trivial background cover for on-screen mass-slaughter. As you progress through the storyline in WarCraft III you will have to deal with serious moral dilemmas, like deciding the difference between dealing justice and wreaking revenge, and the justifications of using preventive force and taking responsibility for it. All in all, this is not just another Good-guy-versus-bad-guy story; it is an epic adventure of great complexity, dealing with some issues that bore great importance all through human history.
Fly, my little ones, fly!
Get those nasty humans!
My sight is yours...
We were already used to seeing top of the notch cinematics coming from the Blizzard cinematic team, but this time they really outdid themselves. The game includes some twenty two minutes of pre-rendered computer generated cinematics which are far better from what we had the chance to see in other Blizzard titles like Diablo II and StarCraft. Also, they blow the "cinematics" one might have had the (unfortunate) chance to see in other modern RTS games like Emperor: Battle for Dune. WarCraft III cinematics won the GameSpy's Best CG Cinematics of E3 2002 award together with the cinematics from Konami's Silent Hill 2. In fact, it would seem more proper to compare the WarCraft III cinematics to the CG sequences from Fellowship of the Ring movie than to other video game cutscenes. These animated sequences will take you through some of the more dramatic moments of the plot. The first trailer that appeared (the one beginning with "We never paid any heed to the ancient prophecies...") is the actual intro to the game. The reamining trailers that we all had a chance before the release were composed out of extracts from the first three cinematics. But naturally, there are cinematics that have never been seen in the game as well. Saying any more about them would spoil them, so watch and enjoy.
The in-game visuals are simply breath-taking. Some of the scenes of battle, or the "interludes" (scripted animations performed from within the engine, mainly used to give you the mission briefing or unravel another bit of the story) look almost as good as the cinematic sequences. When I first saw the beta version of the engine it reminded me of Empire Earth, as the camera and basic visual engine mechanics seem to function in the same way. However, after seeing the full product, I realized that it wouldn't be right to compare the two. WarCraft III simply looks much better, with much more lively colors and detailed textures and objects. And if that wasn't enough for you, the graphics engine of WarCraft III is far less demanding on processor time than Empire Earth.
But the graphics, the sheer beauty of the sights, I tell you, I enjoyed the ambience of lush forests of Ashenvale so much that I was carried away at several points, almost losing the mission... But good landscapes aren't enough, the game would still be incomplete if it weren't for the fantastic unit and environment animation. All the characters and animation have been done in a cartoonish style, which is already the trademark of the Craft games series. Still, in comparison to most modern games, WarCraft III is less than demanding hardware-wise. The only problem is that it can produce strange visual bugs on video-adapters which are not officially supported (for instance, it doesn't turn on all the necessary light-sources or something to those using the SiS 630, making the picture look extremely dark, but only on some maps). Be sure to check out the WarCraft web-site for a list of officially supported 3D accelerators, and then go get one! Don't worry though, the game supports most standard video cards.
When I mentioned the cartoonish appearance of the game just now, the next thing that comes to mind are the brilliant voice-overs, and the script. One of the common features in Craft games is the possibility to annoy units by constantly clicking them. This was first introduced in WarCraft II, where you could even "annoy" the installation wizard ("Your sound-card works perfectly."; "It doesn't get any better than this!"; "Enjoying yourself?"). Now, this may not be a big gameplay element, but it substantially boosts the playability and makes the characters familiar and likable (even the worst of villains), which in turn makes you want to play more. Their comments are exceedingly witty and Pythonesque (some of them have even been adapted from Monty Python lines), and they also spout sarcastic remarks based on contemporary movies, commercials, sex or death-related jokes. All of this is wrapped up so well, that each hero and unit soon gains a vivid and coherent personality. The voices are incredibly good, and have obviously been performed by professionals and members of the Blizzard team who have been deep into the WarCraft world for many years. The sound effects are very professional as well. They follow the action appropriately and will sound off on anything you or the enemy units do. The game has support for 3Dsound positioning and EAX2, however, those are pretty much a standard for high quality games these days. It also features tile-set specific ambience sound, which pushes the already excellent atmosphere, one step further. Each of the races has its own in-game soundtrack which perfectly depicts the general mood and disposition of that race. The music is up to usual Blizzard standards... it's just as good as it gets.
I wonder what this button does?
Ok; now the moment you've all been waiting for: the gameplay. I'm sure you already know that Blizzard took its sweet time balancing the gameplay... the beta testing period lasted for some six months and had about five thousand participants. During this time, gameplay had a lot of changes from the original alpha test: units and buildings were constantly being added and removed, prices, hit points and damage all changed. The end result, after those six months of tweaking, I can tell you - it was bloody well worth it. WarCraft III holds up to the gameplay standards set by StarCraft back in 1997. WarCraft is blessed with a manageable (reasonably small) number of highly different yet well balanced units and structures, none of which grow redundant during a single session of play. That, and all the new gameplay features, WarCraft III sets those standards even higher.
Brilliant and versatile single-player campaign with a thrilling and involving epic plot, extreme replay value thanks to the even better custom game and multiplayer modes, graphics, sounds, gameplay balance and atmosphere;
Well, the box could have been half an inch longer to better fit on my shelf.