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Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne Review
publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
developer: Blizzard Entertainment
PII 400, 128MB RAM, 8MB Video Card, 550MB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jul 01, 03 (released)
|» All About Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne on ActionTrip|
Let's say a game is released to widespread sales and critical acclaim, and some time later, the expansion pack is released. The purpose of the expansion pack is to extend the life of the original game by adding new content; new weapons, new character classes, new maps, etc. It sounds easy enough, in theory. But in many cases, it seems that the developers are phoning in these expansion packs - they are unrefined, incomplete and reflect poorly on the game they're supposed to be expanding (Medal of Honor: Spearhead and Half-Life: Blue Shift are two examples of lacking expansion packs). But, then there's Blizzard. Blizzard is, arguably, the master of the expansion pack.
Blizzard's release pattern over the past few years has been to release a game, then wait a healthy amount of time working on the game's expansion. Their meticulous approach to game design allows them to ferret out a good amount of bugs prior to the game's release, while advancing the storyline of the original game to some sort of conclusion (good or bad), and providing just enough new content without it being overwhelming. When the expansion is released, it reawakens interest in the original game so to the point that you fall in love with it all over again - you slip right back into the addictive gameplay, just like falling off the wagon.
The Mountain Giant just went for a quick one (look at that smile).
Hey guys, c'mon in! It's not that deep! The water's cool too!
WarCraft III (ActionTrip's 2002 Game of the Year) is certainly no exception to this rule as Blizzard has finally released WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne, continuing the adventures of the 4 races of Azeroth following the defeat of Archimonde and the Burning Legion. There are three standard campaigns included, (Night Elf, Human/Blood Elf, and Undead) with a fourth Bonus Campaign (Orc). The game features 9 new heroes (more on them later), player built shops, new units, new upgrades to units, new creeps, new mercenearies...basically a cubic assload of new content with which to sharpen your RTS skills and wage war with anything that moves.
At the conclusion of the original game, there were two major loose ends - Illidan Stormrage, the exiled Demon Hunter, now a cross between Night Elf and Demon, is being pursued by Maiev, a Night Elf Warden bent on Illidan's recapture. But Illidan, who now serves a new master, has new allies from the deep to achieve his goals. Also, back in Lordaeron, King Terenas had been killed by Prince Arthas, the Death Knight and his enchanted sword Frostmourne. While the Burning Legion had been defeated by the alliance of Humans, Orcs and Night Elves in Kalimdor, the Undead Scourge has been laying waste to the ragtag alliance of the humans of Lordaeron and remaining elves from Quel'thalas that struggle to regain their homeland. With no King on the throne, who will control the fate of Lordaeron? These stories and more are addressed in the three standard campaigns of The Frozen Throne.
The fourth Bonus campaign centers around the Horde's new colony called Durotar (named after Thrall's father Durotan). Instead of a standard campaign broken into 7 - 10 missions, it takes a more role-playing style approach, with one mission spanning the entire campaign. The campaign tells the tale of a Beastmaster, a crossbreed of orc and ogre who happens upon the new orcish city, and is welcomed by Thrall. But the city is soon put to the test as the indigenous creatures have become highly aggressive, and the Beastmaster and his Shadow Hunter companion are tasked to find out why. The campaign is interesting in that what comes with the boxed game is only Act 1 of the campaign - Blizzard will be releasing Acts 2 and 3 of the campaign for download at a later date. Of course, Act 1 takes quite a while to complete - anywhere from 1½ to 3 hours! (Wait...they're making an expansion for your expansion pack! - 2Lions) So, just when you think you've found everything there is to find in the game, when you've beaten every level, found every easter egg, there are still two more acts to complete!
But wait - there's more!
Lest I forget, the multiplayer expansions to Battle.net which makes mixing it up online a snap. The game comes complete with a host of new maps for ladder and standard competitive play, as well as integrated clan support - you can now automatically have a clantag appended to your handle without having to create a whole new ID. The clans' progress is ranked on a clan ladder, so you can always tell who's l33t or not. Lastly, the automated tournament system is brought to the table, so those who want a quick tourney can hop right in.
Okay - on to the new stuff. The most significant additions to the game are the nine new heroes. Each race gets one, along with five neutral heroes. The Night Elves get the Warden, who strikes hard and fast, and is gone in the blink of an eye. The Orcs are joined by the Shadow Hunter, a Troll hero whose magic makes him the perfect support for a large army. The Humans have the Blood Mage, an Elven hero who devastates his foes with powerful magic attacks, and the Undead have resurrected the powerful Crypt Lord, a Nerubian hero who can deal out and absorb an astonishing amount of damage. But, if these aren't enough for you, you can hire the services of any of the neutral heroes. The Naga Sea Witch is an excellent ranged hero who strikes hard from the back lines and whose Tornado attack levels buildings with ease. The Beastmaster is a powerful melee fighter and can summon a host of animals to fight at his side, making him a one-man army. The Pit Lord is a powerful demon who can tear a swath of destruction through the hardiest of foes, and (my personal favorite) the Pandaren Brewmaster. This is a bear that drinks beer, and pummels you into nice, little meatbags. Mmmm.
Many of you may have seen our preview of the game while it was in beta, so I will direct you there for more in-depth coverage of the new units being introduced. Some of the names have changed for the new units since the report was written (specifically, the Undead's Black Sphinx is now the Destroyer, the Human Rocket Tank is now the Siege Engine, etc.) but the effects are largely the same. The new units either compensate for a certain race's drawbacks (Mountain Giants for the fragile Night Elves), or enhance their strengths (Troll Berzerkers and Batriders for the Orcs).
Now that all the information has been disseminated, its time to delve into the pack itself and take a good, hard look at it.
Right! Who left the gas on!
I told you to turn off the gas, darn it!
One thing that Blizzard is very, very good at is eliminating bugs from its software. Their beta testing period is so long so that any possible bugs that could exist are stamped out as swiftly as they are found, so from a technical aspect, this game is as solid as they come. Still, nothing is perfect and there are still some annoying little bugs that slip through the cracks. Like the fact that Blood Elf workers say "job's done" in the manner of human peasants, even though the other Blood Elves peons' sound files make them seem far more intelligent and snottier. I don't believe that Blizzard didn't have enough money to record a few more voiceovers, so let's just call this a very minor slip-up.
The 3D units introduced in WC3 haven't changed, really, and the new units don't look any more detailed than their predecessors. The emphasis remains on compatibility with mid-range systems, so you won't have to go buy a new video card or processor just to play this game. Battle.net play is rock-solid from a network aspect provided you're not downloading music on KaZaa or anything. (Or porn. - 2Lions) It can get a little hairy when 6 armies collide in a multiplayer game, but other than that, there are no serious network issues.
The gameplay is as solid as ever, RTS gaming as only Blizzard can provide it. Blizzard is one of the pioneers of RTS gaming, so when they make it, they do it right. One of the things they do well is listen to their audience - specifically, one of the more popular game styles on Battle.net is called Tower Defense. (For the uninitiated, TD is where you are placed on a map with only a peon who can only build towers. Hordes of enemies are placed at one end of the map, and march dutifully down a set path. You must strategically place your towers to inflict maximum damage as your foes pass by. If you don't, and your enemies slip by your towers, you and your team are toast.) So, I was pleasantly surprised when I found a secret level in the single-player campaign in TD style, then another based on the Aeon of Strife style (where you control the hero alone, and the computer constantly builds an army and sends it off into battle). It really gave me the impression that Blizzard was taking cues from gamers at large, and giving them the style of game that they want to play. The missions were varied - not too many standard style missions where you build an army then go kill the other army, and not too many gimmick missions (TD, AoS, etc). Certain missions seem very much like action RPG dungeon crawls with lots of exploration, treasure hunting and even some rudimentary puzzles. Perhaps Blizzard finally realized Warcraft III's potential as a true RPG/RTS hybrid. Toss into the mix Blizzard's storytelling ability - every mission advances the story in a logical fashion, filled with drama, pathos and intrigue, with characters that are so engaging that you want to keep playing to find out exactly what happens.
If there is anything negative I can say about this expansion, the first thing I would note is the price. Typically, an expansion pack runs from fifteen to twenty-five dollars. Blizzard raises the bar a bit higher, with The Frozen Throne costing thirty-five bucks. A bit steep for an expansion pack, but when you consider what you get for that thirty-five, it is perfectly justifiable to spend that much. Secondly, one of the things that Blizzard is extremely adept at doing are those high-quality cinematic sequences that set the tone for the game you're about to play. WarCraft III pushed the envelope of quality for those sequences, so one would expect the expansion pack to contain a decent amount. Well, if those sequences are the biggest reason you're buying the expansion, put your money away. Don't get me wrong - the ones that do accompany the game are astonishing - but I would have liked to see at least a couple more. (Greedy bastard. - 2Lions) Finally, while I greatly enjoyed the story, it picks up exactly where the original game leaves off, and that could be slightly overwhelming. This might be a bit of a turn-off for gamers who haven't paid enough attention to the original game. Other than those paltry little quibbles, there isn't anything fundamental I would change about the game.
There's a reason that WarCraft III won Game of the Year from us last year. Blizzard is the consummate RTS master. They set the bar with the game's release, and then push the envelope with this latest offering. WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne is the perfect example of what an expansion should be - it takes the original game to new heights, and lets us all find the joy of playing WarCraft all over again.
Perfect Expansion - new units and add-ons enhance every facet of gameplay, great storytelling, varied mission types are fun;
More expensive than a standard expansion, more cinematics would be nice. Some missing character sounds.
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