Summary: After all the articles, and already selling a million copies, does this game really need an introduction? Read our review!
PhD in Craftology
No one has done the real-time strategy game better than Blizzard. The sales numbers and staggering amount of gamers on battle.net speak for themselves. Cases can be made for C&C, the Homeworld games, Dark Reign, and Ground Control but in the end there has only been one title that captures the hearts of so many gamers – Craft. Be it WarCraft or StarCraft, its fans are legion, rabid and completely loyal. Zerglings would be a good name for them, come to think of it.
StarCraft took away one theatre of war – the sea – yet managed to be a deeper game with more involvement. Strategies went beyond lusted ogres and blizzarding peon lines with an invisible mage. There were three completely unique yet balanced races, and a campaign full of cinematics, heroes, anti-heroes, understandable villains and blatant stupidity. StarCraft cemented the Blizzard pattern of continuing evolution while retaining a small, clear core of what remains a “Craft” game.
Roleplaying Strategy was to be the name of the game with WarCraft III (WC3). Units and heroes gained levels, where production was minimal and micromanagement reigned supreme. Whether that was too difficult to implement, too revolutionary to be accepted or if the end product was simply not fun, Blizzard pulled the plug. There would be roleplaying elements and a focus on tactics in WC3, but nothing as extreme as what was initially proposed. Production would still be a major part of the game as are expansions. Blizzard was determined to stick to their guns however, and the focus on putting tactics over strategy would be secured by three major additions to the game.
First is the very low food limit of 90. That doesn’t mean that 90 units can be built, as many take up considerably more than 1 food. Next is the idea of upkeep, which works in tandem with the food limit to keep unit count down. The more units you have, the less gold you gain. Should a player go over 40 food, it means that instead of gaining ten for every peon mining, only seven comes to your coffers while the mine is still drained of ten gold units. Going over 70 food cuts that even further to four gold out of every ten! Even with expansions (which have to be manned and defended) this is a heavy price to pay.
Finally, to keep people from simply producing units and rushing them en masse with only the most basic instructions into an enemy base, Blizzard has given us heroes. Heroes are unique units – every race has three heroes, each different from the other two. They are physically tough even at level 1, and quite overwhelming at level 10. But even so, they require careful use in battle since they are the most important target and most powerful weapon a player has. A hero’s physical abilities are nothing compared to their spells and auras. Resurrecting the 6 most powerful dead units to fight on your side, casting powerful heals and damaging spells – it is the side with the best-controlled army that wins, not the one which receives the most reinforcements.
SIDEBAR: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium II 400
128MB of RAM
8MB DirectX 8.1 video card
700MB HD space
Pentium III/Athlon 1GHz+
256MB of RAM
GeForce 3 or better
Why is it so slow?
Blizzard has never really been on the graphical forefront. StarCraft was released in 1998 with a 256-color palette at 640x480 resolution. This was at a time when Voodoo was gaining a stranglehold on the market and real 3D acceleration was a reality. Other titles had been using 16 bit 2D color for a while, or at the very least higher resolutions. The same applied to Diablo II, and now again WarCraft III.
The art style in the game also contrasts sharply with the cinematics. Diablo, StarCraft and Diablo II were undeniably dark games both in plot and graphics. For example, after playing through Terran and Zerg campaigns, many felt a sort of relief to see the lush, green world that the Protoss had. WarCraft II was also bright and colorful, but its cinematics were only about a typical fantasy battle between good and evil. WarCraft III has an unreconcilable contrast between cheery (game graphics) and gloomy (the plot and cinematics.) Considering the large role that in-game cutscenes play in the plot, it becomes even harder to imagine that the dark, shadowy beings from the cinematics are the same characters as the blocky, bright, goofy shapes from the game itself. This discrepancy makes suspension of disbelief much harder to believe – every once in a while we found ourselves wishing that the game followed the same style as the movies.
My life for Aiur
Blizzard has set the standard time and again for sound and speech. Even the most basic units have top-tier voice acting and sound effects associated with them. Of course, once again it is difficult to see a powerful, manly voice coming from a cartoon character. This isn’t a problem once in the game itself where the gamer finds himself immersed and overwhelmed, but during the many cutscenes during and between missions.
With that uncanny Blizzard touch, sound effects have been chosen for every job. It’s one thing to make clanging noises for swords and whoosh sounds for magic, it’s another to make memorable, clear and useful notification sounds. These are vital in multiplayer and the order has most definitely been delivered.
Like past Blizzard RTS titles, if you keep clicking on a unit it will inevitably say some hilariously funny stuff. These are classic lines, some referring to events on the internet (Arnold prank calls) or in the world beyond the unhealthy glow of computer monitors.
SIDEBAR: Athlon T-Bird 1GHz
512MB of RAM
GeForce 2 GTS 32MB
Hercules GameTheater XP
Pioneer 5X DVD-ROM slotload
Looks damn familiar
One quick look at the interface says everything one might need to know – it’s all here. Everything ever associated with StarCraft or WarCraft still applies – from the gargantuan, space-hogging block of icons and information at the bottom to the same style of hotkeys. The game’s view is familiar despite its new 3D trappings and even closer zoom on the action.
The zoom is very close as you can see from some of the pictures and though the camera can be adjusted to tilt down, this will only result in less viewable area. There is minimal “rotation” of the camera – 90 degrees left or right, and that rotation doesn’t stick, it’s only like turning a neck instead of your whole body.
Minor advancements add up to improve the playability of WC3 over its predecessors. Now if you have a group of multiple unit types selected, you can used the Tab button to switch between the various types. Should you land on a spellcaster, you can get him to cast a spell on a specific unit in that group by casting on the icon of the unit in the interface, rather than finding it on the screen.
Many aspects of the interface are designed with multiplayer in mind. WarCraft III gives players the option to record games – something they’ve been screaming for since StarCraft. Many settings can be changed – the terrain of a map is revealed by default yet still affected by the fog of war, but you may wish to disable the fog altogether.
SPlayer, AKA Suckplayer
The great thing about Blizzard games of the past has been the good single player game that taught gamers the basics of playing, all the while giving atmosphere and character to the setting. WarCraft III, unfortunately, does none of this.
Undoubtebly the characters in StarCraft weren’t the brightest lightbulbs, often caught up in their own petty problems too much to see past their own noses. This made itself particularly evident in Brood War, where the Protoss and Terrans got bamboozled in the most ridiculous fashion by Kerrigan.
Blizzard takes that kind of cliched blindness too far, or they’ve used that trick too many times. The design team needs new writers desperately, what passes for “plot” in the single player campaign isn’t just bad, it’s a cry for help. The characters, motions and twists are tired, they need to be put to rest – we dare anyone to find something fresh in WarCraft III.
Even the big feature of WarCraft’s RPG elements – the quests – is really nothing to brag about. For the most part they are tasks that the player would have done anyway, except that occasionally he gets a reward item now for his hero. In fact, quests are the primary form of the in-game cutscene that manages to give away every strategy and tactic needed to win a mission. The designers literally tell players how to beat every map. What’s the fun in that?
Fresh like Chinese Thousand-Year-Old-Eggs
Unfortunately the same lack of freshness permeates the level design. It’s not that they are badly done, imbalanced or frustrating. Far from it, in those respects WarCraft III excels. For lack of a better word, however, they lack soul. There’s no spunk, no energy, nothing fresh going on; not even compared to StarCraft, never mind contemporary titles. Oh yes, you have heroes and the oh-so-interesting no production missions (which are now more numerous.) To paraphrase the Simpsons, what have I done to deserve such a flat and tasteless game?
Maybe the missions spent too much time in the design and testing phases, got overprocessed? Perhaps it’s time for fresh blood in the design department as well? There is simply nothing new to catch the attention. With WarCraft III, the single player game has become the ultimate clone of StarCraft; perfectly executed, designed, copied and ultimately stale. Even the cinematics just can’t compare to Diablo II.
SIDEBAR: My spellcheck is gone >_< Just went “Poof.” Damn Office.
For every negative point we can give WarCraft’s singleplayer, we can give ten positive ones for multi. It is the exact opposite of the singleplayer game, keeping everything that’s good but without feeling processed and recycled. It adds so many new features and changes the focus from production to execution… yet is clearly, undeniably Blizzard.
WarCraft III will seize the RTS crown from StarCraft as surely as StarCraft took it from WarCraft II. This is the game that hardcore players will compete in, this is the game that could be the talk of your favorite forum, like Counter-Strike has been. Your parents might walk in and say “hey, I know that game.” It just might be popular enough that your girlfriend will pick it up. In fact, given the sales figures, she already has and she’s well on her way to whooping your ass.
Thanks to upkeep and the low food limit, heroes are the center of everyone’s strategy. That strategy is to build a manageable, affordable army and use skill and execution to achieve what sheer numbers used to. The balance between all four races – Undead, Humans, Orcs and Night Elves – is so complete yet dynamic that while there will be tweaks and endless arguments to get more ‘fixes’ in, none of these problems or fixes will ever ruin the game. Ruin? Heck, they won’t even come close to taking the fun out of it.
Yeah you got a micro something, for sure
WC3 is about micromanagement – building some units and then doing the best you can with what you have, instead of queuing up a horde and the next three reinforcement waves. A game can be blazingly fast or nerve-wrackingly slow depending on any number of factors. Team games are more satisfying with the ability to stack the auras of different heroes, or the ability to control your partner’s units if he gives permission.
Several times during the beta, CalBear and I found ourselves in situations where one of us had been completely eliminated. One player would switch to controlling the armies while the other focused on production – with success! Heck, even being able to save a lone hero, particularly a high-level one, can be a huge distraction for the enemy.
A Death Knight with the Raise Dead ability can create his own army for several minutes from the corpses of the most powerful units on any side in the battle. Suddenly this already-formidable unit becomes the core of a shock group of elite troops. With a time limit on how long his slaves can last, he will go out and do as much damage as possible in that time. The relatively small armies that are fielded even in mid and late game are vulnerable, as are the typically undefended expansions or lightly defended bases. “It ain’t over til it’s over” – Yogi Berra.
SIDEBAR: In the 2 on 2 match Jakub refers to on this page, I had gotten double teamed and eliminated early from Lost Temple. Rather than quit the game though, Jakub shared control of his base with me, and told me to take control of his units while he focused entirely on production and expansion. It worked beautifully in this particular case. As I ravaged the base of one of the opponents (their armies were in a shambles after taking me out), I had a constant stream of reinforcements and upgrades from Jakub. Before I could stop to message him “more Grunts/trolls” I’d look up and find a fresh squad on their way over to me. “We” ended up winning. -ed
Sound and Speech. Tip-top. Flawless, faultless, impeccable, matchless, exquisite, pure, taintless – these are the synonyms that Word’s built-in thesaurus finds for “perfect”. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Single player. It’s actually not that bad, just not up to par with the rest of the game. Certainly not comparable to the evolutionary changes we expected Blizzard to put it through. If it wasn’t such a disappointment, we’d lay it with the worst comment we could make about a game – “forgettable”. Ouch.
Aww… poor baby, you bought it for all the wrong reasons. I bought StarCraft for single player too, but it stayed on my computer for years thanks to multiplayer. What’s the moral of the story? No, not that multiplayer keeps a game alive or that single player is only the bait. The lesson is that you already bought the game.
Somebody out there made a joke that Blizzard could put a brick in a box and label it “Brick, the Game” and it would sell a million copies to a million happy fans. Those fans would form fansites and delve into the gameplay, figuring out the best build orders or skill upgrade routes. It would be hailed a success and the best Brick players in the world could win $20,000 at monthly tournaments.
Now I’m not *quite* sure why, but I get this vague feeling that my opinion on this game doesn’t matter to you. Send your grandma over here, she might not have heard of Blizzard yet.
SIDEBAR: What did you think of War3? Sound off in our comments
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