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Warcraft 3 Review

By Jeff Buckland, 7/3/2002

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A tad over 2 years after the release of their last full release game (Diablo 2), Blizzard graces us with another of their masterpiece games. This time it's Warcraft 3, the follow-up in their very popular series of real time strategy (RTS) series. This one's been highly anticipated for a couple of years now, and this is the first title from Blizzard that moves into true 3D. Diablo 2 supported 3D cards, but all the base artwork was done in 2D and the game processed it mostly in 2D as well. This time, just about everything's polygonal, and it looks excellent.

Warcraft 3 is no exception when it comes to Blizzard games oozing quality and style - this one just does it all in 3D and with a more complicated style than any previous RTS they've done. While the overall style of the game is fairly different between the in-game graphics and the cutscenes, it's no reason not to enjoy the qualities of both.

The first thing that stands out with Warcraft 3 is its 3D engine. It runs very well, and while Blizzard limits the number of units you can have more than the previous RTS they did, Starcraft, more players can get into the action at one time. The unit limit is mainly to keep frame rates high, as drawing all these 3D polygonal characters (plus the backdrop) can take a real toll on your system. You can get 12 people into a game at once now, as opposed to Starcraft's 8 player limit, and the resultant maps from the new limit are pretty big.

The game scales pretty well from the slower computers to the big powerhouse machines - the main thing that controls Warcraft 3's frame rate is the overall polygon count. This is easily adjustable in the game's options, along with other detail settings. The game is mostly playable on the listed minimum system, and while it looks nowhere near as good as on a better one, the gameplay is where it's at anyway with this title.

The game's frame rate can still get choppy in the heavier action, which can be remedied usually with a trip to the game's video options. It's specifically during the big battles that you need to be able to control units correctly, so I'd suggest anyone who plays it to keep the detail options in mind.

Just about all of the original controls and hotkeys from Starcraft are back in Warcraft 3, with some extra keys for management of heroes and other aspects of the game. While the game has moved into 3D, the interface and camera is pretty much like all of Blizzard's previous RTS games. This is definitely a good thing - the interface feels just right, allowing easy controls of multiple-hotkeyed sets of units.

All the usual extra Blizzard features you expect are here as well - you can save any game (including multiplayer ones), play via LAN or, and go through the single-player campaign. There are multiple profiles that can be saved so that different people going through the single-player game on one computer don't get mixed up. And the interface is slicker than ever, with a great look and just about all the features you're used to.

Warcraft 3 looks great. Each unit has plenty of animations, and they all look fairly unique - just what you expect from Blizzard. Spell effects and explosions look outstanding, all the way from the buff icons hovering above (or below, for "auras") each unit to the huge screen-covering damage spells.

While any one single unit in Warcraft 3 doesn't quite have the massive detail as seen in other games, it's when the whole thing is put together with the atmosphere and the number of units on-screen at once that makes it so impressive. Landscapes are much the same - one single tree isn't too detailed, but a forest of 50 or more of them looks much more impressive.

Of course, I have to touch on Warcraft 3's cinematics. While the style of the movies is quite a bit different from the actual game graphics (the movies are more realistic, while the game has a more comic-book feel to it), it's actually a nice contrast that I welcomed. The movies are some of Blizzard's best yet, and are just plain superb to watch.

So, is Warcraft 3 really much different than previous Blizzard RTS games? Yes and no. They've expanded on their tested formula, and have made sure to one-up themselves on most aspects of gameplay. There are more races than Starcraft (each completely unique, of course), more units, bigger maps, more locales to fight in, and more powerups to get.

The biggest thing added to Warcraft 3 is their hero system. It's an oversimplified RPG-type way of doing things - heroes are now integrated into the game on a pretty fundamental level, and they have levels, base stats, skills, and even a simplistic inventory where they can hold potions, scrolls, and permanent items which make them more powerful. They're fully controllable just like any other units, but each hero is unique and has specific abilities.

The heroes are an essential part of the single-player game's story, and really help you identify with the characters since they take a big part in pretty much every level. They're powerful, but not invincible; sometimes you have to keep them alive for the whole mission, while other times you can resurrect them back at your base if they die. It adds up to the biggest gameplay change made in Warcraft 3, and while it's definitely good, the micromanagement required for using some of the heroes' special abilities and spells is annoying.

There are four playable races in the game: Humans, Orcs, Undead, and Night Elves. During the single-player game, you'll go through a campaign for each one. This allows you to play all sides of the battle, another aspect of Blizzard's RTS games that is becoming a staple. One thing I didn't particularly care for was the game's incessant need to introduce one unit at a time during the campaigns. Generally, it's not until the last mission or two in each campaign that you can use all the units at your disposal. It'd have been nice if they'd steepened the learning curve at least a bit to where you can use all the units, say, halfway through each campaign.

Blizzard has introduced an Upkeep system into Warcraft 3, where having a large army induces a penalty on any gold you mine as it comes in. "Low" upkeep takes 30% off of your mined gold, while "High" upkeep takes that much again on top of that. Instead of 10 gold, you will be mining only 4 at "High". This discourages players from having a large standing army, and encourages you to go out and attack with what you have before you build more units. I personally don't really like this kind of gameplay, but the best players of Blizzard's previous games play this way. It's just a different way to play.

The actual storyline is pretty good, as the cutscenes and movies have plenty of action and show off the game's best characters nicely. All of the 4 races receive equal treatment throughout most of Warcraft 3, so that you're not totally sick of one race or another by the end. The plot is pretty standard fare, but it's done well enough that it's exciting to see what comes next.

Mixed in with your normal "build a base, kill enemy here" missions are optional quests you can do on maps to get extra items or units to help out with. On top of that, Blizzard also included their usual missions where you have no base, and control usually 12 units or less in more of a "dungeon"- type scenario. These are sometimes tough to get through, especially if you lose too many units early and simply can't win at the end. That's when it's time to restart the level. Not a big deal, but most of the time in these missions, I was itching to get through these levels and get back to base building and making an army.

One major gripe I have with the single-player campaign is with its difficulty. Somewhere a little bit into the Orc campaign (the third campaign out of four), the game suddenly gets much harder - I went from hardly having to retry a mission to having to retry four or five times every time. Being able to save mid-mission helps this immensely, though, since many of these missions can take 45 minutes or longer each.

Warcraft 3 includes many in-game cutscenes - since it's now in 3D, they can do much more with the in-game camera than they could before. Now, instead of being briefed outside of the mission (like Starcraft), it'll be in the game engine. It works well overall, although it's a far cry from the game's stunning movies.

Overall, the Warcraft 3 single player game is pretty long, fun, and if you don't mind the sudden leap in difficulty, engaging through to the end. And the cinematics make the whole thing worth it. There isn't that much new to the Blizzard formula we've seen before, but it's enough to make it worth it. Is it enough to make the multiplayer game worthwhile? We'll see.

The biggest complaint I have with Warcraft 3's multiplayer component is just how similar it is to Blizzard's previous RTS games. They've upped the ante a bit in most of the areas that you'd expect, but haven't done anything really unique or new. Heroes in the multiplayer game aren't so important as they seem to be in the single-player game, and are sometimes a hassle to use to their fullest extent. Other units (specifically, some of the spellcasters) are much the same, requiring too much micromanagement to use efficiently.

The whole system has been put together with the competitive player in mind, what with the Upkeep system mentioned before, the continued use of non-randomized maps, and what looks to be a good focus on trying to balance the four races (what with all the work they spent on it in the game's beta test).

Warcraft 3's sound effects are great, from the explosions to the slashes of swords. Everything sounds unique, and each unit has its own voice acting for all kinds of situations. The hilarious things they say when you repeatedly click on them (yet another staple of Blizzard RTS games) is as funny as ever, and the voice acting for the story is pretty well done. Some of the characters don't sound all that great, but most of them are above average for what we expect in a computer game.

The game's music wasn't much to write home about - Blizzard seems to have put less of a focus on it this time compared to previous games, with it being more low-key and quieter than it was in Starcraft or even Diablo II. The movie clips by far have the best music, of course, while most of the in-game stuff was sometimes hard to even notice.

Warcraft 3 is an evolution of the real-time strategy game. It was made with a graphical bump and gameplay value in mind, what with a large single-player game and a highly-evolved multiplayer mode. The biggest change in all of this is that Blizzard has finally moved into full 3D, and if that's the most noticeable improvement in the whole game, it's obvious they didn't change the gameplay too much.

But what's so wrong with that? It's been over 3 years since Blizzard's released their last RTS game, Starcraft, and many people quit playing it simply because it's that old. Blizzard seems to hope to bring all those players back for another round of games with their friends, and has made sure that the presentation of the whole thing was brought up-to-date.

Is Warcraft 3 everything it's been hyped up to be? It mostly is. People who were expecting a revolution in strategy games should realize that Blizzard wasn't aiming at this. They simply made another solid game with their tried and true style of gameplay and some great visuals at the same time. They've delivered on that.

Overall: 92%



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