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Blizzard has a lot to answer for. Its seminal real-time strategy (RTS) series of games – Warcraft and Starcraft – have induced more sleepless nights game playing than any other title in the genre. Intricately crafted, deftly plotted, and sporting a believable gaming environment, Blizzard lifted the Dungeons-&-Dragons style game off the tabletop and firmly onto the computer monitor.
So Warcraft III has a formidable heritage to live up to – and the great news is Blizzard delivers, and then some. Prepare to turn up for work blurry-eyed after nights spent ordering miniature orcs, elfs, and the undead into battle to save the land of Azeroth.
Warcraft III also witnesses the next evolution in RTS games. Unlike its predecessors, Blizzard has opted for a 3D landscape populated by 3D characters, and has added more races into the mix, plus role-playing elements such as hero characters that gain experience, spells, and even the ability to go on sub quests.
The most obvious change is the graphics. The 3D landscape is impressively detailed; mountains loom above the battlefields and villages, while thundering waterfalls flow into churning pools. Impassable chasms force units down alternate, and often treacherous routes, while seeking the high-ground offers ranged units distinct advantages.
Despite the move from sprites to polygons, everything is meticulously detailed: characters bear distinctive markings and watchable animation – Death Knights ride into battle on skeletal horses, and Night Elf archers carry massive bows and are clad in billowing capes. Units will pace as they await battle, or unsheathe swords when an attack looms.
The visual treat isn’t limited to characters – villages and encampments are luxuriously detailed, with spinning windmills or Night Elf buildings that are akin to the living trees in Lord Of The Rings. And yes, they can uproot and walk as well. Also worthy of mention are the superb CG cut-scenes – astounding mini movies that wouldn’t be out of place on the silver screen.
Audio hits the high notes with ease. The voice acting is great; this is one of the few games of all time that handles voice talent well. Each unit is capable of talking when clicked, while ambient sound covers everything from background wildlife and the ring of steel-on-steel. You’ll want to crank up the speakers when playing.
At its heart, Warcraft III is a resource-&-building game. Starting will a small force, you can use basic units to mine gold and cut lumber to create buildings. These, in turn, churn out soldiers, vehicles, air units, spell casters, and upgrades. Once an army is created, you command them into battle to smash the enemy into the ground. It’s rip-roaring pillaging from the get go.
However, Warcraft III has refined this classic structure in numerous ways, adding role-playing elements, sub quests, and even tax systems that limit the production of massive armies.
Previously in Warcaft and Starcraft, it was possible to create up to 200 units – an overwhelming army that would swiftly lead to victory on numbers alone. Warcraft III limits this to 90, and features an upkeep tax on your gold mining as an army grows. The upshot is that players are forced into battle with smaller armies at an earlier stage, resulting in greater tactical play.
The technology and number of buildings have also been trimmed – a real boon for village management. But while simplified, there is enough diversity and more focus on other gaming elements that ensures Warcraft III retains its addictive flair.
The addition of heroes is a smart move. These are essentially super units that stay with you throughout the game. They drive the plot, and provide a massive defensive or offensive boost to an army. Examples include blademasters, mountain kings, and paladin knights. Each hero includes inventory slots, experience and level points, spells and special abilities. By leading your heroes into battle, they gain experience points that can be spent on upgrading their abilities.
Key to this are mini-quests and non-aligned monsters. The world is not just populated by armies, but is awash with fearsome creatures such as fire-breathing dragons, rock golems, giant spiders, and satyrs. These often have to be defeated before you can attack an enemy encampment, yielding treasure and spells. Warcraft III sports a great night-&-day cycle as well; wild creatures sleep throughout the night, allowing you to explore unhindered, while night and day has an impact on the various races you can play.
Warcraft III features four races: humans, which have a balance of abilities; orcs, which are tough in battle; Night Elves, which are mighty spellcasters and are invisible at night; and the Undead. Scourge, which can harvest fallen soldiers and infect the land. Each has finely balanced strengths and weaknesses, leading to the need to deploy different tactics for each race.
Blizzard has redefined the RTS game with Warcraft III – it’s exquisitely detailed, boasts involving game play, and has an absorbing plot that pulls you through the game. It includes fantastic multiplayer gaming through Blizzard’s Battle.net system, and a world-editor that Blizzard says is almost identical to the one used to craft the game. Here, you can raise the 3D landscape, place characters and villages, even add your own audio and in-game movies. In short, this is the best RTS game available to date.