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 Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos Reviewed by William 'Jericho' Shaver 
Developer:
Publisher:
Release Date: 7/03/02

Mindless Choice Award

Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos is a real time strategy game based in the fantasy world of Azeroth. Unlike the previous Warcraft games, Warcraft 3 features a new fully 3d engine. The single player campaign follows in suit with Blizzard's previous title, Starcraft, in that each races' campaign is a portion of an ongoing story; starting with Humans and ending with the Night Elves. Will this stand up to the task of pleasing followers of this series? We will see.


 Introduction

Click for larger imageYears ago when PCs weren't as popular as they are now, a small game development company decided to make a strategy game in real time. This became Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. This follows the exploits of the first war with the Orcish Horde as they began to sweep across the lands of Azeroth in their campaign to claim the world as their own. Following its success, Blizzard created the masterpiece that is Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness and its expansion, Beyond the Dark Portal. Tides of Darkness followed up with the Human inhabitants of the lands of Azeroth fleeing their homeland to the neighboring kingdom of Lordaeron, and with the assistance of an Alliance of Elves, Humans, Gnomes, and Dwarves, they set about retaliating against the Horde to prevent it from taking full control of the known world. This ended with the Humans destroying the Dark Portal which the Orcs used to enter into the world.

The Expansion: Beyond the Dark Portal, follows up when the Humans realize the rift between worlds was not sealed. Here again, the Orcs find a way to enter into the world of Azeroth and steal artifacts of great power. With this, an Orc Shaman conjures a portal of great power into yet another world. This portal was unstable and caused the Orcs' world of Draenor, to implode upon itself and the few Orcs who escaped into the Human world of Azeroth or through this new portal are now orphaned, their homelands forever gone.

This is where Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos begins, approximately 10 to 20 years after Warcraft 2: Beyond the Dark Portal.


 Storyline

Click for larger imageWarcraft 3 begins with the visions of the new Orc War Chief, Thrall, as he witnesses a great battle and the coming of a new threat to the world. He awakens to find a Prophet beckoning to him to go to the ancient western continent of Kalimdor; long thought to be a myth. Thrall is told that Kalimdor is where the salvation of his race can be found. Finding this warning troubling as well as his visions, Thrall makes ready his army and sets sail across the vast oceans, hoping to find Kalimdor as requested by the Prophet.

The story of Warcraft 3 is both immersing and well written. The "interludes" and cut scenes done with the game engine are well crafted and directed. Oddly they suffer from frame rate drops when the game's camera angle changes from its default birds eye view to a more ground level view. The plot twists as it progresses keeps you guessing as to what's going to happen next. In fact, players will find themselves trying to beat the missions just to see the next cut scene of the story. Plus having the occasional cut scene when in mid-mission only adds more to the anticipation. The movies played at the end of each campaign are well mastered and played in a very high quality.


 Graphics

Click for larger imageUsually when a company takes a game originally set in a 2d sprite design and transfer it to a 3d landscape, something is often lost. Be it look and feel or the theme of the artistry. None of this happens here. Warcraft 3 features stunning detail in the new 3d engine it uses. This can be displayed in Open GL or Direct 3d.

The units of Warcraft 3 all sport a low polygon, cartoon feel. This in no way degrades their animation quality. Blizzard took painful steps to make sure these units looked and animated perfectly on screen. Of course, the low polygon use is for a reason as well, when two or three armies clash, the frame rates are sure to drop if they are of any size. On higher end systems, though, I don't know if this is a problem. Buildings as well keep this motif, having low polygon use but well textured designs. Some are humorous like the Night Elf Tree of Life dancing as it creates wisps, and others are for cosmetic reasons, like the working clock on the Human town hall. These finer features help add to the realism of the game world.

From the game's default overhead view, the game nearly looks like it's a 2-d strategy title just like its older incarnations. The map designs use fully 3d terrain with the highly detailed texturing on the geometry; you hardly can tell it's a mesh of 3d polygons. In fact the map terrain looks like it's a 2d landscape similar to Starcraft. This does make for some interesting things when larger units lean to contort themselves onto the landscape, making them stand at 45 to 60 degree angles.

The camera angle you can pan but only temporarily. Blizzard keeps the games camera at a single angle to help maintain the original feel of the previous Warcraft games. So panning the camera is purely for cosmetic or screenshot purposes.


 Sound

Click for larger imageThe sounds and music to Warcraft 3 fit perfectly with every other aspect of the game. Blizzard spared no expense to make sure the voice acting was done and done well. Each voice for the units is unique and mixes perfectly with the ambient sounds of the landscape. The ambient sounds themselves fit perfectly with the creation of the world of Azeroth, making it feel more lifelike than before. Birds chatter in the Ashenvale Forest, and volcanic vents explode in all their glory when underground.

The music score is just as diverse as the races. The Humans having near orchestral march-like tunes while the Night Elves have more Celtic themes. The Orcs make war with their driving epic battle themes, and the Undead's rather unique, enigmatic music serve to make them feel that much more spooky. Of course, Blizzard continued their long history of funny unit comments when you continuously click on them. All units have several comments they make when you bug them in this manner. A personal favorite is the last line of the Night Elf Dryad.


 Gameplay

Click for larger imageThe gameplay of Warcraft 3 is, to say the least, rock solid. As with their previous strategy titles, Blizzard incorporates hotkey commands for everything to constructing buildings to unit abilities and commands. Features from Starcraft also entered into the mix such as unit cueing, race specific features, and race specific units.

The addition of unit damage and armor types also increases the strategic thinking. This creates a strategy, counter strategy format which allows one to build armies specifically to counter or attack certain units. This also assists and hinders each race in ways since each race as a target play style.

Another new inclusion into the game is the use of Heroes. Heroes. are super units which gain levels, have unique abilities, and have inventory spaces. Each race features three heroes which range from heavy melee fighters to archmages and archers. The addition of Heroes. only further adds to the uniqueness of each race. There are also shops which your Heroes. can visit. These shops range from item sellers to mercenary camps for hiring of units. This provides some level of consistency to the races in a minor way. For one, no race has its own transport unit, you have to buy them from a Goblin Laboratory. The trick, getting to it before your enemies do.

The incorporation of day and night during gameplay as well affects your units, night reduces their vision radius. This makes it easier for sneak attacks. Currently though, there is no option to enable only day, or only night time play.

Single Player:
Click for larger imageThe single player game takes place in various locations ranging from lush forests, deserts, inside cities, and cold wintry lands. The missions you are given are as diverse as the landscape. They range from simple kill all your enemies to protecting a caravan as you pass through a desert and securing specific objectives within a limited time frame using only a hand full of units. This makes the missions both varied and difficult depending on what you are doing. Gladly, at the start of each mission that features a new unit, you will be greeted with info about the new unit so players know exactly what it is and how it's used.

A new feature in this mix is difficulty level. You can select to play the game on normal or hard difficulties. Plus, if you get defeated on a mission you can chose to replay the mission on easy difficulty. This let's just about anyone be able to finish this game. Though for advanced players, normal may seem a little easy.

As with other strategy titles, there is a custom game or skirmish mode players can access to combat against a computer player. The included bundle of maps range from a few ported classics from Warcraft 2 and many originals. On the down side, there isn't a difficulty setting for the computer AI in custom games.

Multiplayer:
Click for larger imageMultiplayer for Warcraft 3 can be played online with Blizzard's own Battle.net service or on Local Area Network. For people who own other Blizzard titles, a new account will be required for Warcraft 3. This is required since Warcraft 3 uses new gateways. The new ladder system which Blizzard has implemented enables anonymous matchmaking for games. This allows players of similar skill levels to compete against each other and hopefully learn and get better at their preferred race. Sadly, this system does place new players vs very experienced players, and we can all guess how that ends. Players can also set up arranged teams with friends for similar matchmaking.

There is of course the custom game option for direct team Vs team play or one Vs one matches. These games, however, do not count on a players ladder ranking. Custom games on Battle.net can also allow for a large number of observers to view the game in action. As with Starcraft, Warcraft 3 has the option to save replays of the game on the scoring screen. This allows players to see what strategies their enemy employed and gives the player the chance to find a method to counter. This also allows for highly experienced players to save matches between themselves and other experienced players, and show the world how good they are. Again, lesser experienced players can learn from these replays and improve their skills. Custom games do, however, suffer from more connection related problems than the matchmaking games. Especially when there's either a large number of players or large number of observers.


 Final Thoughts

Click for larger imageWarcraft 3: Reign of Chaos is a great game which mixes in the artistry of 2d graphics into a 3d world and doesn't lose a bit of detail. The RPG elements of the Heroes not only adds replay value for multiplayer, but also adds a bit of depth as their skills can turn the tide of battle very easily. The controls are easy to learn and use. The use of Blizzard's Battle.net service for multiplayer makes it easy to find players to combat with online. The only downfall, you might need to upgrade something in your computer to see this game in its fullest detail.






Click for larger imagePros:
  • Free online play through Battle.net.
  • A perfect transition into a 3d engine.
  • Well animated artwork with great implementation.
  • It's a Blizzard game!
Cons:
  • If you didn't like Blizzard's previous strategy titles, you may not like this one.
  • Price is a bit high.
  • No AI selection for skirmishes.
Overall:

Graphics:
Storyline:
Gameplay:
Sound:
Value:
Total: 9.0


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