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WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos

Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: Blizzard / Vivendi
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy / Role-Playing Game
Players: 1-8
Similar To: WarCraft II, Warlords: Battlecry II
Rating: Teen
Published: 07 :17 : 02
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 9.5 = Must Buy

Screenshots

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Minimum Req.: P2 400, 128MB RAM, 8MN Video Card, 700MB hd
Reviewed On: P3 800, 256MB, GeForce 2ti, SB, Win XP Pro


Intro

It's time to grab your axe, sharpen your sword, and continuously click on small soldiers to hear their humorous anecdotes; yes, WarCraft is back and not only has it lived up to my expectations, it has surpassed them and has proven once again why Blizzard is at the top of their game.





Gameplay: 9.5/10
First off, let me give a brief history of my WarCraft experience - feel free to skip to the next paragraph to get on with the goods. This is meant as a means of letting people know that, for me, like many others, the WarCraft series is more than just a simple game, and is one of those key titles that helped to define PC gaming in our eyes. Years ago, in a now-defunct PC magazine, I saw a small ad to get a demo of a new title called WarCraft: Orcs and Humans that was free for all, with a small $4.95 shipping fee. Needless to say, I repeatedly played that demo's 3 levels until I knew exactly where to attack, when, and with how many troops. Later on an official release was sent out on a CD with another magazine, which I bought just so I could use the cheat codes. Then came the original, the sequel, and the add-on; all received endless hours of play. Any one of the titles has received more play-time than entire series of other titles, and they continue to do so this day. When the Win95 / 98-friendly Battle.Net edition for WarCraft II was released, I scooped it up and re-lived glorious gaming moments of yore; while not a sequel, defending my kingdom from the invading Orcs was enough to sustain my need to destroy all green beings. To say that the third release had a lot to live up to would be an understatement; this release was the culmination of years worth of anticipation, excitement, and worry, and would also be a way that Blizzard could prove to me that their formula of "release-> add-on ->sequel -> add-on" could be broken by a third title that lived up to its predecessors.

I am wholeheartedly pleased to say that WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos not only lives up to my expectations, but also ushers in a new era for real-time strategy games. By combining elements of role-playing, action, and strategy titles, WarCraft III presents a new direction for not only the series, but the genre as well. After the humans defeated the Orcs in Beyond the Dark Portal, the Orcish hordes, once possessed by the Scourge, are now left without their constant bloodlust and are left to wander and scavenge for survival and protection from their former enemies. While the Human alliance is holding, the chink in their armor is starting to show and is being held together by an aging king. WarCraft III initially follows the story of Thrall, a young Orc warchief who wants to reunite the horde and return them to their spiritual ways; Arthas, the young Human prince, who has a fall from grace; Priestess of the Moon, a young Night Elf that is now set with the task of leading the solitude race after the death of their demigod and the return of their old enemy, the Burning Legion, whom was resurrected by the Scourge; Ner'zhul, an Orc shaman who once led the horde in Draenor, but now does the bidding of the dark lord as he rules the Undead.

Played in a specific order, the Orcs lead the prologue as the Humans, Undead, Orcs again, and then the Night Elves play out the tale of the great crusade against the Scourge and the Burning Legion. As it turns out, the Orcs were never ruthless savages, but instead were a noble and spiritual race, something that is prominent now as they mix brawn and mysticism in a more 'Earthy' fashion. The Humans have advanced technologically with tanks, mortar teams, and riflemen. The Undead rely on mass numbers as the wood gathering / footsoldier Ghoul, can be amassed with large numbers of skeletons; there is also the Undead's catapult, known as the meatwagon that can transport bodies to form insta-armies and attack in endless waves to slowly break down their opponent. Rounding out the races are the Night Elves; this all-female race of stealth-oriented elves favor working with the earth and long-range combat.

The nuances of each race will play out beautifully alongside the story as the game progresses. New abilities will come to be learned, spells are gradually introduced, and the beginning is very comprehensive; that is, if you're one of the three people left who have yet to play a real-time strategy title. The one flaw I did find was that, like the previous titles, there was no real cohesion to the armies; while they will stick together and a pre-numbered group can be bound to a number, there were no extensive or even basic formations. There were several times where I would have to bind long-range units to a different key so that I could keep them away from the front lines, but a simple option to keep them in front, behind, or even to go behind after being attacked would have been very welcome. Maybe it was kept to keep the play so similar to its predecessors, but that is the only flaw I found as I made my way throughout the races.

What's so fun about WarCraft III is that while you're in a race's campaign, you take that hero and build it up throughout the missions. This adds a bit of an RPG element as there are main quests and side quests to participate in which also beef up your hero's experience level. This is also a solid means of getting newer items; heroes can carry up to six items with them, which can range from health regeneration potions to claws of strength or even boots of agility, which looks oddly similar to Spider-Man's foot. Thankfully, some can be bought from Goblin vendors that are randomly sprawled throughout the maps. Taking that extra quest to kill some bandits will not only gain some valuable experience, but might also produce some valuable booty.

The levels are a diverse bunch as well. Some require stealth, as you try to find acolytes hidden within a human village (fun fact: take a look at two men fighting behind a bar and check out their names, think Brad Pitt and Edward Norton) - while another will have you trying to gather mass amounts of wood to secure a base before the main army arrives. There's even an indoor level that harkens back to the original, a nice touch. In-between the levels will be in-game cutscenes that will explain who the main players are and help to bring those who haven't played the previous titles up to speed - the manual does an excellent job of this as well. Helping out the in-game graphics will be some of the most phenomenally rendered cutscenes that have ever been seen, and the way they convey the atmosphere of the time makes them more than just eye candy. Whether it's a cutscene or an interesting side quest, there's plenty to do that keeps the levels varied enough to where the various campaigns don't feel as if they are dragging along, but not so different that they feel as if they don't belong together; I do believe that would be called "great game design."

The units are a mixed bunch and are surprisingly strong throughout. Right when one race looks to have the upper hand, a new unit, spell, or strategy will make its presence known and completely throw off the balance for power. Other small changes are that Trolls are no longer part of the Orc Hordes; they, along with those lovable ogres and a few others, are now mercenaries that can be hired in various goblin-like shops throughout the levels. Also missing are sea units, although air units make a strong showing. Finally, sprawled on maps are units called Creeps. These units serve as a means of leveling up heroes, deterring people from rushing in multiplayer, and to generally give life to the world by having it populated by more NPCs. While the Creeps fail to stop rushes as effectively as they could, they are still a cool and welcomed addition.

Rounding out the new features are some great fan favorite concepts. Starting off; the humor is definitely back, and now the sound bits have expanded beyond a few quips into pop culture with quotes from countless movies, including Full Metal Jacket, and even a joke involving StarCraft. The ability to blow up random non-creep animals is also back, along with various Easter eggs and hidden jokes within the levels themselves. Amazingly enough, nothing seems forced here; instead of being added as a means of doing so just to say they're in, they really help to give it the same charm and wonder that made the previous installments so incredible. There is also some solid multiplayer action going on via Battle.Net that has a nice, but flawed, quick match system that is supposed to match someone of your skill up to you within 30 seconds and on the map of your choice, but it doesn't always work out that way. What really makes multiplayer such a treat is the ability to not only share units, but to also give resources to your allies; it's done so seamlessly that the features feel like they have always been in the games. Along with a healthy pack of maps, the level editor, and scenarios, there's plenty for friends to be fighting over for a long time to come.

Another new and prominent feature is the Upkeep and Food Limit limitations; upkeep has to do with gold and that whenever a certain number of units are made, less gold is being put in the treasury than is taken out, so instead of 10 out and 10 in treasury, it's 10 out and 7 or 4 - depending on number of troops - in treasury. Food limitations also limit the size of your army, think of it as an army cap, of sorts; these implementations are not only a means of keeping your army smaller and more manageable, not to mention the fact that had there been none, 100+ 3D units on the screen at the same time would have hiked up the system needed to play it. While both have gotten mixed results from those I've talked to, I happen to enjoy both as I neither want my computer to explode, nor my head.

In the end, Blizzard has come through and released a title worthy of the WarCraft mantle. It's easy to be wary or even to dislike WarCraft III at first, but it's only when one realizes that it isn't and it wasn't meant to be WarCraft II that they can embrace and enjoy the new style. This is the new standard for real-time strategy titles and I can only hope that an expansion is planned to quench my renewed thirst for the series.

Graphics: 9.5/10
What is first offsetting soon becomes the equivalent of an old friend welcoming you home; the town halls, the knights, the soldiers, all bring the WarCraft world to life in 3D with lush textures and solid designs. It isn't just the classic Orcs and Humans that look good either, but all of the new races, including the various creeps, are solid and show just as much polish as the aforementioned originals. Whether it be the guts that are constantly bouncing out of the Abomination as it lumbers across the map, or the translucent holographic Owl Scout of the Night Elves, all the extra detail and added animations are beautiful from near or afar.

The environments are also a sight. At first, the sharp contrast of the objects makes it difficult to discern what it is exactly that seems weird, but in time, everything seems to fade together into a lively - or decrepit - world. Extra animations where also given to buildings and the surrounding areas; zooming the camera in to see the clock on the human's town hall clicking away while a spring drops water off a small rise of rocks and a small flock of birds swoop by is all a scene to behold. Other elements, like muck trails being left as peons mine for gold during a storm, or tracks left in the snow, all really help to make the world seem alive.

Outside of these ingame scenes, gamers will find some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous cutscenes to ever appear in a game. I'm normally not one to point them out, as most games have such good in-game graphics that rendered cutscenes become nearly obsolete, but Blizzard did an amazing job here; I was totally blown away. If you ever wanted to imagine what an Orc would look like face to face, check out a snippet of a cutscene and you'll see an image that is on par with anything Hollywood's multi-million dollars could produce and is far beyond anything that is on the PC market now or in the foreseeable future.

Sound: 10/10
Zug-Zug! Oh, how sweet it was to hear that time-honored phrase once again. Similar to the graphics, the sound has received that extra special treatment to ensure that the gameplay is snuggled in-between the best in aesthetics and acoustics. Both the Orcs and Humans have slightly different tones this time; now the Orcs have a sense of nobility in their voices, while the Humans sound brasher with their sound bits. The Undead sound hellish and the Night Elves sound sultry, along with the usual sayings; the heroes also have that extra bit of attention that helps to make them so unique. The background music is also up to par with the classic WarCraft sound that still fits the atmosphere perfectly after all these years. Also making a welcomed comeback is the notorious humor found in Blizzard titles; I still say my favorite is hearing a Night Elf huntress say, "this is my owl, while there are other owls, none are like mine" - ah, who doesn't love a good Full Metal Jacket reference?


Control: 9.5/10
This is pretty much standard fare with the current crop of real-time strategy titles, where features like group binding helps to keep things up to snuff. Another useful feature is the ability to use a sub-menu to select certain units within a group of selected soldiers so that their powers can be tapped without needlessly clicking around, trying to land your mouse on that certain character. The addition of idle peasant icons and hero icons help to keep the game's flow at a nice pace as this seemingly small feature helps to shave a whole lot of time off constant searching. One feature that I found missing was a solid formation unit; there is a basic formation that keeps the units in rows and one that simply scatters the soldiers. I would have liked to have seen something a bit more in-depth, like a feature to keep long-range soldiers in front or behind the bulk of the melee assault force. Other than the problem with formations, everything is cut and dried, but with a few extras to make the new style more manageable.

Overall: 9.5/10
Polished, outstanding, addictive, beautiful, revolutionary; WarCraft III runs the gamut of positive adjectives and still requires more to really get across how enjoyable it is. All of its nuances are slowly revealed in time and even more drastic changes are made in such a manner than seasoned veterans of the series might not even notice the changes; doing such and introducing the series, and the genre as a whole, with so many innovative and fresh ideas will not only delight gamers, but will spawn countless imitators, much like its predecessors. Blending RPG, action, and real-time strategy elements together in a seamless manner with an epic story, all while keeping the charm and humor of the series intact is a feat that I wouldn't have thought could have been pulled off. Not only was it pulled off, but it was done so with a surge of vigor and energy that is rarely seen in games these days.

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