Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos

Not too RPG, not too RTS... just wrong.

Mid 2002 Blizzard released its long awaited and much anticipated sequel to the award winning Warcraft II. It was, of course, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. Taking advantage of 3D gaming engines, Blizzard produced a Warcraft title that stayed true to the tradition with the classic Orc vs. Human battle, with another two races thrown into the mix - Undead and Night Elves. However, this is where the similarities to every other Warcraft title end (except Warcraft II: Heroes).

Graphics are mediocre, and that's being generous. It is truly a dissapointment, after the fluid and brilliant (for its time) animations of Starcraft, and the mindblowing FMVs, I still sit here scratching my head several weeks after completing the game. Graphics are bloated and cartoony, character portraits are horrid beyond explanation; primarily due to the fact that when they talk their jaws seem to dislocate and flap all over the place, and they move their heads around so much its as if they're headbutting the camera. The 3D engine they utilised is stiff and rigid - an outmoded camera form back from the first days of the 3D gaming genre. For the most part, you won't even move the camera from its static 3rd person view. Angle can be adjusted 90 degrees either way, and from the angled top down view one may change the pitch to ground level. The camera immediately snaps back after you release the respective buttons, however, and even if it didn't, the available angles really don't make things any easier to see as Blizzard chose to make the camera unnecessarily close to the ground.

The interface is a bad joke as well, as it is grossly oversized, and scaling ensures that no matter what resolution one chooses there is still an obnoxious oversized interface. The fact that the interface chews up around 30% of the screen, and then the camera is ridiculously close to the ground, there is very little scope on the world. Its hard to keep track of what's happening over one side of your base while you are trying to manage resources on the other, or fight a battle on another side. This is a serious let down, as it makes defending your base, and even attacking an enemy, quite a frustrating experience. However, Blizzard was not satisfied to stop there, they wanted to waste more of your precious screen space by making units massive things - especially heroes (which I shall explain later on). Sometimes it is hard to keep your entire (diminuitive) army on screen.

Yes, armies are diminuitive. You have a piddling population limit of 90! And the majority of units take up 2 or more population! Then, with your heroes, which eat up 5 slots, and any subsequent heroes that do the same, you have a very small army, often only numbering in around 20-30 units (it may even be 10-20 depending on how many resource gatherers you have). Now many of your better units are very weak attackers, but instead cast very powerful spells, which is fine, however most of these spells you must select and cast yourself. This would still be acceptable, however you often have multiple spellcasters with varying spells - and then you have to worry about your hero(es). Warcraft III is largely based around the use of your hero(oes). They have potent abilities that boost your own units and hinder enemy units. They do not, however, start with all abilities available as they did in Starcraft and Warcraft II, or even other spellcasters in Warcraft III; and they don't gain new ones from research like others either. Instead, they gain experience and level up. They also hold items that bolster their abilities.

But it has been said, "It is not an RPG without a paperdoll.", and Blizzard would have done well to heed this when designing their heroes. At best they are a cheap novelty that helps suspend belief that this is indeed an RPS (Role Playing Strategy). Now, the computer automatically manages its hero(oes) spells and all its spellcasters, creating a potent mixture of hinderances for your forces and boosts for their forces. Only problem is, its complex and time consuming to cast all the spells, and for a mere human, virtually impossible to manage several spellcasters in the short space of an encounter, while directing the encounter itself. This leads to one of two things - a frustrating battle that you manage to fight well, but lose because you didn't take full advantage of your spellcasters, or a frantic, chaotic mass that is poorly directed, thus lost, as you try to take full advantage of your spellcasters.

Of the other units, there is a plethora of new additions, including the ability to hire mercenaries and other neutral units. This hiring method can also be used to cheat the population limit by hiring them after reaching the cap. The ability to do this hiring of neutral units also offers a new stratagem, and indeed many aspects in the game seem to have been designed to introduce various strategic oppurtunities. Therefore, it puzzles me as to why the ever important strategic device of Oil and sea warfare has been unrighteously deposed of. This, IMHO, has despoiled one of the great aspects from Warcraft II. While this may sound insignificant at first, it truly detracts from what could have been a terribly important strategic factor.

As I just mentioned, I am upset at the loss of Oil gathering, as it was an important strategic device from Warcraft II - securing oil and preventing your opponent from doing likewise. However Oil is not the only resource I am disgruntled about. Lumber is gathered far too slowly for starters, but the much greater concern at hand is gold. Goldmines have such miniscule amounts of gold that they quickly collapse and one must travel the map like a pack of locusts, consuming the resources and leaving after doing so. This is a much greater problem in multiplayer games, as two sides often come into many skirmishes attempting to defend/attack said resources and in doing so, spending much gold, and once all the resources on the map have been consumed there is not enough for either side to secure a victory. Also, an irritating upkeep has been imposed when you start to gather up a medium or large force (which still isn't large compared to other games). This is meant to prevent rushing, and isn't such a problem in Multiplayer, simply a hindrance. In Single Player, however, the computer seems to have limitless resources and manages to attack with an immense force less than ten minutes into the game. The human player, however, is stuck with a massive upkeep penalty just for trying to build up forces quick enough to defend. This means that it is virtually impossible to expand and secure more resources to counteract this penalty, as one simply doesn't hav e enough to expand and consolidate simultaneously.

Game mechanics aside, I am terribly partial to a good storyline, especially in an RPG, I believe it can ultimately save a game. But Warcraft III fails on all accounts. The game begins with the ancient rivalry of Orc vs. Human, but it doesn't end so! IMHO, you cannot have Orc and Human working side by side, it does not work. For me this was the stake through the heart that slayed the Warcraft III storyline, however there were many more factors contributing to its downfall. As I mentioned before, the fluid animated FMV sequences from Starcraft (and perhaps even Warcraft II, for its time) are pretty much dead, only having FMVs as a before game intro, one before each campaign and an end game one, and instead replacing all others with pre-rendered cinematics produced with the exact same engine as the game. This doesn't help suspend belief in the least, and the horrid scripting and voice acting only acts as a catalyst. The story itself is cheesy and full of holes, it really doesn't stand up. And last, and definently least, the flimsy RPG elements thrown in are so miniscule they are not even worth mentioning - but let me say that they don't help make the game an RPS.

To sum, the graphics are behind their time, the interface infuriating, the game mechanics poorly designed, and there is simply not enough RPG or RTS to classify it as anything other than a dud. This is a seriously dissapointing game, considering the massive potential it had, and I sincerely hope this plague doesn't spread to Starcraft II (if it does, by god as my witness, I shall never buy another Blizzard game). If you must buy it, then do so, but I reccommend you save your money for something more worthwile. If you wish to "get medieval", as Darius75 says, I would reccommend Medieval: Total War.

Final Verdict:

Graphics: 3/5
Sound: 4/5
Gameplay: 2/5
Playability: 2/5
Overall: 2.5/5