Every so often, a game manages to generate enough hype to attain a legendary status before even being released. This was the case with Blizzard's third entry in the wildly successful WarCraft series. While their first two games were of the standard real-time simulation (RTS) fare, Blizzard promised that WarCraft III would instead focus on small, RPG-styled battles between parties of highly customizable heroes. Though the developers have preserved many of the series' more conventional RTS elements, the game still retains a rich character development system and a strong storyline that will appeal to any fan of PC SRPGS such as Freedom Force or Fallout Tactics.
WarCraft III takes the best parts of real-time strategy and role-playing games and melds them into a delicious treat that fans of either genre will appreciate. The game contains the standard base-building and resource gathering systems that have proliferated the RTS genre, but also has robust character development and the occasional dungeon crawl. In each of the game's four campaigns, the player takes control of a variety of "hero" units whose statistics and inventories carry over between missions. Destroying members of opposing armies or hunting the map's hostile wildlife will cause these hero units to rise in level. Gaining levels allows the player to choose new skills for the hero to learn. These skills range from auras, which are similar to the skills of Diablo II's paladin class, to devastating magical spells. By vanquishing powerful enemies or by completing any of the game's many optional sidequests, the player may also find equipment or potions. This allows each player to develop his or her heroes in a unique way.
Although the hero units are certainly an integral part of the gameplay, base-building and resource gathering are still a major feature in WarCraft III. This portion of the game is a bit different for each of the game's four races. Humans and orcs play like the races found in a standard RTS, while the undead and the night elves have some unusual and unique characteristics. Although humans and orcs are fairly generic, both groups have individual strengths and weaknesses. Both must gather lumber and gold to create new structures and units. Weak labor units - peasants for the humans and peons for the orcs - handle this work. Unique aspects of the other two races include the element of "blight" as found with the undead. The blight is an area around each undead building that consists of deadened land. Each new undead building aside from the main structure must be built on blighted land. Essentially, this just means that undead buildings must be constructed near each other. The undead also make use of the corpses on the battlefield. Certain units can consume corpses to regain hit points, while others use them as ammunition for catapults. This grisly element adds a layer of strategy for those playing as the undead, as corpses must be utilized before they deteriorate. The night elves also differ greatly from the standard gameplay trappings of the orcs and humans. To gather resources, elven units need not traverse the distance between trees or gold mines and the town center. Instead, the units siphon the resources and add them instantly to the supply reserves. The night elves also possess the unique ability to uproot many of their structures and use them as combat units. Finally, each race has statistical differences that further individualize them. With such a wide variety of styles to master, players won't grow tired of this game anytime soon.
WarCraft III is the first game in the series to make use of 3D graphics, and is, in fact, Blizzard's first attempt at the third dimension in any of their games. Fortunately, however, the results are positive. While the units tend to seem a bit blocky when viewed closely, everything looks terrific from a high vantage point, which is where players spend the majority of their time anyway. The same concept applies to the textures, which are a lot less detailed when viewed up close. Unfortunately, many of the game's cutscenes contain close-up shots, and while they are by no means ugly, they tend to appear a bit dated. Making up for this, however, is Blizzard's trademark CGI work, which is of the utmost quality. These scenes easily surpass what players see in any other game, and even look better than the visually astounding Final Fantasy movie. From the smallest imperfection on an orc's skin to drops of water splashing in a puddle, everything looks just as one would expect it. With a cutscene between each campaign, as well as one to open the game, there is a large amount of CGI, and all of it is brilliant.
In terms of sound, WarCraft III excels once more. The voice acting is abundant and of very high quality. Each unit has several voice samples that it will use to acknowledge commands. In addition, the characters speak many lines of dialogue in the cutscenes. Voices never become annoying, and the acting is convincing enough to keep the player drawn into the game's world. The music, while not of the same quality as the voice acting, is still above average. Most of it consists of ambient pieces that fail to be memorable, but do fit well with the game. Overall, there is not a single reason to turn the speakers down while playing.
Like most other games of its ilk, WarCraft III relies almost entirely on a mouse-driven interface. The player can accomplish anything in just a few clicks of the mouse. Everything is streamlined to perfection, allowing anyone who has previous experience with strategy games or RPGs to jump right in and play. More advanced players can also utilize keyboard shortcuts to further simplify the gameplay. It all makes for a hassle-free experience that anyone should be able to operate with ease.
In addition to everything else it offers, WarCraft III also contains a fairly interesting story. It may not be up to the level of something like Planescape: Torment or Anachronox, but is certainly good enough to keep the player interested throughout the course of the game's four campaigns. The overarching plot deals mainly with the appearance of the Burning Legion, which is a group of demons looking to invade the lands of Azeroth in which the game is set. Each of the four races has a different stance regarding the Legion. For instance, the undead are more than happy to serve as the Legion's servants whereas the humans are out to stop the invasion from occurring. Each race's campaign contains its individual characters to help push the story along with a select few of them overlapping into the other campaigns. The story is by no means Shakespearian, but it does the trick.
Overall, WarCraft III is an expertly crafted RTS/RPG hybrid. It combines the best aspects of each of these genres and results in a game that many will remember as one of the all-time greats. The game is almost infinitely replayable, and the gameplay will most likely hold up for quite some time. For the few that have yet to obtain it, I strongly recommend doing so as soon as possible.
© 2002 Blizzard Entertainment