Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness

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Warcraft 2.png

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
PC and Playstation (apparently)
Developed by Blizzard
Released in 1995

To say the first Warcraft game left me cold would be an understatement. Had I played it back in the day, I would probably never have picked up Warcraft 3, the first game in the series I played and which I hold quite dear. Technologically challenged and poorly designed, it’s a game I honestly never want to touch again. With some hesitation I started on its sequel, which is at least decently playable if a little uninteresting.

Fetching more friends

Though players were free to pick a faction in the first game, the second title proceeds under the assumption players went with the orc story and defeated the humans of Stormwind. Following this defeat the remnants of the Azeroth army fled north, to the kingdom of Lordaeron, where they forged an alliance with the other human kingdoms, the dwarves, gnomes, and elves. Not a moment too soon, as the orcs build ships and have just arrived on the Lordaeron shores to resume the war, and they brought some new friends themselves.

Warcraft 2 zeppelin.jpg

Each mission is still preceded by a briefing describing what you have to do and how the war is going, but perhaps a clearer map showing the movements of armies would have been a nice inclusion to represent the greater picture. What I do like are the character profiles found in the manual, where you also find some of the meatier details about the conflict and the backstory behind it, but overall it’s not as interesting a setup as the first game had.

Story score: 7/10

And some bigger weapons

Having allied with all sorts of new races, both the Humans and the Orcs now show up to the battlefields with some sturdier weapons in hand. The roster of units has expanded and changed around a bit, so instead of orcs and humans with ranged weapons, these roles are now fulfilled by trolls and elves respectively. While that is just an aesthetic example, there are also all-new flying and naval units to field besides the familiar line-up of infantry, cavalry, and siege units.

Warcraft 2 attack

With these new units comes a new resource: oil. This has to be harvested by creating ships at the new dockyard and building oil platforms at the limited number of oil fields out at sea, after which ships can retrieve oil from there and deliver it to an oil refinery. I found this inclusion really nice because it really makes the sea a battlefield as you send warships around to sink enemy oil vessels and blow up their dockyards. Balancing is a bit of an issue though as ship cannons are remarkably underpowered; they take forever to wreck a building and have terrible short range, which limited their use for me to just sinking enemy ships until I could roll in the siege units.

Besides adding oil and some new units, it has to be said that gameplay remains virtually unchanged. The balance between factions is much the same and the missions play out with few surprises. Players can now select and move nine units at a time, which solves the most glaring flaw of the first game and made it much more bearable to play, but it’s still so slow.

Warcraft 2 camp.png

It takes forever to raise and move an army around and the game is sorely lacking features to make this more convenient. You can’t queue up orders at a barracks, so you need to return there after each unit has been produced to select the next one, and in some missions units go down fast. You can’t zoom out the map and what you see is terribly limited, so I’d often lose track of units in the thick of battle as their AI makes them wander off to chase foes, or I’d find a part of the big army I dispatched to raid the enemy base got stuck on some trees. I often restarted entire scenarios because my big move was ruined by AI pathfinding and behavior issues.

The game is frustrating, is what I am trying to say. Older strategy games are often hard to revisit, I find, since many of the streamlining features we are used to nowadays are integral to the enjoyment of the player. With the above issues, this second installment in the Warcraft series isn’t unplayable like its predecessor, but it turns relatively simple missions you might have figured out how to beat into a struggle. An RTS should be about the strategy, not about micro-managing.

Gameplay score: 4/10

Inspired by Final Liberation

When looking back at older games, especially in the DOS era, I find that it’s often remarkable how much difference a year can make. Coming out in 1995, Warcraft 2 makes its predecessor look shameful by comparison. Sprites are large and finely detailed, making it no problem at all to see what units are on the field and making informed decisions based on that. With all sorts of races having joined the fight, variety is also more prevalent. Buildings and environments are, of course, also a lot better, it’s not just the characters and units.

Warcraft 2 cutscene

The music, like most games by Blizzard, is composed by Glenn Stafford, who has once again produced an admirable soundtrack filled with tunes that really get you pumped to wage a war. The voice of Bill Roper also returns as narrator and he still handles a lot of the simple lines for troops as well.

New are brief cutscenes that reminded me of Final Liberation. A mix of silly and funny scenes created with CG that doesn’t look good, but is bad in such a way it’s kind of funny to watch anyway. As brief rewards for completing missions they hold up well.

Presentation score: 8.5/10

Verdict

Some games don’t age well and I think Warcraft 2 is a prime example of such. While the art and sound do their best to present the fantasy realm of Azeroth and its battles, the bland story and slow, monotonous gameplay make this a tough game to recommend. If you have the patience for it and a love for Blizzard’s Warcraft universe it can be worth the effort, certainly later down the line when the story missions begin to get somewhat interesting.

65/100

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