Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos PC Developed by Blizzard Released in 2002
It’s been a long and arduous journey, filled with slow gameplay and pathfinding issues, but finally we have arrived at the big one: the Warcraft game everybody can generally agree was pretty great. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos came out after a long break, 7 years if you ignore expansion packs, and already we could see the early beginnings of what would later become World of Warcraft.
Always a bigger bad guy
While the previous two games had you pick either the Orcs or Humans based on which you preferred before shoving you into a campaign, Warcraft 3 changes this format drastically and involves an ongoing story where all factions have a part to fill in sequence. Starting with a prologue featuring the Orcs leaving Lordaeron to go find a home elsewhere, the game then moves on to four full-fledged storylines. The first deals with the Humans fighting the undead under the questionable leadership of a young prince named Arthas, the second campaign turns that setup around with you butchering everybody as the undead, the third has the Orcs arrive in Kalimdor and work to create a new home amidst the races already present, and the fourth concerns itself with the final battle as seen from the perspective of the Night Elves.
Rather than a bland briefing, the missions are now preceded by cutscenes that also turn up during gameplay to have plot twists occur. Accompanying these is the new focus on hero characters that have plenty of dialogue between each other and character arcs that drive the story forward. The Orcs have their warchief Thrall, a shaman that desires freedom and peace for his people above all else, while the Humans have Arthas, prince of Lordaeron and a man on a quest of vengeance against the undead that ravaged his kingdom. These two leaders are flanked by a cast of side-characters, like the aging Tauren chieftain Cairne Bloodhoof and the powerful sorceress Jaina Proudmoore.
For the sake of spoilers I won’t be going in-depth on the specific heroes involved in the undead and night elf campaigns. Just trust me… the spoilers are juicy.
This is not to say the story is flawless, as it’s clear there is a gaping hole in the plot meant to be filled by the canceled Warcraft Adventures puzzle game, but this is a minor complaint. The different approach to storytelling is exactly what left me so lukewarm on the previous two games. Despite the hardships I will get to in the gameplay bit, it was definitely the story I kept coming back for.
Story score: 9.5/10
As seen in the MMO
Like with the story, gameplay is now more centered around the hero characters and here we could see the early beginnings of the MMORPG Warcraft would eventually evolve into. It’s still an RTS in which you gather wood and gold, use these to build up your base, recruit troops, and research technologies, then set out to pulverize your enemies. While you still do that and missions still often end with you putting the enemy’s HQ and peasants to the torch, Warcraft 3 feels more like an adventure.
Maps feature camps and creatures that are hostile, merchants and mercenaries looking to make a deal, and peaceful locations where you can pick up additional quests for rewards. This made exploring the map really fun and worthwhile, often motivating me to postpone the actual objective for as long as possible. Your hero character can gain experience and level up, which carries over to future missions and allows you to select an ability to learn or improve. Doing quests and killing the creatures found on the map can also reward you with gear or items, which your hero can pick up and fit into one of six slots. This can mean you’ll be asked if you are willing to forego potions in favor of carrying as much gear as possible and it’s fun to have an RTS where your most important unit is this flexible.
The controls and speed of the game are up from Warcraft 2 and you can now select plenty of soldiers at once, making it easy to command your full army. You also don’t generally need an overwhelming force to begin with and having too many units will eventually begin to cost upkeep, reducing your income of resources. This focus on a smaller army with hero characters works well, though you do still run into some rare pathfinding issues as friendly characters can’t pass through each other.
The objectives you’ll be asked to do are also nicely varied and unorthodox for the genre. In one mission you’ll be in a race against an opposing army to kill the most neutral characters, in another you find yourself exploring a cave with a tiny force of allies, and my favorite involves rushing through a winding path to destroy boats on a time limit while only being able to field mercenary units. The setups for these are great, so it’s a bit of a shame that, for me at least, the difficulty was a bit too tough.
I am by no means a strategy game expert, I am at a level where I am comfortable with using hotkeys and the minimap to quickly execute orders, but several missions were really hard on me. The one in the cave I seriously just couldn’t do, you have a handful of troops and tough enemies to deal with, no means of replenishing those troops, and your only source of healing can only do so once in like ten minutes. I would slowly start losing soldiers until it was just my hero against foes I just couldn’t take. Several of the more traditional missions also had me face such overwhelming odds I couldn’t make it in the end. The issue here is that I was playing on normal and while there is an easy mode, you can’t just select that. In order to play on easy you need to first lose a mission, and I understand the intent here, but if I just spent 45 minutes building a base, raising an army, only to lose at the very end, the last thing I want to do is put all of that effort in a second time right away.
While Warcraft 3 starts off with a very decent challenge, later missions and campaigns are much harder and I found myself bumping against that more and more as I progressed. Having to lose each mission before I get a shot at it on the setting I am actually comfortable with is a big problem that made me continually dread moving forward when I finally did sack the enemy’s base and could choose to move on. It’s not a good sign when I need to ponder this much when faced with the buttons “exit campaign” and “continue” after a glorious victory.
Gameplay score: 8/10
Totally what mouths look like
Of course graphics become dated, but it has to be said that the leap from the second to third installment of Warcraft comes with a fantastic update, significantly improving the look of both the models and the portraits representing them. While you may prefer the already nice pixel-art of Warcraft 2, the new look introduced here is more animated, even if that animation looks a little silly from time to time. The character portraits move and characters are presented as fully-realized 3D figures that are still nice to look at today.
The environments too enjoy a strong presentation with each zone having its own distinct feel. The forests of Quel’Thalas are not at all similar to the more gloomy forests of Ashenvale, and the barren plains leading to Mulgore are completely unlike the battlefields found in the Human campaign. This sense of identity for each area would later be ported to the MMO where it proved similarly successful.
The music was nice, though not impressive enough to really stick with me. The voice acting, however, is much better. There are many more actors involved that all lend striking voices to the hero character and units. While I found some of the Elvish characters could have used stronger delivery, overall I am quite pleased in this regard.
Presentation score: 8/10
Warcraft 3 features many cheats that can be used in the missions to make life a bit easier on you or take all challenge away. Typing in whosyourdaddy will make every unit kill every enemy in one hit, there are codes to spawn in extra resources, infinite mana, that kind of stuff. A cheat to unlock easy mode is sadly absent and I have to admit that whosyourdaddy is an alternative that goes too far.
The game also comes with an easy-to-use editor to make your own maps and campaigns, and is in general very mod-friendly.
Extras score: 8/10
Whether you are a fan of the Warcraft universe or not, this third installment offers such entertaining missions that I can honestly recommend checking it out if you have any love for RTS games at all. It’s a game that still looks acceptable today despite aging graphics and its story mode had me hooked. While I might be a wimp who can’t handle the difficulty, there is cheats to help out people like me and better players may not experience these issues at all.