Tag Archives: RTS

Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne

Arthas is back to claim his crown.

The expansion pack was long a domain of PC gaming. Not quite a sequel, expansion packs usually did what they advertised: they expanded a game beyond what was originally released. Blizzard often turned to the expansion pack for its games and it’s a strategy that made a lot of sense. Their games tended to take a long time to develop and reusing those assets was a way to recoup even more of the development costs. Blizzard was also very committed to online gaming and an expansion pack was a way to address balancing issues that might not have been apparent at launch. And sometimes an expansion could be a testing ground for things to come without the necessary investment a true sequel requires.

The Frozen Throne was released in 2003 roughly a year after the release of Warcraft III. Warcraft III was a success for Blizzard and an expansion to the game was essentially a foregone conclusion. There were a lot of loose ends to tie-up following the completion of the game’s campaign mode, and after a year of steady online play, fans were more than willing to embrace some new units to mess around with. Blizzard also had the soon-to-be mega success World of Warcraft primed and ready, and The Frozen Throne could be a way to prep that game for release thematically.

Also back is Illidan and he brought some friends.

The Frozen Throne expands upon the lore of the Warcraft franchise and introduces a bunch of new creatures in the process, just the sort of thing needed to support a living, playable, world. Warcraft III was the biggest Warcraft yet as it introduced two, new, playable factions to bring the game’s total to 4. I suppose in a move that isn’t a huge surprise, the expansion can’t quite live up that as it includes just 3 campaign modes. Returning from Warcraft III are the Night Elves, Humans, and Undead Scourge while remaining on the sidelines are the Orcs. It’s a bit surprising to see what has long been a fan-favorite faction in the Orcs kicked to the curb, but these are the limitations of an expansion vs a sequel. And while it makes The Frozen Throne seem comparatively smaller, there’s actually a whole lot of new content added including what is basically a fifth faction in the Naga.

The monstrous Naga are basically the game’s unofficial fifth faction. They have aligned themselves with Illidan and have their own buildings, units, and even a hero.

The campaign begins with the Night Elves. Illidan has joined forces with the Naga, a race of amphibious creatures recently awakened by the night elf turned demon. Illidan even gets a new character model as he now permanently sports bat-like wings and features some other, minor, cosmetic changes. In pursuit of Illidan is the new Night Elf hero – the Warden Maiev. Each faction gets one new hero and some new units to play with. Most of the additions seek to strengthen an area that may have previously been a weakness. The Warden is more of a melee unit and its ultimate attack basically allows for a small army to be formed. It works well alongside the more support type heroes in the Priestess and Keeper of the Grove and it’s not as specialized as the Demon Hunter. It does feature one ability, a short-range teleport, which has little, practical, use outside of the campaign but it’s other abilities are fine.

Maiev is the new Night Elf hero, the Warden. Also pictured is the new Blood Mage. Malfurion, like his brother Illidan, gets a new character model as well as he now rides a stag.

The plot for the campaign is that the Wardens were all slaughtered, save one, by Tyrande during the events of Warcraft III to free Illidan. The surviving warden seeks to return Illidan to his cell and exact revenge on the priestess. The Night Elf campaign feels largely separate from the other two, though Illidan remains a presence throughout all 3. The second campaign is the Human Alliance campaign, but more appropriately, it’s the Blood Elf campaign. The new human hero is a Blood Elf Mage and several scenarios will actually put the player in charge of an elven settlement, but it results mostly in a cosmetic change as they operate like the humans just without human and dwarf units. The Blood Elf, and the new Spellbreaker unit, basically specialize in countering magic and they’re quite good at it. The final campaign puts the player back in control of Arthas as well as the fallen Sylvanas, who is now one of the non-faction aligned heroes – The Dark Ranger. The new Scourge hero is actually the Crypt Lord, which is part of the same spider-like race of beings the Crypt Fiend belongs to. It’s basically a tank unit and is tough to bring down.

The Founding of Durotar is the replacement for the Orc campaign. It’s basically a simple RPG that lets the player experience some of the neutral heroes, as well as the new Orc hero. I found it too simplistic, but others really liked it as it gave rise to a brand new franchise in DOTA.

Not addressed by the campaign are the Orcs. Their new hero units can be experienced in a fourth scenario, The Founding of Durotar. That puts the player in control of another neutral hero, The Beast Master, and it’s basically a scenario similar to how Warcraft III was originally conceived. It’s basically a dungeon crawler and largely serves to confirm that Blizzard was right to not go in this direction. Successful scenarios have been launched from this campaign, like the popular DOTA, but as present in this game it’s a bit bland. It’s also decidedly not Warcraft. The new Orc hero in this is the Shadow Hunter, a troll that basically specializes in support including healing, something the Orcs didn’t have available from any of its heroes. Other neutral heroes include the Naga Sea Witch, a ranged attacker that can do magic damage as well, the Pandaran Brewmaster, a joke turned real and ultimately a unit that can deal out quite a bit of damage. Lastly, there’s the Pit Lord which is basically a demon unit from Warcraft III not previously playable. As one would expect, it’s quite powerful and hard to bring down. Neutral heroes can be hired like mercenaries on the map, only they’re quite a bit more expensive.

Anub’arak belongs to the new hero class for the Scourge, the Crypt Lord, and he’s basically just a powerhouse.

The campaign is obviously shorter than Warcraft III’s since it omits one entire faction, but even accounting for that, each part of the campaign feels shorter than before. That said, there are a few scenarios that are quite a bit harder than anything in Warcraft III, including the final one called A Symphony of Frost and Flame (someone on the staff was apparently a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire), which took me just a tick over 2 in-game hours to beat. There were a few other longer ones, and most of those I very much enjoyed. What I didn’t enjoy as much were the scenarios that didn’t involve any base management. I don’t mind those here and there, but there were quite a bit more this time around. Some were designed to take advantage of new abilities, like one where a powerful item is hidden in spots only accessible via the Warden’s new teleport ability, but most felt too linear and boring. Aside from that, the plot and pacing of the story felt fine, if a bit inconsequential. The middle scenario in particular felt like the game was spinning its tires, but there was some fun to be had in-between so it’s not like I minded. The story the game really wants to tell, if you couldn’t tell by the title, concerns Arthas and his relationship with the titular Frozen Throne. It’s a bit interesting because Arthas and the Scourge are basically the villains of our story, but you the player are tasked with protecting the throne, and the Lich King within it, from those who seek to destroy it.

Not every faction benefits as much as some of the others when it comes to the new additions in The Frozen Throne. The Shadow Hunter is a welcomed addition for the Orcs, but the new units in the Batrider and Spirit Walker are less interesting. The Batrider is essentially a flying siege unit, but it’s not really any more useful than a catapult while the Spirit Walker is strictly for support. It can resurrect dead units, but it’s fairly costly. I do like the Blood Elf Spellbreaker as it’s a great counter for a horde of Necromancers. The new air units for the Humans, the Blood Elf Dragonhawk Rider, is like a lighter version of the undead Bone Dragon as it can incapacitate buildings briefly, very useful for attacking settlements. The Undead just get the Obsidian Statue, a strictly support unit, but it can turn into a melee unit powered by mana that’s just okay. It’s much better in a support role where it replenishes either health or mana so pair it with a group of Necromancers and you get an instant army of skeletons. Speaking of which, the Necromancers can also reanimate corpses as skeletal mages now, which are useful in adding a weak ranged attacker. Lastly, the Night Elves’ flashiest new unit is the Mountain Giant. It’s basically a catapult turned into a traditional melee unit. They’re really tough to bring down when upgraded, and they do actual siege damage by ripping a tree out of the ground to wield as a club. They’re very costly, but worth it. Not really worth it is the new Fairie Dragon which strictly exists to counter enemy spellcasters, but it’s not as good in that role as the Spellbreaker and it’s a bit too costly to invest in.

A look at a Naga base. Their version of a tower is quite annoying to have to deal with.

Being an expansion, the game utilizes the same engine as Warcraft III and basically looks the same. A few heroes received a makeover, and there are some new settings to explore like a tropical one. The game also brings back naval units as mercenary units. They feel quite weak compared with the naval units in Warcraft II, and mostly feel like a gimmick, but it’s kind of neat to see. By far, the most interesting addition are the Naga who have an entire tech tree. They’re not a playable faction in multiplayer, but they can be experienced in the campaign. They have their own worker units, melee, spellcasters, siege, and so on. Their only limitation is that they have just the one hero as opposed to four. And since they’re amphibious, all of their units can swim which introduces a fun, new, wrinkle to things. All of the voice actors appear to have returned and the presentation on the whole feels largely the same. There’s fewer CG cinematics, but that was to be expected. Also receiving a downgrade is the packaging. There’s no giant instruction manual this time, just a CD booklet. That booklet does provide biography information for all of the new units and buildings though so it’s not as-if it’s as empty as a modern booklet.

An undersold feature of The Frozen Throne is the return of naval units in the campaign. They’re never as involved as they were in Warcraft II, but it’s kind of neat to have them once again and it’s needed to deal with the amphibious Naga.

One of the major selling points of any expansion is the new functionality that comes to online play. And in the case of The Frozen Throne, that was through Blizzard’s Battle.net interface. From what I can remember, it added a lot and gave me a reason to dive back into it. I don’t think I bothered much with the neutral heroes, but I did use some of the new ones. Now, Battle.net no longer supports this game so I can’t check it out. Like Warcraft III, The Frozen Throne was remade somewhat recently and if you want to experience everything the game has to offer you pretty much have to do so via the new game. It’s a shame, because this version is still very playable. It doesn’t cry out for any real quality of life improvements, and even though the visuals are dated they’re hardly unpleasant to look at.

The Frozen Throne was re-released as part of Warcraft III: Reforged in 2020 with remade character models that are obviously more advanced than what was released in 2003. Even though they’re technically better, I don’t find them as charming or visually interesting as the originals.

The Frozen Throne does what a good expansion should do: it makes an already terrific game even better. I liked having new single player content, even if I wish there was a bit more, and the new units and heroes are largely worthwhile additions to the gameplay. It’s only sin is not having a proper Orc campaign. It definitely made picking a faction in multiplayer more challenging as all four are pretty good, though the addition of the Shadow Hunter actually made it perhaps too easy for me to stick with the Orcs. The Mountain Giant is probably my favorite addition, but it was often difficult to make use of it in the much faster-paced world of multiplayer given its placement on the tech tree. I don’t play it, but it also feels like this game really set the stage for World of Warcraft with the new lore and a new big, bad, evil, dude in the form of the Lich King. Playing this one made me wish we had a Warcraft IV, but I also got my RTS fix by playing through this one. I suppose the next time that itch arises I’ll just play them again!

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos

It’s hard to think of a game developer that has seen its image in the industry falter as much as Blizzard has over the past 20 years. Blizzard was once the developer known for quality. The games would be announced with no release date, they’re done when they’re done, and once delivered they were met with almost universal praise. A buyout and a series of accusations about the company’s work environment dominate the news around the company now, but even before some of those allegations came to light, the company’s reputation regarding its actual software had already taken a hit. There was the muddled launch of the much-anticipated StarCraft II, poorly engineered remasters, and news of a mobile Diablo that caused gamers to question just what the company’s direction is these days.

That was certainly not the case twenty years ago. The year 2002 was a big one for Blizzard. The company had established itself as perhaps the premier developer of real-time strategy games thanks to Warcraft, Warcraft II, and StarCraft. The company had also successfully branched out to dungeon crawlers with Diablo and was even eyeing the role-playing genre and stealth gameplay on home consoles, despite Blizzard largely being known as a PC developer. And arriving during this height of popularity was Warcraft III.

Where it all began.

Warcraft was the game largely responsible for Blizzard’s success. It was the game that proved that Blizzard could make its own products in-house and make a living off of it. Heavily inspired by Westwood’s Dune II, Warcraft arrived in 1994 and was at the forefront of the RTS boom in the 90’s and the company found itself in a friendly rivalry with Westwood and its Command & Conquer series. A sequel arrived the following year and was even bigger, in more ways than one, than the original. Warcraft II was supported with an expansion by Blizzard as well as third party additions and was popular both for its story-driven campaign and for its player vs player appeal.

Following Warcraft II was StarCraft in 1998. StarCraft, which took the basic gameplay of Warcraft and turned into a space opera, was seen as bigger and better than its predecessor by many. It also had the advantage of arriving after the launch of Blizzard’s own Battle.Net service which made it easy for players to find opponents over the internet, a fairly new concept for RTS gameplay. Warcraft II had been re-released with Battle.Net support, but the shine had worn off by then. Following StarCraft’s success, it was no longer a foregone conclusion that a Warcraft III was on the way. Blizzard had announced a sequel in the form of a point-and-click game called Warcraft Adventures. It was to tell the story of Thrall, a young orc seeking to unify his people and restore the orcs to their former glory following their defeat in Warcraft II. It wasn’t to be as the game was cancelled before launch. Warcraft III was officially announced in 1999, but it wasn’t going to be a real-time strategy game. Instead, Blizzard envisioned it as closer to a true RPG where players would control a hero character and a small, supporting, cast. Either due to problems with the gameplay or fan backlash, that version of Warcraft III would be scrapped, but the engine and assets created for it could be applied to what would eventually be called Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, which arrived on PC in July 2002.

The only downside to Warcraft III having four playable factions is we lost the head-to-head packaging of the first two games.

In my younger days, I didn’t play a lot of PC games, but I did play Warcraft and Warcraft II was one of my personal favorites. While I thought StarCraft was fine, it was the medieval fantasy setting of Warcraft that appealed to me more and I followed the development of Warcraft III as best I could. I was certainly wary when it looked like it was going to be a radical departure for the series initially, but when it finally arrived that summer I was more than a little impressed. The game was released in four versions with each of the game’s factions getting its own box art. I went with the undead, and eventually the orc cover would become the standard one. I feel the need to take a moment and reminisce on PC game packaging in the 90s and early 2000s. The games seemed to always come in oversized boxes with lavish instruction manuals. It was something I loved about Warcraft II. While Warcraft III arrived in a much smaller box (7.5″ x 5.125″ x 1.25″ approximately) which was fast becoming the standard, it still had a robust manual. This thing is basically a manga-sized trade paperback. Not only does it detail practical descriptions of every unit in the game, as well as game modes, it also has a second set of profiles for each unit from a lore perspective. There’s a detailed write-up on the history and events that lead to the present game from the perspective of each of the game’s four main factions which introduces many of the game’s characters. While one didn’t have to read it in order to enjoy the game’s story, doing so meant having a greater understanding of a character like Illidan Stormrage when he’s introduced beyond what’s shown.

Warcraft III seemed to be influenced greatly by not just the game’s in the series that came before it, but StarCraft as well. When StarCraft arrived, Blizzard upped the playable factions from two to three, so naturally Warcraft III makes it an even four. Returning are the Orcs and Humans and joining them is the Undead Scourge and the Night Elves. The game refers to them as playable “races,” though the term faction seems more appropriate because they’re made up of multiple species. The Humans include elves, dwarves, and gnomes while the Orcs have trolls and the minotaur-like Tauren amongst their ranks. There are actually no depictions of race as we would call it amongst the humans as all are white.

I went with the Undead packaging for my copy 20 years ago. Check out the well-worn book, and the handy cardstock flow chart that was included. You have to pay a hefty premium to get packaging anywhere close to this these days, but back then it was the norm.

In what was a first for Blizzard, Warcraft III is presented entirely with three-dimensional character models and scenery. The camera is positioned overhead at a slight angle which can be modified in-game to zoom in or out as the player prefers. Almost all cutscenes are depicted utilizing the game’s own engine, which resulted in a mixed presentation even back in 2002. The models just weren’t created with the intention of showing them up close, though some (such as Furion who was created solely for the campaign mode) are better than others. All of the dialogue is fully voiced and the acting is more than capable. The world of Warcraft III is presented with lush, Earthy, colors when appropriate, and murky and dark ones when needed. Textures are quite good, and the game does have a touch of style to it which gives some characters (like the lowly Peasant) a cartoony quality to their appearance and animation. It’s in contrast to the more Dungeons & Dragons art style of the past games and it gives Warcraft a style all its own.

The game includes multiple modes of play including one-off custom games, a level editor, and competitive play, but the meat and potatoes is found in the game’s campaign mode. It’s here that the game’s story is presented and it does so by having the player engage with each of the game’s four factions starting with the Humans, followed by the Undead, Orcs, and concluding with the Night Elves. The story for each will tie-in with the rest, but each faction also has its own tale to tell and lessons to learn. The Humans begin the game in a state of hubris oblivious to the rising threat posed by a plague sweeping the land and they all but laugh at a mystical prophet foretelling of doom (granted, most don’t take doom-sayers too seriously, though most also can’t morph into a raven). The Undead are basically the bad guys as the demonic Burning Legion has turned its attention to the scourge following its repeated failures via the Orcs. And speaking of the Orcs, they found themselves defeated and enslaved following the events of Warcraft II and the young War Chief Thrall (remember him?) hopes to restore honor to the horde. The Night Elves are the most mysterious of the new characters. They were the ancient victors over the Burning Legion once before and have largely lived an immortal life of peace since, but when war between the other three arrives on their shores they’re forced to intervene and overcome their own prejudices towards outlanders.

Some of the mechanics have changed, but the game is largely still about creating a base, training an army, and kicking some butt.

The campaign is quite dense and gives the player a taste of each of the playable factions. Of the four, the Humans are the most “vanilla” in that they’re largely as before. Their alliance with the elves has mostly ended which means swapping out the old Elven Archer unit for a Dwarven Rifleman, but the change is basically cosmetic. They really only gained the ability to convert the Peasants to a militia when needed. They’re still fundamentally weak, but I’ll admit that the militia function has saved my ass on more than one occasion. Otherwise, the basic mechanics of Warcraft remain unchanged. The player has a town hall where their base begins and the worker units are tasked with harvesting resources and building additional buildings which are then utilized to train an army. Warcraft III dropped the naval battles of its predecessor so the only resources to manage are gold, lumber, and food, which is supplied via the buildable farms up to a maximum of 90. The Peasants still harvest gold via a mine and chop down lumber for wood. When building a new building, the Peasant charged with the task is tied down to it until done, but others can join-in and help which speeds up the process.

Blizzard included a handful of CGi rendered cut scenes to advance the story. In 2002 these looked incredible, but show their age in 2022.

For their part, the Orcs received only minimal changes. The ability to have multiple workers speed-up production on a building is now exclusive to the Humans, so they can no longer do that. Instead, their farms are now burrows which the Peons, the workers of the Orcs, can now inhabit turning them into defensive structures as they toss spears from within. Their buildings can also be upgraded to spiked buildings which damage other melee units when struck and their watchtowers can no longer be upgraded to canon towers. On the unit front, the Orcs are no longer allied with goblins and ogres, but still retain a few troll units in the ranged attacking Headhunter and the Witch Doctor, who provides a way for the Orcs to heal their units, another thing previously available only to the Humans. They also no longer hold dominion over dragons, instead trading down for Wyverns. They’re fundamentally still a powerful faction as, one on one, the Orc Grunt is the most powerful base melee unit and the Tauren pack the most punch out of all ground-based melee fighters.

The Undead borrow heavily from Blizzard’s other RTS game, StarCraft, as they feel like a combination of that game’s Protoss and Zerg. All Undead buildings must be constructed on diseased land known as blight, except for their main town hall. Gold is harvested by haunting a gold mine where Acolytes simply chant the gold into their coffers via some magical means. The Acolytes are unique in that the only resource they can harvest is gold as lumber is chopped down by the Ghouls, which double as the Undead’s base melee unit. The Ghouls are weak on their own, but fast, and a swarm of them can wreak havoc on opponents. They also can feast on corpses to regain health, and the Undead’s siege weapon, the Meat Wagon, can even store unused corpses for later consumption or reanimation. Buildings for the Undead are also summoned into existence and the Undead’s “farm,” the Ziggurat, can be upgraded into a defensive structure. As for the units, the Undead is where necromancy came to roost as the Necromancer can reanimate corpses as skeletons while the Banshee can possess other units so if you want a mighty Tauren on your side you need only send a Banshee at one.

For the most part though, the game relies on its gameplay engine for cut scenes to advance the story. It’s an okay approach and some character models translate better than others.

The other new faction, the Night Elves, are perhaps the game’s most unique. From a durability perspective, they’re probably the weakest of the four as their strength lies in ranged attacking and their females can even turn invisible at night. They also share a power over nature which takes the form of their buildings being living trees. When a gold mine runs out, the Night Elves need only uproot their Tree of Life and send it onto the next mine. There it will entangle it allowing the Wisps, the workers of the Night Elves, to inhabit and harvest gold sending it back through the roots of the tree. Each Wisp can also harvest lumber without damaging a tree simply by attaching itself to one. The trade-off here is the Wisp can’t attack, and in order to build one of the living trees a Wisp must use itself as a seed thus turning itself into the building the player desires. The base unit for the Night Elves is the Archer requiring a more tactical approach. It’s champion melee unit is the Druid of the Claw, which doubles as a spell-caster. In Night Elf form, the Druid of the Claw can cast regeneration and roar, which is similar to the Orc’s bloodlust, but it’s not a particularly powerful fighter. In order to realize that potential, the druid must transform into a bear. It gains a potent melee attack in doing so, but also loses its ability to cast spells. This element of trade-off is also seen in the Night Elves’ air unit, the Hippogryph. By itself, a Hippogryph can only attack other airborne units, but if it picks up an Archer it gains the ability to attack ground-based units as well. The trade-off is they can’t be separated once combined.

The campaign mode presents its story quite well, but from a gameplay perspective it almost feels like an introduction. By virtue of being up first, the higher points of the tech tree for the Humans is barely scratched. And even though the Night Elves come last, the campaign doesn’t even introduce their most powerful air unit, the Chimaera, reserving that for custom games only. The campaign also tends to grant a lot of access to one Hero unit per faction, while relegating others to a much smaller role, or in the case of the Undead Dreadlord, no player control at all.

Hero units are super-powered units with special abilities, many of which allow heroes to summon other units like the Archmage and its Water Elemental. NPCs, like the ogres here, are a valuable source of experience which is used to power-up a hero.

And speaking of Hero Units, that’s the biggest change of all! The Hero is basically a holdover from Warcraft III’s original vision. The Hero is a powerful and durable unit capable of earning experience as it battles through enemies which allow it to level up. Some past units have essentially been turned into heroes, such as the Paladin and Death Knight, and even their abilities are familiar to seasoned players. Heroes can also carry up to six items which can apply buffs to the hero or take the form of consumables. Most of these items are found by defeating powerful non-player characters which now dot most maps. Some of these NPCs are also familiar, like the Ogres and Troll Berserkers, and their presence is often needed to give players easy access to experience points in one-off games. During the campaigns, the story is told via these heroes and they’ll have level caps for each scenario and some of their abilities won’t be available until certain story conditions are met. In a non-campaign setting, players are free to choose from any of each faction’s three available heroes and even add a second and third, if they wish, though there is often a finite amount of experience available making a multi-hero approach sometimes counterproductive. Heroes are also effectively immortal as if they fall in battle the player can resurrect them, for a price, at a building specific to hero creation.

It’s the addition of the Hero that does give Warcraft III it’s unique flavor. Rather than depend on amassing a giant army composed of heavy-hitters, the game would prefer the player surround their hero with a small band of attackers and support units. Numerous quality of life improvements were made as well to the game over its predecessor. When selecting a group now, the player can tab between the units within that grouping providing easy access to spells and abilities. Some are also able to be set to auto-cast, so if you want your Necromancers continually raising skeletons it can be done. Mostly though, there’s a lot of variety in the play styles afforded by the player options. Previously, it felt like Blizzard tried to keep the two competing sides essentially even. Aside from an ability here and there, there wasn’t much distinguishing the Orcs and Humans before. Now, there’s quite a bit. The Orcs and Humans still feel like the most straight-forward. You can basically just grab a bunch of either group’s units and send them at the opponent with decent results. For Night Elves, that often leads to death as more micro-managing is involved. Especially early in the campaign when only Archers are available, it’s important to make sure all units are targeting the same enemy. Some micro-managing is beneficial for the Undead as well, but given that they’re designed to be able to cheaply overwhelm opponents with numbers, it’s not as crucial. Their mid-tier attacker, the spider-like Crypt Fiend, even can auto-cast web which brings down air units which makes it really easy to just send them at anyone. The Orcs have a similar unit in the Raider which can cast a net on flying units, but can’t be set to auto-cast. If you’re not paying attention, one Gryphon or Gargoyle can wipe out a group of Grunts and Raiders.

Warcraft III certainly shows its age in places, but on the whole, I still think it’s quite pleasant to look at.

Twenty years after its release, Warcraft III remains an engaging play even today, albeit a harder to access one. Blizzard supported the original release for years through Battle.Net, but shut down those servers when a remastered version of the game was released in 2020. It was not well-received as many features that were promised ended up getting cut and the performance was suspect. The original game was released in the era of Windows XP, which is how I recently replayed through the entire campaign. I happen to have an old laptop with XP that still works and I’m glad I hung onto it. It does mean I can’t play through Battle.Net any longer, which is something I did a lot in the summer of ’02. I never got good enough to consider myself great at it, but I won more than I lost. It could be a challenge to find a good game though as the Hero unit, with its might available right from the start, seemed to popularize the “Rush” technique even more in comparison to StarCraft. Rushing meant selling out to build as many low level units as possible to pair with a hero and win quickly, which was never the way I liked to play. It was far more fun to find a group that allowed players to mix and match strengths and weaknesses across factions or just in Hero usage, but the best way to do that was just to find a group of friends rather than toss the dice with randos online.

If you happen to disagree with my assessment of the game’s visuals, there is Warcraft III: Reforged which is essentially the same game with a new coat of paint. The reception has been mixed, but I haven’t played it so I can only recommend that anyone interested do their research first.

Sadly, Warcraft III marked the end for the franchise as an RTS experience. Announced before Warcraft III was released was World of Warcraft which took the franchise to the world of RPGs as Blizzard had intended, only now via the Massively Multiplier Online variety. WoW was, and still is, a huge success for Blizzard and the RTS version of Warcraft has seemingly become a victim of WoW‘s success. Blizzard now appears to view the brand as an MMO with StarCraft as the RTS brand and Diablo the dungeon-crawler. That said, it’s been ten years since the release of StarCraft II so maybe the RTS is just no longer a major part of what Blizzard wants to do. Now under the ownership of Microsoft, maybe there will be a push from Blizzard’s new boss to go back to its roots. Or maybe not, who can say? For me, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos is the pinnacle for both the franchise and for Blizzard. None of the developer’s games have appealed to me like Warcraft III has since. It’s incredible to think that 20 years has nearly gone by since the game’s original release and just how much has changed since then. It’s also incredible to see how well this game holds up. Maybe we never got a Warcraft IV because this one simply can’t be topped? Even if that were true, it would still please me to see someone try. I have to believe even a subpar Warcraft IV would be worth playing, but for now, I’m glad I hung onto my copy of Warcraft III and a PC that can still run it.

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