SummaryA good story does not a game make
The GoodI’m not a massive fan of high-fantasy, but I must admit the plot of Warcraft III had me hooked. It was suitably large, spanning genocides, kings, demons, immortality and a genuinely interesting and dramatic plot twist. It ended with a slightly damp fart of a cinematic however, so thankfully it is continued here. Characters seem much more original than many in the genre, with clear motivations and relationships. It’s interesting to play as someone like Maiev Shadowsong, who has her own personal agenda opposed to the other playable characters, as well as others whose moral standpoint takes second-place to their individual drive.
The graphics aren’t exactly state of the art, but are pretty in their own cartoony way. The new locations look pretty. Sound is the strongest aesthetic on offer and a lot of attention has been paid to sound effects and music.
What does this expansion add? You now get sea combat, which you had in Warcraft II, though can only hire ships from a sort of used-car salesman present on a few maps. There are also runes and books that add various buffs, permanent and non-permanent, to your character, as well as numerous new items. Which is nice.
There are new races too. The Naga are big and lizardly, although each unit and structure functions identically to every other race’s units and buildings. The Blood Elves use basically all the High Elf models from the previous game.
You’re also given a relatively freeform RPG-lite experience controlling Rexxar in Durotar, in case anyone wanted to find out what was going on with the Orcs. This works as a scaled-down version of the normal gameplay, with all that entails.
The BadFor a setting basically copied from the Warhammer universe, Blizzard have gone to great lengths to develop and expand the Warcraft world into new areas. Their elves here are purple and have giant ears, for example. The story then is the strongest point of this game, and it is the only reason to play. And I stretch the definition of “play” to its limits. ‘The Frozen Throne’ uses the character-hopping nature of the previous game. We are presented with the semi-demonic (and completely different looking) Illidan Stormrage on his morally questioning fight against Arthas; Arthas the man himself in a downright morally reprehensible quest of his own; and the fate of the Blood Elves, a new race for the game. I was really interested in finding out how the different players went about pursuing their different goals, particularly as the situation many were in was a direct result of my actions in the previous game…
…but just couldn’t be bothered to PLAY as them.
Here’s an example. Kael'thas the Blood Elf is dealing with a racist human commander and is being temped over to the cold-blooded Naga to satisfy his thirst for magic. So what does he do? He kind-of invades an island and mucks around killing random, totally unrelated creatures. I want to see plot progression, not successfully click on different figures to watch them die. Later he is captured and imprisoned by said humans and undergoes a daring prison escape. How does he do this? He wanders around a vast labyrinth, repeatedly slaying completely random creatures (one question: how did the men who imprisoned him get past all these creatures and complicated button-pressing obstacles?) and collecting a bunch of junk, seemingly without reason. Ah luckily these very-slightly-more-powerful-than-my-previous Gloves of Power happen to be lying around. In a barrel. In a prison.
This is what Warcraft’s gameplay consists of. Train a bunch of oddly proportioned warriors, generally about twelve as that’s the most you can select (?!?!?) and then click on other oddly proportioned bad guys to watch them hit each other with swords. Or oddly proportioned utterly meaningless monsters that stand around in the woods. This is coupled with a levelling system for very slightly improving your hero character for the six or seven chapters he’s around for. You’ll frequently find yourself training him in the most powerful of his four (Four! That’s way more than three!) magic spells early, then absentmindedly learning the others simply because they’re all that’s left. Why not present us with a selection of spells, having us decide between which we have to sacrifice? Click, splat (some frequently-encountered creatures like Murlocs actually *splat*), click, splat, click splat.
I’ve mentioned that some of the graphics are rather nice. However everything has this weird, cutesy look to it. Every unit, flying or mounted, moves the same speed and is pretty much the same size. They all have this hyperactive design to them- no sword is smaller than seven foot tall and no hand or foot smaller than any head. This is then contrasted with the excellent FMV cutscenes (rare as they are) where suddenly things look real again. It’s hard to accept what’s on the screen as what is actually going on in-world. My invasion fleet of twelve blokes lands, kills a few people, then builds a load of chunky farms and barracks. Is this meant to be a facsimile of the real events? Does each one of these soldiers represent a squad, each town hall an entire town? How did I manage to invade a giant fortress and knock down buildings with TWELVE PEOPLE! I find it hilarious reading about these character’s rich background and histories, only to see them blunder about hitting Gnolls on the head and stealing their stuff.
The entire game functions like this. You are essentially playing filler in between the actual story and cut scenes. I admit, hand on heart, that I played most of it with the invincibility cheat on, just sending my character straight to the end of the level, pausing for the occasional subquest (though most are similar to those in World of Warcraft e.g. “Kills those monsters. Why? Because I need twenty of their teeth. This teeth-encrusted jacket won’t make itself.”)
Much ill has been said about the multiplayer, so I won’t repeat the stories of tank rushes and unbalanced upkeep here. Needless to say it’s a boring and soulless experience.
Finally, fan service aside, I won’t take any woman seriously who wears a metal thong and bikini. Blizzard can write some interesting female characters. Why can’t they design them using more than one hand?
The Bottom LineThere is a story here. It's no War and Peace, but for an RTS it's grand and also interesting. As a GAME experience however this is shallow and repetitive at best, downright boring at worst.