Written by  :  Alex Man (32)
Written on  :  Sep 22, 2002
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars

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Best RTS single-player campaign since Dune 2

The Good

4-race campaign and you get to play for opposite sides in order to advance the reasonably cliched and reasonably fun grand plot. This was done in StarCraft as well, but that game was crap because it took place in some weird place which looked all samey and dull to me, visually. I like playing in lush green worlds, with rivers and trees and grass and waterfalls (!!!) and cliffs and sheep. You're going to really love this game if you're a sheep. Baah. Sorry.

The in-game graphics are cool, entirely 3-d, though it took me some time to notice. If you, like me, don't read game documentation, then what you have to do is scroll that little thing between your two mouse buttons. If you don't have it, then this game is going to be basically 2-d isometric to you. As a matter of fact, that's the case with everybody else as well - scrolling the button and pushing the Pgdown keys and whatnot will only change your viewpoint momentarily, just so you can assure yourself that it IS in fact 3-d. It has no purpose in the game whatsoever, and you will invariably do all the actual playing from basically the same viewpoint as Age of Empires, Warcraft 2, etc. It's just better looking is all, and you get a better, more realistic 3-d landscape of hills and cliffs and stuff like that (no more endless flats like WC2). And the landscapes are a bit more varied than I might've given the impression of them being - there ARE a lot of greens (esp in the Elf campaign), but there are also a lot of cold frozen wastes (in the human campaign), deserts and volcanic landscapes (Orc campaign) and in the Undead campaign you actually get to DESTROY the nice green forests. And as long as it's for an evil evil cause, that just diversified the game for me. And besides there are swamplands (sort of), villages, CITIES (real big ones, with castles and everything) and a lot of caves and dungeons.

Conceptually, the biggest innovation is the Diablo-styled (experience means levels, levels mean more and better spells and combat abilities) hero units - big, bad killing machines with an ARSEnal of totally ARSEkicking combat spells and some neat items they could pick up (only 6 slots in the inventory though) like healing potions, mana potions, strength-raising amulets, speed-increasing boots, the whole RPG-schmear. To be honest, the spells weren't that great for all characters, but with some heroes you could actually go out on your own, periodically summon some wolves or water elementals to fight for you and take care of the various sub-quests and small skirmish-situations littering the map without disturbing your base defenses or costing you any actual units.

And the hero units certainly add a lot more immersion - they each have their voice and personality and motivation, and they are effectively your direct representatives on the field (though you often get two of them in a single mission). They really FEEL like commanders, they're at the forefront of every battle and from the get-go you'll feel really lame going anywhere without them - as a rule, if you're going anywhere with a group that doesn't contain any heroes then you're most probably using them as cannon fodder and don't give a hoot about what happens to them.

The gameplay itself was quite varied - some missions were basic affairs of build your base, build up some basic defenses, then get an attacking army together and take out your enemies one by one; some missions were focused on defenses, where you had to frantically build up an arsenal of defensive structures while beating back wave after wave of attackers (the last Undead mission and the last Elf mission were particularly tough); in some missions you have allied forces that you could make excellent use of; in some missions you are running against the clock; and some missions were classic Wacraft style dungeon crawls without any base at all, but this time around these missions actually RULED instead of sucking like in WC1 and 2 - hero units making ALL the difference here. And besides that, every map contains a lot of interesting stuff like goblin merchants where you can buy potions and scrolls, mercenary huts where you can buy actual units to fight for you (some with special abilities that your own units don't have) and a load of various neutral (well sort of, they'll attack you anyway) units like dragons, a variety of beasties, gargoyles, renegade mages, etc. Some of them are just for fun, but some guard an item that your hero can use. Some again won't attack you at all, but will ask you for help in exchange for some reward - destroy some wizard polluting the forest and we'll give you some of our units, or marry my daughter and we'll give you a weed that cures impotence (humor).

All of this helps to make the game strategy much more extraverted than in most, if not all, other RTS's - you'll have your heroes and groups of units walking all around the map from very early on in most missions, gathering experience and units, scouting, taking opportunity of the health and mana restoring wells, and in the process gaining territorial control. Some people have complained that this, and the fact that several missions are timed, is unfair on the defensive players, but in my opinion it is a very welcome change of pace - before I played this game, I considered myself a defensive player as well, but the variety of tactics available for this game cured me of that stereotype. Let's face it, most other single-player RTS's DON'T give you a freedom of choice between defensive and attacking play - they're heavily geared towards defensive tactics, building up a strong base and only then going into attack. In Warcraft 3, the balance is completely changed towards a far more action filled, extraverted style of play and I can't help feeling that the opposition to this and new things like upkeep, 90 food limit and focus on hero units is just going to turn into an RTS analogue of harcore RPG gamers who think that anything with less than 60 stats is geared towards people who can't think and chew gum at the same time. You just wait until these battle.net t-shirt wearing creeps start calling this Warcfart 3 (if this isn't happenning already), and you'll see what's what. Warcraft 3 is FUN, ENGAGING, DYNAMICAL and VARIED - it's not about sitting in the trenches until you've got all the upgrades and a 100-head army which then cleans out the level with no opposition.

The other good things: the cinematics rule (though there are only 4 or 5 of them), the undead princes have way cool voice effects (and the chief baddie is really great), the race differences are cool (esp elves and undead), the interface improvements are very useful, the are practically no bugs, the plot always has the most important events take place on the actual battlefield, with you in control, and for Godssakes, you get to play for the UNDEAD, as a DEATH KNIGHT, killing innocent citizens, killing former buddies, pissing on your father's grave and betraying everything that's beautiful and pure! How can you not love it?

The Bad

It does seem a bit unfair that you have to pay for the game in processing-time as for a 3-d game, but what you actually see is a static-viewpoint isometric one. I don't have the most powerful machine around, and I got a lot of lagging despite using the lowest graphic detail settings - the "cool" thing about the lag is that during it the action still goes on as fast as ever. I didn't actually SEE some of my biggest battles - just 2 or 3 flashing images of people beating each other, and then the end result. And despite the 3-d landscape, there are no cool mountain bridges which you could pass both over and under. And the incredibly tightly growing forests are back with a vengeance - several missions actually hinge around the idea that a bunch of orderly-looking trees could be such an obstacle to a group of reasonably-sized soldiers that you'd have to get in catapults and destroy the trees one by one. How ridiculous is that?

Other things: The oil resource is gone, and there are no ships. Air travel is limited and clumsily implemented. Some of the levels are monotonous (and perhaps 4 campaigns with 8-9 levels in each is overdoing it a bit). Some of the voice acting was dumb. You didn't get to play enough as that human sorceress, nor as that crazy blind elf guy. Orc campaign generally wasn't as interesting as the others, and it didn't feel like a really important part of the plot - it felt like a big subplot made up just so you could play as orcs. You can't make random games and the custom game levels provided don't have a difficulty setting, and are too easy - I guess they were geared too much towards multi-player. I couldn't get the sheep to explode.

The Bottom Line

If you think that computer gaming is a sport, you might want to stick away from this. And if you want to command a huge army that defeats everything in its way, you'd probably be better off with a WW2 movie, or a bunch of toy soldiers. But if you want to have lots of challenging, fun-filled gameplay playing fun, comic-book-like characters in fun, comic-book-like plotlines and bashing lots of impressive looking monsters, assorted baddies and evil bosses (that is, when you're not being one of them yourself) this could be the game for you.