WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos is a game for everyone. For the serious strategist, it offers a fine blend of complexity and efficiency. For the novice, it offers friendly tutorials and a personalized learning curve. For the high-end PC player, it offers a long and challenging campaign that makes decent use of its 3D environments with graphics and audio. For the casual gamer, it offers an easy-to-play, easy-to-enjoy diversion that friends and acquaintances are likely to be playing, too. However, WarCraft III offers the most for fans of Blizzard's earlier real-time strategy games. Anyone who truly loved the original title, WarCraft II, or StarCraft is almost certain to feel the same way about WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos.
The fondly remembered WarCraft: Orcs & Humans was Blizzard's first self-published game and its first serious PC release. It was also the company's first real-time strategy game. While the original WarCraft was rich and engaging, it was not revolutionary. In 1994, it was Westwood that led the way in real-time strategy gaming on the home computer. Blizzard's first effort only brought refinements to the fledgling genre. For the most part, WarCraft did a lot of things that most other RTS games did, but it did them in its own confident, charismatic style. That's the one, subtle element Blizzard seemed to perfect in the original WarCraft: charm.
This hard-to-define element of personality carried through to WarCraft II, and then into the innovative StarCraft, which pit three equally powerful but very different factions against one another. The charm is back in WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos. Like its mid-1990s predecessors, WarCraft III offers relatively straightforward gameplay that strays little from convention. Yet also like those earlier titles, it does so with finesse that's hard to resist.
With both the presentation and the play itself polished to near perfection, any gamer who has battled through any real-time strategy game in the previous few years should soon feel right at home in the world of Lordaeron and Kalimdor. Similar to the first two WarCraft games and unlike StarCraft in this regard, Reign of Chaos does more to refine than to revolutionize the RTS genre. The addition of heroes and sub-quests is well done and adds to the single-player fun, but not in any truly innovative way. As the basics of resource management and unit development remain central, familiar concerns of reconnaissance, defense, and calculated conquest move the player forward through most missions. As in earlier Blizzard games, however, missions are strung together on a rich, engrossing storyline to make the player feel like an integral part of an epic legend with sweeping, universal consequences.
Though they seem to be well balanced in any combination of ally and enemy, the races are quite different and playing as all four of them through the single-player campaigns encourages a wide variety of techniques and warfare styles. Once again, however, WarCraft III recombines aspects of earlier games at least as much as it introduces new concepts. The orcs and humans look and act very much like their ancestors from earlier WarCraft games, though they are a little more distinct from one another here. The undead are reminiscent of StarCraft's zerg, with food storage structures that can double as defensive towers and the need to claim ground (a la "the creep") before building. The night elves seem the freshest of the four, though their movable bases and invisibility powers pay homage to StarCraft's humans.
In spite of these occasionally obvious inspirations though, the restrictions and specialties of each race are well supported by the game world mythology. It never feels as if new character models were just slapped over old units and buildings; the particulars of each race seem completely natural to the game's fantasy world history and multifaceted plot.
WarCraft III's graphics are not especially innovative or "cutting-edge" either, but they too are well done and reassuringly consistent. Character faces appear in small sidebar boxes as they speak, moving their mouths convincingly but not in sync with the audio (just as in StarCraft). Though imposing, or even gruesome in appearance, the exaggerated characters and colorful game world are drawn with that same hint of cartoon-ish mischief that helped make the earlier titles so endearingly playable. Sounds are very good, with lots of convincing battle noises and enriching ambience. As in earlier Blizzard RTS games, unit acknowledgements are distinct, appropriate, and often humorous, bringing out the personality of each different hero, warrior, or worker. Throughout the entire game, elements of sight and sound fit perfectly to always enhance, and never distract from, the overall feel.
So above the new features and elements of play, perhaps it is the polish that truly makes this game a prize. We've already seen small armies built on only two resource types to conquer a mystical 3D landscape, in the noteworthy Battle Realms. We've already seen the use of powerful hero characters, in games like Empire Earth. The one thing we don't find in these other 3D real-time strategies is the rich, history-laden, fantasy game world and the sense of real participation in it. Each of the main characters in WarCraft III is memorable. They have complex personalities that range from compassionate and regretful to reckless and cruel. Each race's storyline is different, and though they are often at crossed purposes, each is completely righteous in its own context.
Best of all, the game makes it easy to take on each of these roles in turn. One begins to really care about the sanctity of the forest after playing a few night elf missions, but when steering the undead, there's nothing more fun than destroying the living and corrupting the weak. As much as in the original WarCraft and all the Blizzard games that followed, the player is placed in the story with a perfect perspective on each different race's dreads and hopes. While marketing departments may stress the "role-playing" aspect of this third game in the series, Blizzard has been allowing us to "take the roles" of the races we play since the very beginning. Taking the roles of the races in this game is as enjoyable and rewarding as it ever was in any other. Gamers looking for a well built, fun strategy title will find their time well spent on this one. Anyone who truly enjoyed the earlier Blizzard games is likely to consider WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos an absolute "must-have."
Graphics: More than adequate technologically, and rendered in a unified artistic style that is unmistakably "WarCraft." The 3D objects and terrain have realistic effects on movement and line-of-sight.
Sound: Sounds effects are crisp, directional, balanced, and appropriate. Great voice acting! Unit acknowledgements are varied and unique to each type, though they can occasionally become repetitive in the heat of battle.
Enjoyment: WarCraft III lives up to its heritage in every way. Missions are diverse, yet seamlessly integrated into a story-arc that keeps you playing "just one more mission."
Replay Value: A full-featured map editor guarantees that WarCraft III will continue to engage gamers for months and years to come.
People who downloaded Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos have also downloaded:
Warcraft 2, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, StarCraft, Diablo 2, Age of Empires III, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Diablo, Age of Empires
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