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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Defend Reality from a Demonic Invasion in Warcraft III

by Ken Newquist / October 9, 2003

Warcraft III is a real-time strategy game in which players take on the role of one of four factions in a bid to save -- or damn -- reality from a demonic invasion. The game's divided into three modes: story (single player), customized game (single player) and multi-player.

In story mode there are four thematically-linked campaigns, one for each of the game's races: human, undead, orc, and elf. Each advances the overall story, which involves the demonic forces of the Burning Legions' attempt to invade the real world. Only one individual -- the mystical prophet -- is aware of the Legion's intentions, and he does his best to warn the good people of the coming threat. However, the Prophet's message is one that few embrace -- he advocates fleeing before the heralds of the demons: undead under the command of the lich Ner'zhul. That's more than Prince Arthas can take -- he steadfastly refuses to abandon his homeland, and instead journeys north to fight the undead menace. There he must decide between vengeance and salvation, and the wrong choice could damn the world.

There's also a custom-game mode, in which players can choose to wage war on dozens of different maps against the game's various races. Players can allow the computer to pick the enemy races or specify it themselves. They can also set difficulty levels for each race as well as what percentage strength these races' units work at. The number of opponents that can play in a custom game varies based on the size of the map, but it can be as few as two, and as many as eight.

Warcraft III's game play should be familiar to real-time strategy fans. There are two core resources that drive every race's progress: gold and wood. Gold is harvested from goldmines located around the game's play area, wood is taken from the ubiquitous trees. Gold is a limited resources: gold mines run down, forcing players to either conserve resources, or constantly fight to secure new gold mines. Trees are

Each race has three heroes who serve as unique champions. These heroes typically fall into three categories: fighter-types, mage-types, and hybrids of the two. Heroes have special powers -- for example, the Orcish Far Seer can throw Lightning Bolts, view far off places with Scrying, and summon two dire wolves to fight for him, while the Paladin can make himself Invulnerable, cast a ray of light that heals units or damages undead, and radiate an aura that enhances near-by units defensive powers. They start with only one of these powers, and acquire more as they gain experience from battles.

In addition to wielding special powers, heroes can use up to six magic items at any given time. These magic items are typically secured by killing "creeps" -- monsters scattered around maps. Some of these monsters stand off on the own, but others defend important locations, such as gold mines, goblin stores, and health/mana regeneration founts.

Heroes, Orcs and Babies oh my!

The third game in the venerable Warcraft series was released over a year ago, but as any geek-dad will tell you, just because a game is out doesn't mean that you'll ever actually get a chance to play it. Fortunately, Warcraft III is one of the few games you can easily play with just a mouse, making it ideal for those eternal 3 a.m. moments when the baby just won't sleep in her crib ... and you need something to keep you occupied and conscious.

I've played a lot of Age of Empires, and while I liked the game, it never really captured me the way that Warcraft has. Game play in AoE always seemed so generic -- just enough civilization trying to fight its way to glory, ho-hum. The specialized units in that game were a nice touch, but in practice, all of the civilizations seemed to blur together.

No so in Warcraft. In this game, each of the four civilizations is markedly different from each other. While each has to accomplish the same sort of tasks -- mining gold, gathering lumber -- they go about them in unique ways -- Humans must carry gold and lumber to their strong holds; Elven wisps can simple absorb it.

Similarly, each race's structures serve similar purposes, but the execution varies. Humans must build separate lumber yards and workshops; one to gather wood, another to develop new technologies. For Orcs, the two buildings are combined into one War Mill.

Even the buildings vary. Undead summon their buildings into existence, rather than building them, and as a result can "unsummon" them to recover resources. Many elven structures aren't buildings at all, but rather a living trees that can be uprooted and moved as needed. They can even attack enemies (albeit very slowly).

The clinchers though, are the heroes. At the most basic level, heroes introduce a new strategic element to the game -- do you build up your conventional forces, or try and level up your leaders? But they do much more as well. Heroes add a certain role-playing element to the game, giving you figures your concerned about protecting and advancing. It also allows to game to introduce a bunch of cool magic items, which further enhances game play -- finding a wyrm egg (which summons a dragon) or a bag of bones (to summon skeletons) is fun and tactical! It's all serves to bring back happy memories of dungeon-crawls past and it gives Warcraft III a definitive edge over the competition, even one year after its release.

The "Reign of Chaos" single player campaign revolves around a recurring theme of "corruption". Arthas is corrupted by vengeance -- he seeks to destroy those who threaten his kingdom. In doing so, willingly -- but blindly -- embraces a power that dooms his soul ... and his land. The Night Elf priestess Tyrande releases an ancient elven hero -- and traitor -- in a quest for the power to resist the demons. Her desperation fuels her desire to save her people at any price ... and doesn't realize just what that price may be. An orcish lieutenant succumbs to demonic promises because he can't stand seeing his people laid low. It's a good theme, but I do wish the game offered some sort of story branching, so that players -- rather than the story -- could decide whether they succumb to tempation.

Unsurprisingly for a Blizzard title, Warcraft III offers robust online play options. Players compete via Blizzard's free Battle.net online service and can choose individual and team play on a variety of official and unofficial maps. The service automatically teams up players of like experience levels (I believe that's based on the number of times they've played, but I'm not sure) and will automatically add you to a game based on criteria you set. The average wait time for a game is about one to two minutes (though occasionally less).

Final Analysis

Warcraft III is an excellent game, with solid campaign, custom, and multi-player game modes. Fans of real-time strategies games should definitely pick it up, if they haven't already. Others should check it out as well -- this might be the game that wins them over to the genre.