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Warcraft 3

With the announcement of Warcraft 3 almost three years ago, it is clear that no one working for the company has slept since then. The polish that went into this latest RTS is brighter than a MENSA meeting, and not nearly as boring. Blizzard Entertainment set out to one-up their own Starcraft, a game that is more that four years old and still being avidly played today...and they've accomplished it.

The Warcraft games were known for having a nice back-story. They were never earth-shattering, Hollywood quality epics, but they were solid plots with which to push each mission along. Somehow, in the short span of time between Warcraft 2 and Starcraft, the quality of the plot jumped to extraordinary proportions. The emotional space drama had all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster, with characters you actually cared for, and with more twists than a night at Chubby's pad.

That quality extends on to Warcraft 3. The Human Alliance (consisting of Elves, Dwarves and Humans), having fought off the invasion of the Orcs in Warcraft 2, built up a strong civilization in a time of peace. But recently, the Orcs have returned with a leader to focus all the clans into an organized force. That's not to mention a mysterious cult, with the predilection for eternal life through undeath that threatens the Human Alliance's border. All the while, a secret race, known as the Night Elves, lies dormant in the West. To connect them all, a mysterious shape-shifting mage warns each race of an ancient evil that is soon to awaken. The story unfolds through in-engine cut scenes as well as Blizzard's famous FMVs, which are better than anything I have seen in any game.

But who cares if the story is great if the game is as good as Gym Teacher Simulator: The Fight for Dodge Ball? Right off, for those elite Starcraft junkies who feel nothing can compare to a zergling rush or tactile nuclear strikes, you are cheating yourself if you don't play Warcraft 3. Gameplay wise, you will feel right at home, as all the classic RTS elements are here. Resource gathering, farm building for unit capacity, advancing along the technology tree and managing your defenses while mustering a raiding party all feel very similarly to Starcraft. If you didn't like these aspects in the previous Blizzard RTS games, be wary as they aren't very different in WC3. But it would be unfair, and downright wrong, to claim this game is Starcraft in the Warcraft universe of Orcs and Elves.

Most obviously, there are now four races, instead of the original two. Joining the Human Alliance and Orcs are the previously mentioned Undead and Night Elves. What is great is how different each race feels when playing as them, yet how evenly matched they all are. Take the Undead, for instance. Similar to the Zerg in Starcraft, you can only build on certain infected patches of land known as blight. While this might seem a disadvantage, all undead units will regenerate considerably faster when standing on this tepid ooze, so it definitely has its benefits. The other Undead specialty is raising defeated enemies to fight for your side. Only specific necromancer units can accomplish this, but if a battle goes down hill, simply resurrect fallen comrades and you're good to go.

click to enlargeThe Night Elves have other benefits. Thanks to a brand new Day/Night meter, Night Elf units can go completely invisible at night when not moving, perfect for surprise ambushes. Night Elves also have range on their side, with their standard unit being the Archer, which en masse can cause a quick death to those who fight against them. Orcs seem to be the most melee focused of the bunch, choosing brute force over strategy. Their bull-like Taurens, combined with powerful catapults can level a base. Finally, the Humans seem to be the all-around bunch, with solid melee-inclined knights backed by supporting casters and projectiles. They also have the benefit of using two workers on the same building to finish it faster (something no other race can do). Blizzard spent huge amounts of development time making sure that one race wasn't able to overpower another, and by most accounts it seems they succeeded.

Beyond the new races, the major gameplay difference between WC3 and previous Blizzard RTS games is the use of hero units. Each race has three different hero units, each unique to that race. Orcs, for example, can hire Tauren Chieftains, Far Seers and Blademasters, while Night Elves have access to Demon Hunters, Keepers of the Grove, and Priestesses of the Moon. You can only have one of each in a standard game, but trust me, that is plenty. Hero units are by far the most powerful units in the game, able to take down many normal enemy units at once. The reason they are so powerful is two-fold. Firstly, Heroes level up just like in an RPG. By killing enemy units, Heroes gain experience, which eventually leads to higher stats like damage dealing abilities and hit-points.

Secondly, Heroes get special powers that have the capability to decimate a raiding party in moments. Every time a Hero levels up, the player gets a point to spend in one of three abilites. Let's use the Human's Archmage as an example. The Archmage has three abilities to train in, Blizzard (ego-maniacs perhaps?), Summon Water Elemental and Brilliance Aura. Blizzard is an area-effect spell that damages groups of enemies with falling ice-shards. By spending one point in Blizzard, you not only get access to that spell, but subsequent points will increase its effectiveness. Starting at Level 1, Blizzard does 80 damage per second over six seconds. Level 2 is 100 damage per second over eight seconds, and so on. To compare, having a Level 10 hero is basically the equivalent of a dozen standard footmen in damage dealing ability. Other kinds of abilities include auras that boost nearby unit stats, mass-teleportation and summoning spells as well has large healing boons.

In addition to their base abilities, Heroes can pick up items to boost them further. Usually, these items are scattered around the map, guarded by NPC enemies like trolls and ogres. Some of these items make a huge difference to the Hero who wields it. The fire orb, as an example, adds 12 fire damage (about a third of your standard damage) to all Hero attacks. Lesser items, like healing and mana potions can be found as well, but they can only be picked up and used by the Hero.

 

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