Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos was a 2002 real-time strategy game by Blizzard Entertainment for the PC. As video games became more popular, marketing became more important in the video game industry. Many game developers started going to conventions to show off their games that were still in development. They would be able market their game but also get some early feedback, which could be used to improve the game before its final release. So before Warcraft III’s release I got to read quite a few previews of the game and also check out several screenshots.
Warcraft III was the first game in the series to move from 2D graphics to 3D graphics. What I saw in the screenshots was cool but not amazing. The 2D graphics in Warcraft II were generally more sharp than the graphics in Warcraft III. This was an “in between” time in the game industry. Players were ready to move to 3D graphics, but the average computer wasn’t up to the task. Most games in 3D just didn’t look that great during these times.
Blizzard tried to mitigate this by using a highly stylized graphical style in Warcraft III. Instead of having normal proportions, characters had big arms, legs, and faces. It made it easier tell players what was going on, but it also made the graphics less realistic than Warcraft II. Many players hated this, calling the game “cartoony”. They had gotten used to the more “normal” look of Warcraft I and II; they didn’t like this new style.
Blizzard also made a radical change to the gameplay. Instead of focusing on controlling an army, they scaled the game down to just a hero and a few supporting units. This made the game more tactical, but less strategic. Many players liked the larger scale of the previous games. The heroes had these role-playing game mechanics like being able to level up and equip items. All this showed up in the previews I was reading. No one was sure about this new direction. Even the few game journalists that got to play the game were not sure.
When the game came out, I initially didn’t have any plans to get it. I was having a great time with Diablo II and its expansion, another recent game by Blizzard. I didn’t see an interest in getting the game. That changed when I did my daily reading of gaming news. The reviewers were all loving the game. This tone was completely the opposite from what I remembered reading in the previews. That’s when I started really reading about the game mechanics. I read so many things I liked, I had to ask my mom to take me to the game store that day. I now had a Windows computer, so I could go to the closer stores, which only sold games for Windows.
When I finally played the game, it was superb. It wasn’t quite the same improvement as Warcraft II had been over Warcraft I, but it was definitely very good. I loved, in particular, the campaigns. There was one for each of the four factions, but the story was continuous from one to the next. The heroes were all strong characters. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. The cinematics in the game were the best yet. They were as high quality as a Pixar movie. A lot of players wanted Blizzard to make a full length animated movie, but they focused on the games. The sound effects and voice acting were excellent as well.
The graphics took some getting used to, but I became comfortable with the new style after a few hours. I thought the music was a little worse than Warcraft II. It was more ambient and less thematic. It wasn’t the kind of music I’d find myself humming after playing the game. The music always fit what was going on in the screen, but most of it wasn’t interesting enough to listen to on its own. These were the only downsides though. The rest of the game was amazing.
Warcraft III was the first Blizzard game I really tried to play a lot online. We had high-speed internet by this time, so I didn’t have to worry about a parent picking up the phone and disconnecting me. I read all sorts of strategies for the game, then practiced and practiced in single player against the computer AI. Finally, I went online to test my mettle against real people. I did pretty well, winning the majority of my games, but the intensity of always playing at my best was a little too much for me. I didn’t like the stress, so I gravitated to the custom maps section.
The map editor was greatly improved from Warcraft II. There was now a sophisticated scripting system where players could create their own rules. Almost everything in the game could now be modified. Players could even add new content to the game attached to a map. The extra power this gave to the community resulted in some radically new games. The most popular one was Defense of the Ancients. This game became so popular that several companies went on to make standalone versions of it. Two of the most popular games these days are League of Legends and Dota 2, both based on this old custom map in Warcraft III. There’s even a small community that still plays the original version in the old Warcraft III game engine.
Overall, the game really impressed me. I learned not to ever doubt Blizzard Entertainment. They always made great games. That’s still pretty much the case today. I no longer play their games anymore, but not because they lack quality. It’s only because I’ve changed the type of games I like to play. Blizzard doesn’t make those kinds of games, so I am left playing games from other game companies. If Blizzard made the games I like to play now, I’d definitely be paying attention.
The Frozen Throne expansion
At the time this expansion came out, I was not really interested in expansion packs. I had learned from the expansion pack for Warcraft II and many other games, that expansion packs just added new content. They didn’t have radically new additions or changes that would get me interested in playing again. Of course, I would have played The Frozen Throne if it was free, but my pitiful allowance wasn’t enough to buy everything I wanted. Luckily, I got a gift card for a Christmas present. It was just enough to buy the expansion. I only had to pay sales tax.
The Frozen Throne impressed me just like the base game had. It was much better than a typical expansion pack. It added four new campaigns to the game. The levels were all very original. Each campaign would usually started out with a few standard levels to get used to playing the race, but then the later levels would totally change the mechanics. Every level was new and interesting. I never felt like I was doing the same old thing every level.
In particular I loved the Orc campaign. Unlike a normal campaign level with a base and resources to accompany the hero character, these levels focused completely on the heroes. Players started with one hero but could eventually find more as they played through the story. There was a bunch of cool loot to find to upgrade the heroes. Each level also had a few shops to buy more items with gold obtained from defeating enemies. Overall, I had a blast playing this campaign. That may have been because this campaign was easier than the others. For the first time, I finished a campaign without using any cheat codes.