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Warcraft III - Reign of Chaos
Human campaignAfter several years of development and a full six years after the last installment, the Californian software house Blizzard Entertainment eventually managed to publish Warcraft III - Reign of Chaos, their latest milestone in their miraculously unblemished gaming history. Due to extensive coverage in the media, the fans' expectancy soared ever higher as Blizzard had promised a completely new "feel" for the third part in the real-time strategy series. In the USA alone, the unprecedented number of roughly 4.5 million copies hit the shelves for the introductory phase. The risk of facing a mountain of unsold units was pretty low, however, as Warcraft III marched straight to the top of the sales charts in the first week after its release. So what is this seemingly magic appeal of Warcraft all about?
 
The epic story continues:
Thrall' visionSeveral years have passed in the Warcraft universe since the player's last intervention, but the old conflict between Humans and Orcs is simmering unrelentedly, as you can see in the gorgeously rendered intro sequence. An unknown and powerful race is on the verge of invading Azeroth, forcing both Humans and Orcs to overthrow old enmities. You start the game with a short tutorial where you follow the young orc Thrall. Only shortly before, Thrall had had a puzzling vision warning of impending danger and making him heed the advice of a prophet to lead his people westward. In the course of these two introductory levels you gradually learn what's noteworthy in the gaming environment and how to handle the game's controls. You then change sides and assume the leadership of the Humans of Lordaeron, following the young paladin Arthas through nine missions that have you hunt down the reasons and the perpetrators behind a mysterioulsy spreading plague. The story takes some surprising twists and turns that are followed by another eight missions for the Undead, the major enemy of the once antagonized Orcs and Humans. The campaign mode then continues with eight missions for the Orcs and seven missions for the Night Elves.
 
Graphics & sound:
Arthas up frontWarcraft III is the first game for which Blizzard created a 3D graphics engine that is looking surprisingly well in the face of the long development period. The world of Warcraft seems to be filled with life: waterfalls roar in the background, waves roll against the shore, wild animals cross your path, the local populace go about their daily tasks, and the night-and-day cycle influences the behaviour of neutral creatures and the race of the Night Elves. Flashing spells as well as weather effects such as heavy rain or dense snowfall contribute immensely to the game's atmosphere. Although the different heroe characters in particular appear somewhat "blocky", they are smoothly animated and covered by nice textures. The story line is propelled forward by cutscenes displayed in the 3D game engine, but on reaching a new campaign, high-quality and almost cinema-like rendered sequences please the gamer's eye. Also the (ambient) sound fits into the game seamlessly, with the sound adapting to the various situations on the screen. Every race comes along with different sound effects and professional voice-overs that add to the credibility of the four races.
 
Crafty Gameplay:
Battle is joinedThe key elements of Warcraft - resource management and base construction - remain part of the game, but the focus has shifted to the new heroe characters. Every race can count on the skills of two heroes each, who do not only have enhanced attack values but can also cast spells and carry up to six objects. By dispatcheing enemies - mainly the newly added neutral units found on nearly every map - you gain experience points and sometimes pick up fallen objects that either improve your heroe's abilities (e.g. Ring of Protection) or help several units at once (e.g. healing potion). With every level of experience gained, heroes can improve one of their four spells up to three times. Some of these spells have a passive impact on others, as e.g. the Aura spell that strenghtens particular values of friendly units in the vicinity.
Apart from upgrading your heroes' skills, upgrading your base is crucial for accomplishing your missions. The number of resources has been reduced from four to three so that you have to juggle with gold, timber, and food. Gold mines can deplete, forcing you to search for another mine, and also the supply of timber can run out when the last tree is chopped down. Every unit you produce needs food that is provided by living quarters. However, it has become more difficult to entrench yourself within your base's perimeter: there is only one type of guard tower and walls are missing completely, making you more vulnerable and compelling you to act more aggressively. What's new and of tactical relevance is the upkeep you have to pay for a certain number of units. Once you have 40 units, your workers will only mine 7 instead of 10 gold pieces per turn, with 70 units it will go down to 3 gold pieces. Thus large-scale attacks turn into an expensive affair so that you will see more smaller skirmishes in the course of the game.
 
On a mission:
Battle is joined 2Without doubt, the (partly scripted) missions are Warcraft III's core piece. They do not only introduce the four races to the player, they also go beyond the exceedingly used "Destroy the enemy" type of missions. In-game cutscenes illustrate the mission's aims or give you an idea what to expect in the following mission. Every mission is made up of one main quest and up to two secondary quests. Your mission goals vary greatly: for example, you escort important units, search for the source of a mysterious plague, defend the base for a certain period of time, prevent an army of undead from falling into your enemy's hands, or assemble a huge amount of lumber to construct a base. The secondary quests are simpler in nature - in most cases you have to retrieve some object from the clutches of a powerful monster, with the gaining of experience or receiving a magical object as a reward being your main incentives. Only rarely carry the additional quests some tactical importance, e.g. if you dispatch some foes to avoid being overrun at a later point in the game. All secondary tasks are optional, which means that you aren't compelled to fulfil them in order to accomplish the mission. Since every campaign is immersed into a fixed story line, the missions are quite linear as they have to be accomplished to progress to the next mission. Apart from your heroe character, no units accompany you into the following mission, although you will get over it since experience points are limited to your heroes anyway.
Details:
Producer:
Blizzard,
Patch V 1.01

Website:
Warcraft 3,
Battle.net

Graphics:
good

Sound:
very good

Gameplay:
very good

Verdict:
very good

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Pros & cons:
The SummoningIt would be moot trying to explain all facets of Warcraft III, as it would take away some of the game's atmosphere and they are simply too numerous to enlist. In normal mode, the level of difficulty is growing steadily and can even be reduced when you fail to accomplish a mission. Professionals will go for the most difficult mode directly, which isn't dubbed that way for nothing. Thanks to the well-made tutorial and the easy-to-handle controls, the game can be considered novice-friendly in every respect - you can even execute any action via a fixed hotkey. Also the alterable camera angle has been chosen with great care, making it redundant to fumble with the camera controls. Unfortunately, the camera hovers a bit too near above the ground, resulting in frequent scroll maneuvers. A small map that draws your attention towards important events does have compensating effect in that regard.
It can be said without exaggeration that Warcraft III belongs to the very top of the real-time strategy class. Blizzard does not reinvent the wheel, but excels at mixing role-playing elements from Diablo (heroes, experience points), strategic aspects from Starcraft (3 different races), and the familiar Warcraft atmosphere to an altogether innovative strategy cocktail. It's outright fun and motivating to play, an impression even deepened by the riveting story line and the likewise nice graphics. The enclosed map editor as well as numerous multiplayer modes will make sure that the fun won't diminish over months to come. Right after its release, the third installment of the series reigned the sales charts in the US and Germany. So far, more than 300,000 copies have been sold nation-wide - maybe another sign that Warcraft III is on its unerring way to become a classic.
© 09-21-2002 by CE

 
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