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WarCraft III Preview

/ Jul 18th, 2001 No Comments

Gaming Illustrated is pleased to publish this exclusive preview, which is over a year in the making. After our one hour appointment (we had THE first appointment with Blizzard) at E3, you’re going to get a bit of inside information with this preview that you can’t get anywhere else. We’re extremely grateful to the fine people at Blizzard, specifically Beau Yarbrough (PR man), John LaGrave (Head of Battle.net) and Eric Dodds (designer). Eric was our contact for World of Warcraft, which we’ll also be previewing very soon, but he also lent some information about Warcraft III. With the game near completion, this summer will mark the first time in years that players will be able to return to the Warcraft universe, where Blizzard made its PC debut, and arguably where RTS games were born. For the first time, a Blizzard real-time-strategy game will be rendered in full 3D, allowing a more immerse and compelling experience. Once again being innovative to the real-time-strategy formula that Blizzard helped create, the game will be focused on groups of noble warriors supporting super-characters called Legendary Heroes, each of whom can advance and become more powerful as the game progresses.

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The first thing about Warcraft that you should is the game has the most stunning 3D graphics of any RTS (Real Time Strategy) game to date. The graphics should satisfy even the toughest of critics, and top out at 1600×1200 resolution. Blizzard is powering Warcraft III with its own 3D engine, providing a fully interactive world that incorporates non-player characters, wandering monsters, neutral towns, strongholds and temples, and environmental effects. The game boasts very minimal performance requirements of a 400 MHz Pentium II or equivalent, 128 MB of RAM, 8 MB 3D video card (TNT, i810, Voodoo 3, Rage 128 equivalent or better) with DirectX® 8.1 support, and 700 MB HD space. Warcraft III runs superbly on any system that boasts an AMD XP processor and a GeForce4 card.

The Single player campaign consists of four playable races – The Human Alliance, the Orcish Horde, the Night Elf Sentinels, and the Undead Scourge. Armed with distinctive units, magical abilities, and weapons of war, the orcs, humans, undead and night elves clash in their renewed struggle for dominance.

Races

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The Human Alliance
The Human Alliance includes Dwarves, which is why there’s that “alliance” word in there. The Alliance is pretty tough, especially the Rifleman and Mortar team units which when used in tandem with a hero and a Steam Tank, can do unbelievable damage to an opposition’s base.

Blizzard’s Take:
Relatively speaking, Humanity is one of the youngest races of the world. Unlike Elves and Dwarves, Humans live brief lives full of change and strife. Thus, Humanity pushes itself to achieve great heights in empire building, technology, and magical study. It is for this reason that Human kingdoms have expanded so drastically in such short periods of time. Overall, Humanity values virtue and honor and seeks only to safeguard itself against the forces of darkness. Aided by the Holy Light, Humanity has fought the hardest and suffered the most during the war against the Orcish Hordes.

Orcish Horde
The Orcs remind me a lot of the Protoss from Starcraft. Their units tend to run a little bit more expensively from the other races, however, many of them are quite powerful. If you’re going to focus on the Orcs, the name of the game in upgrading your grunts, building enough grunts, and supporting them with a well experienced hero and seige weapons.

Blizzard’s Take:
The savage, green-skinned Orcs are one of the most prolific races of the Warcraft world. Born on the hellish world of Draenor, the Orcs were brought into the kingdom of Azeroth through the dimensional gateway known as the Dark Portal and forced to make war upon the Humans. The Orcs are typically believed to be brutal and mindless, possessing no humanity or empathy for other races. Although few are aware of it, the Orcs once cultivated a noble, Shamanistic society on the world of Draenor. Yet the proud Orc clans were corrupted by the Burning Legion and used as pawns in the Legion’s invasion of Azeroth. In recent years the Orcs have begun to release themselves from the Demons’ corruption, and rekindle their ancient, noble traditions.

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Night Elf Sentinels
The Night Elves are a group you can seem to build up a quick army with. The spells that the Druid and Dryad’s create are quite powerful. Resource management will be the name of the game when playing the Night Elf Sentinels. The spells that the heroes have are a little bit cooler/hip/neat than other heroes, but that’s just my humble opinion.

Blizzard’s Take:
The reclusive Night Elves were the first race to awaken in the World of Warcraft. These shadowy, immortal beings were the first to study magic and let it loose throughout the world nearly ten thousand years before Warcraft I. The Night Elves’ reckless use of magic drew the Burning Legion into the world and led to a catastrophic war between the two titanic races. The Night Elves barely managed to banish the Legion from the world, but their wondrous homeland was shattered and drowned by the sea. Ever since, the Night Elves refused to use magic for fear that the dreaded Legion would return. The Night Elves closed themselves off from the rest of the world and remained hidden atop their holy mountain of Hyjal for many thousands of years. As a race, Night Elves are typically honorable and just, but they are very distrusting of the ‘lesser races’ of the world. They are nocturnal by nature and their shadowy powers often elicit the same distrust that they have for their mortal neighbors.

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Undead Scourge
Playing as the Undead Scourge is actually quite fun. Everything is quite dark and evil, so from an artistic perspective there is a lot to enjoy. The Scourge’s initial units aren’t that strong, and they are the only group who’s peons (called Acolytes) do not harvest lumber (one of the bottom level units called Gouls do that). The Scourge’s top level monsters seem stronger than other races – especially the Frost Worm which is a large flying undead Dragon. The Frost Worm can freeze buildings (such as buildings that attack rushing opposition) so they can’t fire back, making your conquest of enemies all the easier. I have to say playing the Undead Scourge is quite fun.

Blizzard’s Take:
The horrifying Undead army called the Scourge consists of thousands of walking corpses, disembodied spirits, damned mortal men and insidious extra-dimensional entities. The Scourge was created by the Burning Legion for the sole purpose of sewing terror across the world in anticipation of the Legion’s inevitable invasion. The Undead are ruled by Ner’zhul, the Lich King, who lords over the icy realm of Northrend from his frozen throne. Ner’zhul commands the terrible plague of undeath, which he sends ever southward into the human lands. As the plague encroaches on the southlands, more and more humans fall prey to Ner’zhul’s mental control and life-draining sickness every day. In this way, Ner’zhul has swelled the ranks of the already considerable Scourge. Though Ner’zhul and his Undead Scourge are bound to the will of the Burning Legion, the Lich King constantly strives to free himself and gain vengeance upon the demons for damning him so completely.

Single Player Campaign / Overview of Game

At the opening of the 2002 E3 Expo, Blizzard Entertainment unveiled the highly anticipated Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos single-player campaign. As the multiplayer beta test has already proven a success, all eyes await the single-player missions, which chronicle the events that will forever change the world of Azeroth. I was lucky enough to talk with Battle.net manager John LaGrave, who ran through 30 minutes of various missions. He mentioned the following EXCLUSIVE news to Gaming Illustrated alone:

– The four campaigns will total 9, 8, 8 , and 9 missions for a total of 34 (couple of tutorials in there)

– Heroes can/will be able to be built up to level 10

– The map editor included is FULLY featured, meaning you can create everything you see in the game with the map editor, including creeps, triggers, etc – and even CINEMATICS!

– The game will only be 1 CD, with about 700 megs installed on your system

– When asked about an expansion pack, Mr. LaGrave said that their entire focus right now is getting the product ready to ship and couldn’t comment on an expansion pack. He also reminded me that Blizzard has always released and expansion pack to every game. You do the math!

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Players are subject to gorgeous cinematics between missions of the single player campaign – but not something rendered using Maya. The cinematics are all using the new 3D engine used in the game, which offer exciting possibilities for people wanting to create their own campaigns (as the ability to create cinematics are included). Anyway, there are typically multiple quests per mission, but only the main quest must be satisfied. The good news is that the secondary quests appear in your Quest log as question mark boxes, letting you know how many other “secret” quests you need to unlock. Players can unlock these secondary quests by talking to friendly neutral units, whom you can see want to talk to you because of a giant exclamation mark above their heads. Also, one tip given by Mr. LaGrave is that players should try to destroy anything and everything they can on a given map – crates, barrels, rock faces, whatever – as Blizzard has hidden “tons” of treasures to be had. Another new feature that novice (and advanced alike) players will enjoy is that when you fail a mission you not only have the option to replay the mission, but you can replay that same mission at an easier difficulty setting. This feature was a direct result of gamers’ feedback that Brood War’s missions were simply too difficult, and should offer some relief for those missions players keep playing through and just can’t get past.

Something new to the Warcraft world (and RTS games in general) is the addition of super units called Heroes that actually gain experience as they kill off Neutral and Opposing units. Heroes are the central focus of the single-player game, and can also changed the tide of a multiplayer battle within seconds. Four linked campaigns – featuring the Humans, Undead, Orcs and Night Elves – together form the story of the day the sky rained fire and war once again swept the battered lands of Azeroth – sounds scary huh? Players playing through the single-player campaign will first take the role of Arthas, Paladin and crown prince of Lordaeron, as he investigates an uprising of Orcs and rumors of a plague sweeping the northern end of the kingdom. As the single-player game advances, the story moves on to other races, with each campaign picking up where the previous one left off. Heroes of other races make their appearance throughout the campaigns, many times as allies, yet other times as enemies.

As heroes are “in the battle” and kill off people/creatures/whatever, they gain experience points. Heroes then can gain levels of experience (top out at 10) which increases their statistics, thus making them more effective in battle. Each Hero for each race also has their own unique spells and abilities. Legendary Heroes can carry up to six special items in a small inventory. The items can turn the tide of battle as they grant the Hero the ability to cast offensive and defensive spells, heal units, utilize special abilities, or gain bonuses to specific statistics.

There are numerous Neutral Units – known as Creeps and Critters – that inhabit the world of Azeroth. Creeps are hostile units that relinquish Gold and treasure (which can be used by your heroes) when killed and sometimes guard valuable resources or Neutral Buildings. Critters are friendly neutral units such as sheep or seals. Several types of Neutral Buildings exist, each with a different function. From selling Hero Items to hiring out Mercenaries to healing nearby units, these structures confer a wide variety of strategies and surprises for even the most veteran of players.

Multiplayer

Warcraft III boasts some pretty impressive Multiplayer features, such as expanded multiplayer options over Battle.net with up to 12 players per game, multiple game types (including team play and questing), and new game-matching and tournament options. Official word from Blizzard is this number may change during the beta test period and is not final, however, Battle.net manager John LaGrave did mention 12 would be the number for LAN games.

When asked if Battle.net will be ready to handle what Gaming Illustrated expects to be a massive (hundreds of thousands in our estimations) group of people hitting the system, Mr. LaGrave assured me that they have upgraded and installed all the necessary infrastructure to handle that amount of people. He also mentioned that players playing the ladder games (done by hitting the “Play Game” button in Battle.net) will be automatically matched up with someone of their skill level, as determined by their score and experience points from previous ladder games. I can’t stress how EASY it is to get yourself up and running in a ladder match – we’re talking hitting all of 3 buttons total and you’re in!

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New Multiplayer Features:
– Shared unit control between players
– Trading of resources between players
– Choice of army color
– Observation mode
– Ability to ally with computer players

Improved Battle.net Features:
– New ladders including 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, and clan ladders
– Improved game-filtering options
– Anonymous matchmaking for games
– Improved ladders that prevent “win trading”
– Separate name space for Warcraft III on Battle.net allows players to obtain new account names without conflicting with those in previous games
– Improved clan support with levels of membership, home clan channels, and clan ladders.

The Beta test that Gaming Illustrated has been on has gone great so far. Rushing has been a little bit of a problem, but we’ve attributed that to just learning the game. Some gameplay tips include creating a hero early on , as they can easily change the tide of battle. Also, killing off an enemy is all about diversity in your party. Resources include gold, lumber, and food. One thing unique to Warcraft III over previous editions is the idea of “Upkeep”. No longer will the Warcraft RTS world be about building 500 grunts and simply overwhelming the opponent by sheer numbers and mass. The maximum “upkeep” is 90, and to give you an idea of what units “cost” in terms of food, your first hero will cost you 5, a bottom level grunt-type unit will cost 2 or 3, and your peon will cost 1. So what this has done is forced players to seriously manage their resources well and to create armies of diverse groups, with experienced heroes. Upkeep also means that once you become larger and larger, you get penalized when harvesting resources. Low Upkeep, which I believe you reach at 40/90 or 50/90 will diminish your gold harvesting from +10 per peon to +7. So again, you really have to make sure your army is diverse (as you can only have so many units at one time), that your resources are well managed, and that your Upkeep doesn’t get too high too quickly.

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World Editor

If it’s a Blizzard RTS title, you can count on one hell of a world editor. Once again Blizzard goes above and beyond the call of duty and has instituted features that should blow everyone away. Players will be able to create 3D maps with the map editor. You will also be able to use triggers and create scripts within each map. In addition, you will be able to use your own skins, sounds, and so forth within the game engine. The new editor is much more advanced than the StarCraft editor. You can now replace any of the artwork in the game, and any of the play balance statistics. Also, whereas you were previously limited to scripting events through triggers that we provided, you can now script any behavior or game event you want, using Blizzard’s extensive scripting language. The very exciting thing (to me at least) is the ability to create missions, campaigns, and even cinematics for you and your friends to play through and enjoy.

Overall Impressions

If I said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, and for a whole calendar year now – Warcraft III will revolutionize the RTS genre. With the game’s stunning graphics, unbelievable interactive World Editor, as well as the new focus on serious resource management juggling and diversity of army factor, this game should really blow people away.

There’s one question that I haven’t asked which is the most important question that any reviewer or previewer should ask – is this game fun. The answer, of course, is a resounding YES. Will players get creamed on Battle.net – of course. But the good news is that you’ll be matched up with someone of your skill level (as determined by the ladder), so chances are you’ll be playing someone of your ability, minimizing those times that someone comes in and wipes you out in 3 minutes. LAN parties will never be more fun (hopefully you won’t almost get arrested like I did for a noise disturbance when hosting a LAN party for Warcraft II many years ago…), especially with the present maps and the ones you and your friends will make.

The end of June (rumor has it June 26th is the big day) will be a time when gamers around the world (international versions are being released simultaneously) shout out in blissful glee at the latest “classic” being released. As usual, it’s been worth the wait, and there’s not a gamer out there that will be disappointed.

Sean W. Gibson

Sean W. Gibson

Founder, Featured Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Sean Gibson has been the owner and Executive Editor of Gaming Illustrated for over eleven years. His roles include acting as CEO and President of Gaming Illustrated, LLC and also includes being a reviewer, previewer and interviewer. Sean's opinions on this site do not reflect those of his full-time employer.
Sean W. Gibson
Sean W. Gibson

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