Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Warcraft - the original games

Before we move on to the books, world of warcraft or the second edition of the RPG, we should talk a bit about the RTS games. There are mainly a few things I want to address regarding Warcraft III, but I will talk briefly about the earlier games as well

Warcraft: Orcs & Humans
Warcraft originally started as Warcraft: Orcs & Humans and that title is pretty much all you need to know. Evil orcs, having extinguished all life on their own world, have been summoned by the dark wizard Medivh. Now, they ride against the valiant humans of Azeroth. Warcraft I was nothing if not generic, but its still a fun game to play, even if it shows its age.

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
Warcraft II's story picks up six years after Orcs & Humans. It seems that, to the collective surprise of players everywhere, the orcs had won the war of the first game. However, they still hadn't fought their greatest battle. It seems Azeroth had only been a single nation out of many, its survivors fleeing north to seek for new allies. Since then, both factions have been building up forces for a new war.

And what a war it is. Both factions throw more and more into the battle, seeking new allies to aid them. The orcs ally themselves with the trolls of Zul'dare and the goblins of Kezan, as well as bringing more ogres to aid them in battle. They have raised the dead knights of the first war as death knights and have taken the dragon queen captive to force her children into battle. The humans meanwhile have formed the alliance. And as more and more nations feel threatened, more join. The elves of Silvermoon, the dwarves of Ironforge, the mages of dalaran, the ingenious gnomes and the dwarven gryphon riders of Northeron all band together to form a single unified fighting force. If warcraft II has anything going for it, its the sheer scale. The war is waged across an entire continent and you really get the feeling that the fate of the entire world is at stake (the entire world, in this game, being what is now known as the eastern kingdoms).

Warcraft II is a great game, there is no doubt about it. Of all three warcraft strategy games, it is probably the one with the least retcons. It also received an expansion, known as 'beyond the dark portal', which was similarly epic, with Ner'Zhul, a mighty orcish warlock, attempting to open gates to new worlds for his legions to conquer. However, warcraft II was still a standard fantasy setting. Evil orcs, trolls, goblins and dragons, fighting against the goodly humans, elves, gnomes and dwarves. In warcraft III, this would all change.

Warcraft adventures: Lord of the clans
Some of you may be wondering what the hell this section is all about. After all, there were only three warcraft games before world of warcraft, right? Well, not exactly. Lord of the clans is the warcraft game that never was. It was intended as an adventure game, following the story of Thrall, a young orc slave, and his attempt to free the orc people from what he saw as imprisonment. The game was cancelled about half-way through production, with concerns about its quality cited as the reason. However, when designing warcraft III, it was decided that the events from Lord of the Clans needed to have happened to give warcraft III the proper starting point. That is where Christie Golden, one of my favorite writers, came into the picture. She was hired to novelize the events of the lord of the clan game, though some parts of the game were removed. While reading the book is not required to understand the events of Warcraft III, it does add a lot to the story.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
If I covered everything I would like to cover about warcraft III, we would be here for several hours. Let's just say that it is a very, very good game. However, there are a few specific topics I'd like to address because they come up in WoW.

The beginning
Part of Warcraft III's strength is that it is very easy to get into the story. It really just starts out as a normal fantasy story. Hell, the characters are as cookie-cutter as you can get.
Hero dude (aka Arthas Menethil): Hot blonde prince. Knight (or paladin) in training. Strong and capable, but overly rash. Always looking to prove himself.
Generic Mentor (aka Uther the Lightbringer): Wise old paladin who has seen the ravages of war (he's a character from warcraft II). He's strong and confident, but never overly so.
Obvious love interest (aka Jaina Proudmoore): Hot blonde princess. Powerful mage who is, for some reason, still a student.
The story only keeps these stereotypes for a few missions, but it's enough to really ease the player into the adventure. After that, the characters start breaking their molds. Arthas has to go further and further to stop the undead plague that is overwhelming his lands and loses his soul and free will to the undead horde in the process. Uther clings to his values even when the course of action he should take is a darker one and tries to stop Arthas before it is too late. Jaina is utterly disgusted by one of Arthas actions and runs off. More on that later.

Warcraft III really manages to build the threat of the villains by actually having them succeed at the stakes of the previous game. Where the horde failed to destroy Silvermoon, the scourge burns right through it. Where the horde offensive was broken at Lordaeron, Arthas tore it apart from the inside. Where the horde failed to take Dalaran, the burning legion turns it into ash. The alliance has fallen, with only a few members surviving the onslaught. Many of the factions we didn't see, like Alterac and Stormwind, were already destroyed in Warcraft I and II (in the case of stormwind, in both). The remaining factions (Kul Tiras, Gilneas and Dun Morogh) are isolated, and not strong enough to stand on their own. Quite simply put, the eastern kingdoms are dead. They do not have enough strength to relevant to the coming conflict. This makes the final battle, where all three major factions finally band together, so much more epic.

I like these guys
Every main character from reign of chaos is likable and you understand their choices, even if they lead to dark paths, like they did for Grom and Arthas. So you're really rooting for the good guys by the end of the game. My personal favorite was Jaina Proudmoore, generic love interest who hijacked Arthas' position as main human character when the plot wasn't looking, and only alliance hero left alive by the end of the story. The game also makes great use of characters from previous games, most notably Uther the Lightbringer and Grom Hellscream, both of whom get expanded personalities and act as mentors to younger generation. Everyone in the story has flaws that make them feel more real, but they're not always obvious. Jaina doesn't have enough force of personality to sway any of the alliance leaders. Thrall is too trusting, and the freedom he gives Grom only leads to trouble. Tyrande is stubborn, refusing to ask for help, even when her nation is about to fall. Malfurion is too stuck in his own values, thinking that the druidic magic is all that is necessary for victory. I could go on like this for a while, but these four are the most important, as they end as leaders of the three surviving factions on Kalimdor, and should be the most important come next game.

Now is it perfect?
Warcraft III, while good, is certainly not perfect. Let's make clear that a game does not have to have achieved perfection for me to genuinely enjoy it. 

The most obvious problem with Warcraft III is that there is a gap in the story during the orc campaign, during which a few missions that were included in a demo took place. During this demo, Thrall befriended a tribe of jungle trolls by saving them from a sea witch. However, when the game actually came out, the demo missions weren't included, leaving Thrall with a disparaging remark towards trolls in one mission, and unexplained troll allies a few missions later. And I also know that several other missions were removed from the other campaigns as well, so its not like it would be impossible to make all campaigns 13 missions rather than 10.

Something that isn't as much a problem as it is just a missed opportunity is that the campaigns rely solely on the units that are available in the normal melee maps, rather than making some of the campaign or beta units available. There are dozens of units that don't really fit in a balanced melee map, but would have been fun to play around with and could have been used to flesh out the subfactions a bit. Why not give Maiev trainable assassins, sentries and owl bears rather than the normal night elf archers, huntresses and dryads? Why not let Grom Hellscream command orcish warlords rather than witch doctors? I know the models and animations for all these units were already completed, either for the campaign or for earlier builds, so its a shame they weren't used to their full potential. Well, to be fair, they did do this a few times. In the undead campaign, the blackrock clan is made up of members of the old horde, with ogres, goblins and dragons. And in TFT, the blood elf campaign was probably the most memorable because it used this to its fullest, giving playable naga, draenei and blood elf units rather than the standard humans. So it's a bit weird they didn't do this for the other campaigns.

Though Warcraft III is not perfect, it is still one of the best games I ever played. Will World of Warcraft live up to its predecessor, or will it be left in the dust?  We will find out next time.

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