WarCraft III – Preview Overview

Hello from the battlefields! I was given the awesome task of playing the WarCraft III beta and telling all of you Game Industry fans the skinny low-down on game. I’ll try my best to cover as many aspects of the Beta as possible. Hopefully all of your questions will be answered.

First, the beta disc didn’t include any single player content, map editing tools and cinematics. For all intents and purposes this is basically a beta test of WarCraft III under the Battle.net environment. Regardless of this, in short this game is eons ahead of its predecessors. In sheer volume and size alone I was treated to four different playable races. They are the evil Undead, the barbaric Orcs/Taurens/Troll mix, the noble Humans and the mysterious Nightelves. Multiplayer contains three main NPC monsters spread throughout the maps. The first are Trolls and Goblin merchants. The second is the nomadic and mercenary race called the Gnoll that consists mainly of canine-related creatures like Hyenas and Dogs. The last race is of an elemental nature and consists of Golems and tree flora.

The current maps are nice. One map is mainly of a forest theme, while another is of a snowy mountain theme, and another of an ancient ruin. In total the Beta features six different maps. Two maps are geared towards crowds of no more than four players (two versus two or free for all), two for no more than six (three versus three or free for all), and the final two for no more than eight (four versus four or free for all). At this point in time the most popular is a two versus two games, for top versus bottom (TVB) play.

Graphically the game is clean and crisp! All of the characters, landscapes and menus are fully 3D rendered. Each unit contains up to three very unique animations. Gone are those isometrically semi-flat level battles we all saw in StarCraft and WarCraft. The terrain now has very realistic looking grades that make units increase or decrease in size as they progress across than landscape. This adds fun and variety to battles. The closest game I can compare this too is Bungie’s Myth series. Yet in no way does that compare with the wonderful job Blizzard’s team did of making sure everything looked and ran great. Controls have also been equally improved.

You’re now no longer locked into that forced isometric view. You can use your mouse’s scrolling wheel to zoom in and out and if you press and hold the scroll wheel button you can quickly navigate about the landscape (somewhat similar to Black and White’s click-drag-pull technique for moving around). Though I do wish they would implement a rotational camera (ala Black and White). Of course this being a beta may mean there’s still a chance this functionality will be seen in the final game. Even for something as trivial as the main menu the graphics and animations are nicely done with a combination of wood, chains and gears. When you make your selection the gears animate by pulling the chain that will cause the old menu to move away and be replaced with the selection you choose.

Each race has it’s own themed menu skin that all work together seamlessly and effortlessly so that any race you play won’t be shocked or surprised by any vastly different menu layouts. Each unit, hero and building has a fully animated 3D character profile with his or her own unique sounds and voices. One of the minor infamous features from WarCraft II is back. That feature of course being able to constantly click on the same unit and having them say different things to you. You’ll laugh at most of the ones in WarCraft III.

A few examples from each of the races include the Human peasant’s "Help, help, I’m being repressed" or the Mortar team’s "[comrade one] Were must defeat the Dwarves. [comrade two] We are the Dwarves! [comrade one] Oh." The Orc’s Grunt’s "Me no sound like Yoda, do I?" and Blade Master’s "Snatch the pebble from my hand grasshopper." The Undead’s Acolyte’s "Would you like to know the secret to eternal happiness? Page 246," Necromancer’s "Right click for hot undead action," and Lichs’ "You are the weakest link, goodbye" are sure to be classics. And of course the Nightelves’ Demon Hunter’s "Demon Blood is thicker than…well, regular blood" and the Archer’s "I said a bow string not a g-string." will have you laughing out loud. Voice acting is superb and fits most of the units well.

There are moments where the wood gathering units will suddenly stop gathering and just stand there. I can’t really say what the single player campaign AI will be like but besides the above I can report that the AI in the multiplayer has been vastly improved over the previous versions. You can now click on any part of the map and all ground-based units will logically figure out a path around just about every obstacle to the destination. In the past if you wanted to build a structure on a spot where units might stand you had to manually select and move them. You can now select a location and any units in the way will automatically move to make room! This however doesn’t apply to NPCs or allies that come to aid and then idle in your camp.

Another interesting element of Blizzard’s new Role Playing Strategy system is during battles if your unit takes too much damage, even after winning it can still sporadically die. It all depends on the unit and its prowess. Most of my lowest level foot soldiers and mages had this happen to them. And unlike the previous Warcrafts, a battle bonus I really like is a unit can now miss hits depending on their stats and what they fight.

Unfortunately at this time balancing issues have not been addressed. The game is mainly offensive only. Unless fellow allies come to your aid, once your enemies get past your offense there’s really nothing you can do to protect your base. In a letter to Beta players, Blizzard said they were aware of the game’s currently unbalance game play and were working diligently on ways to incorporate balance.

I have a lot of faith that they will address this issue with fervid determination. Another welcome game play feature that’s new to WarCraft III is the time of day system. Certain time of day cycles will enhance or diminish you’re unit’s effectiveness. For example during the night cycle the Nightelves and Undead seemed to excel while Humans and Orcs do well under daylight conditions. Besides the game play balancing issues, each race has a unique approach to building your base. I’ll go into more detail on each race in my upcoming race overview.

Unfortunately the rumors you heard about the 90-unit management cap is true. Some may feel this isn’t fair. With the new Role Playing Strategy system you can build up to three Heroes. These are supposed to be the heroes of each race. Most of race’s heroes have unique looks. Some though did have commanding military presences. Of the four races the heroes that were most memorable was the Mountain King (Human), which is basically a hulking dwarf that lugs around a big axe in his left hand and a large hammer in his right. Orcs have the Tauren Chieftain who ironically isn’t even an Orc but another race entirely. When he walks every step makes the ground tremble (remember Jurassic park?). He carries a huge axe and totes around two totem poles on his back like a backpack. For the Undead the Dread Lord is a site. A full demon with wing and claw, he strikes at his victims. For the Nightelves I’d have to say the Demon Hunter and The Keeper of the Grove were memorable. The Keeper is a half elf and deer hybrid that sports a pair of powerful looking antlers. He’s as tall as any of the other race’s heroes. The Demon Hunter looks like a ninja that wields two blades that look vaguely similar to the Klingon’s bat’leth, except these have a red glowing hue around them.

Unfortunately even with these heroes, battles tend to become a kind of free for all. None of other units will automatically come to the aid of your heroes unless you dictate this. Each hero gains levels and skills. When you attack NPCs you can obtain new enhancement jewelry or augmentation items that’ll make your heroes even more powerful. The key Blizzard is trying to strive for is quality over quantity. Blizzard figured three level 15 heroes on the map would definitely be more than enough. And they’re right since at every level your heroes become faster, stronger and able to kill entire regiments in a single bound.

From what I’ve seen from the beta, WarCraft III is going to being a masterpiece. Now I’m itching to get my hands on the entire game.

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