Summary: Jakub takes a closer look at the Undead race in our continuing WarCraft III beta coverage.
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
WarCraft III official page: http://www.blizzard.com/war3
Four out of five
Out of the five originally announced races, four have made it to the beta. Naturally, Orcs and Humans are still in the game. However, The Elves who fought with the Humans in WarCraft II have been given a separate race in WarCraft III - the “Night Elves” and the many undead units from the Orc camp have been split into a new Undead race.
Every hero in the game has 10 levels, and with the exception of level 1, he chooses an ability at each level. The hero can choose from any one of three or four abilities, two or three basic ones and one ultimate power. The basics are available to upgrade in immediately, and have three levels of power each. The ultimate is available at level 5 and is without a doubt the ability to choose upon reaching that level. The ultimate ability does not have multiple levels of specialization.
SIDEBAR: Back in the early and mid ‘90s, WC2 usually stood for Wing Commander 2, not WarCraft II.
The Dread Lord is not as melee-oriented as the Death Knight, but has more spells – four total. The spells don’t have the raw, outright power of the Death Knight, but serve a support role and can be far more devastating. For example, while the Death Knight’s ultimate power is to temporarily bring back to life 6 fallen units, the Dread Lord’s Dark Summoning ultimate can teleport in 12 friendly units from any part of the map to surround him. He also does this at far less mana cost (100 mana vs. the Death Knight’s 300) and the spell has a quicker cool-down time before it can be cast again.
Carrion Swarm is the Dread Lord’s only spell attack, unleashing a horde of carrion bats against a small group of enemies. His second ability is Vampiric Aura – the only aura that Undead have access to, but it’s a doozy. The aura converts a percentage of the damage (again, depending on spell level) that a unit inflicts into healing for the attacker. So if the aura takes 20% of the damage from a 10hp attack, the unit will heal 2hp while taking 10 off the enemy. The Dread Lord’s final ability is the Sleep spell, which puts the targeted unit asleep for a certain number of seconds. Fortunately for the victim unit, the sleep can be dispelled or interrupted by an attack.
The Lich is the most physically inept Undead hero, but fortunately he has a ranged attack and superior magical powers to make up for his physical weakness. Out of all the heroes, he is the most prone to dying, but also most capable of inflicting damage. The Lich’s ultimate power is Death and Decay, an utterly abusive spell which will rend asunder any units or buildings in its area of effect. Fortunately, its high mana cost, extremely high cool-down time and the need for the Lich to stand still while it is being cast balance it out.
Like the Dread Lord, the Lich also has three basic abilities. The first and most useful seems to be Frost Nova, a spell that does cold damage and freezes enemy units in a small radius around the Lich. This forces the Lich to engage in close combat, not exactly his forte. The second ability and a close tie in usefulness (and very likely more useful with certain unit combinations) is Frost Armor which surrounds the target unit in a shield which adds a significant amount of armor, inflicts damage on attackers and also freezes those attackers. The final ability is Dark Ritual, which slays a friendly unit and converts a percentage of its hitpoints into mana for the Lich.
SIDEBAR: All heroes are born
From the ashes of the dead
There they procreate
The Undead equivalent of the barracks is the Crypt. The Crypt spawns Ghouls, Crypt Fiends and Gargoyles. The Ghoul is the default unit that comes out of the Crypt and is the basic melee unit. Like Grunts or Footmen, they have average speed, low damage and low hitpoints. However, they are cheap, take only 2 food each and serve as good fodder – in addition to being the wood gatherers of the Undead race. While not as cheap, numerous or quick as Zerglings, Ghouls do tend to resemble them in role and even character. Their special ability is Cannibalize, whereby the Ghoul consumes a nearby corpse to replenish its health. The ability won’t always change the course of a battle but it can prolong them significantly. The most significant downside is that the Ghoul turns its back on its foes while it hunts for a corpse.
The next unit that becomes available, with the construction of the Graveyard (Lumber Mill/Armory equivalent), is the Crypt Fiend. Essentially a giant spider with a long and powerful ranged attack, the Crypt Fiend is essential against aerial opponents. They are big and somewhat unwieldly, like Dragoons from StarCraft. However, they do not have a direct anti-air attack, like Dragoons or other Archer-type units. Rather, they need to use the researched Web ability to force flying units down to the ground to be hacked apart by ground units. In an expert’s hands, Web is abusive and totally neutralizes any air attack. However, an inexperienced player may find the micromanagement to be a bit much and will resort to the Gargoyle for his air protection.
Gargoyles are a tech level 2 unit, requiring an upgrade of the Necropolis (town center) and the Gargoyle Spire before they can be built. Gargoyles have the relative power of the Wraith from StarCraft, though with a more effective ground attack. Very effective as an anti-air unit and good at taking out enemies unable to strike back, Gargoyles tend to fall quickly to archer-type units so care must be taken. The Gargoyle’s special ability is Stone form, which forces the unit to the ground, increases its armor dramatically and begins a regeneration process. Stone form leaves the Gargoyle unable to attack, however.
The Slaughterhouse is where the Undead’s advanced conventional-attack units come from. The most common unit to come out of the Slaughterhouse is the Abomination, a slow-moving but powerful and tough melee unit. Abominations seem to be the Undead’s answer to Ogres. Expensive and slow, they are risky to use in combat against quicker units with a ranged attack, so you need to protect them with quicker guards. Their special ability, shared with the Meat Wagon, is Plague Cloud. Plague Cloud is left behind by Abominations and Meat Wagons and slowly drains the health of attacking units over a long period of time.
The Meat Wagon is a catapult with a twist. Instead of just demolishing buildings and giving a long-range attack to the Undead army, Meat Wagons can also pick up and carry up to 8 corpses for later use. These corpses can be used to raise skeleton warriors from, or as fodder for Ghouls. The Death Knight can also use them to Animate Dead… could be a nasty trick if anyone gathers some powerful corpses.
SIDEBAR: I had over twenty wins and four losses in my time as the Undead. Though I’m far from a soso, take it as a sign of my abilities and the weakness of my opponents as opposed to the Undead’s power. Most of the time was played before the patch, when Abominations were unaffordable and melee units in general were pathetically weak.
Undead spellcasters are the products of the Temple of the Damned, making them a tech level 3 unit (meaning you need a Black Citadel – the ultimate Undead Town Center). Both spellcasters are very potent, though with different roles. The Banshee serves a support role and even one can turn the tide of a battle with her presence. Since her first spell, Curse, is auto-cast, the player can let the unit do the work by itself. Curse causes the cursed unit to miss occasionally, enough to turn the fight in favor of a slightly weaker unit. In a mass battle where percentages count, it can be devastating if not countered. At the Sacrificial Pit, the player can research Banshee Adept Training and Banshee Master Training. The Adept training allows for Anti-magic shell, which will dispell all effects on the targeted unit and make it immune to subsequent magics, for the duration of the spell. It is best reserved for heroes, particularly in situations where your spellcasters are outnumbered. Master training allows the Banshee to cast Possession, whereby she takes over any non-hero unit that is not immune to magic (as Night Elf Dryads are.) Low-mid level NPCs are also available as victims. However, the Banshee is lost in the attempt.
Necromancers are more of a direct damage/summoning type unit than the Banshee. They start with the Raise Dead spell and it can be set to cast automatically. Each casting raises two Skeleton Warriors – feeble units by themselves, but free and as readily available as corpses and mana allow. In great numbers, Skeleton Warriors can do damage and there’s no better way to keep a rush alive than to summon a horde of them. With Adept training, the Necromancer learns Unholy Frenzy – The Undead’s answer to WC2’s Bloodlust giving added damage to the targeted unit. However, Unholy Frenzy is considerably more balanced, since it drains the hitpoints of the target unit at a fairly rapid rate. The spell is a complete waste on anything but an Abomination or Frost Wyrm. Master Necromancers gain Corpse Explosion, which acts just like the spell of the same name from Diablo II. However, its mana cost and cool-down time keep it from being abused like the original.
Frost Wyrms are a sort of “ultimate unit” for the Undead – at least, they are supposed to be. Big, tough, slow and with the ability to fly, they can take on almost any other single unit in the game and win. However, they are expensive and very vulnerable to quicker anti-air units. A Frost Wyrm should be treated like a mobile siege engine – get it in position, deploy it and have it do as much damage (or absorb as much attention) as possible before it dies. A pitched battle or town assault, and certain defensive scenarios are the only times they are truly useful. The Wyrm’s special ability is Freezing Breath, which will temporarily stop the production of any building. This comes in handy when laying siege to a town surrounded by protective towers, or when trying to disrupt production. However, the spell (and Wyrm itself) would be far more useful if it could target units – particularly heroes.
The Undead’s last unit is the Acolyte/Shade. Acolytes build structures in the same fashion as Protoss probes – they simply do the initial summoning and can then move on. Up to five can surround a Haunted gold mine (summoned over a real gold mine) to extract resources at a very fast rate. Like all peons, they are also responsible for the repair of buildings. However, if you build a Sacrificial Pit, the Acolyte can become far more useful. Use the pit’s Sacrifice ability on an Acolyte, and it will turn into a Shade – an invisible, low hitpoint, low armor unit with no attack. The Shade is an excellent scout, it’s just too bad it comes so late in the game.
SIDEBAR: I had to write this page twice. Somehow, the first time around I deleted and saved it without thinking. Grrr….
The Undead have a “Creep”, like the Zerg. It’s called the Blight, and it’s visible as an area of ground that’s burned out of all vegetation, with a light green, sickly mist above it. All buildings, mines excluded, must be placed on the Blight. However, the Undead build buildings quickly and need very few peon units to be effective. Five Acolytes at a Haunted Mine will produce gold as quick as any number of peons for another race. The Undead are not very dependant on lumber and can get away with three or even as few as two Ghouls harvesting for most of the game. Unlike Humans and Orcs, an Acolyte is not occupied while building, and can move immediately from the project. Also, unlike the Night Elves, he is not sacrificed when building.
Any of the three Undead heroes is potent, though the Death Knight and Lich see the most play time under my guidance. In general, the Undead are a quick-building race with unsatisfactory low-level units. Ghouls and Crypt Fiends are too slow, as are most Undead. However, the powerful spellcasters and a good, “go for the base” strategy can lead to success. With their lack of mobility, the Undead need to force a battle and the best way to do so is to go to the enemy. Ghouls are plentiful, cheap, and can stay alive very long with the Cannibalize ability. Skeleton Warriors provide more fodder, while Banshees and their Curse spell can even out the quality disadvantage the Undead suffer at times.
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