Summary: The Frozen Throne is here! The anticipated WarCraft III expansion arrived on Jakub's doorstep. Poor guy, he didn't know how to take it. Should he love it like he first loved the original, or discard it because multiplayer ended up sucking in a tide of castermania? Still, long-buried love and sympathies resurfaced and he installed and reviewed the game. What did he think? Read on!
WarCraft III was one of the strangest games upon release. The campaign was abysmal, a disappointment of an unheard of scale, but the multiplayer seemed to be shaping up fine. That is, of course, until people discovered that all you need to build are spellcasters. For the next year, Blizzard’s cracked diamond was lying somewhere on the ground, behind the bed, near the giant pile of dustballs. The arrival of The Frozen Throne necessitated the eager dusting off of this failed classic. After all, Brood War did wonders for StarCraft. Then again, vanilla StarCraft didn’t suck 3 months after launch.
In an attempt to defeat casterpalooza, Blizzard introduced ‘magic’ damage, in addition to the standard hero, chaos, normal and piercing attacks. They also reduced the damage casters do by almost half. Unfortunately, some chimp or other decided that magic damage should have the same properties that the old pierce damage had (specifically, a 200% damage bonus against heavy armor). However, we’ll get to that later…
Frozen Throne naturally picks up where Reign of Chaos left off. The demon Archimonde and the invasion of the Burning Legion has been defeated and the world is trying to sort itself out, while loose ends are being tied up. After all, what happened to the Lich King? What is Arthas going to do? What about the dreadlords running Lordaeron, and that blind Night Elf demon hunter? All these loose ends become resolved in a tragic epic of a story…
A story that starts off in the lamest way. It’s almost assured that Blizzard was half done the Frozen Throne campaign, when reviews of Reign of Chaos came in and everyone lambasted the pathetic singleplayer effort in the original. Right in the middle of the Blood Elf campaign, or halfway through the game, an amazing thing occurs. The game stops sucking. The storyline was already improving since the end of the Night Elf portion, but it finally sheds its last vestiges of suck when the Blood Elves… well, can’t spoil it. Just trust us: cheat through ‘til you get to the Blood Elves and all will be well. From that point on, Blizzard will stop trying to constantly point out how 8 units are an “overwhelming alien invasion force that we cannot hope to defeat”, and other such nonsense.
SIDEBAR: If I hadn’t been forced to play through for the review, I’d have chucked the singleplayer game by the fifth Night Elf mission.
Fixing the holes
Frozen Throne’s biggest accomplishment is in fixing the races. The races in Reign of Chaos, particularly Undead and Orcs, had unbelievable holes in their arsenal. All of these problems have been addressed with new units, and a whole new class of unit has been added as well.
Other new units
Humans and Orcs received new flying units that are dedicated to disrupting ground defenses and destroying other air units. Of these, the Human unit is more effective in a ground-support role but the Bat Rider is a lot more dangerous in the air, thanks to its Unstable Concoction which makes it act like a super-powerful Zerg scourge.
SIDEBAR: Pongky seems to have a problem with my ‘This is the end, my only friend.’ near-traditional Random Fact.
The changes Blizzard has made are spectacular, and have really made playing the races a truly different experience. Whereas, back around version 1.03 when I last played, it was frustrating to play as Orcs or Undead. I’d be forced to cast Purge on Tauren because a Human player turned them to sheep, or retreat to scourge as Undead to heal.
Still, not all is happy in expansion land. There are too many heroes now and they’re too easy to get, if you purchase mercenaries. While it’s understandable that the focus is supposed to be on the heroes, the armies have gotten larger with the 100 food limit (and higher tolerances for no upkeep and low upkeep as well.) Yet, at the same time, the forces we players are dealing with haven’t reached the size necessary to allow split attacks. In StarCraft it was a sound idea to use multiple armies as harassment in preparation for a main strike. Splitting forces in WarCraft III vanilla or the expansion is suicide, since either one of the forces won’t have any heroes, or they’ll both be short-handed compared to the One Huge Army your foe brings against you.
WarCraft is at a very uncomfortable middle ground now, between tactics and strategy. In fact, it’s almost safe to say it doesn’t have an optimal level of either. Armies are big enough now that it’s almost established doctrine to get a ‘nice, balanced mix’ of forces. There’s no such thing as a hydralisk rush, a 5 pool or a reaver drop. On the other hand, the armies aren’t so big that you could create two large, competent forces and send them against two expansions while still having enough at home to defend yourself from a surprise attack. And while there’s no doubt you can and should micromanage your army, the armies have gotten to the size where the micromanagement isn’t as effective – relatively speaking, of course. A smart player with quick reflexes will still have the advantage, but it isn’t as pronounced as it was back when WarCraft III vanilla was launched and we had yet to discover Spellcasterpalooza.
It really seems like Blizzard is at a crossroads now. Either armies shrink down to the size where every single unit matters, or they increase the food cap to the point where you can create two armies, and one of them will be still competent even if it doesn’t have a hero.
Don’t get me wrong – Frozen Throne has done wonders for WarCraft III and it enhances distinction between levels of skill among players. Experience, intelligence and reflexes all matter. But in the end, it’s not as deep as StarCraft, for all the tactical elements, spellcasters and spells.
(Yes, I know, if I want StarCraft I can play StarCraft. But that doesn’t mean that WarCraft III couldn’t be as deep and complex as StarCraft..)
SIDEBAR: I sucked at StarCraft, I was worse at Brood War, and yet I still enjoyed those games more than WC3, at which I’ve attained the level of ‘passable’.
SIDEBAR: I really think that heroes contribute to the One Huge Army syndrome. An army without a hero is vastly weaker, and splitting heroes up isn’t the best idea either.
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Wow, I thought I’d never be able to play WarCraft multiplayer after Spellcasterpalooza debuted. The degeneration of vanilla WC3 into such a boring mode of play made me regret the high score I gave the original, particularly in light of the focus I made on the quality of multiplayer and the piss-poor singleplayer. Question is: do you think I’m right? Care to knock the EIC of games down a notch in the news comments? Oh you do, do you? Well then, Sound Off! in the news comments!
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