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Blizzard Entertainment
Strategy & War
Release Date

WarCraft III
April 2, 2001 | Michael Yanovich

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The Goods
Even in this unfinished state, watching Warcraft III in action is an exercise in drool control: I had to constantly remind myself to shut my mouth. The game is just jaw-droppingly impressive and is sure to be as huge a hit as just about anything else Blizzard touches. The animation (hand-done, no motion capture!) is gorgeous and smooth, the graphics flowing and frightening.

Much of the information that follows is already common knowledge, some will be new, and parts will probably be changed before the final game is released. Estimates are that the release is still at least six months away, though it’s far too early to be sure. So let’s begin.

The Premise
Fans of real-time strategy (RTS) games are probably already familiar with the original Warcraft and its sequel, as well as the space-based Starcraft game. While WCII was pretty much a direct evolution from WCI, and Starcraft took the same concept and expanded it to three races, WCIII is going to be a bit less linear in its growth. The goal is to place a traditional RTS game in an RPG (role-playing game) landscape. For example:

Maps: RTS maps are designed for RTS games. You have key hold points, clear goals and targets, maybe additional resources areas (gold mines, oil fields, etc) that are critical to a successful endeavor. These new maps are going to be a bit more lived-in instead. In addition to your main opponents, the lands will be populated by “creeps” – basically aggressive critters. While you might see a small animal cross in front of you in Starcraft, in WCIII you’ll stumble across communities of NPCs (non-player characters) that live in their own small towns, or you might run across a band of mercenaries for hire. In fact, there will be in-engine movies that are played during your mission. Complete a task and the camera will zoom in to your group of players so that you can watch them talk, interact, etc. This will be in addition to the pre-rendered cutscenes – the stunning mini movies Blizzard is known for -- that play in between levels.

Items: There will also be magic items throughout the maps. These may be guarded by Creeps or they may be given as rewards for completing a quest. And yes, the quests are also new RPG touches to the WC series. Items range from the Tomb of Experience (a quick way to boost your heroes up a level) to Daystones (details later, don’t worry) or Boots of Speed. Various potions will also exist.

Heroes: While most units will be handled the way typical RTS games do, WCIII will see the introduction of hero units with RPG elements and attributes. You can choose to go with super-brawny mega-warriors, or instead focus your attention on extreme spell-casters. Each hero will be able to gain experience that will increase their level, and thus increase their attributes – strength, intelligence, agility. (To tell these heroes apart from their less-heroic counterparts, the heroes have all been given glowing weapons. And each of the races will have four heroes to choose from.)

WCIII will also focus more on strategy and less on resource management. Yes, you will still need to build your town and you still need to mine for gold to do so. But gold is now the ONLY resource you need to mine (compare that to gold and oil and lumber in WCII). Trees can still be cut down, but that will only be to clear land for your town to grow in. And oil, used for boats in WCII, isn’t necessary anymore as there will be no water units at all in WCIII. As Rob was quick to point out, this is not an idea that was dropped from the game. Rather, the game was designed around land and air units only. In addition, previous plans for the Undead race to mine corpses instead of gold have been changed, but more on that later.

(By the way, as far as clearable terrain goes, there will be rock walls in addition to trees that can be cleared by either peons or artillery. The trees/rocks will have hit points, so the harder you hit, the faster you can move them out of your way.)

Which leaves gold as the only resource you need to mine. Sort of. See, gold will buy you anything…. buildings, units, weapons, upgrades. Anything except for heroes, which must be purchased with manna stones. Except they’re not called manna stones.

OK, I’ll explain. Remember those Creeps I mentioned earlier? The formerly cute-and-fuzzy (and most importantly HARMLESS) sheep that you could butcher to your heart’s content and which have now been replaced by large, muscular, cruel and heavily armed monsters that want to rip your arms off and suck out your bone marrow for dessert? Well. When one of your brave units manages to actually kill one of the Creeps, you will get to collect the shiny little rocks that drop from their evil, calloused hearts. At the moment, those precious pebbles are called manna stones, but that name may change in a future game incantation.

Anyway, these manna stones are the only currency that can be used to buy heroes. So follow me here: since there are a limited amount of creeps on the map, there is a limited amount of available manna, and that means a limited amount of heroes. Not to mention the fact that heroes consume more food than most other units, and there is a maximum food cap in the game, so you can’t just stock up on the tough guys and forgo the strategy.

According to Rob, different strategies for dealing with the limited manna have already taken shape in inter-office games. While he prefers to build up his troops to minimize the damage he’d take when going after a creep (you don’t want to lose all your troops and have to go against another player who is fully built up), other players prefer to go after creeps right away. This not only increases their manna stockpile, it also makes sure the enemy won’t be able to mine as much.

Luckily, most of the maps are being designed so that each player will start with enough manna to buy one hero. And resurrecting heroes later in the game, doable if you have built an altar in your town, is strictly a matter of gold, no manna.

The issue of powerful heroes brings up a significant change in the game. There will be more focus on tactics in WCIII than in prior Blizzard games. When I brought up the often-mentioned comparisons to Myth, Rob said they were not accurate. To paraphrase, Myth is a strictly tactical game. WCIII is, first and foremost, an RTS title with additional emphasis on tactical combat than before.

He contrasted it to Starcraft, where highly experienced players were able to build massive armadas to attack their enemies using only the mini map. If everything balances as planned, that will not be possible in WCIII, as you will have to control your units to some degree, though not to the micromanaging level as is required in tactical-only games like Myth. Overall, this is a game you will have to win by using superior strategy.

In addition, Battle.Net, Blizzard’s online game service, is being revamped. Additions include user stats and a new ladder system. To prevent master players from artificially boosting their rankings by picking on the newbies, you will no longer be able to choose your opponents in a ladder game. Ladder games will be randomly assigned by the server and you will be matched against someone of your approximate skill level. The matches will be based solely on a scoring system. The games will also be tailored to a more team-based approach, and they are considering new game styles to add to the mix, though it is too early for details.


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