Blizzardís latest fantasy RTS based game, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, is scheduled for release during the first half of 2002. I was fortunate enough to be included in the current closed beta test, which I thank Blizzard for providing me, as Iím having a most excellent time. So far this particular beta release is playable only in multiplayer mode over Blizzardís Battle.net with options for single player and LAN play grayed out, but certainly not to be neglected for the final product. Blizzard is taking their time to put detail into every aspect of the game and Iím anxious to see how well the single player storyline and game experience flows once the game is released.
Just looking at the screenshots may have you drooling, but playing it will have you pissing in your pants as well. The gameplay and interface are uncomplicated and I was pretty comfortable with the game after playing two battles to figure out what the keys, buildings, troops, and unit upgrades did. Even though patches continue to come out for the beta to fix bugs and add new maps to test out, Warcraft III seems to be quite solid already.
The multiplayer aspect of the game played over Battle.net lets you choose from four different races so far which are Human, Orc, Undead, and Night Elf. The beta lets you play in 1vs1, 2vs2, and 3vs3 game modes so far. There are other play modes coming up which are still grayed out such as arranged team, tournament mode, clan mode, and maybe others that are not even shown. Iím definitely looking forward to a 12-player game, which is supposed to be available in the release. Thatís going to be one hell of a huge map to play on.
The release is supposed to include AI available to team up with you or against you in multiplayer mode, but itís not available in the beta yet. The AI has done a great job so far in the beta and I havenít had my units take ridiculous paths around the entire map to get somewhere or get stuck yet. I only mention this because Iíve played so many RTS games that have bad AI to the point where I would click on a spot to move troops to and the AI somehow manages to find the longest path for my troops to get there.
The game is played in your RTS standard third person top down view and you can use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out of the terrain depending on how you like to play. The sounds effects are really well done and varied and include the majority of popular 3D Sound API support. Animations for the unit movements, buildings and terrain features are looking real good also. I noticed detail to the point where you can zoom into the map and see a moving clock on the town center tower. In this RTS game, youíll be building your army up from scratch to take on your enemies starting out with just a few peasants and a town center. It all comes down to how well you can strategize against your opponents to control your resources, create a decent base and command your troops to take out your opponents first.
Each race has its own type of units with different abilities and unique buildings with special features and upgrades. All of the races are fun to play and have their differences as well as play strategies. From what Iíve seen, it looks like they are all pretty well balanced against each other so far, but the online player ladder for the top 1000 players seems to have a lot more people on it with Orcs than any other race. I liked the Night Elf race and the Undead quite a bit. The Undead have necromancer units who can raise skeletons up from corpses of the slain, and a Lich hero who has spells like death and decay. The Night Elf race is the only one Iíve noticed who can move their bases since the main buildings are actually ancient living trees, so you can uproot them and move them to a different location or even use them in your army to attack with.
Heroes are one of the new features that RTS fans will like a lot. Each race has three heroes available that can be created. With each battle, the hero gains experience and can go up in level. You can spend skill points to make the heroís spells more powerful. Heroes can also equip items that are found on the map from AI controlled creatures called neutral creeps. Examples of some of the items you might find for your hero include a ring of protection +2, ring of strength +5, and potion of healing 150 hit points, just to name a few.
There are also neutral buildings on the map such as healing/mana fountains, shops, and mercenary guilds where you can buy spells and items for your hero or hire some troops when you are in a pinch. I was annihilated pretty fast during one battle where the enemy was in between me and a healing fountain. He just relentlessly kept attacking me by running back and forth between my base and the healing fountain, then back to my base again for another attack.
For this beta, the amount of total units that you can have including peasant workers and troops is limited by a cap on the maximum amount of food you can have which is 90. Some troops only use one food, but heroes for instance use five food each and undead frost wyrms need eight food. The total amount of units you can have right now is capped out pretty low in my opinion and I hope this will be tweaked a little for the release. I was only able to have about two squads of twelve troops each plus my peasant workers. The game is still awesome, but I would really like to be able to wage some larger scale battles. When you have to spend quite a lot of resources on upgrades to make your troops better, itís not really worth it when you will only be able to make one or two of a certain troop type. If youíve got like twenty-foot soldiers, the upgrades are probably worth it.
This game is really impressive so far and the beta testers Iíve talked to really enjoy it. I played a 2 vs. 2 battle and my team lost. My teammate really got pissed off that we lost since it affects his ladder ranking. When people are that serious about it already in this beta stage of the project, I can only imagine how crazy people will get over this game once itís released. Look for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos to be in stores hopefully by the end of June, but donít be shocked or surprised if Blizzard holds this baby back a touch longer, as they are intent on perfection!
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