In days past this writer was known as the “Tank” in games of Command and Conquer, due to his propensity for producing large quantities of two-tracked behemoths faster than any other player in the game (actually it was something else beginning with “T” – Ed). This vast armoured fleet would then roll over opposition bases squelching soldiers and razing buildings just like… well, a ruddy great bunch of tanks.
Gone are these humble days of RTS where you could just churn out units on a super-speeded economy as a strategy, to be replaced by the sophistry of releases like Blizzard’s latest incarnation of the Warcraft series.
On the face of it, much remains the same, with playable races, sounds, game concepts such as the simple economy and so forth. Visually it’s leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors (particularly the superb spell effects) but you still have to build a base, chop lumber and mine gold to stoke your economy and produce combat units in a fantasy (orc and elf) vein.
What is different is the new emphasis on micromanaging combat. In other words, unit positioning and attack choice, individual unit spell casting powers and all sorts of minutiae along these lines mean that those who can think and click the fastest in combat are liable to win (given fairly evenly matched forces). Strategy is all-important, as the right units counter each other. Cavalry whoops melee troops, for example, but as large targets they’re suitably pin-cushioned by archers.
Also there are new hero units which give WC3 a slight RPG flavour. They gain experience points throughout battles which can be spent on potentially game-changing powers. None of this is amazingly original in itself, but it’s just darn slickly implemented, in typical Blizzard style.
While we’re talking slick, the single player campaign is smoother than a greased otter. It features a compelling story line and multiple cut-scenes which make the 30 missions a joy to progress through. It also helps that the mission aims are quite varied, with dungeon crawls and other novel scenarios intermingling with the usual ‘build a huge base and smash the baddies’ affairs.
The multiplayer mode is equally laudable. There’s some tough computer AI to practice on, tons of maps (and an editor) and a full Battle.net ladder to try and climb if you fancy warring against real human opposition online. The potential longevity here is staggering.
And still WC3 keeps that quirky sense of humour about itself along with this quality. Ring the town hall bell, which summons peasants to take up arms as conscript militia, and smart-arsed comments such as “Oh no we’re going to die” (in a voice not unlike Neil from the Young Ones) can be expected. And you know, they usually do.