Cinematics (4 out of 5)
The game opens with a beautifully rendered battle between an orc and human as a raven watches. You can see the grimaces of effort and hear grunts of pain as the warriors fight, until what appears to be a falling meteor strikes the ground beside them. It unfolds itself to be a giant humanoid rock creature, a demon called an infernal as we later find out, and the orc and human gaze together in horror upon this new enemy, their battle temporarily forgotten.
If it sounds epic, that’s because it is. Blizzard has always been famous for their dramatic cinematics, and for sheer breathtaking power and inspiration to play the game, the only competitor is Diablo 2. The light-weight graphics engine guarantees that even at their most intense, the Warcraft 3 cinematics play smoothly without loss of sound or skipping, even on low-end computers.
As the cinematics develop between each part of the single-player campaign, a poignant tale of love, death, betrayal, and corruption highlights the dramatic range of the game. Considering this is the same game where various Easter Eggs have character voices spouting comedy and one of the most famous quotes is “zug-zug”, this depth to the main story is refreshing.
The only drawback is their sheer length. Blizzard has always walked a fine line between serious and casual games, and one of the places they take some extra time is in the cinematics. As 3-d engines become more realistic, cinematic cut-scenes become more involved, and in the case of Blizzard games this isn’t always a good thing. All three of the major franchises are very visceral and high action; long cinematics only break our rhythm and tempt us to escape out of them. Considering all the work the writers and graphic designers put out creating these scenes, having most players ignore them because they detract from the flow of gameplay is a waste.
Gameplay (3 out of 5)
The gameplay over the course of this game’s life has been uneven at best. Blizzard’s attempt to produce new content and balance the various races and units led to a comedy of errors where strategies that were nothing but abuse began to fill the game. In early patches, you could waltz through the single-player game only to find yourself eaten alive when playing online. In attempt to fix this, they coded strategies from online players into the game. Suddenly, parts of the single-player game because unbeatable while online play was rebalanced again and again to make the game more attractive to casual players.
As a real-time strategic game, the overall interface, unit control, and hero features were revolutionary, speeding up the average online game immensely from the days of Starcraft. Playing a match, which in Starcraft could be an hour long affair or more, was tightened to about 20 minutes. This was accomplished by shortened build times and the addition of day and night cycles in the game which granted special abilities. This forced the players to build quickly and attack, because they wanted to either fend of an immediate attack or make one before the advantages would start shifting around.
The addition of heroes and experience, as well as other roleplaying game elements like dropped items and leveling, changed the face of the real-time strategic genre, with later games being forced to find a similar mechanic or fall prey to competition.
Multiplayer (3 out of 5)
This was the great farce of Battle.net for awhile, with horrible player matching, imbalanced gameplay, and ranking manipulation hitting the game before it was out of beta-testing. Cheats were developed and implemented, while various problematic behaviors appeared among the players. Highly skilled players would create “smurf” accounts to play against beginners to the game simply to torture them, while another group starting a trend of getting into team games and “backstabbing” their allies by helping the enemy, wasting shared resources or simply sitting there.
In addition to all this player created drama, the game had gameplay flaws that were exploited, with certain players simply adopting whatever race and strategies happened to be the most favorable under the most recent patch. The overall atmosphere was typical of Battle.net, which is to say awful, obscene, and usually populated with bad losers. Overall, online play is miserable unless you are incredibly lucky.
While famous and the origin of much of the modern lore surrounding World of Warcraft, Warcraft 3 had numerous problems that interfered with enjoying the game. To this day the imbalance and horrible social atmosphere persist, and finding an opponent that matches your own skill-level is almost impossible due to the broken playermatching feature. While it was famous in it’s time and is a great game in many ways, the balance and multiplayer problems limit its replay value and ultimately leave the player feeling frustrated.