Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne Review

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Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 400 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 8 MB video card, 550 MB HD space, Warcraft III installed

The land of Azeroth has recently been cleansed of the threat posed by the Burning Legion at the climactic Battle of Mount Hyjal, but the world is not at peace. With their common foe dispatched, the alliance between the Humans, Night Elves and Orcs has become tenuous. Each group is husbanding their resources carefully, healing wounds inflicted upon their people and the land. As the humans grow increasingly xenophobic, the former Night Elf Demon Hunter Illidan Stormrage has forged an alliance with a new power from the depths of the sea, and with a master who could yet tear Azeroth apart.

Kyle Ackerman

Blizzard has managed to do a marvelous thing with Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. It has created an expansion pack that should appeal to hardcore and casual fans alike. Blizzard has even gone so far as to introduce a campaign style that will appeal to a third audience: fans of action/role-playing games such as Diablo II. If you have a build order in mind before you even boot up the computer, there is an array of new units and heroes for every side that will enhance your competitive playing experience by offering units with new powers, new strategies and counter-strategies. If, on the other hand, you prefer to play against the computer on a lesser difficulty setting, and when your hero dies in the middle of a mission you think, "Gosh, perhaps I'll slow down the game speed so I can make it out of this one," there is an extensive addition to the single-player campaign. The new campaigns follow on the world-shattering events of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, and have even more varied missions.

A Matter of Pride

Admittedly, the single player campaign is getting further from the traditional real-time strategy formula of "build your base, grow your army, crush the computer-run base and move to the next mission and repeat." Certainly there are still often (but not always) bases to build, but objectives in The Frozen Throne increasingly revolve around accomplishing goals such as repairing observatories in the face of enemy armies, eliminating a coven of creatures that happen to be immune to physical attacks, or building enough defensive towers to protect against waves of enemies. Even a dungeon crawl scenario can suddenly transform when your Maiev, your Night Elf Warden, is forced to use her blink skill to escape a tomb before it is crushed under the weight of the ocean. Many missions in the single-player campaign give you a limited force, and a set of discrete goals such as escaping from prison – with no base whatsoever. This is a good thing.

This is a good thing because traditionalists still get four diverse armies, and can set up custom battles on a growing number of maps against good AI opponents, ignoring the plot and "gimmicky" scenarios entirely. Casual players get quite a few hours of play wading through diverse scenarios tied together with plenty of cut-scenes using the game engine. As with many of Blizzard's recent games, the plot always turns on the hubris of the heroes. If you were a level ten Demon Hunter, capable of laying waste to armies or transforming into a demon yourself, perhaps you'd have something of an ego, too. Still, pride and a lust for power lead Illidan to ally not only with the warped remnants of the Night Elves who sank beneath the sea when their ancestral home was submerged, but with even darker powers. Pride (and the ill treatment of the human Grand Marshal Garithos) lead the Blood Elf Blood Mage Kael to abandon the alliance and seek Illidan for guidance. All of this leads to war, and of course, playable levels.

Many Additions Transform Multiplayer Play

There are plenty of new heroes, units, graphics and buildings. Some, like the diverse Naga forces and the new tile sets, enhance the campaign experience. Many are explicitly designed to change and improve the dynamics of multiplayer play on Battle.net. Competitive players are already finding new strategies for the new hero in each race, as well as the new units. The Human's Blood Mage hero has a powerful flame strike that can do area damage, the Night Elf Warden has a shadow strike skill that poisons and slows enemies, and the Undead's Crypt Lord gets an Impale attack that sends tendrils through the ground to damage and stun foes in a horrific (but very cool) attack. There are plenty of new summoned creatures, such as the Avatar of Vengeance who can, herself, create invulnerable spirits from fallen foes. There is even a Phoenix that burns itself to death, only to be reborn anew after a few seconds. Quickly powering up and using heroes is critical in multiplayer play, so only a few more heroes dramatically increases the possible play combinations. There are also neutral heroes who can be recruited, such as the Pandaren Brewmaster, who can inflict a drunken haze on enemies.

The new units for each side balance out their respective forces. The Mountain Giants can soak up huge amounts of damage for the Night Elves. They can use their taunt to force enemies to attack them (leaving the way clear for other units) and then just absorb the abuse. It's also great to watch them rip a tree trunk out of the ground and use it as a club to quickly ravage structures. Plenty of the new units have anti-magic skills, such as the Faerie Dragons, the Blood Mage, or the Undead's Destroyer, a flying unit specifically designed as a spellcaster-killer. Blizzard will continue to balance the sides with tweaks, but these new units (and some assorted new upgrades) introduce more diversity and unit-countering strategies than any mere tweak could offer.

For the adventuring sort, in both single-player and multiplayer games, there are new buildings where one may purchase items, and plenty of new items to buy. Each side can even now build a shop unique to their race, to make items available in its home base. There are even new neutral monsters to inhabit the wilderness (and, sometimes, be hired as mercenaries). All of that should be enough to please fans of both the single-player experience and Battle.net multiplayer, but there is also a bonus campaign: The Founding of Durotar.

The Action/Role-Playing Game

The game comes with Chapter One of the bonus campaign and Blizzard expects to release additional chapters for free as they are completed. The Orc Warchief Thrall, familiar from the original game, has led the Horde to the Eastern barrens of Kalimdor to found a new nation he calls Durotar. The player begins with a single hero, the Beastmaster Rexxar, who can summon a bear sidekick named Misha. He quickly encounters Thrall's developing city, and agrees to aide the Horde with some minor tasks. At this point, the Orc campaign becomes something that would be at least as familiar to fans of Diablo II as it is real-time strategy.

Many of your tasks are standard action/role-playing game fare – fetch these things, kill those creatures, check out this undefined threat all while gaining experience, skills and glory. You can gain allies, both heroes and common units, along the way, but your party will stay relatively small. This means the player needs to focus on the immediate task and carefully manage skills and special powers to ensure survival and success. Of course, the penalty for death isn't too steep. You don't have to restart the extensive campaign; your hero just respawns at a resurrection stone. You can activate any resurrection stone you reach as your point of reanimation, and death simply means having to battle through regions full of respawning monsters. Also as in an action/RPG, much of the focus is on gaining items. Loot abounds, ranging from a rusty mining pick to the Crown of Kings, and you can hire a beast of burden to lug your booty, or stash things in a box in town. This first chapter was a great deal of fun, and should appeal to action enthusiasts who don't want to manage resources or herd peons.

Altogether, The Frozen Throne is an unqualified success. There are plenty of additions in the form of units, heroes and powers to guide competitive play in new directions. The single player campaign is varied and engrossing, with plenty of play for your dollar, and there's even an action-filled romp in the form of a bonus campaign. Sure, there's probably something you can think of that didn't make it into the expansion, but The Frozen Throne has a circle of flying, burning sheep. You didn't even know how much you wanted to see that.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 3, 2003 4:16 PM.

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