Saturday, May 05, 2007

WarCraft and I

Today most people associate the name "WarCraft" with the online role-playing game "World of WarCraft". That is not where the world comes from, though. I'm not playing "World of WarCraft", but I'm a fan of the original real-time strategy games. Read on to learn more about the 'true' "WarCraft".

In the 1990s the first "WarCraft" game came out, "WarCraft - Humans and Orcs". As far as real-time strategy goes, the game was nothing special. You could play both sides, humans and orcs, but the gameplay was very much alike for both. The graphics were nothing to write home about (but then, that went for most games at that time) and the campaigns were quite repetitive - always "build up a base and then destroy the enemies' bases".

A few years later the sequel "WarCraft II - The Tides of Darkness" was released. This time the creators of the game had done better, both with the graphics and with the gameplay. The two fractions had gotten more interesting, the missions were better designed and there were quite some cut-scenes. Still, both the humans and the orcs were pretty equal in playing. The game actually sold well enough to produce an add-on: "Beyond the Dark Portal" where the players could see the original world of the orcs and battle a few demons.

There was a long silence after "WarCraft II". Blizzard produced "StarCraft", for the first time creating a story that only worked out when you played the three campaigns in the right order (something which "WarCraft III" forces the player to do), and the game is still played regularly, even in e-sports tournaments.

Finally, in 2002, "WarCraft III" was released. "WarCraft III" sparked a little revolution in real-time strategy. There were no less than four different fractions to play: Humans, Orcs, Undead and Nightelves. The campaigns had to be played in a strict order: Humans, first, followed by the Undead, the Orcs and then finally the Nightelves. That way a story was created, telling a tale of the Undead attacking the human kingdoms at the same time when the Orcs are leaving it (and later on meet the Nightelves in their new home), following the advice of a strange prophet.

Another new invention was the principle of heroes. There weren't just special units that had to stay alive, they had an inventory and earned experience points, just like characters in a role-playing game. There were a lot of them, about three for each fraction (though one of the, Arthas, has to be counted twice then, as he features in both the Human and the Undead campaign). Their types (Paladin, Arch-Mage etc.) could also be played in free games or multi-player duells.

The graphics in this game are quite good (even after 5 years) and the cut-scenes are among the best I've ever seen in a game (especially the one at the end of the Human campaign when Arthas comes back and kills his own father).

Unsurprisingly the game, too, was successful enough to get an add-on: "Frozen Throne". The currently last chapter of the real-time strategy game ended with Arthas becoming the new body for the Lich-King (the master of all Undead).

So there's a lot of story behind "World of WarCraft", actually. The story of a long war between Orcs and Humans sparked off by demons that has by now ended, because in the 'old lands' the Humans have been eradicated by the Undead and in the 'new lands' both had to cooperate to survive. But the Lich-King has awoken and there's a new thread coming from the north ... so we just will have to wait and see.

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