Early Hours with…

Warcraft III

Tom's Comments: To say that Warcraft III is Blizzard's weakest game sounds worse than it is. Blizzard has such a history of excellence that their weakest game is better than some developers' best games. But nevertheless, it's disappointing that Warcraft III isn't better. I mean, this is Blizzard. Why have they released a real time strategy game with so many problems, problems that have been solved in other games? What's with this backwards step from a developer who should know better? This is the sort of thing I'd expect from Westwood. Et tu, Blizzard?

In ways, yes, Warcraft III is well executed. It's engaging, it's got a lot of personality, the little units say amusing things, the graphics are super busy and flashy, there's a story shoehorned into the missions, there are all sorts of nifty special powers, yadda, yadda, yadda. And, of course, you're going to hear a lot of uncritical acclaim about how it's "fun". Whatever.

But it's an utter mess to actually play. Which is, I presume, why you buy a real time strategy game in the first place. Seven years ago, one of my first assignments was a preview of Warcraft II, in which Blizzard President Allen Adham told me, "A good interface shelters you from the complexity of a game." These days, that's a no-duh comment, so I'm surprised that part of their philosophy didn't make it into this sequel to Warcraft II.

The biggest problem with Warcraft III is that it doesn't rely on its own personality or appeal to engage the player. It instead relies on that weakest of all game elements: busy work. It's all about micromanaging the economy, the spell powers, battle tactics, unit movement, unit building, and so on. Playing well is a matter of juggling the inconsistent, limited, and sometimes confusing interface.

For instance, why can't I pause and give orders? Why can the AI take care of some spells for me, but others require that I hunt down a button and press it? Why aren't waypoints displayed? Why can't I queue build orders while a unit is busy building? Why is the order queuing as inconsistent as it is? What's with the pathfinding problems and the sorry tactical AI? Why does it feel like the game completely falls apart once combat starts? Why is the skirmish mode so ruthless and the single player mode so story-oriented, running cutscenes with the jolt and frequency of commercial breaks?

And why, oh why, for the love of God, why can I only select 12 units at a time? I have no problem with the upkeep cost as a way to keep armies small -- after all, we've got a polygon count to think about -- but this limited selection bullshit has got to go. It's a contrived way to drive the focus onto fewer units at a time and it punishes players who aren't adept at mousing and hotkeying.

Although I'm pretty disappointed, I don't hate Warcraft III the way I do some games. I merely have no interest in playing it. And I never thought I'd see the day when I said those words about a Blizzard title.

Over to you, Mark