Blizzard's high-profile third installment of their popular Warcraft RTS series is gearing up for release in June, and, according to the beta test sessions, they seem to have all their orcs in a row.
A long time in the making, Warcraft III was announced back in 1999. Originally intended as an amalgam of RPG and RTS, Blizzard later opted to keep it pure to its roots. Back in February of this year, beta testers began a whirlwind courtship with the new title, playable only over Blizzard's battle.net network. Since then, the game's balance and overall presentation has been tweaked quite a bit. Some have even gone as far as to say "overhauled."
Most of the remaining issues at this point center around the balance of the title's four factions, an indication that the game's foundation, in terms of engine stability and presentation, is rock solid. Several beta testers have backed up this claim, as well. It has been reported that the game runs very smoothly on machines with 700+Mhz processors and a minimum of 128 megs of RAM, and does so without any of the pitfalls normally associated with beta tests (crashing, glitching, etc.). Even in this late stage of development, it should be noted, system specs are subject to change. However, users with a machine in the general range of the specs listed above should not worry at all. The official word from Blizzard, in terms of system specs, is this: at least a Pentium III 600 (or equivalent), with 128 MB RAM or more, a mouse, 400 MB of available hard drive space, a 4X CD-ROM or faster, a 32 MB 3D accelerator card with Direct3D support, a DirectX compatible 16 bit sound card, a 28.8 modem (or better) with Internet connectivity, and DirectX 8.1. You must be running Windows 98, 98SE, 2000 (running with local Administrator privileges), ME or XP. For multiplayer, your Internet connection must be capable of running 32-bit Windows socket applications (such as Microsoft Internet Explorer). The game will support high resolution settings (1024x768 and above) as well.
The title's ease of execution is apparent in the first few seconds of gameplay. The main executable is running mere seconds after a player launches the game, with the full music score accompaniment. Navigating your way through the game's setup menus is a snap, and before you know it you're online and in command of the faction of your choice.
One of the game's new (and most interesting) features is the "quick play" option, which will search for, and throw a player into, any open game it can find. This feature, a blessing to the impatient, not only makes for quick and easy matchups in the Warcraft world, and should serve as a cue to all of those with MMORPGs or ORTS in development, but also serves to match players with others of a similar skill level. Beginners will be delighted to know that they will not necessarily have to go up against some juggernaut player that is going to trounce them moments after the match begins. Currently, the game is slated to support up to twelve players online, but that number has been touted as "tentative." Expect a slight change in that area before the game goes gold.
As far as actual gameplay goes, Warcraft III has been streamlined quite a bit from its predecessors. While the information on the single player experience is a bit thin, the multiplayer beta test has proved to be a rousing success. Reports sing the praises of the new, simple interface with icons displaying the structures that can be built, and locked off icons for structures that are not available yet. A lot of the micromanagement issues have been toned down. Those characters that cast spells can be set to do it automatically, which cuts down a bit on character maintenance. While all of the factions are unique in their own ways, they all function in a similar way with this simple interface. In a departure from Warcraft II, extra workers will not be able to aid in the building of new structures, but can be used to repair damaged ones.
All four of the factions (Humans, Orcs, Night Elves, and the Undead) will draw the same resources from the planet, which will consist of both wood and gold. As in other titles, (Warcraft and Starcraft) players will have to draw these resources from the planet in order to create a supply of necessary materials, but this time aronud the game design discourages hoarders. In an effort to keep the game balanced fairly, the larger the army you create the less efficient it becomes at drawing resources. This is based on the game's "upkeep" principle, which states that the larger the army, the more work required to maintain it, and therefore the less efficient the army will be at doing it.
Warcraft III does, however, retain its use of heroes. Each faction has melee, magic, and distance heroes to choose from. These members prove to be the most important ones in a faction, as they are the driving forces behind your armies, and the ones that actually level up after battles. Another quite useful feature is the addition of the unit jumping feature. This will allow players to jump through all the units within a particular group just by pressing the TAB key. Most RTS games can become daunting in the heat of battle without such a feature, so fans should be happy to have this one included.
As it looks now, Warcraft III is going to become what everyone expects and a whole lot more. While there are a few features that need to be worked on before release, current beta players are already claiming the game to be a completely fun, virtually bug-free experience. The planned North American launch date is June 25, 2002.