WARCRAFT / Blizzard / PC

There are classic games that are timelessly fun, like the Super Mario games on the NES and SNES, the mechanics and structure are so good that it's just as enjoyable if you play it 2 months or 20 years after it came out. And then there's "classics" that are enshrined mostly due to their legacy of games that came after them, but if you go back and try to play them now, they're just so slow and clunky that it's completely unenjoyable. But they were a revolution in their time.

Such is the first Warcraft. I played this back when it first came out, and around my way everyone enjoyed it, modem games against each other were the hotness for a few months. But that was due to general expectation for PC games to be slow and clunky back then, combined with this being the fore-running pioneer of modern real-time strategy along with compadre Dune II. By the time Warcraft II came out it was already badly dated, however, and at this point in 2011 the game is virtually unplayable.

First of all, the game is just so damn sloooooooooow. Even with the "fastest" speed selected, everyone creeps around at a snail's pace. This is partially necessitated by the fact that grouping units together and giving group orders was not an idea that any RTS publishers had come up with yet, so you have to give orders to one unit at a time. The pace thus does sort of help you keep up when being attacked by a mob of enemies, but uncovering the black "fog of war" segments inch by inch is excruciating.

But there's another problem. "Primitive" is being generous in describing the AI. There's only one, maybe two paths they'll take toward your base in every scenario. Get a nice combination of barricades, archers, meat shield fighters, and catapults between your town area and those paths, and you can just about kick back and auto-build. Step out for a coffee while you mine and cut trees, come back and you've got a bucket of cash and lumber ready to build the army of your dreams. Also, idle units have a very limited range for automatically jumping in to help an attacking ally. They virtually have to be right next to each other for it to happen.

Even with overwhelming forces, however, mounting an offensive is an exercise in frustration, thanks to only being able to issue orders to one guy at a time. The game interface is virtually a clone of Dune II, so thankfully you can drag an outline around in the mini-map in the upper left to quickly switch perspective, but pushing the pointer against the edges of the screen to scroll it manually in a direction causes it to whip around so fast it's virtually useless.

Also, don't you dare skip those lengthy text scroll cut-scenes between levels, or you'll have no goddamn idea what the mission objectives are. Kill all orcs? Hoard up 10000 gold? Who knows, there's no reminder in the menus like in later games. Usually it's just to wipe out the enemy base, but the very first mission threw me for a loop when I hunted out every Orc laboriously and saved a shit pile of gold and lumber and the mission still seemed to refuse to ever end.

Finally, the graphics are about the best you can expect for 1993-ish PC, but the sound quickly gets on your nerves. Instead of the range of goofy voices the series eventually became known for, this one has only one set of voice clips that every unit type shares. If you leave the sound on, you'll soon have "YES? YES. M'LORD? YES? YES." burned into your brain for life. And while the music is pretty good, there's only an option for MIDI, even the CD-based version doesn't pack awesome Redbook tracks like installments #2 and 3 did.

Some of the crappier elements are alleviated by multiplayer, but unfortunately this is from the pre-internet days, so the only option there is connecting to one other computer via a dial-up modem. Some fan out there has probably somehow hacked some sort of patch for internet connection, but why bother when you can just play Warcraft 2 or 3 instead?

Links :

* Playable demo

Videos :

* Gameplay Video