WARCRAFT 3 / Blizzard / PC
Hello there, children!
I enjoyed the first two Warcrafts and Dune 2 back in their day, but after that I kinda fell off the RTS wagon and never got back on. I think it was around '98 when Starcraft came out and the genre started to morph into Hardcore Frantic Click-Fest territory that I got totally turned off from it. That, and the repetitive grind of building up the same bases over and over, defending them from enemy waves, gradually sending attack groups to chip away at their structures, etc. One map just sort of blends into another.
Warcraft 3 didn't really solve this problem for me. I got it as a birthday present back around '03 or so and I was interested enough to play to the final segment of the Campaign mode (the Night Elf campaign) before giving in due to ridiculous difficulty. I got another copy as part of a trade package deal on GameTZ this time, and this review run ended near the end of the Undead campaign (the third segment of Campaign Mode) before I just got bored and felt it was too much of a repetitive grind.
I was pretty entertained up to that point, though. Warcraft 3 veers away from "click-fest" territory a bit by slowing the general pace down, and fusing in a bunch of RPG elements. Most notably the "hero" system - each campaign usually features at least one or two central characters to the story who are more powerful than normal units, have unique abilities, can level up with experience, and can pick up items like healing potions and stat-boosting gear. There's also more of an emphasis on story in the campaign mode. It's not fantastic, there's plenty of fantasy cliche, but it isn't bad either, and it really fleshes out the Warcraft world and gives some more depth to the factions beyond "generic forces of good" for the humans and "eeevil marauders" for the orcs. Both sides are now a lot more ambivalent and have their ups and downs, and the orcs even take a hero turn here in the face of a demon/undead invasion.
Hardcore RTSers tend to argue the "hero" system is the downfall of this one as it puts emphasis on leveling a beastly tank-god of a character rather than the usual frantic clicking and smart task prioritization. Fair enough, but those of us that can't stand hardcore RTS because of all the hot key mapping and frantic clicking and scraping and scrolling the screen around and generally not being Korean find this sort of thing more enjoyable, at least in the single-player mode. Some missions are really more like an RPG as you don't even build anything, you're just given a group of characters to carefully manage as you go, possibly only stopping at mercenary camps here and there to bolster your forces.
In all other wise the production values are pretty great, the usual Blizzard level of high polish. The only negative spots that stand out are some very dated-looking (even for time of release) polygonal character models with a horrible speaking animation, and the usual over-use of the same voice clips when clicking on a major character repeatedly for many missions in a row (Arthas, you've told me 60 times that "no one orders you around", yet you keep following my orders. Just can it, bro.) On the flip side, the voice acting in cutscenes and such is surprisingly good. The guy that did all the stirring war-marchy music for the previous games comes back and does a good job with more of that. Other than the character models, the graphics are colorful and appealing. Most importantly the interface works really well, I didn't have any real problems telling characters what I wanted them to do, even when they were all scrunched together in the thick of battle.
Multiplayer is pretty much a moot point now. Blizzard maintains some sort of online server but the only people playing it anymore are hardcore fans who've been playing for years and will mop the floor with you instantly. Back in the game's glory days when there were shit tons of people playing, you could get on and find a match near your skill level to work up with pretty easily, but it's long since been abandoned by all but the most hardcore. Unless you're gonna meet someone you know on there it's virtually worthless to a newcomer now.
Still, I see used copies are going for well below ten bucks and there's plenty out there, at that price I think it's worth a gamble, since so much about it is done so well.
* Warcraft 3 playable demo
* Hive Workshop (maps and such)
* Gameplay Video