Have You Played… Warcraft III?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

It was a killer twist, wasn’t it?

I mean yeah, it was basically the exact same twist as with Kerrigan in Starcraft, but Warcraft had always seemed so straight up until that point. Transforming its traditional human hero, very much cast from the Arthurian mould, into a Big Bad undead villain who scourged shires was something I didn’t see coming, and it suddenly switched the game from slightly bland heroics into something more Machiavellian and unpredictable. Of course, it also lay the groundwork for World of Warcraft, a game in which every faction could be the heroes, all perspectives were treated as mostly equal, and mystical politicking was all.

Of course, W3 was also the last time that Blizzard put out a truly campaign-led real-time strategy game. The focus has been very much multiplayer since then, even though the various Starcraft IIs bore no shortage of preposterously sombre and ornate cutscenes. I do miss the less chest-thumping Blizzard of yore, and, if I am to be honest about When This Were All Fields mentality, a time when just playing the game, rather than ranks and unlocks, was all we needed.

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67 Comments

  1. Vedharta says:

    WC4 is definitely my HL3

  2. Faldrath says:

    I played it (and the other two Warcrafts) only after I became an WoW fiend to see where the lore came from. Which means I cheated, since I only wanted to see the story. Still, while the first two games were rather boring and light on lore, WC3 did look like it must have been a hell of a lot of fun – if I had any patience to play non-Paradox RTS’s properly, which I don’t.

    • bobmcjohnson says:

      Warcraft 2 was awesome lore wise. Ingame during the missions, sure it was a bit light, but the storytelling between missions was cool and it came with a fucking 96 pages manual that included a ton of background and cool drawings. The manual seems to still be available here for posterity link to ftp.blizzard.com

      Well worth looking at it if only for nostalgia :)

      • Universal Quitter says:

        In-game, WC2 was definitely a bit light on story-telling, but the voice-stylings of Bill Roper were more than enough to make the game a classic.

        “Join the Army,” they said. “See the world,” they said. I’d rather by sailing!

        • death_au says:

          I’d always click my footman until he said that and then load him onto a transporter, so he *could* sail across the sea.

    • Rizlar says:

      W3 was great at the time, the heroes you could control and level up alongside disposable armies felt really fresh and exciting and spawned a whole genre via DotA.

      High production values, dramatic story full of memorable characters and moments. People are talking about Arthas turning evil but Grom killing the demon that enslaved his people gets me every time. :'(

      • Crane says:

        Actually, Starcraft spawned a whole genre via Aeon of Strife, which DotA was based on.
        But no-one remembers that now.

        • trashmyego says:

          They don’t remember that part because the main advancement of the genre came through Warcraft III’s exposure and integrated hero leveling systems. Yes, the precursor UMS started in Starcraft, but they got polished and found their full form in Warcraft.

      • MisterFurious says:

        “W3 was great at the time, the heroes you could control and level up alongside disposable armies felt really fresh and exciting and spawned a whole genre via DotA.”

        It was fresher when Warlords Battlecry did it.

  3. kud13 says:

    This was my “most anticipated game of all time” for as long as I could remember.

    Still one of the best games ever.

  4. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I kind of bought it for the editor before I even knew the editor was any good. A blurb in RPS fanzine PC Gamer mentioned the editor as a selling point in a big preview article and I was like “oooh yeah”.

    Never cared a whit for melee or the campaigns (except The Rexxar One), but I gave my heart to singleplayer RPG maps. <3

  5. PsychoWedge says:

    I don’t even know if I want a Warcraft 4 anymore. After what they did with Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3… But then again Metzen is gone so maybe their god-awful storytelling will improve.

    • Asurmen says:

      Metzen wrote WC3, and was also involved in designing Diablo’s universe. Last but not least, he also helped write and design Starcraft.

      Basically, Metzen appears to be, as usual with the internet, of being a significant part of Blizzard’s heyday, and also the source of all of its woes and decrease in quality, which you must see is contradictory.

      • Shuck says:

        “was also involved in designing Diablo’s universe”
        Diablo was made by Blizzard North, a separate studio, and Blizzard South like to exaggerate their involvement in that one, so I’d take those claims with a grain of salt or two. As far as I know, Bliz. South as a whole only made some suggestions and did the cinematics, and that was it.
        When it comes to the game industry, people like to attribute the creative decisions to particular individuals when they’re usually the work of whole teams. So giving him the credit – or blame – for all the writing/creative decisions on a swath of games isn’t fair.

      • PsychoWedge says:

        No, I do not. But I also do not hold the believe that people always stay on the exact same quality level of their creative output for 20-25 years and cannot change whatsoever, because that would be unfathomable.

        Yeah, Metzen was involved in StarCraft and Warcraft and even WoW and I think them pretty great. But he is also credited as the story writer and main writer of StarCraft 2, Diablo 3 and the last WoW-Addons and I do consider them pretty shitty. So no contradiction, just a broader mindset and the acknowledgement of time

      • Abacus says:

        He was good back then but in recent times he his wrting has been ruined by lazy tropes and ego.

        Have I solved that ‘contradiction’ for you?

        • Asurmen says:

          Not really, because these days his positions in the more recent games was more than just writer. He was in producer/director positions. Writing wasn’t the only thing he was doing anymore.

          Seems to me then, that the supposed decrease in quality can be laid at more than just his feet alone.

    • pepperfez says:

      HotS is Warcraft 4.

  6. Horg says:

    I still think this game has the best animated cinematics of any game to date, right up there with quality entries from more recent times such as Witcher 2. The scripting, camera angles, fine detail, aesthetic style, musical scores, lighting and model animations were all superb. Even if the game play had sucked we would probably have kept going just to see the next animated story section. It’s a real shame that Blizzard made the final battle between Arthas and Illidan from Frozen Throne an in engine sequence. That could have been their master work. As it stands, I think the Arthas homecoming cinematic takes the crown (heh heh). The falling rose petals and sombre tolling of the bells still send shivers up the spine.

    • Zekiel says:

      Absolutely agree. Arthas’ homecoming is a masterwork. “What are you doing, my son?” “Succeeding you”. Marvellous.

      Though I also really really like Grom and Thrall’s confrontation with Mannaroth. They managed to convey a lot of emotion on non-human faces with no words.

  7. DrMcCoy says:

    The story also takes a lot of influence from Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné.

    • MisterFurious says:

      Yep. Blizzard has never had an original idea.

      • Emeraude says:

        As much as I dislike Blizzard, there is value, and no shame to be had, in a perfectly executed unoriginal idea.

        Not to mention we often tend to overstate originality itself (“nothing new under the sun”, and all that).

  8. Unsheep says:

    I remember playing ‘Orcs & Humans’, but have no recollection of ever playing Warcraft 3. I remember how cool it was to play the Orcs for the first time. It’s a shame Blizzard left the single-player market behind.

  9. Elos says:

    I remember trying it out and getting frustrated with the UI after Total Annihilation had spoiled me with all the neat queuing and automation. After playing WoW I thought I’d revisit but by then Supreme Commander had totally ruined most RTS games for me: they feel so claustrophobic and hard to wrap my head around when I can’t zoom out and in when I please.

    I wonder if somone has modded zoom levels to WC3…

  10. Stirbelwurm says:

    It’s a good thing, that the game has no playtime counter … I must have spend something around 10k-20k hours on that game (a good portion of that with the editor).

    There will never be a game like that again, for me. Even if there were a better game, I couldn’t spend that much time on it, with the huge number of custom maps, the community, the editor … ah well, time flies.

  11. shagen454 says:

    I agree with the positive sentiment for this game. I loved it when it came out and I will still revisit the game about every other year and I still love it. The story is so damn good and the amount of content they packed into this thing was incredible.

    There aren’t many sequels I actually want. I loved Planescape, but I don’t want a sequel. I don’t even know if I actually want a Half-Life 3, does it need to be retreaded and could Valve actually pull something interesting off at this point? I definitely know that I want Warcraft 4 and I fucking know Blizzard would do a AAA+ job, they need to get on it and stop focusing on multiplayer games for a second.

  12. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Somehow, the only Blizzard game I have ever played is BattleChess on the Amiga.
    It’s not that I have something against Blizzard, but I somehow missed Warcraft and Diablo when they first came around, and have never got around to trying them.

  13. Chayat says:

    I’m going to have an unpopular opinion here:

    I loved Warcraft 1&2 and Scarcroft. I think the RTS genre is possibly my most favourite but W3 was ruined for me by the rpg elements and things that would later grow into the MOBA genre. I do enjoy rpg games but there was too much of a disconnect between the feel of managing an army/settlement and the roleplaying of a couple of heroes.

    • pepperfez says:

      Scarcroft
      Excellent autocorrect.

    • Sin Vega says:

      I found it an irritating and frustrating game for much the same reason. Fiddling about micromanaging hero units was annoying, that most of the units were largely similar dudes with swords even more so. “x must survive” was always the worst aspect of this sort of RTS, and warcraft 3 did it every time and made it so you couldn’t really just park them in a bunker in the corner and get on with it either.

      Add to that the fact that I found Arthras the most monstrously dull protatonist and the Undead faction’s powers enormously disappointing… I gave up on it entirely and ended up level skipping to get past the dull game parts. And then got bored of that too when most of the game was just more of that annoying dullard. Oh, so he’s evil now. Ok. He’s still a boring cock.

      • Premium User Badge

        Nauallis says:

        [deadpan monotone] Yessss…. as you say…. they must now die…. I wish I didn’t have herpes…. Whattt….

        You have a point. Arthas’ voice-acting was hilariously bad. I mean, it’s really clear they tried. They tried really hard. Some of the lines, even before he becomes a death knight are just so flat, more so because you get to hear them 400 times per mission.

    • Dangerous beans says:

      Yep. Micromanaging the heros was dull but vital to winning. Felt like some older character obsessed Warhammer editions.
      Starcraft did the RTS better, Diablo did the heros better, even at the time i could find a reason to play WC3.
      (However, my brothers loved it)

    • Frank says:

      Yeah, I feel the same way about it. I found the active abilities really annoying; and the level of zoom extreme; and the story total garbage, which would be fine if it wasn’t so in-your-face about it. Blizz’s least fun RTS for me.

    • SingularityParadigm says:

      I loved Warcraft2 (especially with the expansion!) and *HATED* Warcraft3 because of those sodding hero units, the “RPG” elements they shoehorned into RTS, and the inability to zoom out farther than my immediate squad.

      “too much of a disconnect between the feel of managing an army/settlement and the roleplaying of a couple of heroes.”

      Exactly.

    • SingularityParadigm says:

      W3 to this day leaves me soured on the whole concept of hero units and prejudiced against entire game genres that were borne out of that idea. Like, I actively refused to consider even watching a League of Legends gameplay trailer for 5yrs though my best friend had been successfully playing it competitively for all that time, because I hated W3’s hero units so much. Loathing. A pox on whatever dev at Blizzard came up with them.

    • SaunteringLion says:

      100% this.

      I love Warcraft 1 & 2, but I didn’t play RTS’s to feel like an officer in charge of a squad, I wanted to be a commander in charge of armies. Red Alert 2 was the high point of that for me. Don’t get me wrong, Company of Heroes is an awesome game, but it kinda signalled the death-knell of the older style I so loved.

      Nowadays I mostly play Grand Strategy to get my strategic fix, and it’s great fun, but I still miss the heyday.

    • Emeraude says:

      Add me to the list. I can’t in all honesty say WC3 is bad, but to me it was clearly the beginning of the end for Blizzard as far as I’m concerned.

      Never much liked the design of that game overall.

    • Chayat says:

      Wow, I thought no one else felt that way about W3.

      Thanks guys

  14. Williz says:

    Played? Mate I still fire it up every so often to play some WmW. Fucking love me some tower defense, there’s no other game that captures the tower defense genre as well. (With multiplayer).

  15. vorador says:

    I still regard his campaign as an example about how you can do good storytelling in a RTS. Amazing directing on the cutscenes, both in-engine and CGI. I still get shivers in chapter six when Arthas begins to lose it.

    Much to my changring, as far as i know the story of Warcraft III was closed on WoW, so went my hopes for Warcraft IV. At least Starcraft received closure on the SC2 trilogy.

  16. ninjez says:

    I made an account (after years of lurking) just to say:
    The map-maker that came with WC3 – worldedit, iirc – was my in to software development as a career! I spent days in high school making maps to play with my friends, just using the interface to build scripts through drop-down menus and drag-and-drop. After an education completely lacking in computer skills, this tool was an accessible means to start making interactive experiences, and introduction to logic principles, debugging, memory leaks – I owe a lot to this game, even if I barely played the campaign or online multiplayer at all!

  17. djvecchitto says:

    The custom maps were incredible, but I find that the base game hasn’t aged well at all. The graphics, besides being hard to read, were also just pretty terrible – lots of harsh greens and purples. As soon as two big armies clashed it was nearly impossible to tell what was going on. The dual nature of gameplay (build a base AND level your heroes) was interesting in theory but boring in practice because the best way to level your hero was to walk around and kill boring creeps. But mostly, the pacing felt off. In Starcraft, if a marine and a zergling fight each other, one will die within 5 seconds. In Warcraft 3, if a single footman and a single grunt face off, they will clink away at each other for 60 seconds or longer, each hit taking away only a sliver of their hitpoints. It just felt so slow!

  18. Konservenknilch says:

    Yeah. It was fine, but I prefer the larger, slower games like SupCom.

    Also, I have a burning hatred of Blizzards ideas of storytelling and worldbuilding in all their franchises.

    Yargh, makes me angry all over again.

  19. HigoChumbo says:

    This game is, arguably, the most influential game ever. Yes, it was the foundation for World of Warcraft, but also for the whole MOBA genre, which is the same as saying that it was the father of the two biggest games since its release and up to this day(WoW and LoL).

    It has withstood the passing of time remarkably, still feeling amazing 15 years after release (with the archaic pathfinding being my main but probably only problem with it).

    Also, it probably has the last good story Blizzard did, and all of the most recognisable characters in all their franchises save for Kerrigan (sorry Jim, they murdered you in Starcraft 2, you should have stayed out of the gym).

    I also agree with the posters above, after Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2, and seeing the path Blizzard is taking, I’ve lost all hope of an enventual Warcraft 4 turning out to be as great, so Warcraft 3 remains to this day my most anticipated game ever.

    By the way, if Warcraft 4 ever becomes a reality, I do sincerely hope they disregard most if not all of the BS lore and characters they have developed since WoW and continue where W3 left it. Also, I wish they left the korean clickfests for Starcraft and made Warcraft 3 more manageable and immersive instead of a fast-paced, chaothic clusterfeck in which build orders and actions-per-minute are the only things that matter.

    • Horg says:

      W3 was always considered more of a micro game than SC back in the day. The high APM of SC2 was mostly down to the much harder macro game, while W3 had a more user friendly interface, lower unit count (hence more focus on keeping your units alive), better path finding and slower overall game play. Personally I always thought W3 was a better format for tournament RTS, especially from the spectators perspective. With SC2 they tried to implement a lot of ease of use features into the format while hoping the competitive aspect would remain unaffected, but it didn’t really work out that way. If Blizzard do make another RTS I would hope that they would learn from SC2’s failure and try preserving the game play from W3, combining DotA style heroes, small army micro and base construction. It’s more likely that SC2’s failure to hold an audience will put them off going back into RTS again though, and that’s probably for the best considering how badly they’ve been handling story content in recent games.

  20. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I’m going to disagree with you about the campaign-led games comment. Starcraft 2’s campaigns are far more unique and varied than even Warcraft 3’s excellent selection. Multiplayer is where the money’s at, yes, but that’s true of just about any game, and one of Starcraft 2’s multi-player modes–Co-op–is derived from the single-player side of the game.

  21. CartonofMilk says:

    i was gonna say to this day the only Warcraft universe game i played is the first Warcraft but now that i think about it i think i may have played Warcraft II also. Did warcraft I have missions where you played specific chracters and didn’t have to build things? If not i played the second one too.

    I have to say i wasn’t that thrilled with either. The first one specifically i naively thought “how are they allowed to rip off Dune II and get praised for it?” Weird thing is in the early 90’s i still got offended when game were copied. Still though its fair to say that the first Warcraft was Dune II with a Fantasy skin. As i remember it there was pretty much no real changes or improvement in gameplay. And RTS was a new genre Dune II had invented just a couple of years earlier. I felt Warcraft was lazy. Like a shameless clone.

  22. Darth Gangrel says:

    Just playing the game is all I have ever needed, I don’t care about the achievements and other fluff, but I also never play MP.

  23. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Yup. It was sorely missing boats, if I remember correctly, but it was generally still a fun single-player romp, and it had a single built-in coop map which was TONS of fun.

    Story-wise, though, if I hadn’t read this article, I would only have been able to say it was about some white dude, some green dudes, and some boats you don’t get to play with. To be fair, I can’t say much more about any RTS campaigns I’ve played; I just sit back and enjoy the base building and the long-brew steamrolling of “easy” bots’ bases.

  24. tour86rocker says:

    WC1’s most advanced technology was catapults, WC2 was zeppelins and submarines. They escalated the technology way too fast. That’s why you get motorcycles in WoW, or so I hear. You can say it’s “steampunk” but at the time WC2 seemed like a medieval fantasy world that didn’t understand that submarine warfare is proper to the 20th century.

    They were right to remove it in WC3, but obviously they kept zeppelins, introduced rifles, and more, AFAIK without a single republic or democracy in the game universe, although I’m somewhat ignorant of WoW’s latest. The era it takes place in makes no sense to me at all technologically or socially. Magic!

    So why do WC4? A prequel like Warcraft: League of Arathor or Warcraft: Trolls and Humans might be more interesting AND they wouldn’t have to close off the future of their WoW storytelling. Or redo Orcs and Humans. HD, new units, acknowledge that there are creatures other than Orcs and Humans in the world, etc. That’d be interesting.

    I’m just not into WoW anymore because of my state in life now and I don’t like paying for the same game every month, call me crazy.

  25. Gotem says:

    Played a lot of it.. but not enough to not be obliterated at Battle.net
    Well, except for some people who said something like ‘enjoy the free points’ and conceded the game

  26. Zekiel says:

    I loved it, but the plot really annoyed me. You spent fully half the campaign with annoying whiny guy Arthas (though admittedly he was more bearable when he transitioned to generic evil Arthas). Tyrande and Malfurion were dull as ditch water. Only Thrall, Grom and Illidan (who appears for all of one mission) made it bearable.

    But but but… I still remember how disappointed I was when WoW came along and undid all of the story developments from Warcraft 3. W3 was a story of multiple races joining forces against a common foe (cliched I know, but it wasn’t as if Blizzard had run that trope into the ground I know). WoW undid that by decided to split off the Orcs and Humans into different factions again, who were permanently locked in a state of war for some reason.

    • Asurmen says:

      It was more like allies of convenience between the Horde side, the Night Elves, and a sub-faction of Humans. Nothing permanently was decided between them all, nor have they existed in an actual state of war until recently.

  27. Thankmar says:

    Loved it to bits, if only the solo campaign. At that time, the story and its delivery was maybe tropey (but if anyone with a better memory would say that was before videogames were that popular and tropey, and WCIII was kinda original because of this, I would believe it), but better than most of other AAA-titles (adventures aside).

    The Night Elves campaign (base game) sticks in my head as an example of just perfect art design: the woods, the sound effects (i.e. the creaking when the ancients walk and groan, or the acknowledge sound of the wisps), the unit design, the music, the voices, what they say, how they say it and just how the voice actors sound like, created such wholesome, idk, integrated? atmosphere, that I was stunned. I just loved riding though Ashenvale in WoW, even if I was a Troll, because of this experience and the memories it bought up.

  28. that_guy_strife says:

    What is it with the word sombre lately ? It seems like every second article about gaming tosses it in somewhere. Is it because the french for dark seems neat ? Is it because of Sombra ? So weird.

    I think it’s kinda funny seeing so many people discussing the lore and stories of Blizz games. Like it isn’t some over the top meaningless fluff. If you want good stories and epic sagas, go read a book or watch a series. The gameplay of WC, SC, and Diablo are amazing and what made the genres.

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