Don’t get too excited – Warcraft IV has not been announced. Yet we can bet that at some point, its release will be inevitable. Now that StarCraft II has officially left the room (of Blizzard’s main development office), there must be a bunch of designers twiddling their thumbs and trying everything they can to not get assigned to World of Warcraft. Sure, StarCraft II still has two expansions coming, along with tons of patches, but if we know Blizzard, Warcraft IV is probably at least partly in development. Hell, StarCraft II was probably in some stage of development infancy in tandem with the tail end of Warcraft III.
Above: Ah, Warcraft, you weird, crazy game you. Feeling a bit red-headed and step-childy, now, aren’t you?
A few of us at GamesRadar were seriously hardcore into Warcraft III. It may have never achieved the legendary status of StarCraft, but dammit if it didn’t steal our hearts with its lovely hero-centric, nearly economy-free take on traditional RTS gameplay. Some people weren’t happy with the de-emphasis on macro and the sharper focus on micro, but we loved it to its low-poly bones. We’re not saying it’s better than StarCraft; we’re saying it’s different, and that’s what makes both of them great. We still have some gripes with Warcraft III, though, so here’s what we want to see in the next Warcraft.
Above: The poor, poor Mountain Giant. Look at his sad face. All he wants to do is club enemies into smears with his tree
That’s right: in some cool-ideas gone crazy frenzy, the designers of Warcraft III created certain units that have way too many abilities, leaving more specialized units out in the cold. The Druid of the Claw is a spellcaster that can heal itself and other units for huge amounts of health, can cast an Area of Effect spell that increases damage, and it can transform into a heavy melee unit. Another example is the Raider – an Orc unit that moves fast, takes reduced damage from ranged units, can bring air units to the ground so that melee units can hit them, and has an unlimited ability to stop units and heroes from moving, and this ability can’t be dispelled in any way.
The problem is that Warcraft III went for a system of “soft” counters – hardly any unit has really powerful bonuses against another unit, which is the opposite of how most RTS games work. We want to see diversity of units in Warcraft IV, just like we see them in StarCraft II – when units have proper counters, diversity increases as opponents choose different mixes of armies to counter each other. Some people enjoyed the soft counters of Warcraft III, but apparently they were happy with seeing Night elves build Druids of the Claw and Orcs build Raiders in easily 95% of games.
The problems that cause this are a few small things that add up. First, teching (going up the tech tree super fast and only building a few early units) and expanding (building a second base early to reap extra gold) are too cheap with too few risks. The higher tier units are so integral to the power of one’s army in the long run that if you try to mass early units and overwhelm your opponent, if he’s able to survive, you’re generally screwed. We know that this dynamic isn’t such a bad thing actually, but the problem is that it’s too easy to survive early attacks due to powerful built-in base defenses and even specialized towers designed for the sole purpose of fending off hero attacks.
Above: This little group is dangerously close to the equivalent of massing Footmen – one of the most pathetic strategies in all of Warcraft III (except for the purposes of embarrassing your opponent – it’s like choosing Dan in Street Fighter)
Early on in Warcraft III’s history, it was believed that there was a rock-paper-scissors dynamic to basic strategies that went like this: Massing beats expanding (because the expander spends resources to expand and thus has a smaller army), expanding beats teching (because the techer doesn’t have enough units to stop your expansion and your increased income will overwhelm even his high tech units), and teching beats massing (for reasons explained above). With easy, cheap expansions available to almost every race, massing isn’t really an option. So everyone either techs or expands. Now, we know this is a bit different for team games, but the inherent problems stem from solo play and bleed into team play in weird ways to complicated to explain here. While we’re talking about expanding…
What this results in is the Undead player teching as fast as possible (remember, he can’t mass, except in a few cases) and never, ever building an expansion. Undead players won’t build an expansion even if their opponents have two or even three goldmines running. Luckily, they aren’t screwed most of the time because Undead heroes are super deadly late game, as are their units, but unless they seal the victory, they’re on a ticking clock as their opponents accrue more and more gold.
Above: Ahaha, silly Undead, you don’t get to expand, even though your opponent already has an expansion up. Also, where’s your Death Knight, noob?
Expanding is a time-honored strategy in RTS games. It creates a lovely risk-reward scenario that builds tension for both teams. Warcraft IV needs to think long and hard about how its races expand, because they ended up totally different from how they were intended in Warcraft III.