Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne – An Improvement in Gameplay, Characters and Lore of the “Warcraft” Universe

     “Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne” is a game that still holds up to this day. I came back to play it after beating it back in High School and found the challenge level one that grew me as a player. I also found myself drawn into the nuance in the story that the initial game lacked. When I think Blizzard for me at it’s greatest it is this. This was around the time I beat the first “Diablo” and got all the way to Baal in “Diablo 2” before returning the borrowed game to my friend. This was a game I had bought with my money. It was worth all the replay value and my eventual enjoyment of “Heroes of the Storm,” which I believe rose out of the hero dependent missions and maps you play in the “Bonus Campaign,” “The Founding of Durotar.” This game was a return to what I love about Blizzard gameplay and story at it’s best.

The game was released in July 1st 2003 by Blizzard and was written by Chris Metzen and directed by Frank Pearce Jr.

The story picks up at the end of “Wacraft III: Reign of Chaos” with Illidan Stormrage summoning the Naga to unknown purposes as his Warden Maiev Shadowsong hunts him to discover his purposes and imprison him once more.

SPOILERS in the story ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematics – The cinematics in this game are so beautiful. The fact that we see compelling characters like Illidan and Arthas being the soul focus versus one none evils like Archimonde or Mannoroth shows how this was an upgrade. In both cases are characters are making a choice and in playing the game or in living the game up to the point we have, we see the implication of that choice. The level of detail draws you in and when you see certain reveals whether it is the Naga or Arthas being one with the Lich King when he puts on the helm is powerful. These are cinematics that mean something and are presented beautifully.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is more challenging than “A Reign of Chaos” as each unit was granted something that they lacked. The Scourge lacked tanks and they got the Crypt Lord, the Horde lacked healing and they got the Shadow Hunter. “The Frozen Throne” balanced “Reign of Chaos” in so many ways that it can only be accounted for if you are challenging where you are currently. I’m curious if “Warcraft Reforged” will take this challenge further. I hope it will. The challenge of the campaign improved me as a player and made the victories all the more sweet.

The World – “Warcraft” has a rich universe and this one introduces “The Forsaken,” “The Naga,” “The Blood Elves,” and “The Illdari.” All these factions get explored further in “World of Warcraft” but the seed is planted here and given justice. “Reign of Chaos” enriched the universe but didn’t break any tropes. With Sylvanas, Kael, Vashj and Illidan this game did, which is what I’d argue where Blizzard really thrives in storytelling. Each of the characters I mentioned is a different shade of grey, driven by more than simply power.

The Characters – I was in this game for the characters and it was the reason I beat the campaign. Even though I’d beaten the game back in High School, I wanted to see where the story would go. Coming back years later I wasn’t disappointed. Each new growth of character is earned in gameplay and you feel the pressure the character feels. This is a game I will play again in full, whereas “Reign of Chaos” I will play some missions again but not the full game. That is all due to characters which “The Frozen Throne” does better in gameplay and writing.

DOTA and Custom Games – It was out of “The Frozen Throne” that we got one of my favorite games “Heroes of the Storm” that I am still playing. As well as all the pre-cursors like “Defense of the Ancients” which started the whole tower defense gameplay which eventually became it’s own game and also “League of Legends.” This game has had a larger effect on games than many realize. This was the precursor to hero gameplay with  running units (that was the finale of the “Found of Durotar” campaign). For that I will be grateful for as it gave me casual fun gameplay with “Heroes of the Storm” that I play to this day.

Rating the Campaigns – I’m rating each campaign on their own merits. This is a campaign that starts out good and becomes great. Unlike “Brood War” there is so much growth you are a part of and play a part in making possible (Illidan, Kael, Sylvanas, Arthas) that it can’t be ignored. The reason you win is because of your RTS strategy and how well you play your heroes. That for me makes a great game.

Sentinels Campaign: Terror of the Tides – The Night Elf Campaign is the weakest of the 4 campaigns though I’d say it is still challenging and reveals new lore. The new lore is the revelation of the Naga who are allied with Illidan after being turned into Serpent form after their fount of power was destroyed. From Maiev Shadowsong’s perspective (Illidan’s Warden) we see how driven she is to write the wrongs of his escape. She is obsessed and takes a Javier from “Les Miserables” role. Later when she sends for help after witnessing Illidan take the “Eye of Sargeras” and losing a close friend it becomes more fully about the Night Elves. The destruction he does on Night Elf towns with the Satyr (Cursed Demon Night Elves and Naga) we see the reason why. From here we see Tyrande and Malfurion coming to aide, which after rescuing her leads to them allying with the Blood Elves (High Elves have embraced Demonic Energy to feed after the death of the Sunwell). Here we see that Maiev is obsessed as after Illidan’s use of “The Eye” is stopped and her lie of saying Tyrande was torn to shreds was not true. The final mission is Malfurion and Illidan teamed up to save Tyrande, in which after Illidan leaves and promises not to return. We get some level of peace between the brothers though as Maiev’s forces chase after Illidan into the portal he created. Maiev was the weakest part of the story but it is still solidly good. Sets up the rest of the campaign beautifully.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Alliance Campaign: Curse of the The Blood Elves – This is the campaign where for all intents and purposes the High Elves leave the Alliance. This is a huge deal and we see that it happens is due to a racist general who only sees the other races as pawns. He sentences Kael and the Blood Elves to death for surviving due to Naga aid against the Scourge. Because of this you get why Kael joins Illidan after Vashj saves him from execution. This campaign also had my favorite missions. Once Kael meets up with Illidan, he Vashj and Illidan close the portals in Outland and recruit the Draenei Akame to their cause against the Pit Lord Magtheridon who controls the planet with his orcs and demons. After that is the final mission where you conquer Outland, Kil’jaeden holds Illidan to his contract and all of you are sent to Northrend to the destroy the Lich King. It was this contract that Illidan to seek the “Eye of Sargeras” in the first place. This campaign is so much fun. I wish the Naga had been a playable faction as I used them far more than the Blood Elves when I could.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Scourge Campaign: Legacy of the Damned – The Undead Campaign is fun. It is here we see the rise of the Forsaken who will be a crucial faction in “World of Warcraft” as well as Arthas’s arc being completed as he goes from the exiled King running from Demons (both external in the Dreadlords who own Lordaeron and internal in those he killed to get here) leading to him becoming one with Ner’Zhul as the Lich King. It is super rewarding to get there and Arthas shows why he is such a great foe. The last 3 missions are the hardest in the game and they force you to truly strategize. Seeing the rise of “The Forsaken” and Sylvanas control Varimathras the Dread Lord was much needed. Her tragic story from “Reign of Chaos” needed payback and “The Frozen Throne” does this really well. By the end of her story she owns Lordaeron with her undead. This was the most challenging and rewarding of the campaigns. The final mission against Illidan was the best where I realized I couldn’t wait him out and destroy his base and had to finish taking the points was what I love about gaming.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Bonus Campaign: The Founding of Durotar – The “Bonus Campaign” gives you a great pulse on where the Horde and Alliance relationship is currently. We see it all through the eyes of Rexxar a half-orc Mok’Nothal who helps Thrall’s Horde settle in Durotar. From here you face quests from clearing out Harpies and Kobolds to recruiting a Panderan Brewmaster and getting Rokhan a Jungle Troll who also joins your team. The story is told in 3 Acts. Act 1 involves you helping Gazlowe with the Kobolds, Drek’Thar with the Thunder Lizards while also clearing out Warlocks. Act 2 involved you getting over to Jaina when her father Admiral Proudmoore attacks and you recruiting Ogres, the Tauren once more and saving the Jungle Trolls so that all of you can stop the Admiral. Those 2 missions are fantastic and the “Diablo” feel from playing as heroes was a lot of fun. I can see how “Heroes of the Storm” and “Defense of the Ancients” arose from this campaign and the Tower Defense of the final mission.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“The Frozen Throne” is an expansion that improves everything from the first game. My only real issue with is is that the Naga weren’t a playable faction beyond campaign, but that is still better than the “Halo Wars” Franchise that took an expansion to make anyone outside of the UNSC playable and “The Flood” still aren’t a faction. This game didn’t have those problems. They started with 4 factions and made each of them better, while still giving us playable Naga in the campaign. This game made “World of Warcraft” and “Heroes of the Storm” happen and as much as I dislike some story choices in “World of Warcraft” it at least was willing to explore the lore that this game and “Reign of Chaos” made possible. After “Warcraft III: Reforged” which is this game and “Reign of Chaos” combined, I can’t wait to see what was changed and comparing the stories.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 One of the best RTS games I’ve played.

 

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos – Fun RTS Gameplay and Solid Fantasy Redemption Story

   “Warcraft III” and the original “Starcraft,” are the games that got me into RTS games, along with “Age of Empires II” and “Rise of Nations.” Does “Reign of Chaos” hold up? I would say yes, there are some things Blizzard did that took away from the strategy a little bit (adding hero units which turned multiplayer into a rush game). I really enjoyed this, for someone who grew on Tolkien no one had subverted the “Orcs are bad.” trope until “Warcraft III.”

In regards to how I review this first game of 2 (I plan to review “The Frozen Throne” after I beat it again), it holds up and I’ll give a brief analysis on gameplay (pros and cons) and how the story was. The story in the end will be my overall judge for any game where the gameplay is at least enjoyable. Like my films I enjoy my games being compelling and having a narrative that pulls me in.

For giving recognition where it is due, Chris Metzen wrote the story (which explains why he is the head of storytelling on WOW for best and for worse) directed by Frank Fierce jr. and produced by Chris Sigaty.

The story picks up after Warcraft 2 (all the games so Draenor is destroyed and the Horde Orcs are defeated and in internment camps) and begins with Thrall freeing the rest of his people Lordaeron on promptings from a mysterious prophet. From here we trace the rise of the Scourge, the return of the demons of the Burning Legions and the introduction of the Night Elves.

SPOILERS ahead (old game so may not mean as much).

The Pros: The Gameplay – As stated above, the gameplay is too rushish in multiplayer but the Hero concept payed off. I wouldn’t being loving “Heroes of the Storm” if not for this game. So I take the pros over the cons and in the end it is pro. Each hero has unique ability, and depending on your playstyle (I tend to go for auras over abilities) helps in the campaign, custom and multiplayer games. In the end the campaign was fun, which is a win for me. I enjoyed playing this game again after not playing it since High School, and can’t wait to replay the expansion.

The Alliance – We only really get to see the Fall of Lordaeron in this and the rest of the Alliance is purposely left out. I get this as in if the game fails, we get the fall of the Alliance from past “Warcraft” games, but if it succeeds….we get “World of Warcraft” which is still going with the most recent game being “Legion.” The fall is told really well, with Arthas killing people in “The Purge of Stratholme” to save them from being enslaved, and going mad after. It is compelling and in the end the Scourge wins ending with Arthas turning on his troops, sacraficing his friend Magni and killing his father the King, leading into the next campaign. Arthas is the drive and seeing his fall is how Anakin in in the Star Wars Prequels should have been done.

The Scourge – The Scourge Campaign involves Arthas destroying his own nation after the killing of his father after the end of the Human Campaign. It is really good. You start out weak, resurrecting the Necromancer Kel’Thuzad who you killed during Arthas’s fall to empower the Scourge and bring in the Burning Legion who are behind it all and the big threat from all past Warcraft games. It is really good and you get to see how Arthas without a soul is like. He is funny and also evil as hell. He kills his mentor Uther, destroys the Kirin Tor (who is the faction of his complicated relationship – Jana) and in the end feels powerless until he returns later in the last campaign. He feels like a pawn but empowered in his malice and it is Kel’Thuzad who hits at the plans to come as Ner’zhul predicted the fall and conquest and his freedom and Scourge sovereignty out of it.

The Horde – The Horde is complicated, back in Middle School they were my favorite faction, and I still love playing compicated orcs, nowadays though. Grom, who “redeems” the orcs only fights. Thrall who is the Warchief is constantly keeping him in check and even though Grom kills the big bad (after he kills a good demigod) doesn’t redeem him in my eyes. This campaign was fun, but Grom pissed me off. Thrall was good but he never apologizes to Jana (who is Arthas’s complicated and brings the survivors of Lordaeron to Kalimdor) and only sees Grom as hero. Th orcs deserved better and World of Warcraft really hasn’t redeemed them yet. They are still conquerors and not fully refugees and that is a toxic narrative. I’m a fan of the orcs and this time around could not embrace them. They don’t see what they do as wrong and only live to fight, which even if they aren’t the evil of Tolkien orcs doesn’t put them on par with the Night Elves and Humans. They deserved better in this game, though still putting as a pro. This was the only time I’ve played orcs in a somewhat redeeming light and I want more of that. They are a compelling species and I love their aesthetic.

The Night Elves – The Night Elves story is short but awesome. You have the warrior women who protect the forests and bring in the Druids when things to get apocalyptic. Tyrande, the Priestess of the Moon is a fanatic but you get her perspective given she hasn’t had Outsiders in 10,000 years and in the end she appreciates the orcs and humans who defend Mount Hyjal and the World Tree from the big bad Archimonde who wants to consume Azeroth. Furion is standard wise old guy but fighting with the Druids of the Claw was fun, Illidan is the Boba Fett in this game where he was trapped and fights for himself because all have wronged him and stars in 1 mission (but has an awesome aesthetic). I enjoyed this campaign and wanted at least 1 more with Illidan to develop him further, though I know the expansion to this game does that really well. This is where the complicated characters are. Jana is savior and love interest and doesn’t get beyond that and the Kirin Tor and King are (you know us from Warcraft II lore if you read the books) which coming back to the game wasn’t enough. The Night Elves campaign is short but it is a rich campaign.

The Fall of Arthas – The most compelling story in this game is that of Arthas. He turns on the past allies of the High Elves and kills their general Sylvanas (who I want to say now is amazing come “The Frozen Throne” given what goes down this game). He kills his further, turns on his allies. Consumed by revenge he forsakes everything for the power to achieve his revenge. He is the perfect Anakin and I get why “Wrath of the Lich King” is so memorable even though I haven’t played and avoid MMORPGS.

The Introduction of Illidan – Illidan’s introduction is great. He isn’t to be trusted but he kills the big bads while serving himself. He is the perfect anti-hero in Warcraft. He has no destiny or prophecy at this point…he is a hero who messed up and was wronged acting out. This makes his mission fun and why I was drawn to him after so many years replaying. Can’t wait see his story unfold again in “The Frozen Throne.”

Defeating the Burning Legion – This is a win that pays off. We see them come during the Scourge Campaign and even though Thrall and Grom defeat the general Mannaroth, we saw Archimonde decimate a kingdom in the Scourge cinematic. The threat is always real, especially with most Night Elf missions being a race against time, and this is them with allies and them having defeated the Burning Legion in the past. The payoff is amazing and holding Archimonde back to the second with Tyrande and Furion to the second was such a rewarding playthrough. For me every Night Elf mission mattered, both from challenge and investment in the characters.

Okay: More Exploration / Missions Could Have Made Perfect – Grom should have been shown being noble and not just a blood lust fighter to make his redemption mean something and not just him escaping his addiction to battle, Jaina deserved a mission escaping from the Scourge and her former lover Arthas and to give her more agency and the Night Elves needed a mission to work with the Alliance and Horde…a custscene wasn’t enough given Grom killed one of their Gods. This took away from making the game perfect.

Grom’s “Redemption” -This guy only lives for fighting. He has a great look, but he needed more. We never saw him as loving any more than war, he cared about Thrall and felt bad but each time that mattered he went back to fighting. There is no reason for Thrall to trust him or for the Horde to be forgiven beyond “The End of the World” in the Night Elf campaign. He deserved better given that the character came back in “Warlords of Draenor” and his son was Warchief of the Horde…and like his dad ruined it. I am a fan of the Horde, I like orcs as not simply bad guys…but Warcraft’s redemption doesn’t fully work. Chris Metzen was the writer and the Horde deserved better if they were going to be redeemed. I want good orcs, but you won’t get them from Grom killing Mannaroth. The flaws run to deep if Grom wants to fight every mission, him killing his species enslaver (Mannaroth), doesn’t justify him willing to kill anyone for not being an orc through the campaign. Looks cool, but the guy is deplorable.

“Reign fo Chaos” is a flawed and amazing game that is well worth your time if you enjoy RTS games. I can’t wait to replay “The Frozen Throne” given how fun Arthas and Illidan are to play as heroes and I love the “Forsaken” campaign, which was actually a great set-up for the Forsaken joining the Horde in WoW and further Sylvanas development. This game is self contained, it is set-up to be self contained if it fails given the big bads are beaten and we have a world that no longer needs “Guardians.” For this reason I rate the game highly. There is some great character development, even if I wanted more for the orcs and night elves. If you like fantasy games or rts’s check this game out. It has been out for years, but is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.3  / 10. A solidly great fantasy RTS game.

Warcraft (2016): A Few Great Characters Can’t Save This Adaptation

Warcraft Film

    The game series “Warcraft” is one I have a history with dating all the way back to Warcraft II and it’s expansions. They were my introductions to this universe even though I think Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne is the best storytelling to come out of the series. At the end of the day, all the Warcraft books I read about the First and Second War didn’t draw me in the way the Scourge, Forsaken, Illdari and Night Elves did in Warcraft III, and World of Warcraft was always something I played more casually the few times I did. What bearing does all this have on the review outside of history? Metzen was starting from one of the more weaker places in the lore (Humans were always the most boring faction) so going in it was starting out weak, I wish we’d gotten “Rise of the Horde” as far stories go, that had drama and Orcs are the strongest part of this film….and there are a lot of human characters, making the film enjoyable but weak.

    “Warcraft” was directed by Duncan Jones who was a co-writer along with Charles Leavitt with Chris Metzen and produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Charles Roven, Alex Gartner and Stuart Fenegan.

    The story involves the arrival of the Orcs on Azeroth who plan on bringing their forces through the Portal as their world is dying. Lead by the evil Orcish Warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) as Durotan (Toby Kebbell) must work with humanity when he realizes what Gul’dan’s magic did to his world and will do to this one.

The Pros: The World – The universe of Warcraft is one that is fascinating…there different planets, different fantasy races and politics between them. Sadly we don’t see much of the politics in this one, but the factions are still present and you feel the size of the world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is just like the Warcraft cinematics. Simon Duggan really did a great job of transferring Blizzard’s style to film.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack also feels like the Warcraft games, which is a plus. The games have always had a beautiful soundtrack that captures the epic fantasy feel of the world. Ramin Djawadi did a fantastic job.

The Characters – The characters who work, work really well…those who don’t show the flaws in some of the writing that has come out of the books and games and the universe as a whole. I’ll get into what I mean later.

Blackhand – Blackhand is played by Clancy Brown with his usual large and vocal presence. He truly is perfecfr for this role and does a fantastic job as Warchief of the Horde, sadly his role underutilized (just like Ogrim) and he doesn’t survive past this film. Lothar kills him in honorable combat so the orcs let Lothar go free. Poor Felled up Blackhand goes out way too fast.

Khadgar – Khadgar goes from comedic relief to a smart magician. I like that he is humorous as he has had that aspect in some of the games he appears in. His being an outsider and being given up by his folks to be a Kirin Tor mage is really cool too, especially his rejection out of the order. He reminded me a lot of Sam from “Game of Thrones.”

Garona – Garona is a good character and the only female character who actually felt like she had agency beyond telling the guys they are doing a great job. She even got a romance with the hero and got to kill the King and be the double agent among the orcs working for peace between their races. I wish we could have got more of her backstory as we see she’s a slave and half her heritage (Draenie) was used to open the Dark Portal. Hopefully they’ll do more with her next film if they make one, she’s a hell of a lot more interesting than Lothar.

Gul’dan – Daniel Wu is awesome! It is wonderful seeing Gul’dan in all his badassery on screen. He is great here and the only competent villain as his people are so afraid of him that they follow him and he wins every fight he gets into. This guy is pumped so full of fel energy that he can take anything. He also is still living at the end (like in the games at this point in the timeline) so curious what they’ll change about him. I really want a “Rise of the Horde” story so we can see Ner’zhul (one of the best orcs and Gul’dan’s mentor).

Durotan – Toby Kebbell is the closest thing to an interesting protagonist. In him we see an honorable soldier just trying to look out for his people, and faced wit the fact that his entire race is dying out and all they have is the new world of Azeroth. He dies fighting Gul’dan in a pretty awesome fight.

Okay: King Llane – The King is kind of bland but at least he’s given something to do and notices the orcs aren’t all bad given his friendship with Garona. In the games he’s a non-presense too. I really don’t care about Stormwind in the lore and see them as a lore sink (was always a Horde player in WoW). He dies so that Garona can be accepted into the Horde as a hero.

Ogrim Doomhammer – Doomhammer is a Frostwolf in this rather than a member of the Blackhand clan. In this he betrays Durotan but leaves the Horde after he sees how the Fel is turning his people into demons and that Gul’dan has no honor. He is the one carrying on the Frostwolf legacy in this after the death of Durotan and Draka.

Medivh – Medivh is bland, he is supposed to be crazy but he doesn’t feel there. This character felt invisible and we never get any good interactions with characters except a strange scene with Garona. He dies fighting for Stormwind though after the Demon is beat.

The Ending – The orc ending isn’t bad (would have like Blackhand to survive) and I felt Garona becoming the heroic champion was really cool. The human side is just bland though. Maybe this will work as a movie series, but it felt unfinished.

The Cons: Lothar – Guy has a son who he has no chemistry with (he doesn’t have chemistry with anyone). He acts a cool and distant and it comes off as forced. He is Action Hero Man*TM and it hurts the story since he’s the main character.

Draka – She makes sure Go’el (hate that name, Thrall in the games) is freed on the river and eventually picked up by humans. She exists only as mate and not much else. The games also had this problem too. Draka deserves better.

The Queen – The Queen is just kind of there. She shows kindness to Garona and maybe befriends her but she feels like a non-entity. She is scenery…

Women as Scenery – Both Draka and the Queen, who besides Garona are the any female characters with any presence feel like non-entities. They exist as plot devices and I wish had been written as actual characters.

 The Demon/Sargares? -This guy posses Medivh to open the Dark Portal (like in the game), and in this he’s beaten like a little punk. Khadgar drops his own golem on him. At least in the books it was a more epic fight and in WoW he’s an actual raid. This is supposed to be the guy pulling everyone’s strings.

    Weak villains that aren’t orcs (that Demon who was  weak Sargares if it was him) and bland human heroes kept this from being a great B movie. The orcs were awesome as they are in lore and the film really should have been about them. The only things we get that are interesting from the humans are Khagdar as comedic relief and Garona making friends with the humans. Outside of that they are bland and uninteresting. I hope they make more of these films though, there is so much lore in Warcraft and the Rise of Illidan or Fall of Arthas would make an amazing story on the bigscreen and would work within time limit of a film. This film is still okay, but I’d only watch it for the orc scenes.

Final Score: 6.2 / 10