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.

 

“Wolverine and the X-Men” Season 1 – A Solid X-Men Series That Should Have Got a Season 2

Wolverine and the x-men

   “Wolverine and the X-Men” was an animated series created in 2009 by Marvel Animation and is one of the best Marvel Animated projects I have watched since the older “X-Men: The Animated Series” and “X-Men Evolution.” Animation has usually been the strength of DC, except when it comes to the X-Men, where Marvel has managed to capture everything that made these characters great and brought us to them in the first place.

    The series was created by Craig Kyle and Greg Johnson.

     The story involves the mysterious disappearance of Professor X and Jean Grey after a psychic explosion, leading Wolverine to return and reunite the X-Men as elsewhere Magneto plots from Genosha against humanity and Senator Kelly starts the Sentinel Program to capture and register all mutants.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The World of X-Men is strange and fascinating. In this we have characters from the weird alien Mojo, to the Brotherhood of Mutants, the future X-Men and a Sentinel run universe, Weapon X, The X-Men and Mr. Sinister.

The Brotherhood of Mutants – The Brotherhood are the main enemies until we learn that Magneto is the one controlling them, but even then they later change sides when Magneto disowns Quicksilver, leading to them helping the X-Men.

Avalanche – Avalanche is one of the most powerful members of the Brotherhood and seems to be a chill guy. I wish we could have got more time with him.

Domino – Domino is awesome and exists as both a Future X-Men and as a member of the Brotherhood who has a friendship with Rogue. She is the most receptive of the team to helping the X-Men as she is a true believer and just wants to protect the Mutants from humanity.

Quicksilver – Quicksilver is the leader of the Brotherhood and everything he does is to please Magneto and get into his good graces, that is until Magneto disowns him and he doesn’t care anymore…leading to him helping the X-Men until he later rejoins Magneto in exile after Scarlet Witch kicks Magneto off the Island for his crimes.

Future X-Men – The Future X-Men exist in the Sentinel run future that Professor X wakes up too and from where he communicates from to Wolverine in order to prevent the Future he exists in from happening as in the present he is still in a coma. It is a fascinating world.

Professor X – Professor X has to earn the trust of the Future X-Men and help them fight the Sentinels who now run the future. So much of what he is doing is trying to prevent the future he woke up from from happening and through that he works with Bishop and his Team to try and defeat the Sentinels and in the future present and the past. He provides a good mentor role.

Rover – Rover was created by Polaris and is a good Sentinel who Marrow befriends. In the end Rover gives his life for the Team when the Sentinels are taking them out. He was a great small character.

Polaris – Polaris is Magneto’s daughter who is overprotected in the past and in the future is the leader of a destroyed Genosha who has gone crazy. In the end she saves Professor X and helps defeat the Sentinels and rejecting her father’s philosophy to work with her sister Scarlet Witch and humanity for peace in the present.

Bishop – Bishop is awesome! He was raised in a Sentinel camp and is trained by Wolverine. He is a pretty great character and my favorite future character. He is a natural leader and knows the stakes and believes in Professor X.

Scarlet Witch – Scarlet Witch is the future leader of Genosha as she believes in mutant freedom but not when it means hurting them and causing conflict when there is peace (unlike Magneto). She is also Nightcrawler’s lover and they influence one another’s mindsets on things as her experience has made her distrustful of humanity where Nightcrawler still has hope.

The X-Men – The X-Men are fantastic! The only ones who didn’t get as much exploration where Iceman and Storm, but the rest managed to have some great shining moments or were given and interesting enough backstory to makeup for how much of a messup they are.

Storm – Storm deserved more of a story, she is a powerhouse and worshiped in Africa and manages to save the Continent from a force that is trying to use her, and we learn she used be a thief before meeting Professor X. After he introduction episode not much is done with her minus a somewhat romance with Angel.

Cyclops – Cyclops is obsessed with Jean Grey and we learn his issues tie back to her disappearance in the Phoenix Force and that it was that power and her that helped him become the leader he once was. Sadly we never get to see that leader as everything he does is in relation to Jean…but he was still a pro in this series.

Iceman – Iceman has a somewhat romance with Kitty and is the confident rookie in it all. He also sticks up to his family and leaves, coming out as a mutant. So that was cool, but we don’t get anything else like that after he rejoins the X-Men.

Kitty Pryde – Kitty is awesome! She saves the Team on multiple occasions and shows that she is a leader within her own right. I wish we’d gotten more time with her too as she is leaving to Genosha when the X-Men pick her up.

Rogue – Rogue is well, a rogue. She works with the Brotherhood for a while before leaving them and has to reestablish trust with the X-Men. She is a great character though and extremely powerful as we see her shut down the Brotherhood and any powerful mutant by touching them and taking their powers.

Angel – Angel is the son of one of the men behind the Sentinel program and a “Cure” for being a mutant. In the end his wings are taken away leading him to make a deal with Mr. Sinister, where he becomes unstoppable and archangel, but also no longer the calm man living the double life he was before. His story is a tragedy as he is with Mr. Sinister still at the end.

Nightcrawler – Nightcrawler is amazing and one of my favorite X-Men! In this he protects refugees from pirates, discovers Magneto’s fascist state is a ruse and that he is planning war with humanity and convinces Scarlet Witch to help him and the X-Men.

Emma Frost – Emma Frost works for Hellfire Club and is a double agent through most of the series as she helps the X-Men but also triggered the explosion in the first place since she wanted Jean Grey for the Hellfire Club so they could control the Phoenix. She has a change of heart at the end due to her love of Cyclops and sacrifices herself in the final.

Jean Grey – Jean Grey has no memory of her prior self and events that transpired until she is back with the X-Men and captured by the Hellfire Club. We see her past self though and that was always someone with strength and confidence as she defeated Magneto as a child when he was attempting to capture her to use her powers.

Beast – Beast is the mentor and Wolverine’s second-in-command. We see him protecting others and figuring out mysteries for much of the series. I like him a lot as he’s easily the calmest and most mature member of the Team.

Wolverine – Wolverine drives the story and from it we see his attraction to Jean Grey, his connection to Weapon X and his attempt to stop them, becoming leader of the X-Men when Professor X finds him to be the only one who can to stop the Sentinels and his past relationship with Mystique. He is really cool in this and was a smart choice to lead to the story.

The Antagonists – The antagonists outside of Mojo, are really fascinating and part of what makes this story so great. Each of them have distinct motivations and ways of going about their goals.

The Sentinels – Master Mold controls them and we see how highly adaptive they are as they are becoming more like X-Men in the future. They are only stopped by Peace and the Future X-Men destroying Master Mold.

Senator Kelly – Kelly is a warmonger who lives by fear until he sees that the Sentinels will destroy everything, when Wolverine has Professor X show him and Magneto the future. In this moment he shows he is racist  and fascist(has his own paramilitary force) but can accept reason.

Trask – Trask is the scientist who creates the Sentinels but also shows he can see reason when he tries to stop Mystique from using them to attack Genosha. I wish we could have gotten more of his motivations though.

Mr. Sinister – Mr. Sinister is seeking the perfect Mutant and those he can use. This leads to him transforming Angel into Archangel and collecting samples everywhere. We see he serves Apocalypse at the end as well.

Mystique – Mystique works with Magneto but also does her own things too as her taking out Weapon X was for personal revenge and love of Wolverine. She is a great character and manages to succeed at most of her missions.

Magneto – Magneto is an outright villain in this and even after Professor X shows him the future where they all lose…starts the war anyway. Luckily he loses thanks to the Phoenix Force from the Hellfire Club, Scarlet Witch and his people turning against him and the X-Men. He goes into exile with Quicksilver after. He was a good villain but I like Magneto best when he’s an anti-hero, not someone hurting his own people.

Days of Future Past – Professor X works with Bishop to communicate with Wolverine in the past to prevent the Sentinel run future while fighting the Sentinels in that future. This was this show’s take on the arc and it is awesome!

The Phoenix Arc – The Phoenix knocks out Professor X and causes Jean to lose her memory. When the Hellfire Club releases it Emma Frost captures it and dies versus in the comics where it is usually always Jean who dies.

Okay: The Hellfire Club – They appeared at the end and should have got more setup, especially since Emma Frost caused the explosion of the Phoenix in the first place.

Weapon X – Weapon X was an okay storyline. i didn’t care about the mad scientist or Sabretooth and the only interesting thing was Mystique was going to be an experiment until Wolverine saved her in the past…and we learn they were lovers but he has no memory because of what Weapon X did to him.

The Cons: Age of Apocalypse and Cancellation – Mr. Sinister was working with Apocalypse and in the end we see Apocalypse being worshiped. This was the setup for Season 2 and since there wasn’t a Season 2 became a con.

Mojo and his Pirates – Mojo is obsessed with his hunting show where mutants are hunted…and that is it. The guy makes no sense and clashes with the main stories that were going on in the show.

   This was a series that was solidly good and shouldn’t have been canceled. The fact that they were setting up “Age of Apocalypse,” hurt the final product in the end. It is smart for shows to have a good ending to a season and only set things up if they know they have a future. I still recommend this show though. It manages to cover at leas 2 major comic arcs (Phoenix arc and Days of Future Past, as well as Weapon X) and does it really well. What helps is the characters and the villains are complex and I cared about their choices and struggles. This is a solid series I’d highly recommend.

Final Score: 9 / 10