Tillerman is a long-time fan and pro when it comes to Blizzard's strategy games. Winner of the original Warcraft III beta tournament, he participated in several professional StarCraft tournaments in the USA and Korea, and once even had a professional trading card bearing his picture, issued by the now-defunct PGL. In the interview that follows, Tillerman shares his insights into the Frozen Throne from his experiences participating in the beta program.
BI: What is your favorite map to battle on in The Frozen Throne Beta test and why?
T: In The Frozen Throne my favorite map is Turtle Rock. It just appeals to me because of how easy it is to find your opponent and then play a very aggressive style from there on in! Turtle Rock is small, has a very accessible Tavern and close expansions. My style of play is fairly aggressive, so I try to get away with harassing my opponent's base or catching him outside of it while he's Creeping.
BI: Can you tell us about what particular strategy you use to gain an advantage on this map? And how the new units in Frozen Throne help you accomplish that?
T: A typical build order on Turtle Rock for me with Night Elf would involve some early Archers, with a Demon Hunter or a Warden as my first hero. Both are excellent early. I'll generally put my first skill points into Immolation for the Demon Hunter and for the Warden, Shadow Strike. I'll start an early Ancient of War and try and get Archers out as quickly as possible. If I see my opponent building a lot of early melee units, I will often mix in a few Huntresses also.
I will then try and catch my opponent when he's busy Creeping and pick off as many of his units as possible, focusing first on damaged units. If I can't find him, I will sometimes just go to his main base and try and damage his actual economy, forcing him to Portal home to defend. I now know where he is and I will retreat and Portal home myself to avoid heavy casualties from a combination of my opponent's army and his static defense.
I will continue in this fashion with a large initial army before even considering teching to Tier 2 or expanding. I usually will not expand or tech in The Frozen Throne until I have achieved some sort of monetary advantage over my opponent and this is nearly always accomplished by killing a lot of his units in the early to mid game.
BI: Why the reluctance to tech up to a higher Tier? It seems in Reign of Chaos, all the players do that to leapfrog to the best units.
T: With The Frozen Throne, more emphasis has been put on the early game. A lot has changed over the classic version, starting with teching to Tier 2, which takes much longer and requires a lot more resources to achieve than it ever did in Reign of Chaos. This is a good move in my mind as early game units are now very useful again, indeed pretty much required unless you like being harassed early with no army.
In Reign of Chaos, it is quite common for good players to skip Tier 1 entirely. Blizzard recognized that this was a problem and changed it. To actually commit to tech up to Tier 2 is now a much bigger risk. In Warcraft III, the length of time that you were exposed to early attacks, before you reached Tier 2 was far shorter. That time zone where you would be vulnerable is now a lot longer. So you have to be really sure you can get there in time before you try it.
And obviously to get from to Tier 2 to Tier 3 also takes a lot longer. So it is harder to get through all Tiers.
BI: So have early game units, like the Footman, been improved to enhance this early game, or are they being used more simply out of necessity?
T: It isn't so much that the early units themselves are better as it is that getting to Tier 2 is a lot harder. It takes longer and costs more. Footmen haven't improved themselves. It's more a matter of you can afford to build them now in numbers. In Reign of Chaos, it was easier to tech to Tier 2 and then Tier3 so it was easy to quickly get to units that could crush Footmen. So you wouldn't want to build as many Footmen as before. But now, since you'll be in Tier 1 longer, you'll have to build more Footmen.
BI: From a competitive 1-on-1 multiplayer game standpoint, where do you see the Frozen Throne offering the most enhancements?
T: There are quite a few changes with regard to some of the fundamental things in War3.
Upkeep is a big example. Blizzard has raised the limit. 'No upkeep' has been raised to 50 so you can have a lot more units without paying upkeep. And also 'low upkeep' has been raised to 80. So you can get a lot more units at the early stage without getting hit by the tax.
They also changed Town Portal. A lot of players were tending to rely on these very, very heavily. Because second and third heroes started with Town Portals, players could use these extra Portals to save any expansion or escape from any losing battles. Now, only your first hero starts with a Town Portal scroll. Blizzard also extended the casting time for the Town Portal to five seconds, so it doesn't open right away anymore. That is a big, big change. I actually experienced it last night. I had 10 Archers and I was getting hurt. I tried to Portal out. But because of the change to Town Portal, by the time the Portal did open, all my units were dead. That would never happen in Reign in Chaos. That is a huge change people will have to deal with.
Another difference between the expansion and the original game is in health potions and other consumable items, which have a cooldown time now. You can't use them one after the other anymore. Say in Reign of Chaos, you had a Demon Hunter with 5 health potions that was being targeted by spells. You could basically use your health potions instantly and repeatedly to save him from dying. Now, there is a cooldown of about 2 to 3 seconds between uses, so now it is much more difficult to keep a hero alive against overwhelming odds. You have to be a lot more careful with your heroes.
You can revive your heroes at the tavern instantly without having to wait. Before, you had to wait at the Altar for your hero to revive. Now you have the option to instantly revive him at the tavern. Obviously it costs more gold and lumber to do this. But it's now another option available in multiplayer.
Another huge change is the buildable shops. Each race has its own shop now where they can buy health potions, mana potions, scrolls of Town Portal, and many, many other items. Heroes can buy unique items for each race. Players will be using these buildings and items a lot.
Creeping has been changed dramatically. The amount of gold you get for killing Creeps has been sharply decreased. So players can't creep for gold as easily now. In Reign of Chaos, players would creep for income. But that has been reduced in Frozen Throne.
BI: Each of the four races have their weaknesses that are especially apparent in one-on-one play. Being one of the top players in the world, can you tell us where you see the expansion helping each race to alleviate any weaknesses it has in competitive play? Let's start with the Night Elves.
T: The major change that happened to all races, including the Night Elves, was two new units and one new hero. Night Elves are very mobile and fast. They can harass and retreat. They aren't quite as good with mass units against mass units. One of their weaknesses was that they didn't have any tough units for a standing fight. Now they have the Mountain Giant, which helps them now in those battles. They alleviated their problem of not being able to compete in melees with the Orcs and their Taurens. The Mountain Giant has definitely given them that type of unit that is really tough rather than mobile and fast. Also, the Night Elf players got an area of effect spell, Fan of Knives, from the new hero - the Warden. Area of effect spells were something previously lacking from the Night Elves [arsenal].
BI: What about the Undead?
T: One of the major changes to the Undead is the addition of the Crypt Lord. It is a "tank" and can take lots of damage from units. It is a good addition to the Undead. It can be [stationed] at the front of the army and can soak up a lot of hits. It also has the Impale spell, which is an area effect spell. The Obsidian statue, one of their new units, is a great unit for the Undead because it regenerates mana. In Reign of Chaos, the Undead had really good attack spells, especially at higher levels (for example, the Lich's Frost Nova, the Death Knight's Death Coil, and the Dread Lord's Carrion Swarm). So adding Obsidian statues to their army makes the Undead even more devastating.
One big difference for Undead players [will be a change in strategies]. In Reign of Chaos, players relied too much on Ghouls. You found a lot of top players who would only use Ghouls and heroes, and they would abuse potions and healing scrolls to keep their heroes alive. Frozen Throne has changed all that. My own experience in the Frozen Throne is that now you see a lot more variation [in strategies and units used].
BI: The Orcs?
T: Before you saw a lot of comments on the forums about how the Orcs are weak. But right now, their balance is right up there with the other races. Its new unit, the Batrider, is a very good unit for hit and run attacks on your opponent's expansions or if he doesn't have good defenses. This addresses what was a main weakness of the Orcs: their lack of good air units.
Their new hero, the Shadow Hunter, is a really good unit at high levels. It has the Healing Wave spell, which can heal your units. It addresses a glaring weakness of the Orcs in Reign of Chaos. Early creeping was almost nonexistent for them. But now because of the Shadow Hunter's Healing Wave, the Orc player can keep his Grunt army alive early on, which was something you couldn't do. Because of that, in Reign of Chaos, all Orc players just teched to Tier 2 and Tier 3. You wouldn't see any Grunts, or Head Hunters, for that matter. Now Head Hunters also have an upgrade to Troll Berserkers. So you'll see more Troll Berserkers too. You can tell from what Blizzard has done with the Orcs that The Frozen Throne has pinpointed the weaknesses of underused units and improved them.
BI: And the Humans?
T: A good addition to the Humans is the Dragonhawk rider. I have really enjoyed using this unit because of its Cloud ability. You target it on a tower and the Cloud stops it from firing at you, and it allows players to break down expansions and towns easier. The Spellbreaker is also another great unit. Used in the right situation, the Spellbreakers are a huge addition to the Human race. The new hero, the Bloodmage, has been tweaked a lot during the beta. A lot of the players were a bit disappointed when the Bloodmage first appeared because its attack spell was like the Archmage's Blizzard. But this hero has undergone changes and become much more effective. It has the Banish spell, which is great. You cast it on a unit and it turns invisible. But you can also use it offensively in a combo because Banished units suffer 50 percent more damage from magic. So you can use a Mountain King's Storm Bolt and target the Banished unit to do more damage to it. The Frozen Throne has actually added a few new spells like that which work better in conjunction with other spells. That was something that didn't really exist before and it is an excellent thing.
BI: From looking at the ladder usage stats on Battle.Net, it looks like each race has a favored hero. Do you think this will change once the expansion hits shelves? Will the Farseer be dethroned by the Shadow Hunter? Or the Demon Hunter give ground to the Warden?
T: In the case of the Humans, all top players would generally get an Archmage first because of the Water Elemental, so you could Creep early. I don't think the Bloodmage will change that. But now that Creeping isn't as important as it was before, you might see more of the Mountain King.
The new Orc hero, the Shadow Hunter, is obviously a very good hero to start with because it can heal your Tier 1 units with Healing Wave. [Because of this], it might become the most popular first hero for the Orcs.
In the Night Elves, you will definitely see a change in which heroes are picked first. I can see the Warden being used a lot. You'll probably see a split between the Demon Hunter and the Warden.
And for the Undead, the new hero, the Crypt Lord, has good armor and good hit points. So it is a good first hero, especially because of its Spiked Carapace ability. It is a damage shield that returns a portion of the damage suffered back to the attacker. The Crypt Lord is designed to inflict a lot of damage and to take a lot of it too, unlike the Lich.
So with all the races except for the Humans, you'll see the new heroes becoming top choices for players' primary hero, or at least the second one.
BI: Have you been using much of the new race-specific merchant buildings, such as the Orc Voodoo Lounge and others?
T: They definitely do change the game in a fundamental way. Having a building in your town where you can buy scrolls of town portal, health potions, and mana potions, alters the game fundamentally. Now you don't have to wander around outside the safety of your town to find these items and risk getting attacked when you can't afford to. You'll definitely see players using the shops a lot! I think the most popular item is the healing salve, a unique item for the Orcs. Before, Orc players didn't really use Grunts [because they died too easily in the early game], but now with healing salve, you'll see a lot more of them.
Each race has more than three unique items. All the races at Tier 3 can buy an item that makes the hero have a more powerful attack, such as the Orb of Lightning. Orcs also have a tiny Great Hall, which is a really nice item. It's like an instant Great Hall that costs more gold and more lumber. In Reign of Chaos, expanding with a new Great Hall is risky. Because a Great Hall takes a long, long time to build and is vulnerable while being built, it's very easy for your opponent to stop your expansion. But if you invest the extra gold, you are guaranteed to see it finished.
BI: Which of the new neutral heroes is your favorite and why?
T: It's got to be the Pandaran Brewmaster. Just on cool factor alone. And his ultimate - Fire, Storm, and Earth - is very cool. Three unique pandas appear and each has very good spells. One panda has cyclone and dispel magic and another has pulverize and the last can cast immolation. To take full advantage of all them you need to have good micromanagement skills. And that appeals to me a lot. He can cast Drunken Haze on a target, making the enemy unit miss when attacking. The Brewmaster also has a damage spell called Breath of Fire, but if you use it on a unit that is already in a Drunken Haze, it does even more damage to them. That is another example of what I was talking about earlier: Two skills that when used in conjunction make him more powerful.
All the neutral heroes are cool. I think you'll see a lot of experimentation, and a lot of them will be picked. I think you can only judge which neutral heroes will be used over a period of time once the game comes out.
BI: The original Warcraft III has the Night Elf Dryad as the only real anti-caster unit, but it looks like Frozen Throne is expanding this niche with the Human Spellbreaker and the Undead Destroyer. Are these units making a big difference in the Frozen Throne beta?
T: Actually, between Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne, Blizzard removed the Wand of Negation. Now it no longer exists. That was exactly what races needed previously to dispel Bloodlust, dispel Wards, destroy skeletons, and more. Now, not having this item available at all magnifies the problem that races have against spells. Before in Reign of Chaos, your counter to any overwhelming spell was the Wand of Negation.
Getting rid of that item has put more focus on the anti-caster units that each race has to counter magic. The Human Spellbreaker is awesome. And the Destroyer is a great anti-caster unit as well.
The reason why they added these anti-caster units is in Reign of Chaos, Orcs players would just build to Tier 3 and have masses of Shamans with Bloodlust and Witch Doctors with their wards. Blizzard added the anti-caster units and changed spellcaster armor types to unarmored to address massed casters. In general, Blizzard is making it easier to counter magic. The Night Elves had problems in Reign of Chaos against massed necromancers, and lots of skeletons. It was hard to dispel them. You had to have really good micromanagement skills with the Dryad. So the Night Elves also got a unit that can deal with massed casters. This unit is the Faerie Dragon. It has Mana Flare, which damages enemy units when they cast spells.
Orcs also don't have good spell counters. They have Purge from the Shaman, but it costs 75 mana, and you need to have really good micro skills to use it. Orcs got a new unit called the Spirit Walker, and one of its major uses is to get rid of summoned units. It has Disenchant so it is an area effect counter. So if your opponent is going with massed skeletons, your counter is to go with Spirit Walkers and Disenchant.
BI: How good of a player do you need to be to use these anti-caster units? Can only someone as good as you use them effectively? Or do you have some pointers to help newbies use them to stop massed casters, or say, a skeleton rush?
T: You have to be skillful to use these anticasters. Practice your micromanagement skills again and again. If you were Night Elf, you would have to cast Abolish Magic on every skeleton. Or you could use a Wisp to detonate a bunch. But in practice, countering massed skeletons is very hard. Night Elves are going to have a problem with summoned units like that. I don't think it will be a problem for Orcs with Disenchant.
The best way to use anti-casters, if you are a Night Elf player, is to have your Dryads linked to a hotkey, like say control group 2, and then make sure you use the hotkeys to cast Abolish Magic on the skeletons. So you would hit "2" and then "B" for Abolish Magic and click on a target skeleton. But now The Frozen Throne lets you customize your hotkeys so use whatever keys you are best with. Players should always make good use of their keyboards and hotkeys.
BI: How have air units and air battles been doing on the Frozen Throne beta? Any big changes you've seen since playing with the new air units?
T: I think the biggest change is that every race has a new air unit. So I think because there are more air units now, you'll see more air battles. Now you have more air units to mix together.
One new air unit is the Orc's Troll Batrider. The cool thing about it is that it is a good counter to massed air units. It has an ability called "Unstable Concoction," that it can use against a mass of units. The Batrider detonates itself and does massive damage to all air units around it. Orcs got a big boost in air, which was very much needed. One thing people complained a lot about in Reign of Chaos was that Orcs couldn't deal with air very well. The addition of the Batrider helped them out a lot.
BI: You're in an envied minority being able to play The Frozen Throne before it's out. How do you think all those waiting gamers will react when they get their hands on the upcoming expansion is a few weeks?
T: I think they will be very, very pleased and excited. This is a very big expansion. Compared to the StarCraft expansion, this is much bigger. Blizzard has added two new units, new heroes, new buildings, new maps, and more. It's pretty huge.
Battle.net itself also is getting a big boost with The Frozen Throne. A lot of players are excited about the new changes to Battle.net that are coming in the expansion. Battle.net will have a new tournament edition. Basically, players will be able to play automated tournaments. Because of the fact that it is all automatic and on Battle.net, players are very excited about it. And Blizzard also added clan support. So you and your 19 friends can have a clan tag on Battle.net. These are good additions. It's not just an expansion to Warcraft III, it's also an expansion to Battle.net that players are excited about.