Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: July 1, 2003
Buy 'WARCRAFT III: The Frozen Throne': PC
Precisely one year after the much-anticipated release of Warcraft III comes the much-anticipated release of the Warcraft III expansion pack. Blizzard, widely known and praised for releasing top-quality add-ons for their biggest titles, will continue to be recognized with such acclaim thanks to Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. In expansion pack world, more may be better – but Blizzard usurped all expectations and went to the additional effort of crafting a seamless continuation of the original game that not only piles on more heroes, maps, voice work, and scenarios – but also significantly refines plenty of online and offline gameplay elements as well.
To create a worthy follow-up to Warcraft III is no small feat. After all, Warcraft III was, and still is, arguably the best RTS game ever (in the world). But if someone can do it, it’d be Blizzard and their talented team of diehard programming fanatics. Some remember Warcraft III for its meaty single-player campaign, engrossing story and impressive cinematics, well-balanced character races, and highly addictive multiplayer component. Others tend to favor its deep and rewarding gameplay system and versatile scenario editor that allowed gamers to easily construct completely new missions. But regardless of which camp you commit to, you’ll be glad to know that The Frozen Throne manages to refine and improve upon nearly every facet that made the original (that is, the original Warcraft III) such an unbelievably entertaining piece of software.
For me, the single-player campaigns of Warcraft III was were I found the most enjoyment. So I was overjoyed to find that The Frozen Throne offers even more single-player goodness than the original, which is a little surprising considering this is merely an “add-on” title. The first thing returning players will be greeted with upon starting up a single-player campaign is an utterly striking and gorgeous CGI sequence depicting the return of the half-demon Illidan. Having been imprisoned for 10,000 years, he understandably holds quite a grudge against the races that put him there to begin with. He quickly summons a race of brutal marine creatures called the Naga to retake the world from the clutches of all who would oppose him.
You start the game playing as the Night Elves and quickly discover the rebirth of Illidan. The Night Elves vow to put Illidan down once again, though seem a little too preoccupied with the taking back of their forests throughout the duration of their campaign. It is a woodland zealot warden that focuses primarily on the banishment of Illidan more so than the Night Elves in general. But as Illidan’s terror spreads like so much wildfire, his will is hard to ignore for everyone involved, irregardless. The death knight Arthas also makes a triumphant return and sits comfortably alongside Illidan as the game’s central bad-guy focus.
The campaign structure of The Frozen Throne is not unlike that of Warcraft III’s. You play through each race’s collection of scenarios in a linear straightforward fashion. After completing the Night Elves campaign, you’ll graduate to the Human Alliance before making your way to the Undead Scourge campaign. In all, there are around 24 separate missions, some of which are quite lengthy. If you thought Warcraft III boasted some pretty out-of-the-ordinary, original scenarios, well, you haven’t seen anything yet. The sheer variety of missions in The Frozen Throne’s single-player campaigns will surprise even the most adept WCIII player. The design of these missions are probably the most praise-worthy aspect of the expansion pack, offering tons of new strategy elements and innovative multi-tasking chores, the likes of which have hardly been fathomed in the genre until now.
Gone are the conventional rules of building up a base, acquiring resources, raising an army, and attacking the enemy base. Sure, these dynamics still play into the overall idea of the game, and a few missions are based purely on these conventions, but most sequences involve far more focus on individual characters and exploration than simple straightforward RTS practices. Be prepared to control multiple armies simultaneously, accomplish varied goals and objectives, and adapt to changing circumstances with quick thinking and improvisation. You’ll sometimes be forced to make due, which in itself is nothing special, but you’ll quickly learn the depth and breadth of the gameplay system nicely lends itself to on-the-fly alterations and unflinching adaptation. Of course, the varying style of progression through the campaigns are not included simply to constantly offer the player something new to do (though that is a nice side effect), but each objective is also firmly rooted in the game’s evolving story and seem believable enough in that context.
While The Frozen Throne’s plot serves nicely as a catalyst for awesome gameplay and immersive character growth, it doesn’t do much more. Frankly, Warcraft III’s story was far more memorable. While I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with my assessment, I whole-heartily believe that the original game’s strict focus on one or two main characters made for a better storytelling than The Frozen Throne’s wild and unkempt focus on multiple heroes and foes and races and intentions and backstabbing and blah, blah, blah. But that’s just me, mileage may vary. Besides, the one thing everybody can agree on is that The Frozen Throne is just plain damn fun to play, and in the end that’s all that really matters, everything else is just whispers on the wayside.
Aside from the main single-player campaign that spans several races and sub-stories, you’ll also be able to play a bonus campaign that focuses solely on the orcs. (Who happen to be missing from the main campaign *sniff*.) The orc campaign is entertaining enough and certainly interesting from a plot standpoint, revealing plenty of new information about the race and their inevitable future, but the real star of the show here is that this campaign plays surprisingly like an RPG. Fans of Diablo will definitely get a kick out of the orc campaign. You’ll control the orc beastmaster and his respectable support crew and explore various maps while earning experience, picking up items, buffing up your characters, and completing quests. It’s all in good fun, and the difficulty level is quite comfortable for casual play, but the fact that enemies have a tendency to constantly respawn – which is particularly trifling when you need to backtrack – can quickly make for a tedious exercise in frustration.
Aside from the newly introduced races, environments, and other additions (such as the reintroduction of vessel-based combat and transportation), The Frozen Throne also throws in a bevy of internal balancing tweaks. Most buildings and units are now much more affordable, making it all the more easier to build up deadly armies in a haste. The limit on how many units you can have active at one time has been marginally increased. The upkeep system is tweaked slightly to keep income expenses down. Skirmishes against the AI are no longer frustratingly hard as multiple user-selectable difficulty levels are now available. But the most noticeable improvement comes in the form of online multiplayer over Battle.net. Player clans and automated tournaments are now inherently supported, a private chat channel and internal ranking system is also a welcome addition.
Finally, The Frozen Throne also ups the ante in the audio/visual department, though since the game is based almost entirely on last year’s technology, only keen observers will notice the slightly more detailed terrain, sharper textures, and environmental additions. New music is included for every faction, all of which is exceptional and easy to listen to repeatedly. The CGI work found in the intro and outro sequences will definitely succeed in making you slack-jawed and the in-game cinematics are right on par with Warcraft III’s. Voice work across the board is extremely well done, if a little over-the-top on occasion – though the troll race quips seem way too unnecessary to have made the final cut (they sound like dim-witted Rastafarians).
When it’s all said and done, The Frozen Throne is more than worth its slightly-higher sticker price of $35. It packs in an impressive amount of single-player goodness and includes tons of new material and enhancements. Fans of unconventional RTSs and good ol’ fashioned, down-home asskicking gameplay in general, would do well to pick this game up.