Blizzard's announcement of "Warcraft III : Reign Of Chaos" at ECTS today might not have "changed the world" as their website has been promising, but it certainly changed the world of Azeroth... The game is aiming to "redefine the strategy genre", and there are some pretty major departures from previous Warcraft titles. Eye Candy
The most obvious change is that Blizzard have finally discovered 3D. The entire world is made up of texture mapped polygons, as are the units, characters and buildings within it. It's all very Warzone 2100, but the quality of the graphics was very impressive - one journalist who couldn't contain his enthusiasm shouted out "Fuck!" as the first screenshot came up on screen. I couldn't have put it better myself...
The graphics are crystal clear, the units and terrain are detailed, the skins look rich and colourful (as you'd expect from a Warcraft game), and there's plenty of pretty spell effects to exercise your new graphics card.
The game also uses skeletal animation, allowing a wide range of different animations for the various units without hogging your memory, so it should look as good in action as it does in the still shots. Six Of One, Half A Dozen Of The Other
The inhabitants of Azeroth have also undergone some pretty major changes, as the game is set after the never-released "Warcraft Adventures". The orcish race has "rediscovered its shamanistic roots", while the humans have fallen to in-fighting, blurring the lines between good and evil that existed in the earlier games.
They're not alone anymore, either. A race of demons called "The Burning Legion" have landed on the planet of Azeroth, raining from the sky in meteors like something out of War Of The Worlds. No blurring of lines here - the demons are stereotypical bad guys, trying to drain the magic from Azeroth and annihilate all of its inhabitants.
In fact, although only three of the races have been unveiled so far, Warcraft III will eventually include no less than six (count 'em!) races, all of which should be playable in both single and multiplayer. Strange Brew
If that's not enough to keep you busy, you can also roll your own. Like any self-respecting modern strategy game, it will of course come with its own terrain editor that will allow you to create new maps and set up new missions.
But that's not all. Blizzard are trying to avoid using proprietary file formats for Warcraft III, so you should be able to create new units and buildings with your favourite modelling utility, save new skins and textures in standard .pcx or .tga format, and the game will even use a Java like scripting language.
This powerful scripting language will allow you to edit almost everything short of the rendering and networking code. You will be able to create your own units, spells, and scenarios. And taking it further, you should even be able to design "mods" for the game with whole new styles of play, just like you can for most first person shooters these days. Heroes
Blizzard are also adding more roleplaying elements to Warcraft III, describing it as a "Role Playing Strategy" game rather than a traditional RTS.
Armies will be led by heroes, who will gain experience as they fight. Stick them in the thick of the action and they will gain experience faster, or you can play safe and hold them back out of harm's way.
This allows you to build up the heroes over a series of missions in the single player game, just like characters in an RPG. It's also possible that units will be carried over from one scenario to the next, presumably gaining experience as they fight their way through the campaign, though this hasn't been decided on yet.
Other role playing elements include more questing and exploring, as you track down magical items that your heroes can then use to enhance their abilities. And some characters and towns will be neutral, allowing trade with them. Bomb The Base
In fact, Blizzard are changing the entire focus of the game. Resource management is out, and base building is much less important as well, with more automation than in previous games and (from what we've seen) much smaller bases. Instead the player will have more time to concentrate on combat and tactics.
It's a pretty radical move, and sure to upset some Warcraft traditionalists, but it makes the game much more than just another RTS clone. It will be interesting to see if Blizzard can pull it off and create something coherent and fun that will appeal to both RPG and RTS fans, or just produce a mishmash of ideas that manages to upset everybody.
The bad news is that you'll have to wait at least a year for Warcraft III to be released. In the meantime we'll continue to bring you all the latest information about what promises to be one of the biggest games of next year.