Gaming

Warcraft III Expansion: the Frozen Throne - Reviewed by Yian

Gameplay : 9/10
Sounds & Music : 8.5/10
Graphics : 9/10

Blizzard is a company known for it's crazy, rabid developers, and more famously for it's quality, high-polish games. When Warcraft III was released, many Starcraft and Warcraft II fans dismissed it as a 3D "re-hash", even though it's gameplay was different to both games. Warcraft III was one of the first RTS games to incorporate RPG Diablo-style elements, in the form of heroes that can gain experience and use items. It had a comprehensible single player campaign, with a tightly woven storyline. A year later, the expansion Warcraft III: Frozen Throne was released.

As an expansion, The Frozen Throne delivers such a quantity of changes that one would be forgiven for mistaking it for a sequel! Each race now has a new building: a shop, from which their heroes can buy items, many of which are new. For example, the human Arcane Vault (shop) offers an item which when used produces a spy unit, which is a critter! It appears as a critter to all other players. The undead and humans have new towers, and of course all races have 1 new hero and 2 new units. New researches are available, and there is a new shop-like building, the tavern, where you can buy 'neutral' heroes from, without having to wait for their production.

Many elements of Warcraft III were toned down, most notably the importance of the hero in the game. A hero now can only level up to level 5 by killing creeps, as opposed to before where you could reach level 10 thanks to creeping, and then come down on the enemy-you'd be almost unstoppable. Other units have been weakened through repetitive balance fixes in patches. For example the legendary Frost Wyrm, while still the most powerful undead flying unit, is not as strong as before. These changes have allowed for many more alternative strategies to be developed.

Many gameplay corners that were left open in Warcraft III have been patched up, ensuring there are many ways to counter a strategy. For example, now the human Dragonhawk unit can use the cloud ability, which stops towers and other ranged buildings from attacking. This means towers are can also be countered by other than catapult strategies.

The expansion's single player campaign again makes it easy to get to grips with game changes and new units. However, the story is less well written, leaving open questions, and lacking a common undercurrent since now the orcs and humans have split paths. There very few after-mission videos, unless you count the in-game scenes, which just don't break the mold like the Warcraft III videos did.

During the campaign you can control units and hero of a 'new' race, which is for some reason only available in those specific campaign missions. Many fans feel that Blizzard should have allowed the Naga (as they are called) to be a new selectable race, adding to the already impressive list of new game material. It seems almost all the unit models and building were already made, so it is indeed hard to figure out why Blizzard didn't bundle the Naga as a new race.

Some gameplay elements which are only found in the single player campaigns, are the unlocking of certain areas on the map by using your hero to execute a "trigger" event-it might be killing a certain creep, or even destroying a chunk of rocks, a new type of destructible scenery found in many maps, both multiplayer and single-player. While the unlocking concept could be hard to implement in multiplayer or standard single player maps, creating great balance issues, it would have been nice to have seen a bold attempt to fit them in.

Another concept which is not used to it's full potential is ships: originally in Warcraft II, they were absent in Warcraft III, only to return now with this expansion. They can be bought at ‘neutral’ buildings (Docks), transport ships are available, and they must be used in certain single player missions. They are also present in very few maps, which can be played online. In the maps where they are present, their importance is too great-it’s not like a zeppelin, where you can choose to simply have your units walk or use it, and which allows some units to carry on by foot after it’s destroyed….if your transport ship sinks, no units survive. It is also the only way your units can cross the sea, and in the maps where it’s used, deep sea separates your base from creeps and gold mines on other islands, meaning the player who controls the sea can easily create a deadlock that will win him the game.

The game's sounds can immerse you completely, especially if you have a sub woofer available. The repeated banging of weapons, however, can become tiring during repetitive skirmishes or long battles. A new music track has been added for each race, which is at least as decent as any Warcraft III music track.

The game now allows you to turn off spell effects, meaning you can optimise performance even more on old PCs. New units, which appear in the expansion, are in fact generally better designed than their Warcraft III predecessors. The spell effects are colourful, and many new innovative hero skills can be amusing to watch, such as the Firelord's Lava Spawn skill, which produces many small, spherical minions (lava spawn).

As far as multiplayer on Battle.NET is concerned, things have become more user friendly, having a button for you to view your profile without having to enter a channel. Custom games still flourish and the improvements to the custom game builder, such as new scenery props and destructibles (rock chunks),as well as the unlocking of areas on map(mention above) means custom games using these new features can be developed, giving rise to new "genres" of custom games online.

On the other hand, Battle.NET has become a much more competitive place, with the increase of possible strategies opened up by all the new units and buildings. The Frozen Throne tournaments offer some challenge to experienced players, while 3v3 and 4v4 are a fun team experience. Most Battle.NET matches are still relatively short, making it possible to have many games in a smaller time period, or just a few quick games before work! There is occasional delay on Battle.NET, but 99% of the time it’s a place where people with 56k modems and 4Mb DSL can compete lag-free alike. The excellent Battle.NET greatly extends the replayability and life of the game.

This expansion to Warcraft III delivers the amazing quality in gameplay, the originality in designs, all so well polished that even the most demanding of fans can forgive it’s small shortcomings. If you enjoyed Warcraft III, then The Frozen Throne is all you could ever want from an expansion pack.

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