It feels like the Warcraft empire is neverending. World of Warcraft continues to grow. It’s telling that in a world where Blizzard has crafted games like Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm, so many players keep coming back to the franchise that started it all.
And we have Warcraft 3 to thank for that. While it was only the third franchise entry, it laid the groundwork for the entire Warcraft universe as we know it. Furthermore, it established itself as the ultimate RTS while changing the gaming landscape forever.
With Warcraft 3: Reforged out on January 28, now is the perfect time to revisit what made Warcraft 3 a legendary game.
The Voice Cast
One of the words often used to describe Warcraft 3 is “cinematic.” In-game cutscenes help to establish our characters and plot and engross players in the story. But none of that would work without the stellar vocal cast.
A fully-voiced game may seem simple now, but it was revolutionary in 2002. And the voice actors did a stellar job of making these characters feel real. Thanks to Justin Gross, you really feel the traumas and trials of Arthas. And Michael McConnohie really makes Kel’Thuzad just as compelling as he is creepy.
Thanks to these actors, we can enjoy a game that’s all about heroes.
A Game of Heroes
Earlier franchise entries such as Warcraft 2 introduced a new generation to the RTS genre. And those early games were all about the soldier units you create to outmaneuver and overwhelm your enemy.
While much of Warcraft still focuses on producing and managing these units, there is a new twist: the heroes. While hero units in previous games basically played like regular units, the Warcraft 3 heroes have unique powers and abilities.
This created a fun kind of metagame where your management of heroes was just as important as management of other units. And it helped introduce us to the famous faces of this universe that we would see even more prominently in World of Warcraft. If nothing else, it made the RTS genre feel fresh for the first time in a long time.
Making the Hard Choices
RPG players are used to moral choices in video games. For example, Bioware players often must make a choice between Light Side/Paragone decisions and Dark Side/Renegade decisions.
Warcraft 3 brought morality to the RTS genre with a twist: you didn’t have much of a choice! When Arthas decides you must kill an entire village to prevent infection from spreading, there is no alternative. You must command your units to tear down houses and slaughter innocent people.
It makes for a genuinely gutwrenching experience. Since there is no way to avoid it, players must live with the trauma just as Arthas does. This makes his story feel fuller and richer, especially once he becomes the Lich King.
There are many different races and factions within Warcraft 3. Impressively, each one manages to play differently.
If you’re playing as the Undead, you’ll be focusing on raising the dead and building a skeletal army. Playing as the Night Elves? You’re going to take advantage of the day/night cycle and strike under cover of darkness. Meanwhile, Orc players focus on swarming and hitting things.
This adds endless depth to both the strategic aspect of gameplay and the overall replayability.
Correct In-Game balance
Here’s something that goes hand in hand with those unique race features: the gameplay always feels balanced.
Sure, you might lose a match when you get swarmed by Orcs. But that’s not because Orcs are better — it’s because you didn’t include enough ranged units to take them down from a distance!
In many ways, Warcraft 3 kicked off something Blizzard would perfect with games like Overwatch: offering players multiple gameplay options while making the overall experience feel nice and balanced.
The beating heart of any good RTS is the story. Without a solid story, you’re just making little guys stab each other with swords until they’re all dead or you’re completely bored.
Fortunately, Warcraft 3 has a fairly epic story. It creates a rich cultural background for the Orcs (who were previously little more than mindless baddies). We get the epic rise, fall, and surprise return of Arthas. And we get an epic enemy in the form of The Burning Legion that helps bring the whole story together.
Along the way, the game effortlessly builds up many elements of this world. Make no mistake: World of Warcraft would not be so rich an experience if this game had not created the blueprint for so many of its characters, races, locations, and stories.
The Perfect Tone
It’s really hard to strike the right tone in a fantasy story. If the tone is too serious, then the whole thing may seem stuffy and pretentious. But if the tone is too silly, it may come across as a bad Monty Python rip-off.
Warcraft 3 manages to get the tone just right. That epic, serious story mentioned above is counterbalanced by a really weird sense of humor. Heck, you can lose an entire afternoon just clicking on units repeatedly to see what weird things they say!
Whether intentional or not, Blizzard managed to get the perfect balance of humor and heart. This made Warcraft 3 so much more than another hack and slash game.
The final reason Warcraft 3 is so legendary is its surprising legacy. We all know that it led directly into World of Warcraft. But did you know this game helped popularize the MOBA genre?
That’s because the Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients pretty much defined MOBAs as you know them. Without Warcraft 3, we may never have had games like League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm.
In a way, this is the ultimate testimony to the legacy of Warcraft 3: even its mods become legendary. And if you want a more “legendary” version of the classic game, you can always check out Warcraft 3: Reforged.