Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos came out way back in 2002. Nonetheless, it still holds a place on top of the RTS mountain, serving as an inspiration to players and developers alike for the very best that this genre can become.
So, what makes Warcraft 3 so special? And does it have any appeal, beyond nostalgia, for players who have never experienced it?
Middle Child Syndrome
First, it’s worth noting that Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos suffers from “middle child syndrome.” Why? Simply put, it is sandwiched between two franchise entries that are arguably more legendary.
While the original Warcraft (Orcs and Humans) was a modest hit, Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness sold millions of copies worldwide. It fueled not only a hunger for multiplayer gaming, but also user-created customized maps.
And World of Warcraft, the successor to Warcraft 3, is a success that speaks for itself. It remains the most successful MMORPG in the world, and it’s what most casual gamers think of when they hear someone say “Warcraft.”
Despite being the “middle child,” though, Warcraft 3 deserves full credit for its own innovations and refinements. In fact, you wouldn’t have World of Warcraft as you know it without Warcraft 3!
Emphasis On Heroes
Rank and file units are the heart and soul of any RTS game. However, one of Blizzard’s trademarks was to imbue the rank and file soldiers with lots of personality (just see what happens when you keep clicking on a unit). If that wasn’t enough to make the franchise stand out, Blizzard also emphasized the role of heroes within the game.
While earlier games like Warcraft 2 featured hero units, Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos took it to the next level. Heroes not only had access to much cooler powers and abilities, but they could actually level up and grow even more powerful. This provided an incentive for players to take the heroes into combat instead of hiding them safely behind other units.
It quickly becomes clear that the entire narrative of Warcraft 3 revolves around these heroic characters (and villains). And these characters, along with their legacy, shaped much of the story that begins World of Warcraft.
Tons of Variety
Something that made the Warcraft franchise notable from the very beginning was letting players enjoy being both orcs and humans. This was a fun deviation from standard fantasy RTS games, but there was a built-in drawback: with a few notable exceptions, the orc and human units often played very similarly to one another.
Warcraft 3 changed that. Not only did it up the ante by doubling the playable factions (you can now play as Night Elves and the Undead as well as the familiar orcs and humans), but every faction is very distinct from other factions.
In this way, we see Blizzard’s continued evolution: they clearly took lessons they learned when making StarCraft and used them to improve their original franchise.
How does the multiplayer of Warcraft 3 hold up after all these years? Frankly, the answer to that depends on the experience you are looking for.
Compared to most modern RTS games (including later Blizzard entries such as StarCraft 2), Warcraft 3 is downright small: you are limited to 90 units at once, compared to 200 units at a time in StarCraft 2.
For some people, this is unacceptable because it is difficult to go back to such small multiplayer skirmishes. However, those who find modern RTS games a bit too frantic and crowded may enjoy a return to a simpler age of multiplayer.
Quest Within a Quest
While in-game quests seem like a matter of course nowadays, Warcraft 3 was one of the first games to implement them. While each level gives you specific objectives that must be met, you may take on optional quests from different characters along the way.
The rewards for these quests typically help you level up heroes and advance your army. Plus, these provide a fun incentive for you to further explore the map beyond the narrow confines of your mission.
If nothing else, these quests are notable because they inspired the quest system in WoW!
Warcraft 3 features many great mods for players to enjoy. And while previous entries also had cool mods, this game really takes it to a whole new level!
For example, one of the most famous mods for Warcraft 3 was the original Defense of the Ancients (DoTA). The game mode was featured at official events and became insanely popular, planting the seeds for the later explosion of MOBA-style games.
That’s right: you may never have had games like League of Legends if not for the popularity of Warcraft 3.
Warcraft 3: Reforged
After reading all of this, you may be itching to play Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos. If that’s the case, I have some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that Blizzard is working on Warcraft 3: Reforged. This brings the classic game to life using the same kind of modern graphics that powered StarCraft 2 and its spinoffs. And, according to Blizzard, you’ll still be able to enjoy all the old mods using this new engine.
The bad news? As of this writing, you can no longer buy the old Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos online from Blizzard. The only way to play it is to pre-order Reforged and then use the download code Blizzard provides to get the classic version.
If you’re a “glass half full” person, just think of this as “two games for the price of one!”
Warcraft 3 is a must-play game. First, it’s a true piece of gaming history: it helped launch WoW, made mods go mainstream, made MOBAs a thing, and so on.
Mostly, though, it’s genuine fun. Great story, engaging combat, hilarious units… what more do you want?