Before Blizzard took the stage to open the festivities at BlizzCon 2014, rumors swirled on Reddit and elsewhere that WarCraft IV was imminent. "Nah," I thought to myself. "That's too good to be true." And sure enough, I was proven right when Blizzard announced Overwatch, which some are calling Blizzard's Team Fortress 3.
But man, what I wouldn't do for a proper sequel to WarCraft III. And I don't mean another MMORPG, either.
I realize that in pining for WarCraft IV I'm part of the problem. I know this. For years, critics bagged on Blizzard for focus on their primary franchises to the exclusion of anything new. And now that they're finally announcing what appears to be a totally new IP (which looks pretty amazing, by the way), people like me are begging them to make a new WarCraft RTS. For developers like Blizzard, and every other studio with a popular IP, any new announcement is invariably a lose-lose proposition with a certain segment of the populace.
But in my heart of hearts, I don't care. As much as I love StarCraft, I've always been more of a WarCraft RTS supporter at heart. I like that it's not afraid to take risks and shake things up in the service of telling a good story; and while it certainly owes a lot to Warhammer, Blizzard's first-rate art has done much to differentiate it.
Granted, WarCraft III is somewhat controversial even among stalwart Blizzard RTS fans. When it was first released back in 2002, many complained about its reduced unit counts, heavy emphasis on micromanagement, and its focus on what some perceived as overpowered hero units. It was weird, it was different, and it was definitely not StarCraft, which was wildly popular among competitive gamers in those days.
Naturally, I loved it.
WarCraft III clicked with me immediately in a way that StarCraft never really had. Macro-management has never really been a strength of mine, so the reduced unit count was something of a relief, and I intuitively grasped concepts like creeping—killing mobs to earn XP for heroes—and hero skill trees. On top of that, WarCraft III boasted one of the best single-player campaigns ever, which smartly utilized heroes for an experience that sat somewhere between Diablo and StarCraft. As a WarCraft fan, I was gripped by the story of Arthas—the prince who lost his soul to a cursed blade—and the redemption of the orcs under their leader Thrall—a refugee from the long-lost WarCraft Adventures, even if it hewed a shade too close to StarCraft in places. When Arthas finally ascended the steps at the end of the Frozen Throne and merged with the Lich King to become Azeroth's new number one bad guy, I was all set for the sequel.
But of course, that sequel would never come. Instead, Blizzard shifted their resources to World of WarCraft, which was successful beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Try as I might, I could never really buy into Blizzard's MMORPG, which left me on the sidelines as Azeroth marched inexorably onward. I never really gave up hope on a true sequel to WarCraft III, but with the dramatic rise of WoW, the possibility of a new WarCraft RTS became increasingly remote as the years went by.
These days, Blizzard seems content to let StarCraft carry the torch in the RTS genre. Outside of WoW, WarCraft III's legacy has mostly been carried on by DotA 2, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm—descendants of WarCraft III's original Defense of the Ancient map. Given that, the possibility of WarCraft IV seems remote at best.
And yet, WarCraft is older than either StarCraft or Diablo. It was the series that keyed the studio's dramatic rise from niche SNES developer to historic powerhouse. WarCraft was once synonmous with real-time strategy to the point that many critics derisively referred to StarCraft as "orcs in space." It would be a real shame if Blizzard were to neglect such a crucial part of their history, especially with Westwood Studios having long since been assimilated by Blizzard. It would be like Nintendo neglecting Mario as a core platformer just because Mario Party happened to sell like gangbusters at one point.
Truthfully, I'm not getting my hopes up for a new WarCraft RTS. And you know, I am pretty excited for Overwatch. But you know, I would love to be wrong. After all these years, it's time that Blizzard went back to its roots.