In the summer of 2002, I was a broke college student working overnights as a security guard. With little money and barely any friends, I mostly split my time sleeping and going to cheap Twins games ($10 for a ticket on Dollar Dog Night was a pretty great deal). But my main vice was Warcraft 3, which released that summer and quickly became a major habit.
Where I had always been extremely bad at StarCraft, I found that Warcraft 3's mix of RPG elements and grinding immediately clicked with my personal playstyle. More advanced matchmaking allowed me to play with people who were actually at my skill level. Each race brought with it a unique playstyle, building on the "asymmetrical balance" of StarCraft, and I found that I was rather good at kicking down the door with a horde of Orcs empowered by bloodlust.
My brief but torrid affair with Warcraft 3 only lasted a couple months, after which my roommate moved out. It was probably for the best, as I was hooked enough on Warcraft 3 that it probably would have legitimately impacted my schoolwork. But while my Warcraft 3 skills faded, it still retained a special place in my heart. A few years later, I would get a laptop capable of supporting Warcraft 3, and I would subsequently go on to beat both the main campaign and the expansion on hard mode—no easy feat.
In the years that followed, Warcraft 3 continued to have its share of fans, but it was largely overshadowed by StarCraft, which dominated the competitive strategy scene until League of Legends took its place around 2010. When RTS fans back then talked about Warcraft 3, it was usually to complain about how it wasn't like StarCraft; how its heroes were overpowered, and how its competitive scene fizzled pretty much everywhere but China, where it remained very, very popular.
But with Warcraft 3: Reforged out this week, PC strategy fans are celebrating Warcraft 3's unique strategy gameplay, not to mention its contributions to Warcraft's lore. Frankly, it's about time.
Much as I love StarCraft—which is one of the greatest competitive games ever made—Warcraft 3 is the better overall package. It certainly has the better campaign of the two, with missions that are infinitely more complex and interesting than those of its forebearer. You could see the genesis of what would eventually become World of Warcraft in some of its more complicated missions, which at times felt more like dungeon crawls than real-time strategy. The Frozen Throne was especially clever in the way that it had Arthas actually level down over the course of his campaign, in a perfect reflection of his loss of power.
Arthas, as it happens, is just one of the many enduringly popular characters that Warcraft 3 introduced to Blizzard's universe. Jaina Proudmoore, Sylvanas, and the Lich King all got their start in Warcraft 3. Thrall had his story migrated over from a failed adventure game, and he subsequently became the moral compass of the Orcs, who in turn became far more conflicted and interesting than they ever were in Warcraft 2. All of these characters, along with the Night Elves and the Undead, would go on to become iconic elements of World of Warcraft.
The medium likewise owes an enormous debt to Warcraft 3's versatile map editor, which was far more powerful than the one found in StarCraft. While the MOBA genre can trace its beginnings back to StarCraft's "Aeon of Strife" map, it was in the enormously popular DotA Allstars that it found its full voice, not the least because Warcraft 3's heroes offered so many interesting possibilities. In a twist of fate, it was the MOBA genre that ended up supplanting RTS several years later.
Indeed, we couldn't have known at the time the massive changes that were in store for both Blizzard and PC gaming at large. As MMOs waxed in popularity thanks to World of Warcraft, real-time strategy began to wane. When StarCraft 2 was released several years later, it proved a disappointing denouement for the genre, spreading its ideas thin across three major releases while failing to recapture the fans lost to League of Legends.
In that respect, I'd argue that Warcraft 3 has aged the best out of all of Blizzard's real-time strategy releases. Warcraft and Warcraft 2 are too simple; StarCraft's campaign is both slow and fairly simple, and StarCraft 2 all but ruins Kerrigan. Warcraft 3 may not reach the competitive heights of the original StarCraft, but its excellent campaign feels the most modern out of the bunch, and its unique mix of diverse playstyles make for a very interesting multiplayer game. I bounced off StarCraft pretty hard when it was re-released in 4K—too slow, I thought—but the Warcraft 3: Reforged beta almost immediately recaptured my heart.
So if you haven't played Warcraft 3, or you haven't picked it up since 2002, I strongly urge you to give it another chance. Free of the constant comparisons to StarCraft, it turns out that it still holds up remarkably well in this day and age. In that respect, Warcraft 3: Reforged may well be the best… and last… RTS we ever see from Blizzard.
Major Game Releases: January 27 to January 31
Here are the major releases for the week of January 27 to January 31. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Warcraft 3: Reforged [January 28 for PC]: Warcraft 3: Reforged is out this week. It's nice to see Blizzard doing right by its classic properties, even if the possibility of a new RTS set in the Warcraft or StarCraft universes still seem fairly remote. Thankfully, Warcraft 3 still holds up. It's worth playing for the campaign alone.
- Journey to the Savage Planet [January 28 for PC, Xbox One, PS4]: If you like No Man's Sky, this colorful new co-op adventure game by Typhoon Studios may be for you… or not, judging by our review. At least it seems quite pretty based on the screenshots.
- Kentucky Route Zero [January 28 for Switch, Xbox One, PS4]: A long-running adventure game series comes to an end this week. First released back in 2013, Kentucky Route Zero will close with Act 5 tomorrow. It will also be available on console for the first time ever. Caty wrote eloquently about how it reflects the quiet desperation of the years following the 2008 financial collapse in her glowing review, which you should definitely go read.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week in Gaming
Every week we list five things you should know heading into this week in gaming. This week: a classic sim celebrates its 20th anniversary, a cult favorite gets a 4K remaster, and more Silent Hill rumors emerge.
- Rumors continue to persist that a PlayStation event is just around the corner, based mostly on the fact that the PlayStation 4 was unveiled in early February 2013. Thus far Sony has been pretty much radio silent on the matter. The same goes for the next Nintendo Direct, which has been eagerly anticipated since the beginning of the year.
- Disintegration is holding a technical beta this week. It is being pitched as a new competitive shooter from a studio formed by ex-Bungie creative director Marcus Lehto. Look for our impressions later this week.
- Cult favorite rhythm action game Patapon 2 is getting a 4K remaster in just a few days. Though largely forgotten, it was a PSP staple back in the day. Get ready to have "Don-Don-Pata-Pon" stuck in your head for the rest of 2020.
- Rumors persist that a new Silent Hill project is in the works, and that it won't be a pachinko game (this is something you always have to confirm with Konami). Konami told our sister site Eurogamer that it has nothing to announce, but that it is "listening to customer feedback."
- The Sims celebrates its 20th anniversary this week. First developed by SimCity creator Will Wright, it's one of the most influential games ever created. It was a remarkably mature concept for its era, unafraid to tackle themes like sex, aging, and death. It broadened gaming's appeal beyond the medium's traditional audience of young men, setting the stage for the rise of "casual gaming" a few years later. Remarkably, the Sims continues today in The Sims 4 and its many, many expansion packs, making it one of the few classic PC sims that EA hasn't managed to kill off in one way or another.
Axe of the Blood God for January 6, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
It's another Axe of the Blood God mailbag! We tackle all of your questions as we wrap up the first month of 2020. Plus, Mike joins us as we talk Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Temtem, and the new Kingdom Hearts 3 DLC!