Game Over Online ~ WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne

GameOver Game Reviews - WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne (c) Blizzard, Reviewed by - Jeff 'Linkphreak' Haynes

Game & Publisher WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne (c) Blizzard
System Requirements Windows, 400MHz Processor, 128MB RAM, 550MB HDD, 8MB 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM, Copy of WarCraft III
Overall Rating 92%
Date Published Monday, August 4th, 2003 at 12:27 PM

Divider Left By: Jeff 'Linkphreak' Haynes Divider Right

Ask anyone what the greatest problem with any sequel is, and they’ll most likely say that it’s consistency. Most fail to live up to the creativity and spontaneity of their predecessors, dooming a series to mediocrity. Blizzard has managed to escape this death sentence with all of its titles. From Diablo to Starcraft, Blizzard’s games have managed to redefine the action, strategy and role-playing genres. But what’s even more impressive is that they’ve managed to consistently produce expansion packs to games that have solid plots and enough engaging gameplay that equal or surpass the original title. Take their longest running series, Warcraft, for example. The three titular games set the tone for the games, but their expansion packs inevitably stretched the franchise in directions that captivated their audiences. Their latest effort, Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, takes up the mantle of Blizzard’s expansions admirably, proving that lightning often strikes twice for their games.

The Frozen Throne picks up numerous months after the defeat of the Burning Legion from Warcraft III with a world in serious disarray. Arthas and his Scourge have overrun Lordaeron and its nearby lands, slaughtering any living creature in their path. With only the greatest of luck, remaining survivors flee to the shores of Kalimdor. Luck plays a major factor, since the other races have effectively turned a blind eye to the state of Lordaeron. The Orcs have gone further into the barrens of Kalimdor to establish their own nation, while the Night Elves have returned to their lands to tend to the environmentally ravaged forests. Yet while Arthas seeks to conquer Azeroth with his undead armies, Illidan Stormrage prepares to unleash his revenge towards his enemies.

That’s right, everyone’s favorite fallen demon hunter has returned, and by the look in his eyes, he’s really pissed off. Well, maybe not in his eyes, since he’s blind, but he certainly isn’t in the mood for games. As demonstrated in the opening cinematic of the game, Illidan feels completely betrayed and isolated from his fellow night elves. Seeking an instrument for his rage, he uses his magical powers to rally the Naga, an ancient race from the seas of Azeroth. Harboring their own dark secrets and a personal grudge against land-dwellers, the Naga are more than willing to wage war for their new master.

If it isn’t immediately noticeable by the quick plot summary, Frozen Throne is a lot darker than other games in the series. Murder, revenge and betrayal take center stage as the heroes of each side seem to give into raw emotion. In fact, most of the heroes actually take on the mantle of the “anti-hero,” forcing players to constantly re-evaluate just who the “bad guy” is in every mission. What stands as a true testament to Blizzard’s abilities as master storytellers is the fact that players get completely wrapped up in the plot itself, disregarding some of the more morally unpalatable actions as understandable in the course of this conflict.

There's at least twice the number of items and secret areas within Frozen Throne than Warcraft III, which also provides a ton of replay on top of the varying difficulty level. Exploration of every square inch of the map is recommended, as acquiring rare items or bonus missions await players who are diligent enough to unearth every tree that hides a treasure. With a trusty BradyGames guide in hand, I was able to discover the best way to fend off attacks in the Elven Bonus level. I also managed to find "cross-over" items from other Blizzard titles, such as Wirt's leg, a blatant homage to Diablo that made me roar with laughter.

There are a number of improvements made in this expansion pack aside from the morally complex story. First of all, each race has at least one new hero, one new building and two new units on top of new upgrades. Cheaper to produce and easier to acquire in the beginning of a mission, these improvements help counter the ubiquitous RTS problem of the “tank rush. ” By negating or even turning an attacking army’s magic against them, for example, tank rushes and other early base destruction tactics require more strategy to be successful. Even the most powerful character can be rendered useless with effective management of the recent upgrades.

Next, the number of races has basically increased to 6 in this new conflict. Aside from controlling, building and upgrading Naga structures and units, players will also be introduced to the Draenei. Natural enemies of the Orcs and natives of Draenor, these wraith-like creatures appear in certain missions as specialist units. The final race, which is perhaps one of the more significant changes to the game dynamic, is a deviation from the Human Alliance to that of the Blood Elves. Comprised solely of warriors who are the last of their kind seeking revenge for the devastation of their lands from the Scourge, the Blood Elves are the focus of the “Human” campaign.

Aside from your forces, you’ll also have the option to interact with neutral buildings to augment your armies. At least three new buildings can be found within Frozen Throne, including a marketplace to sell and acquire new items for your heroes. Taverns allow you to recruit new neutral heroes to fight for your side, including one of the funniest hoaxes to ever become a game character, the Pandaren Brewmaster. Created from an April Fools joke by Blizzard on a hungry gaming world awaiting Warcraft III, the interest surrounding the Brewmaster was so great that it was included in the expansion pack. On top of that, Warcraft finally returns to the seas with the inclusion of Goblin shipyards, letting players launch warships and battle cruisers.

While the crux of gameplay within Frozen Throne centers around Illidan’s revenge (and that’s really simplifying the plot), the other surprise within the game is the Orc Campaign. Not figuring into the storyline of the Frozen Throne at all, Blizzard decided to instead give them their own adventure. The Orc campaign introduces players to Rexxar, a half-orc/half-ogre beastmaster who adventures through the barrens of Kalimdor. Quickly meeting Thrall, Rexxar becomes a hero that helps the Orcs establish and defend their new nation of Durotar against potential threats. Reminiscent of Diablo, Rexxar receives quests, acquires items and slays enemies, gaining experience and abilities from each task. It’s a completely unexpected direction to take the Warcraft brand, but it succeeds admirably, with plenty of missions and interesting characters. Personally, I hope that Blizzard takes this idea even farther, creating even more adventures like this.

Graphically, players are still getting treated to a visual feast during gameplay. Character portraits are still as sharp as ever, and in-game animation is crisp and impressive. While the lip sync issue from Warcraft III hasn’t been addressed, it’s not so distracting that it ruins gameplay. The one thing that could’ve been improved upon was the near constant reliance upon cutscenes in the middle of almost every mission. I totally understand and appreciate the explanation of how some condition on the battlefield has changed, but frequently getting interrupted during a mission can break the tension of play. Aside from that, we only are provided with a cinematic at the start and the end of the game. Were it any other company, I’d only want this, especially since a lot of companies have weak cinematic sequences. But Blizzard has steadily raised the bar of realistic CG filmmaking, and to be restricted to only two movies is like giving someone dying of thirst in the Sahara merely two drops of water.

Sound is just as impressive as its predecessor, with an increased number of sound clips for each character. Blizzard has established a great feature with attention-grabbing bytes, and there’s no shortage of them in Frozen Throne. I dare you to not spend at least one mission simply clicking on every character to get them to exhaust their lines without laughing. (It won’t happen, trust me.) Adding to the game is the music, which evokes the dark atmosphere and conflict on every computer screen. Blizzard has always been a master of atmospheric sound, and Frozen Throne is no different than any of their other titles.

Along with a solid single player campaign of more than two dozen missions, a unique RPG take on the Orc campaign and a ton of improvements, Frozen Throne also comes complete with a great map editor and an enhanced Battle.Net experience. Now boasting larger Clans, Tournaments and a chat feature while browsing for opponents, Battle.Net is perfect for gamers who need a challenge after the single player missions have been conquered. The only complaints that might arise about the gameplay seem rather trivial in comparison to what you get from the expansion. For starters, the new races are very cool, but they do raise the desire to control and build a complete tech tree for each group, especially the Draenei. Understandably, this isn’t their conflict, but you can only hope for an increased role in the next title.

That’s right, I said next title, because the cliffhanger of an ending will leave players even hungrier for the next installment. With such a radical turn made for most of the heroes of Azeroth, there’s a lot of loose ends that still need to be tied up, and if there was any kind of a weakness, it might (and I do mean might in the smallest, most skeptical sense) reside in the non-resolution of many characters such as Maiev, Prince Kael, Vashj, and Sylvanas. If anything, Sylvanas and Arthas seem to be set as the next potential conflict, just as Illidan versus Arthas was the headlining battle of the Frozen Throne. Let’s just hope, fellow gamers, that Blizzard manages to produce the next chapter in the story quickly!

Simply put, the Frozen Throne is the standard that expansion packs for RTS titles will be judged by. Not only did it advance and improve the story of Warcraft, but it also introduced an innovative campaign for one of gaming’s most respected factions. What’s more, the sheer number of enhancements makes each mission enjoyable to play from the first building placed to the last enemy destroyed. Any fan of Warcraft should be honored to have Frozen Throne seated atop their gaming collection.


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