dorchadas: (Warcraft Algalon)
[personal profile] dorchadas
Warcraft is the series that I've put the most time into. Even completely ignoring World of Warcrafr--my main had something like 450 days /played by the time I lost interest in the game in in 2011--Warcraft III was my go-to game for pretty much all of university. I'd work on a paper for a while, load up WCIII and play a quick game, then go back to the paper. Back in high school, instead it was Warcraft II, and I was good enough that our team placed second in a tournament that the high school games club ran entirely on the strength of my performance. I mean, one of my team members forgot to build a town hall.

Warcraft I, though, I have less experience with. I came into the fandom (as the kids say nowadays) with WCII, so I got used to that game's much more capable interface. I eventually borrowed the install discs from a friend and played through Warcraft I, and then after I beat it I never went back.

Until now.

Warcraft I humans vs orcs battle
Welcome to the world of Warcraft.

Warcraft: Orcs & Humans comes from a simpler time in the franchise's history. Nowadays I have friends telling me about what's happening in World of Warcraft, all the convoluted twists and turns the story is taking, what lore characters have died or have gone insane and had to be put down like mad dogs. I wasn't even around for the time travel to an alternate reality. This game doesn't have any of that. It doesn't even have elves or dwarves. It's just the kingdom of Azeroth, prosperous and happy, and the vile Orcish hordes who appeared out of nowhere and assaulted their borders, eventually destroying them and forcing the refugees to flee. Emoji Axe Rage

Now it's true that the backstory (revealed only in the manual, as was the way of games in 1994) described the orcs as coming from another world, but it was dimensional travel through magic, the same as so many other games. And anyway, that's only in the manual. From the mission crawls in the game, this might as well be a generic fantasy game. Perhaps based on some other popular franchise. With "war" in the name.

The story's just an excuse to pit the two factions against each other, though I do prefer the way it plays out here rather than the later retcons. Originally, the war for Azeroth took over a decade as the Horde made a quick attack that was pushed back by the knights of Stormwind and then slowly acclimated themselves to the new lands, launched border raids, brought more orcs through the portal, and gradually developed an army capable of conquering Azeroth. The modern timeline has it take something like two and a half years, which makes more sense in the context of the larger world--like, did King Llane never send away to Lordaeron or Kul Tiras for help--but removes the slowly-building threat.

I suppose it doesn't matter much. None of that is important to the gameplay or even referenced in the game itself.

Warcraft I kill zone
Emoji Ork shake fist

I've never played Dune II, so I don't know how Warcraft I compares. But I know that even coming from Warcraft II, the gameplay for Warcraft I was almost impossible to adapt to. It's only possible to select four units at a time and there's no way to set unit groups, so every single time you want to issue orders you have to pick the units out of the mass, give them an order, select four more units, and repeat. There are no contextual mouse clicks, so the only way to order units is to hit M for move or A for attack.

What's worse, the AI is abysmal. It's possible to win almost every battle using the same tactics that would prove popular in World of Warcraft a decade later: send out a ranged unit to pull some enemies and lead them back to a kill zone. Setting up a formation of units and pulling enemy units back to it can defeat even vastly-superior forces and it's how I won most of the game. The computer simply wasn't capable of understanding what I was doing, so when I sent an archer to go attack a grunt, or even just to move near the grunt, that grunt any maybe one other orc would run obediently all across the entire map back to my formation of catapults, archers, and knights. Once I got summoning spells it was even easier, because then there was no longer any risk to my units at all. Just summon spiders, send them to pull, and run them back.

The AI doesn't just affect the enemy units, though. Player-controlled units are incredibly stupid, often completely ignoring any enemies who aren't within their attack radius. For melee units, that means any enemies who aren't next to them. There were multiple times I got a notice that my town was under attack and scrolled over to see a knight murdering my peons while several raiders sat nearby, easily within range to respond, but doing nothing unless directly ordered. Emoji facepalm There is a lot of extraneous clicking in Warcraft I.

Warcraft I raise dead
Rise from your grave.

At first I thought that playing through would take me much longer than I had expected and was all set to spend most of the game tabbed out and reading other things on the internet, which is never a good sign with a game. But it turned out that there was a dynamic speed setting, adjustable within the mission, and that saved me from several hours of boredom.

However, it's badly balanced. The basic gameplay is simply too slow, with large periods of nothing happening analogous to just hitting 'end turn' over and over again in a game of Civilization. So I would raise the speed to maximum. But then the enemy would show up, and maximum speed would be much too fast for my reflexes to properly micro all my idiotic units. So the game was a constant cycle of crank speed up to maximum -> wait for resources to accumulate -> watch for red dots on the map -> crank speed down when red dots appeared and start moving units -> crank speed down further when battle is joined -> battle ends -> crank speed up to maximum...

At least, that's what I did until I got the ability to summon daemons, after which point the game broke in half. Emoji Cute shrug

Warcraft I Daemons attacking
The tide of darkness.

Warcraft I comes from the era of RTS design where generally, the sides were symmetrical. Footmen are grunts, spearmen are archers, knights are raiders, and so on. Each building on the human side has its counterpart on the orc side, and the only real mark of individuality are the spells that the casters get. The humans have clerics--of G-d rather than the Holy Light, since the church chants "Deo Gratias" when clicked on--that can heal, have clairvoyance, and turn units invisible, and the orcs have necrolytes that can raise the dead, have clairvoyance, and can grant temporary invisibility. The humans have conjurers that can summon scorpions, rains of fire, and water elementals, while the orcs have warlocks who can summon spiders, clouds of poison, and daemons.

Even most of the spells are the same, but water elementals vs daemons is worth comparing. Water elementals are a ranged unit. They're powerful, but they're designed to support an army from the rear, launching powerful water bolts into the orcish hordes. Meanwhile, daemons are a one-man army. A single daemon is capable of killing multiple knights by itself, and a group of daemons can level a city. And since the only thing necessary for summoning is mana, and since mana replenishes by itself, once you research Major Summoning the game is over. The way to win is to sit in your base with an army of warlocks and just send out waves of daemons.

I assume that the human side doesn't have it so easy, but I tried to stick to canon as close as I could. I played the human campaign up through killing Medivh and then switched to the orc campaign, so I never had to face daemons in battle, I only got to use them. And in the last level, no orc ever got out of sight of my initial base. I destroyed three cities with waves of daemons at no risk to myself and kept my army next to my starting base in order to ward off invisible assassins. As the above section about the AI should indicate, it worked acceptably. But I still won with my fifty daemons. The humans never stood a chance.

Warcraft I killing Medivh
The Last Guardian falls.

I heard recently that Blizzard spent some time considering remastering the earlier Warcraft games with modern graphics and to run on modern systems without problems, the way they recently remastered Starcraft, but they eventually abandoned the idea because it simply wouldn't be fun. And they're right. After Warcraft III, with its staggered storytelling through campaigns and its asymmetrical but (mostly) balanced factions, Warcraft I simply can't compare. Even with Starcraft II's interface, it just wouldn't be that interesting.

There are Warcraft III campaigns that try to recreate Warcraft I in that engine, but I don't think I have to play them. And I don't have to play Warcraft I again. Warcraft II came out a year later and I remember it being better in every conceivable way. And based on my this playthrough, it was.

Well, maybe not every conceivable way. The unstoppable daemon horde wasn't balanced, but it was certainly fun.

Date: 2017-Jul-20, Thursday 03:14 (UTC)
q99: (Default)
From: [personal profile] q99
Warcraft 2 is really where things started both plot and gameplay wise.

And Water Elementals were still strong enough to basically fill the role of Demons- their differences only mattered matched up to each other, either let you nuke the enemy in large numbers from safety.

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