Has World of Warcraft’s reputation hurt the Warcraft brand?

I was just thinking about the games that I used to play when I was younger, and some games such as Warcraft 2 came to mind. Remember how crazy people were over the first two Warcrafts? And then the third game came along and it was pretty much hailed as the best RTS around and was critically acclaimed by, well, pretty much the entire planet.

Afterwards came World of Warcraft. Back in 2004, it was just a tiny MMORPG that was well received by many and was hoping to make a difference in the market. WoW seemed harmless enough back then, and playing it was actually encouraged by most gamers, as well as Warcraft fans who wanted to see the franchise reach new audiences.

It’s interesting what only a few years can do.

Despite the graphical limitations of World of Warcraft today, it continues to push the envelope and constantly redefines what MMORPGs are and how they should be played. Despite the game looking and playing better than ever before, it is no longer looked upon kindly by most people. Yes it does still have millions of active subscribers, but for every subscriber there are several people who condemn the game and say that they will never touch it. A lot of WoW players even admit to being afraid to tell others that they play WoW, because they do not want to be embarrassed by them.

I look at how beloved Warcraft used to be in the hearts of PC gamers and then at how the franchise is treated today, solely due to World of Warcraft. With so much anti-WoW hate circling the internet these days, it makes me wonder…. If Warcraft 4 ever sees the light of day, will the WoW naysayers, some who are former Warcraft fans themselves, embrace the new RTS? Or will they dismiss it solely because it has “Warcraft” in it’s name, and they do not want to associate with anything that is even vaguely similar to World of Warcraft?

In 2004 and 2005, it used to be cool to play WoW. In 2009 and 2010, it is cool to hate it. Could this hate affect how people view any future Warcraft product that does not tie into WoW, or is the general public smarter than this?

Given how influential we are as a people and how easily our opinions can be swayed due to silly reasons, I’m leaning towards believing that the Warcraft name itself has probably been permanently damaged and a Warcraft 4, even if it is the most advanced and impressive RTS game of all time, will not win back any ex-Warcraft fans easily. Some would surely come back, but how many? And how long would it take the naysayers to not lump this game in with WoW just for sake of wanting to further enhance it’s bad image?

Return to December 2010 Articles

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The Most Epic Video Game Ever

So while I was cleaning myself up for work this evening, an idea hit me for a game that transitions between genres. In essence, it would be a game that has no defining genre. Imagine the following being shown at a demonstration at E3, the Tokyo Game Show, or some other conference.

The demonstration opens with what seems to be a futuristic racing game. Heavily armored jet-tanks (think Wipeout on steroids) barrel through a jungle landscape dotted with high tech ruins. An NPC portrait appears on the screen as the player speeds through the jungle, informing them via radio to pick up “abandoned weapon cores” laying around the environment. By running over one, players acquire high powered laser/missle weapons that anihilate the opposition when fired. The NPC urges the player to “hurry and beat that bastard to the checkpoint, the safety of the world depends upon it! Use any necessary force!”

The player immediately realizes that the message told the player to throw attack after attack at their opponent. After taking enough damage, the bad guy’s vehicle suddenly explodes, but it turns out that he ejected from the seat at the last moment! The NPC on the radio tells the player to “get the hell outside and stop him from getting away!”

The player gets out of their vehicle and gives chase, quickly catching up on foot. The bad guy feels their presence and turns around. He then indicates that, “You just don’t give up, do it? Fine, let’s settle this now. Like men.”

The camera transitions out to view the two men from a side view perspective as two bars appear at the top of the screen. And then it happens…..

Round one. Fight!!

The game goes from combat racing game to what seems like a full fledged fighter! The two characters go at it, performing combos, linking moves to form chains, performing breakers and parries.. And so forth. After two rounds of highly stylized fighting, the player wins.

As those watching expect a “(CHARACTER NAME) WINS!” message to flash up, they instead witness something else.

Victory! Mission Complete!

An experience bar appears as a score that is calculated basd on performance in the race and then the fight are converted into experience points. The bar fills. LEVEL UP!

The screen fades to black and the player receives a save prompt. After saving, a cutscene plays with the player character entering what looks to be a military operations base. The NPC who previously spoke to the player in their racer is here, revealing himself to be “the General” and the guy who tells the player what to do. The General informs the main character that they may have taken one one of the evil corporation’s main henchmen, but there are still several out there. The General brings up a map, pointing to an area of structures and saying “this is where we are, in this base.” He tells the player that they have to push northwest to a research station that likely holds some valuable information that they can use against the evil corporation. The main character tells the General that he can count on him and leaves the room… And then the game loads into what appears to be an RTS map. The player takes control of the base, building structures and training units to destroy the evil corporation’s defenses near the research station. The main character, as a unit, must survive and be the one to capture the station.

After capturing the research station, the main character enters and finds one of the evil corporation’s henchmen inside. He is waving a disc and saying, “looking for this?” he escapes in a racer. The player hops in one as well, and a sequence similar to the jungle race plays out. After the player fires enough power-ups into the bad guy, his ship will appear to start exploding. The bad guy laughs and says that he isn’t going to give up and… ESCAPES IN A POD INTO THE SKY! The General orders the player to pursue! With the press of a button in the racer’s console, it turns into a flying vehicle and flies into the sky!

The camera angle shifts to the side as the player gains control of the vehicle in the air. Reinforcements from the evil corporation arrive in the form of enemy aircrafts. The player, flying forward the entire time, must shoot them down and salvage their weapons before they explode. After destroying several waves, the player finds the bad guy in a giant robot that he retreived from the evil corporation’s base. Resembling a ship at least a dozen times larger than the player, the bad guy’s ship is capable of firing huge volleys of deadly projectiles. After getting in enough shots, the bad guy’s ship begins exploding. The General begins to congratulate the player when the bad guy cuts them off with, “NOT SO FAST! I’M TAKING YOU WITH ME!” The bad guy fires one last shot before exploding. The shot hits the player’s ship as the begin to spiral out of control. The General urges the player to land safely, but it is impossible. After spinning well of course, the player makes a light crash in an abandoned area.

The player crawls out of their ship to survey the damage and see where they are. As they are examining the hull of their ship, there is moaning… Shuffling feet… The player turns and looks back and there it is! A zombie!!

Suddenly playing like Resident Evil 5, the player is tasked with getting the hell out of what appears to another research station where all hell broke loose. With each zombie killed, a “+1 XP” message flashes over the fallen corpse. Eventually the player gets to the end of the station. Just as they are about to leave, a huge zombie horde attacks! As all hope looks lost, suddenly two people burst in and push the zombies back. Allies from the command base! After defeating the zombies, they introduce themselves as Sergeant Brock and Captain Sharp. They agree to get the hell out of there with the player and then this message appears..

– BROCK AND SHARP HAVE JOINED THE PARTY –

The party then leaves. Victory! Mission Complete!

An experience bar appears once more as a score that is calculated basd on performance in the race and then the fight are converted into experience points. The bar fills. LEVEL UP!

An overworld map appears. The research station they were at is greyed out. Ahead is a sparse plain. The player selects it and enters. The game shifts to a location that looks and plays like the Archylte Steppe from Final Fantasy XIII. The player’s destination is marked on their map as they must traverse through the open wilds. If they are unfortunate enough to bump into one of the local critters, a dramatic battle transition occurs. Rather than going to an RPG battle screen, the fighting system from before returns! Brock and Sharp appear as what seems to be tag-team partners (think Marvel vs Capcom). The creatures that the player is fighting? A series of wolves! While the player has three characters to alternate between, each with diverse move sets and special attacks, the opposing force is made up of approximately twenty wolves. The player characters seem able to take about ten hits from a wolf before dying (though it would be more if they gained more levels), but each wolf can only appear to take about four or five hits. After defeating all the wolves, each character is awarded experience points based upon how much they were used and how beneficial they were in determining the outcome of the battle. The player then continues, trying to avoid as many fights as possible….

And that is as far as my imagination went. So, what did we include here?
Racing? Check.
Fighting? Check.
RTS? Check.
Retro shooter? Check.
Survival horror? Check.
RPG leveling mechanics? Check.

How would something like this be defined? What genre would it fit under? I had an idea to add in a sort of Civilization or Sim City element to this game idea as well. Would that have been overkill? No, the “playable sports league minigame/diversion from the main story” probably would be, though. Or maybe functional online multiplayer?

Okay, that’s enough. I’m stopping now, I promise.

Return to August 2010 Articles

Gratuitous Space Battles (Review)

“Without a doubt, this is a sci-fi strategist’s wet dream.”

Imagine epic space battles involving fleets of battle cruisers and star ships that you have fully customized. You have manually outfitted them with weapons, engines, crew members, and more. You’ve even named your wonderful creations. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? Despite the fact that the game controls these ships that you make, it’s still fairly awesome!

In Gratuitous Space Battles, players take on the role of a commander in charge of a military star ship fleet. As the head honcho, you get to decide what ships make up the fleet, as well as what the ships are outfitted with. Ignoring the gameplay and the missions for a bit, I will talk about this interesting customization aspect.

From the main menu, players can enter a ship builder menu that allows you to load up a design schematic for a ship and outfit it with weapons, engines, shields, armors, and more. There are so many possible combinations that I cannot even venture a guess at the approximate number of ships you can design, but it’s surely in the thousands at the very least.

As you toss various parts onto your custom ships, you will notice that each new part will increase the required crew capacity and power output needed for the ship to function. Adding crew quarters and power generators solves these issues, unless you are throwing the best parts onto your ship. If you toss many of the best ship parts in the game, you may not be able to staff enough crew or generate enough power for the ship to function. It’s important that you balance your ship properly, making sure it stands a chance against the opponents while keeping the required crew and power at reasonable levels.

After making several ships, you get to tackle the game’s fairly straight forward missions. Despite the fact that the game controls your ships once the missions begin, the outcome of the battles still depends entirely on you. How, you ask? Prior to the start of each mission, you are treated with a deployment screen. On this screen you can deploy and arrange your ships in any formation you choose. Since the enemy’s ships are visible on this screen, you must plan your fleet’s formation and place each ship in the most strategically fit location that you can find. After placing your ships, you can individually select each to determine their attack ranges, what their primary weapons will be, when the will start firing, and toggle the kill order priority, meaning you can decide which ship classes (cruiser, frigate, etc.) your ships are most likely to attack first.

After you are satisfied with your deployment, you start the mission. This is where you get to sit back and relax, watching your fleet go to work. Will they annihilate the enemy forces, or will your proud fleet be humiliated miserably? It all depends on how you have outfitted your ships and what their tactics are set to. A few wrong decisions and you’ll be forced to watch your fleet be destroyed. However, a few clever moves can result in your fleet absolutely dominating the battle. As I said, it all depends upon how you set your fleet up. It’s a very strategic kind of gameplay.

The ingame graphics are pretty cool. In motion, the game looks like a battlefield from a space RTS. The ships are all wonderfully designed, and as the action picks up, everything becomes hectic and things become difficult to follow with so many projectiles being fired everywhere. It’s quite cool looking, and it really does simulate space battles pretty well.

The music and sound effects are all pretty epic, and kind of remind me of the music from the Star Trek Armada games. The amount of sounds that will be coming out of your speakers during each battle is pretty astonishing, and it sounds really awesome.

Completing missions will award you with points that you can use to unlock new ship upgrades and more, and it’s also possible to duel online opponents. I haven’t tried that feature of the game yet, but the idea of two fully customized fleets duking it out sounds pretty great. Overall, the game is a lot of fun to pick up and check out, and there are many features that definitely prolong the gameplay of Gratuitous Space Battles. If you’re looking for a very strategic war simulation in space, this may be your new best friend. As a fairly cheap game on Steam that sells for only a few dollars, can you really go wrong with this? No way. The game is pretty cool, so give it a try if this is the sort of game you’re looking to play.

Final Score

8.2/10

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (Review)

“Quite possibly the greatest RTS ever made.”

Twelve years ago, I tried a new Blizzard Entertainment game called StarCraft. The “Craft” suffix seemed to imply that it was Warcraft in space. Was it? Not really. It had all of the standard RTS features and the story telling was typical Blizzard fare, but it was definitely was not a space themed copy of its fantasy RTS cousin.

I didn’t care much for the new revered game. What most people called the best RTS ever made, I called a tedious and ugly borefest. I never felt entertained or immersed, nor did I ever get a sense of fulfillment out of the game. I wrote StarCraft off as a game that was obviously quite good since everyone else loved it, but it just wasn’t for me.

Now, here we are, in the year 2010. StarCraft II has finally been released and I purchased and downloaded the game on launch day. I went into the game not sure what to expect, but the opening movie certainly was a lot of fun to watch. You have to commend Blizzard, they’re definitely the best in their field when it comes to cutscenes and videos.

Before I share my thoughts on StarCraft II, which I’ll say I’m quite a fan of just to get that out of the way, I feel that I should touch upon what the story is behind the game for those who aren’t aware.

StarCraft is centered around three races. First is the standard human race, the Terrans. The second race is the Zerg, alien insectoids that assilimate, destroy, and more. To me, they’re sort of like a cross between the Borg from Star Trek and the Scourge from Warcraft, the latter clearly being inspired by the Zerg since they came later. The third and final race is the Protoss, an advanced civilization that wishes to preserve their way of life and maintain balance in a way. The Protoss are your standard enlightened race. Warhammer has the Eldar, Warcraft has the Night Elves, and StarCraft has the Protoss.

StarCraft II opens with the protagonist of the initial campaign, Jim Raynor, is working at overthrowing the corrupt Emperor Mengsk. Raynor was essentially an enforcer of the law in the original StarCraft, but now he is bit of a cross between rebel and revolutionary. With his group known as Raynor’s Raiders, Jim Raynor helps out planets that are being bullied by the Emperor and his Dominion Empire. Things take a turn for the worse however when the Zerg, who had not been seen for several years, makes a sudden appearance and begins attacking numerous planets. It’s up to Jim Raynor to deal with the Zerg threat while also working to do something with the Dominion.

The story that is told in the game’s Terran campaign is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in an RTS. Between missions, players are put into either Raynor’s favourite bar or his spaceship (depending on where you are in the game) and you are able to talk to NPCs, conduct research, check out various photographs and trophies, and even watch TV. It’s really neat and I found myself spending several minutes at a time enjoying Raynor’s ship before taking on new missions.

Completing missions rewards you with currency that you can spend on research or upgrades, or even mercenaries who you can call upon during missions.

Regarding the missions and how the game plays, there isn’t a lot of innovation here and most of what was in the original StarCraft is in here. If you know how to play the original, then you’ll have no problems jumping into StarCraft II and doing well immediately.

Even those who have never played the original game should have no problem, as this is just your typical RTS fare. Collect resources using units trained at your main base, and use your resources to train soldiers and provide them with upgrades. It’s nothing that we haven’t done before, so it’s difficult to get lost in this game. Several difficulty settings also allow you to play the game at a level you are comfortable with.

The graphics in StarCraft II range from slightly above average to simply amazing. Ingame mission graphics are usually just above the average mark for the most case, though I must admit that some units look pretty badass. The scenery usually isn’t much to look at, and I find it peculiar that wilderness maps are more interesting to look at than city/ruin maps. A few missions that take part in ruined cities feel really bland and you get the feeling that Blizzard didn’t put as much work into them as they did with the other maps. They’re still good and are fun to play on, but there is just something missing from them.

Where the graphics shine are in cinematics, cutscenes, and in between missions on Raynor’s ship. Cutscene models look very impressive. There are a few jaggies and unusual spots of texturing, but overall the models look great. The only problem I have with them is that most of the Terran characters do not seem to be able to convey many facial emotions well. Most of the characters have stiff faces that don’t change expression much, even when they are laughing or growling angrily. It’s a little odd to say the least, but it’s actually pretty easy to overlook.

Cinematics are an entirely different story. As expected from Blizzard, the cinematics are simply beautiful. Honestly, I can’t really say much more than this. They just look utterly fantastic. Faces move realistically and textures are very convincing. Animations of characters, guns, aliens, and anything else you name are very believable as well. The cinematics really are among the best out there, if not the best.

The sounds of StarCraft II are just as good. Background music during missions often possesses a sort of southern rock style that I find to be extremely catchy. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to hear Sweet Home Alabama playing in the cafeteria of Raynor’s ship, too. Music aside, the sound effects themselves are good for an RTS. Voice work is good, and amusing at times (medics make a funny Star Trek reference by saying, “Please state the nature of the medical emergency.”), and the sounds of gun fire, explosions, and alien growls are all very sufficient. There’s not much that I can fault about StarCraft II’s sound department. Blizzard did a fantastic job of making the game sound very great, and not even once did anything I hear annoy me.

Online play typically plays a large role in StarCraft II. Since the game only ships with one campaign at the moment, it’s not too surprising online play is the focus of StarCraft II. Online play is done through Blizzard’s Battle.net service, which was recently updated to include all sorts of new social networking features. There is no more LAN support, which I still find a little peculiar.

Playing on Battle.net involves joining ladder games, which can move you up or down in the overall rankings based on your performance and results. There is also a matchmaking system that matches players of similar abilities, so a newcomer to StarCraft II is unlikely to go up against the National StarCraft Champion of South Korea or whatever. Basically, if you suck then you’ll be matched against other people who suck, and if your playing abilities are godly then you will be matched against other deity-like players. It’s a good system, and I commend Blizzard on implementing it.

The game also comes with a powerful editor. If you have used the world editors for either StarCraft or Warcraft III, then you will know what to expect here – a very functional and powerful editor in which the sky is the limit. Expect the community to churn out some really creative and fun maps.

With more official singleplayer campaigns on the horizon, a powerful modding tool, and an online community that will remain very strong for many years to come, it’s easy to see why StarCraft II is a worthy investment. Diehard fans of the original will love the game to bits, and those like me who are simply fans of Blizzard games will also find something to enjoy here. This is probably the best RTS I have ever played, and for good reason. The gameplay is solid, the story telling is superb, and the online services are absolutely perfect.

StarCraft II, undoubtedly 2010’s game of the year. Don’t miss out on this game. Buy it or get a friend to let you try it. You won’t regret it.

Final Score

9.5/10