I used to be a great RTS fan, back when I was still in my gaming prime. Command & Conquer (all of them), Age of Empires, Myth: The Fallen Lords. Hell, I even liked less acclaimed games like War Wind 2 and Dune 2000. Yeah, those were the times, but what really gave me a strategical erection back then was Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness.
Now, I’ll start off by saying that Warcraft 2 is still, in my eyes, one of the best games ever made. The problem with it, though, is that it’s so damn hard for me to figure out why. So instead of doing that, I’ll take the easier path and say all the things that make this game mediocre.
Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t many. The game was well-balanced, offered different type of battlefields (ground, air and sea) and had two races which looked completely different, which back then (at least for me) was more than enough to make me drool.
Even so, this game suffered from a major disease, and that was mirror-factions. Every type of unit in one army had an EXACTLY IDENTICAL replica in the other. The main soldiers (Footmen and Grunts) had the same stats and the same upgrades. The ranged troops had the same stats and same upgrades. Everything was the same, until you upgraded your Town Hall (or Great Hall) to level 3, when things finally started being different.
Human knights were upgraded to paladins and Horde ogres to ogre-mages. Humans received Mages, Horde had Death Knights. But even those changes were barely regarding what spells they had, and trust me, using a spell in Wacraft 2 was pretty damn hard, especially during the fights. You had to manually select the unit you wanted to cast the spell, select the spell and then select your target or the targeted area, which sounds alright in THEORY, but when you have twenty paladins going down on an army of trolls and you want to cast heal on five of them, you were oficially welcomed to the Warcraft Cluster***.
I talked earlier about the battlefields and I will again because they are both a blessing and a curse for this game. The naval battles had an eerie, unnatural, feeling. Every time a ship would prepare to fire it would suddenly stop moving, turn with one side towards it’s target and, after a few seconds, it would fire. This sounds “realistic” in theory, but when you saw nine elven destroyers, all packed up, suddenly stopping and facing some random peon who had the bad luck of taking a day off to go fishing that evening, things changed a little bit.
But yeah, this is kind of nitpicking, especially when I could pick on the aerial battles which had the same problem even though you’d expect air units to be more agile. Whenever you wanted your dragon to fire on, let’s say three archers, he would stop mid-air, take about five seconds to prepare his balls of fire (I love saying that), and only THEN he would fire. Then let’s say if you wanted to move him right after, he’d take another 3 good seconds to move. This was very, very, -VERY- annoying, especially when three lousy archers could kill your dragon by simply shooting it, dodging the fireball and then shooting it again. This made the aerial unit (no, not units, there was only one aerial combat unit and one scout) useless.
Another mirror-faction related issue was the missions. In the original Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness, the first five or six missions with both Alliance and Horde war almost identical to the point where they could become frustrating. I mean, for Christ’s sake guys, I understand they’re supposed to be training missions but you could at least diversify them a bit!
Also, the game had an expansion, “Beyond the Dark Portal” which was also a bundle of fun, but since it brought nothing new except two new campaigns and a few new heroes (where by new I mean “they had very new and pretty avatar pictures because the textures were the same from the first game”), I’m not going to talk about that one.
But even with these flaws the game was wonderful and I still love it and it is one of the very few games which is always installed on my PC. The battles were awesome, the multiplayer was mindless fun and the map editor (which back then was a pretty HUGE thing) provided many chances for those, such as myself, who loved to create all sorts of awesome fights.
Warcraft 2 kicked ass!