The sign of a truly great expansion pack is when, having played it, you realize you could never go back to the original game. After all, truly great expansion packs don't just add new content--they add real depth, and fundamentally make the core game better. Blizzard Entertainment knows the drill when it comes to delivering these sorts of products. Its follow-up releases for 1998's Starcraft and 2000's Diablo II were so effective and so good that many, many people are still playing both of those games today, all these years later. Given Blizzard's track record with expansion packs, it's understandable that fans of the company's games would have very high expectations for Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. Last year's real-time strategy game was a very tough act to follow on any number of levels, and yet Blizzard has delivered a terrific, full-featured expansion for Warcraft III that makes an already outstanding game significantly more so.
The Frozen Throne features four single-player campaigns and completely revitalizes the skirmish and multiplayer gameplay.
To say the least, there was a lot to like about Warcraft III in the first place. The game's single-player campaign delivered an interesting and engaging story told from four unique perspectives, its online multiplayer mode was the best in the real-time strategy genre, its four distinctly different factions featured numerous viable strategies and tactics, its gameplay was focused on action and rewarded skill and practice, and its powerful scenario editor let you design your own missions or entirely new gameplay modes using the game's great-looking 3D engine. Basically, The Frozen Throne adds to and improves on every single one of these features, and more.
If you enjoyed Warcraft III's single-player campaigns, you'll be pleased to know that The Frozen Throne offers at least as much if not more single-player material. The campaign picks up where Warcraft III left off, in the aftermath of the banishment of the burning legion. The renegade half-demon Illidan and the death knight Arthas are at the center of the story, as both of these power-hungry characters are seeking to take control of a world already ravaged by conflict. You play the campaign missions linearly, just like in Warcraft III, starting with the night elf sentinels, then moving on to the remnants of the human alliance, and finally taking control of the undead scourge. There are more than two dozen sizeable missions in all.
The campaign missions offer remarkable variety from one to the next, and it's not a stretch to say that these represent the most skillfully designed single-player scenarios in any real-time strategy game to date. Recognizing that many players have long since grown weary of the standard formula of having to build up a base, raise an army, and then attack an entrenched enemy, Blizzard accordingly included this formula in only a few of The Frozen Throne's campaign missions. Some of the missions grant you access to multiple armies, each charged with its own important objectives. Many missions feature clever variations on familiar strategies. Some limit the types of units you'll get, which may prompt you to develop a newfound appreciation for some of Warcraft III's less-intuitive strategies. All the missions are story-driven and seem plausible enough in the context of the game. The campaign packs in a lot of surprises, perhaps more so in the mission design than in the story itself, and it offers a significant challenge that will help bring you up to speed on some of The Frozen Throne's new gameplay additions.
New heroes such as the blood mage add depth and complexity to Warcraft III. And they're just plain cool.
The plot of the campaign is sufficiently epic, and the superb voice acting and memorable character designs effectively drive the story along. But this isn't the greatest story ever told for a couple of reasons. There's actually a lot more buildup than resolution in what ought to have been a culmination of the previous game's storyline. Furthermore, The Frozen Throne's plot just doesn't give you anything to latch on to--there's no single central character, and since you'll be playing both as and against numerous characters over the course of the game, you'll sometimes find yourself wondering exactly whom you're supposed to be rooting for. It's an interesting approach to be sure, and it's similar to what Blizzard did with the stories of both Warcraft III and Starcraft: Brood War, but the real issue is probably that none of The Frozen Throne's characters are particularly likeable--they're charismatic yet despicable, good-natured yet foolishly naÃ¯ve, or vengeful to a fault. Then again, most real-time strategy games--and most games in general--don't even try to create such complex characters, so the fact that you can even criticize the finer points of the game's story speaks to its impressive depth.
The orcs are conspicuously absent from the main campaign, but they're central to a bonus campaign in which you play as a half-ogre beastmaster who befriends the orcs, who've just settled in a new land. This campaign plays less like a real-time strategy game and more like Diablo, as you'll persistently control just the beastmaster and his small entourage while exploring a map and its surrounding areas, completing quests, gaining experience levels and better gear, and more. All this is actually quite entertaining, though the bonus campaign isn't balanced as well as the core missions, and it becomes pretty easy pretty quickly. Also, enemies will respawn on the map after a while, and it can be tedious to have to slog through the same underpowered foes every time you have to backtrack. The bonus campaign is fun anyway, and the cliffhanger ending promises more of the same in the future.