Online beta testing continues on the Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne expansion pack, as Blizzard tweaks game-balance issues and adds new functionality. In this update, we have impressions of the latest update to the beta, version 3.10, which brings a new key configuration feature. We also have updates on the latest balance changes, but please note that this information is specific to the beta test and is subject to change before the expansion's retail release.
One of the big additions to the game in version 3.10 isn't balance-related: Blizzard has added the ability for players to customize the game's keyboard shortcuts. Some have questioned the importance of this feature, as most experienced players have already memorized the important shortcuts. Ironically enough, the crude manner in which this feature has been implemented will probably prevent the new players who need this feature the most from using it.
For now, there is no graphical interface in the game for players to alter their shortcut keys. Instead, players must create a text file outside of the game and draw from a list of fairly obscure code references in order to reassign their keys. There are dozens of different commands, units, and spells in the game, so remapping every single one of the commands isn't a simple task. Thankfully, we have found that it's possible to map out just a few of the commands without being forced to reassign every key in the game. Blizzard has also made it possible to customize the tooltip text assigned to each hotkey, allowing for in-game reminders of which key the spell or ability has been reassigned to.
Already, some Warcraft III fan sites, such as Mr. Fixit Online, have begun posting prebuilt key configurations for Frozen Throne beta testers. One of the configurations posted on Mr. Fixit Online thoughtfully reassigns all commands to the home keys on the left side of the keyboard, corresponding to their visual placement in the button grid on the game's interface.
On the game-balance side, a number of units have received armor changes from light-armor type to unarmored, in order to make them less vulnerable to ranged units (light-armor units sustain increased damage from ranged units compared with other armor types). These include the huntress, whose popularity has declined greatly over the course of the beta test, as well as the hippogryphs, the druids of the talon, and the gargoyles. The shift in armor type allows these units to last a little bit longer against ranged units.
Another interesting tweak is that the minimap now displays creep camp locations according to three varying levels of difficulty. Camps with weak creep presence show up as small green dots. A camp with a medium level of strength shows up as a slightly larger, pale yellow dot, while camps with a strong band of creeps shows up as a large, reddish-orange dot. This information proves useful to players unfamiliar with the map, who need to decide which creep camps to attack based on the strength of their own fighting force. Unfortunately, the added information can make the minimap look somewhat cluttered, and it can be easy to confuse the location of a gold mine with the location of a medium-level creep camp.
Humans have had their speed-building abilities toned down as well. Humans used to be able to double the speed of construction by having two peasants work on a task instead of one. The effectiveness adding peons has now been halved, so it takes a total of three peasants to double the build rate of a structure. The cost increase per additional peasant remains the same, so human players need to think more carefully about the value of diverting more of their workforce to quickly construct an expansion hall.
The night elves received a number of boosts from the latest 3.10 patch. Ballistae cost less in supply, taking up three units instead of four, and their ability to hit trees has been restored. However, night elf players will need to research the impaling bolt upgrade to get the ability to knock over trees. Perhaps more interesting is that the faerie dragon's mana flare spell has been drastically upgraded. While it is being cast, the faerie dragon gets bonus armor, and splash damage has been added when the mana flare strikes a target.
The boosts to anti-caster units continue a general trend, with Blizzard working to reduce the dominance of the game's spellcasting units and add more ways for players to combat enemy magic users. In the previous patch, Blizzard perhaps went a little too far in helping out the humans in this area, with increases to the spellbreakers' damage and feedback ability. This unit remains a popular one to use against enemy magic users, although its feedback damage to heroes has been reduced slightly and its spell steal mana cost has been increased a bit from 50 to 60.
With each successive patch, Frozen Throne's gameplay strategies bear less and less resemblance to the original Reign of Chaos. With some more adjustments, it's quite possible that the Frozen Throne will reach the same penetration among the existing Warcraft III user base as Brood War achieved in Starcraft. Based on Blizzard's history, we can expect the designers to continue to use the beta test to tweak the game until they feel the balance is just right. We'll continue to bring you updates on the expansion pack as new patches arrive. In the meantime, check out the new screenshots in the gallery above.