Warcraft II: Tides of DarknessPlatform: PC | Genre: Strategy
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment | Released: 1995
When Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness was released in late 1995, the real-time strategy genre was in its infancy. Dune II was already three years old, but Command & Conquer had just been released, so the full potential of the genre wasn't widely known. Like Westwood's military-style game, however, Blizzard's Warcraft II vaulted the genre to the forefront of PC gaming, alongside first-person shooters. Warcraft II had it all--from a cinematic and compelling single-player campaign with memorable characters to a flexible and addictive multiplayer component that really set the game apart from the competition. Lots of fans actually played Warcraft II online back then, thanks to a third-party network-hack application called Kali, which allowed for online play of Warcraft II at a time when Internet connectivity wasn't nearly as widespread as it is today. Most of all, though, the game oozed personality due to its rousing orchestral soundtrack, voice acting, and sound effects, which remain memorable and recognizable to fans of the game.
Underneath that funny veneer of quotable characters was a game with a great deal of depth. The economy and technology aspects of Warcraft II, while simple, were essential in establishing different ways of playing the game in multiplayer. You could use buildings to wall yourself in early so as to buy time for a quick tech upgrade, but this tactic might leave you open to a quick expansion by your enemy, whose economy would overwhelm yours. Likewise, you could attempt a grunt rush, but an airtight wall-in would effectively act as its counter.
Once you had learned the nuances and intricacies of multiplayer Warcraft II, you'd find yourself hopelessly addicted to fine-tuning your build orders in an effort to find the most efficient play style possible. It's amazing that a game which was so obviously imbalanced--the humans, in most cases, had no chance against the orcs with their bloodlusted ogre mages--could still offer such outstanding depth, but the wide variety of units allowed for a great number of different strategies. Team games could involve certain team members getting extremely specialized--for instance, one team member would try to get dragons or demolition crews as quickly as possible while the other team members would protect him or her. Water maps with battleships and ship transports added yet another wrinkle to the game strategy. Also, if you got sick of the dozens of included maps in the game, you could easily design your own maps with the easy-to-use map editor.
While the depth of gameplay gave Warcraft II its staying power--spawning dozens of copycats--the game's personality is what made it memorable. From the cheerful "zug zug!" of your orc peons getting to work chopping wood to the goblin zeppelin pilot proclaiming that he "can see his house" from up in the sky, the game provided a lot of the flavor, imagination, and lore that made today's most successful massively multiplayer game possible. And who could forget the funny complaints the characters would give if you clicked them repeatedly? "Stop poking me!"
Aside from World of Warcraft, the success of Warcraft II led to an expansion pack, Beyond the Dark Portal, as well as a sequel, Warcraft III, and its subsequent expansion pack. Each new game added to the interesting lore behind the franchise, but none of it would have been possible without the undisputed impact of the original game. -- Bob Colayco