The most frequently asked question of Warcraft III has finally been answered. By now, all the fans know that the fifth and final race in Blizzard's upcoming role-playing strategy game is the night elves, a mysterious faction of elves who long ago split from their cousins, the high elves. The high elves eventually joined the Human Alliance, while the night elves retreated to their homeland of Kalimdor, a continent far from Azeroth. However, with the resurgence of the demons, the hated enemies of the night elves, these shadowy cousins of the high elves are making their presence known again. But after centuries apart from the other elves, can we be certain of their allegiance? Is this new faction a friend or foe? We sat down with lead designer Rob Pardo to find out more about the night elves. Along the way, we learned a lot about this new faction. We learned that they can cloak at night and that their peon unit can transform into buildings - which in turn can transform into giant mobile attackers. For more about the final piece of the Warcraft III puzzle, read on.
GameSpot: When did you decide to develop a "dark elf" race for Warcraft III?
Rob Pardo: Pretty early [in development].
GS: And how are the night elves different from the gamer's stereotype of a dark elf?
RP: It's kind of funny. Back when we were discussing races, we had fights over whether or not dwarves and elves should be [their own] races. We could never get a majority of the team to [agree] to do elves as a race per se. But then somebody suggested the idea of doing dark elves. We all thought that would be kind of cool, but none of us wanted to do traditional "drow." So we took the best of wood elves and the best of dark elves and made them into one race.
GS: And what resource model are the night elves going to use? Will it be different from the resource model of the other races?
RP: They're going to primarily use gold, with ents being their peon class of unit. The ents can actually transform themselves into the building structures for the race, which are [called] treants.
GS: So you're saying that ents, which are the peon unit for the night elves, actually become the night elf buildings and that those buildings can then uproot themselves and become treant units?
GS: To turn into a building, are these ents going to have to combine to become one building?
RP: The current plan right now is that it's just one ent that grows [into that building]. We're probably not going to [have ents combine to become buildings], but we're still not sure on that. We've actually talked about [making them combine into a building]. But for now, it's probably better to say that ents will transform into treants.
GS: So you basically just tell your ent unit to go plant itself over there, and over a period of time, it grows into the treant building that you specify?
RP: Yes, it will probably cost some money, and then there will be a [transform ability] that they can undergo. [It will be] similar to how drones worked in Starcraft.
More on the Unique Night Elf Buildings
GS: So how do these night elf buildings operate?
RP: The buildings are going to be like normal structures, from which units [are produced]. Then they can also transform themselves into treant form, where the building no longer operates and is unable to build units - but the unit can actually move and attack.
GS: Are you going to start out with a beginning structure? The ents have to come from somewhere, right?
RP: Yes, there's the tree of life, which is what you start with. We haven't decided yet if it will be able to turn into a treant or not.
GS: Will you have to research a technology first to allow the ents to turn into treants, or will you just pay the money for the transformation?
RP: [You'll] probably just pay the money. We haven't really finalized all the upgrades and tech trees [for the night elves]. That's still a little bit nebulous.
GS: How extended is the night elf tech tree? Will it be, for example, as extensive as the orc's tech tree, which has more buildings than the other races?
RP: I think right now, the night elves have eight buildings. [That number can change.] But it should be similar to the orcs. Actually, they are going to have some buildings called dens, which are actually stone structures that are constructed by ents. Their whole tech tree is not formed by treants only. The treants will mostly be the unit-producing buildings. The dens, the stone structures, will be more of the [technology-enabling] buildings.
GS: Like the blacksmith.
RP: Yes, like that.
GS: What sort of special traits do you envision the night elves possessing? Will they have anything as spectacular or unusual as the undead's blight? Anything besides the transforming ents and treant buildings?
RP: That's probably the biggest thing about the night elves. We've been talking about some other things, but nothing that's firm. Right now, we're trying to get the technology in place to do the transforming trees. That's our big push internally right now; actually getting that working right before we commit to doing more wacky stuff.
GS: Are the treant units going to be the ultimate units for the night elves? Or will they be weaker than normal units so that you won't want to use them as much as you use the regular units or the heroes?
RP: I doubt if the unit-producing [treant buildings] will ever be ones that you'll want to use in combat. [They'll] be more like the [movable buildings] in Starcraft, but with an attack. You'd probably never want to use your command center to attack because it's much more useful as a command center. So I kind of envision that to be the case; in the case of a dire emergency, you might pull your treants out of the ground and attack. If your town is under attack, you might as well turn your building into an attacking treant.
GS: So you envision them as a sort of last line of defense for your town, a viable defense, but only in the most dire circumstances?
RP: Yes, except there is going to be one particular treant. I think we're calling it the sentry right now, which actually has an attack in its building form. That's like their version of a tower. It actually shoots roots under the ground, and they come out and attack units from long range.
GS: Like a sunken colony from Starcraft?
The Night Elf Style and Some Units
GS: So at this point, can you describe the general play style of the night elves? Orcs seem to emphasize punishing melee units, while humans are more well rounded. How do you envision the night elves playing?
RP: The night elves concentrate the most on ranged attacks, and they have good speed. They're fast units. Even their first basic attacker is an archer. That gives you an idea [of their play style].
GS: In general, are the night elf units going to be faster than the units of the other races as far as movement?
RP: Yes, as a general rule. I don't know if they'll have the fastest unit, but just across the board, their units are faster than, say, orc units. They're very much more of a hit-and-run sort of race. They have some heavy hitters, but not nearly as many as the orcs do, for example.
GS: So how else will the night elf units differ from the other race's units?
RP: They'll have a lot of ranged units. The night elf society is split down the middle, and we decided to [differentiate the units] along gender lines. So the female units are generally going to be more like Amazonian units. They are the night elf side's attackers, and, as a matter of fact, they are all ranged attackers. So you have the archer, the sentinel, the assassin. Then you look on the male side, and they're all druids. That's where you get your magic. It all comes out of the male side.
GS: We had originally heard that the assassin was a hero. What are her capabilities?
RP: The assassin is currently a unit. She was a hero and we demoted her, so now she's a unit. We wanted more female units on the night elf side because we had only the two [the archer and the sentinel]. We're still in the process of deciding what she's going to do. Now that we've decided that she's going to become a unit, she's going to change her abilities a little bit. But she will probably use a blowgun and be a range attacker. She'll also have poisons at her disposal.
GS: How will the sentinel differ from an archer? Will she be a melee unit?
RP: The sentinel is probably the closest thing that the night elves have to a "beefy" unit, other than the druid of the claw. She's a heavier unit. She's going to be a little bit tougher than the archer and have a shorter ranged attack. So she's like an armored version of the archer, almost like a crossbow sort of unit.
Night Elf Heroes, Druids, and the Hippogriff
GS: Could you describe some of the heroes of the night elf side?
RP: They have the priestess of the moon, who's the big boss of the sentinels. She's the guardian of a sacred mountain, the place where [the sentinels] come from. She actually flies on a giant owl, and she has different spells that deal with making the units around her better. She also has a powerful spell that actually transforms the day into night.
GS: What's that spell called?
RP: Sunset is what it's called.
GS: And why is a spell that changes day to night such a powerful spell?
RP: Because the cool thing about the night elves is that all their attack units - all the female units - actually cloak at nighttime. But only when they're standing still.
GS: So that combined with their ranged attacks really makes them ideal for hit-and-run skirmishing and ambushes?
GS: So tell us about the druid units.
RP: The idea is that all the druids are associated with an animal totem. That totem actually gives them powers and abilities. So in the case of the druid of the talon, it is the raven. He can actually transform himself into a raven. When he shifts into that form, he can fly and regenerate hit points. Then the druid of the claw is the bear druid.
GS: How many animal-druids do you envision having for the night elf side?
RP: There are two druids that are units, and then we have a couple druidic heroes, the keeper of the grove and the archdruid.
GS: The other factions in Warcraft III are actually alliances composed of several races. For instance, the humans comprise humans, high elves, and dwarves, while the orcs consist of orcs, minotaurs, and trolls. Are there multiple races that make up the night elf side?
RP: The night elves don't really [operate like] that. Right now, the hippogriff unit is the only one that's not actually a night elf. That's one of their flying units. It's kind of a Kalimdor version of a griffin.
RP: I can speak a little bit about Kalimdor. Kalimdor is the continent that the night elves come from. It's a lost continent that you'll explore in the campaign.
GS: You said that the hippogriff is the Kalimdor version of the griffin. Does that mean there's going to be a griffin unit in the game?
RP: I don't know if we're going to use griffins on any side yet. We're still discussing whether we want to or not. We've actually been playing around with it again. But [as they relate to the story], griffins were part of Azeroth. We mention the griffin more as a way to explain what the hippogriff looks like. Many people look at the hippogriff unit and think it's a griffin, but it's not.
The Story of the Night Elves
GS: How do the night elves relate to the regular elves that serve in the Human Alliance? If you can't get into plot details, can you just give us a general idea?
RP: The night elves are the oldest caste of elves. [The elves have] been around since the times of yore, when Azeroth was all one continent. They fought the demons back then and managed to eliminate them. Then they had a split about how magic should be used after that. The high elves decided that they wanted to use magic in a different way than the night elves did [and subsequently split apart]. That's as specific as I can get.
GS: The high elves are the elves that serve with the humans in the Alliance?
GS: So where do the night elves fall in the fight between good and evil? You've got the humans and orcs on one side, and the undead and the burning legion on the other side. Where do the night elves fit?
RP: I guess the best way to explain them is that they're kind of a hermit race. They're more in a neutral category. They don't really care about the greater politics of [Azeroth] or what the orcs or humans have been doing. They care much more about their own world and their continent. They're definitely going to throw down against the demons. They've done that in the past, and they'll do it again. But that doesn't necessarily make them friends with the other [good] races.
GS: Will the night elf campaign story deal with their relationship with the high elves of the Human Alliance?
RP: There will be some story lines [devoted to] that, sure. We'll try to explain the two elven factions and what their [relationship] is.
GS: Are you still adhering to one campaign for each race?
GS: So with the exception of the demons, which have yet to be designed, are all the races in the game now being play-balanced?
RP: Yes, although we're [modifying] the undead. But the orcs and humans are in pretty good shape. Actually, the night elves are too.
GS: So at what stage of the game's development are you now?
RP: Right now, we're at that exciting time where there is tons of stuff that's going into the game, but it always seems to break the build every day. In a month or so, I'm hoping a lot of the game is going to be in really good shape. We implemented the food cap and we implemented a lot of other core game dynamics. The build is in this state of disrepair right now because there are just so many features being put in every day.
GS: So here is the final question: Will Warcraft III come out in 2001?
RP: I'm praying. [Laughs.] We want it out. We're going to do everything that we can to get it out next year. We want it out next year, believe me.
GS: I think everyone else does too. Good luck.