Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne was just announced last month, and the beta sign-ups are already open. Since the release of its best-selling real-time strategy game, Blizzard has worked to create a bunch of new heroes and units, two single-player campaigns, and more. To get more detail on what the expansion will include when it's released this summer, we recently talked with Blizzard's Bill Roper.
GameSpot: Give us a quick overview on what you've set out to accomplish with The Frozen Throne. Do you think the expansion will have the tremendous impact on Warcraft III that Brood War had on Starcraft?
Bill Roper: We want The Frozen Throne to have the same impact on Warcraft III that Brood War had on Starcraft, or Lord of Destruction had on Diablo II. We think it will add a tremendous amount of value and longevity to the game if the expansion set not only adds content, but also changes the way the game played in some regards. Also, by having all-new single-player content and new map-editor functionality, we are providing new experiences of all types for people who love Warcraft III.
GS: Arthas and Illidan are searching for Ner'zhul in the frozen wastes of Northrend. What else can you tell us about the story that sets up the events in The Frozen Throne? Will any other familiar names appear in the expansion?
BR: The orcish horde, led by their idealistic war chief Thrall, has settled in the harsh eastern hills of the Kalimdor Barrens. Finally able to claim a homeland of their own, the orcs work tirelessly to found and protect their new nation of Durotar.
The night elves, led by the arch druid Furion Stormrage and the priestess Tyrande Whisperwind, have vanished back into the shadows of Ashenvale Forest. They are intent on healing the ancient lands that were scarred by the vile corruption of the legion.
The human survivors of Lordaeron, under the command of the sorceress Jaina Proudmoore, have also settled along the eastern coast of the Barrens. The island citadel of Theramore was erected to safeguard the last, ragtag remnants of the failing human alliance.
And Arthas, the newly crowned king of Lordaeron, has driven the undead scourge to eradicate the last vestiges of resistance to his iron rule. His kingdom--the once proud bastion of human might and nobility--has become a plagued realm of death and sorrow. Now, driven by haunting visions of the frozen throne in Icecrown, Arthas plans to tighten his grip on the rest of the world.
GS: Tell us how the campaigns will unfold. Do the missions for all four races tie into an overarching story?
BR: We actually have two different campaigns represented in The Frozen Throne. The first is a search for the namesake of the expansion and involves the humans, night elves, and undead. This campaign is structured like the Warcraft III campaigns in that it is a series of missions telling a single, overarching story. The orc campaign however, utilizes our new custom campaign feature. Basically, we are allowing players to link maps in a dynamic way so that things you accomplish on one map can affect how you interact with other maps. We think that this will be a fantastic new tool for people who enjoy focusing on the role-playing aspects of the game to really augment their play experience.
GS: Can you give us some background on the new heroes, such as the human blood mage and the orc shadow hunter who have been seen in early screenshots?
BR: The blood elves are the surviving members of the high elves clans we saw in Warcraft III. They took on this name to both honor their high bloodline and differentiate themselves from the night elves. The blood mage is the hero of their order and, like his kin, is extremely magical in nature.
The shadow hunter is a troll hero who fights on the side of the orcs. He specializes in powerful totems and healing, something the orcs have had little interest in up until now. We think all the new heroes are going to have players really excited and should spice up competitive games immensely.
GS: What kinds of units are being added to each side and how will we see the four factions evolve in the expansion?
BR: We looked specifically at what each side really needed when determining the new units. For example, the dragon hawk riders of the blood elves will be of particular assistance to human armies that need to lay siege to islands that have been reinforced with towers. We wanted to evolve all the races in ways that would make them stronger and more complete on the battlefield while at the same time pushing the story line ahead.
GS: It sounds like there's an additional focus on neutral buildings, particularly with the addition of neutral heroes. What sort of impact will this have on the gameplay?
BR: We really see this opening up a lot of new strategies. Having key points on the map that players will want to control and battle over makes for much more interesting gameplay than simply seeking out the enemy base and leveling it. With the introduction of more neutral buildings and units, it will allow players to spend their resources on a lot of new things that can alter battles in unexpected ways, and the element of surprise that these buildings lend to the gameplay can have a huge impact in a close game.
GS: There are three new tilesets in the expansion. Tell us something about the new parts of Azeroth that these tilesets represent.
BR: We wanted to use the new tilesets as a way to expand the world, just like we are doing with the new heroes, units, and campaigns. The first of these is called the sunken ruins, which is a lush jungle setting that works especially well with lots of rivers. We are also taking the opportunity to create more area-specific creeps with these tilesets, including amphibious creatures that can start out in deep water and come up onto shore. The sunken ruins set really takes advantage of this idea and is a blast to run around on. We are also working on another tileset that is more city-focused, since we have received so many compliments on and requests for this style of area.
GS: We were surprised to hear how many new features and units will be in The Frozen Throne. How much of a challenge will it be to balance all the additions for multiplayer?
BR: Balancing a game like Warcraft III is always challenging, but we do have a great advantage when working on units for the expansion set. Many of the units in The Frozen Throne are designed to fill holes that we found by playing hundreds of games and watching thousands of matches in the community. Listening to both recreational and professional players also helped us decide where each race needed a boost, which then allowed us to address some of these issues with the new units. The real difficulty lies in the fact that we have to look at more than just the new units in regard to balance. We also need to go back and see how their abilities interact with and affect the units that are already in the game. Oftentimes, this requires making small adjustments to the older units as well, but we are dedicated to spending the time required to make sure that when the expansion comes out, it all works together.
GS: How far has development progressed on The Frozen Throne? What are your plans for the public beta test?
BR: We are getting all our content and features in at a great pace and look to be on schedule for a release in the first half of this year. We also intend to do a public beta, and sign-ups are already open. This has always been a very successful way for us to get lots of bug and balance testing done. The extremely dedicated and passionate gamers who sign up for our betas are great about giving us feedback that we feel always helps our games to be stronger before they release.
GS: Thanks for your time, Bill.