Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
The sequel to Warcraft was released in December 1995, and it immediately became Command & Conquer's bitter rival. The Warcraft II/Command & Conquer argument presaged the Total Annihilation/Starcraft battle, which would be fought almost three years later. Warcraft II is a vast improvement upon Warcraft, if for no other reason than its very sharp SVGA graphics. The outdated VGA visuals of the original Warcraft are nothing compared to the sequel's superb artwork. The new graphics are complemented by excellent voiceovers for the various units, some of which can be quite amusing. The AI was an improvement upon the abysmal version found in the original game, and unit settings that allow for things like patrol routes mean that Warcraft II is both a more challenging and more sophisticated game than its predecessor.
One innovation found in Warcraft II is the fog of war. Instead of the "shroud" that initially hides terrain in other games but which is permanently removed once it's explored, Warcraft II adds a persistent fog of war that lets your units see enemy units only within a certain range. Thus, your exploration might reveal a valley between two mountains--but unless you keep watch over it with your units, you won't know if the enemy is massing in the valley for a sneak attack. The fact that this is now an almost universal feature in current RTS games might make people forget that it wasn't always this way. Warcraft II was the first game to have naval units, and it added a third resource--oil--to the mix, which could be collected only by ships.
Unlike Command & Conquer, the two sides (orcs and humans) in Warcraft II are fundamentally the same, with most units having similar capabilities and different names (like the death knight and paladin, for example). However, after the v1.2 patch (which includes optimization for network play), Warcraft showed that it had the ability to be a superb multiplayer game that allowed for surprisingly lag-free gaming, even on slow connections. The reason is that the v1.2 patch was introduced around the time that an IPX emulator, Kali, was becoming very popular. Warcraft II is not playable via TCP/IP (the Internet protocol) but is playable over a local area network using IPX. Kali is a shareware program that lets games be played over the Internet using the IPX protocol. Blizzard released a special executable called War2kali.exe to facilitate multiplayer Warcraft II over this network. Because of this, Warcraft II developed a fanatical online community and spawned several competitive leagues.
Warcraft II gave rise to an expansion pack, Beyond the Dark Portal. There was even an adventure game based on the Warcraft universe--it went pretty far into development under the name Warcraft Adventures. Work on this project stopped, however, when Blizzard felt that the game had fallen behind the state-of-the-art in adventure games, so the title was eventually canceled. But Warcraft II had proven itself to have incredible longevity. In 1999, Blizzard released Warcraft II: Battle.net Edition, which includes Windows 95/98 support as well as support for the company's Battle.net service.