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RELEASE DATE (NA): November 1994 GENRE: Real-Time Strategy
// review by SoyBomb

The Warcraft religion does not forbid Orc!

When I was a young boy, Warcraft kicked my ass. Beyond the first couple of in-game missions, I simply could not defend myself against the everlasting onslaught of warriors hellbent on sliding their unsheathed blades into the bodies of my unsuspecting peons. I still enjoyed the time I spent with the game, but as a lad, the difficulty was monstrously overwhelming. So Warcraft took to the shelf for a long time, gathering a layer of dust as thick as a club sandwich. But here we are, in the grand year of 2011, and my interest in taking on the very quests that once beat me to a pulp has been revived. And I can say, while standing in a pompous fashion with my chin raised high, that I have completed Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in its entirety, though there were many unfortunate casualties upon the battlefield.

All silly introductions aside, let's talk Warcraft. Warcraft is a real-time strategy game released in 1994 (real-time strategy meaning that both sides of the war are working at the same time, usually to annihilate each other into oblivion). Although it's not actually the first RTS game out there, it's definitely a title that helped popularize the niche genre and guide it into the peripheral view of the mainstream PC gaming community. Warcraft follows two different but directly connected campaigns, telling either of the Orcs as they attempt to dominate the human population through brute force or as the Humans who must fend off the Orcs from their lands. There are a total of 12 missions in each campaign, meaning 24 different scenarios in all. You adopt the role of an "overseer" in the game -- no particular character, but simply one who is able to command a variety of different units within your troops.

The spoils of war are spoiled indeed, like rotten fish or an N*Sync album.

A typical mission plants you in a "bare basics" settlement, likely consisting of a Town Hall and a Farm or two (to keep your troops well-fed on cornmeal and hog meat!). If you're lucky, they'll give you a Barracks (for unit training) and Lumber Mill as well, but likely little else. You'll also be supplied with a few starting units. Using the peons, you must harvest gold from local mines and chop wood from surrounding forested areas to build up your resources. The next step is to build some structures and raise your army in preparation of an impending attack on enemy settlements (often while having to defend your own town from attacks). Lastly, go get 'em, being cautious not to just run blindly into towns. Move slowly, taking out anything and anybody in your path. There are certain missions, however, when you are NOT placed in a town, and instead you must make your way through a dark cave with a limited number of units for a specific purpose (such as killing a rogue clansperson or rescuing some captured characters).

The first few missions are relatively simple and aid you in getting used to all the nuances of Warcraft's engine. The player will hopefully pick up on things such as how to keep an eye on the map for oncoming ambushes, keyboard hotkeys for performing actions as opposed to using the mouse, and (mostly importantly), the best strategies for tackling certain types of enemies. For example, catapults are quite a pest for any units in a distance (so using archers or axe-throwers is a definite no-no), but they're damn near useless up close, so send your footmen or knights to make quick work of those. As you progress through the scenarios, the difficulty has a solid slope upward, but it never feels as though there is an unwarranted sharp increase. Granted, the final few missions may be taxing, but with the right strategy and adaptation to the situation, all troubles can be overcome.

As you progress through each storyline, you'll be given access to new units and buildings to work with. Buildings are integral for training new units, researching new spells, and improving different stats for your characters. But in the end, it's all about your men (no women, save for maybe one, but she'll likely get slaughtered...). Each side (Orc and Human) generally has equivalent units, so you shouldn't feel too imbalanced. Here's what you eventually have at your disposal:

Your basic worker. Will harvest gold and lumber, as well as build all the structures you need to live well.
General brawler. Armed with a sword, he can tear through an opponent like a college student on ramen noodles.
Long-range attackers. Excellent in numbers... unless a catapult rolls nearby.
The ultimate weapon for beating down buildings and the toughest of men with a flaming ball of hatred.
Tough cookies. Consider these to be the more powerful versions of the Grunt/Footman, plus they get to ride animals!
The conjurers of magick for the Orcish hordes. Able to cast power spells and create spooky monsters.
Wizards of humanity. Can develop nasty creatures and cast spells -- including the Cleric's Healing spell, which can be saving.
Stingy little pests. Can be created in bunches. Irritates the enemy more than anything else.
The living dead. Usually magically raised and sent out to give foes a quick beating before crumbling themselves.
Killers. Though they eventually run out of magic power and implode, they are absolute powerhouses in battle.

Ah yes, and Warcraft: Orcs & Humans also boasts the ability to play multiplayer games -- locally or through your classic old-school modem -- for a challenge against another real person, rather than the cheeky computer. Though it may have been a novelty when this was first released, you can't really have a non-multiplayer RTS today without being pelted with rocks from nasty-hearted reviewers!

Unfortunately, being the first game of the series and the first game of its genre from Blizzard, there are definitely some cumbersome issues. The fact that you can only select up to 4 units at a time (a flaw remedied in later Warcraft titles) cannot be overlooked; if you want to move a large group, you'll be doing so at a snail's pace. As well, being a game from way back when, the graphics are a bit muddy (though certainly acceptable). Sending units on a long and non-linear path to get from Point A to Point B can unpleasantly create a Point C where characters just get stuck somewhere, maybe in a wooded area that ended up in their path. And, last but not least, collecting resources takes damn near forever. Chop faster, you guys! CHOP!!! But for every sour point, there's always one thing that will cheer me up. Clicking on individual units provides an opportunity for them to speak their mind (with real voice); after a few clicks, they'll typically get annoyed and ask you to stop poking them or some other random humorous utterance. As well, although it's a bit sluggish, the background music always feels empowering, too!

Warcraft was my gateway into the world of real-time strategy gaming. I haven't really immersed myself deeply into any RTS games beyond the first few of the Warcraft series, though; I'm just a sucker for handsome orcs, I suppose. But you're looking for a solid yet reasonable challenge in the world of strategic gaming, look no further than this as a foundation. Of course, I also recommend that you try out the sequel, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, for a more polished (and more difficult) set of adventures. And I'm sure you've no doubt heard of the MMORPG that stems from this, World of Warcraft. That one's a time sucker, but luckily, I'm no sucker. For those who don't feel like necessarily being metaphorically glued to their chair for days straight trying to level up that Ogre Mage of yours, the original Warcraft would be a better way to go.

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