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RELEASE DATE (NA): December 1995 GENRE: Real-Time Strategy
// review by SoyBomb

The Orcs make their mark again. Zug tug!

Warcraft: Orcs & Humans was a pretty revolutionary game for its time. (Can you believe I started one review with a direct link to another?) That game alone helped push the formerly niche real-time strategy gaming genre into the spotlight and transformed it into an overnight sensation that continues to tease and torment hardcore gamers today. Although Warcraft was a huge commercial boon and shifted Blizzard into a stronger position, a difficult task lay ahead for them immediately, one which is very typical of any successful gaming developer: how will we top ourselves with a sequel? It was only natural that Warcraft II come forth; why deny the public what they wanted, which was more Warcraft?

After some active time in the development cycle, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness was ready for release in December 1995. The game plays in the same vein as its predecessor, with the Orcs and Humans at each others' throats for a second round (though it appears that the Orcish ending from the previous game was the canonical one). You, as either an Orcish or Human overseer (depending upon the campaign you are following), have control of a group of members of your race who must annihilate the opposing race, naturally by force. In order to build up your troops, you have to improve your town by having your labourers gather wood and gold so that you can build fancier buildings, train more troops, and research improved capabilities for those troops. These resources are certainly limited, so grab what you can when you can. All the while, the enemy has a clear vision of destroying your town, and thus you must defend it with your life! As in the original Warcraft, initial missions are designed with novice players in mind, guiding you into how the game is played, what options and strategies are available, and the individuality of each character. Later missions have you apply what you have learned in increasingly difficult situations as you learn the true voracity of the enemy. Trust me: things can get pretty heated...

Yeah, burn down those wretched towns! ...wait, why not steal the valuables first?

But Warcraft II has included some welcome additions to the way the game is played, and it greatly affects how certain scenarios can be approached. One of the biggest changes is in travel. While your units were restricted to land missions in the original Warcraft, you are now able to command sea vessels and traverse the high seas, as well as use airborne troops to launch an aerial attack. Ships are a whole new ball game altogether, allowing you to use light destroyers, heavy battleships, or crafty submarines. As such, you'll also be able to seek out oil spots in the waters and knab oil as yet another limited resource; you'll need that stuff to build and enhance ships. Another new addition is the ability to command dragons (if you are Orcish) or gryphons (as spelled in the game). In packs, these guys can pack a punch -- of course, they can also hurt each other rather easily, so keep on eye on which direction they're attacking and that there aren't other allied units in the way. Last but not least, there are indeed new buildings, one of which is near and dear to my heart: the tower. Yes, a tower. But not just any tower. The kind of tower you can set up to fire back at the enemy when they try to sneak into your territory. Beautiful. In bunches, they're lethal.

And let's not forget the fact that you can now select up to nine helpers at a time, instead of four, plus it's more easily done thanks to a friendlier interface.

Overall, there is a much grander set of units at your disposal, many of which differ greatly from the previous Warcraft game. They include but are not limited to:

PEON/PEASANT: Gathers wood and gold, constructs buildings, and repairs stuff. Solid employees, but a titch too easy to kill.
GRUNT/FOOTMAN: Your basic brawler, suitable for easier land-based scuffles, though not quite as useful in later missions.
AXETHROWER/ARCHER: Their long range forecast mainly includes arrows and axes flying through the air. Suitable for downing airborne attackers. Can be upgraded to Berserkers and Rangers.
OGRE/KNIGHT: The most physically agile of the land brigade, boasting better attack and defense power. Once upgraded to Ogre-Mage or Paladin, they can cast magic spells, too!
CATAPULT/BALLISTA: The launcher of nasty flaming evil, right into a huddled mass of healthy foes. Good from a distance, but useless in close combat.
DESTROYER: Your low-end attack vessel, goes down a bit easier than a higher-end ship, but it can help take down dragons and gryphons!
JUGGERNAUT/BATTLESHIP: Now THESE can take some serious punishment AND dole it out.
TURTLE/SUBMARINE: Crafty, underwater tricksters that sneak up on unsuspecting ships and destroy them. However, if there's an aerial unit or other submarine nearby, its cover will be blown.
DRAGON/GRYPHON: The flying beasts are the new players in town, but are no slouch in numbers. Can be taken down by archers and destroyers, as well as themselves if they're stupid enough to aim at each other. And they are.
...and there are some other units in the game, but this is just a brief overview of your basic troops. Just like in the previous game, the two races have generally balanced forces, though I'd argue that the Humans have a slight advantage, considering their paladins can acquire the ability to heal injured allies, unlike the Orcs.

Another relevant inclusion is a map editor, which allows even the relatively computer illiterate gaming layperson to create his or her own custom scenarios and then actually play them, either alone or with others via the multiplayer mode. (Oh yes, there's multiplayer, just like before, which can make or break alliances... in real life!) You can customize the types of units available for use, the various terrains, the layouts of the land, and even the voice clips that can be accessed while playing. It's a fairly robust system that will allow players to create missions even crazier than what Blizzard themselves could devise.

Thankfully, in addition to the play upgrades, the presentation aspect has shown grand improvements. The graphics are far more well-defined and crisp than ever before, and the cinematic sequences are more impressive this time around (and more dramatic). The sound production has also improved. In addition to higher quality vocal samples, the game now offers music played straight off the CD! That's right, folks: the days of MIDI war music was coming to a close! (Of course, the option NOT to stream music off the CD is also available.) Warcraft II still suffers from the inherent LACK of one important update... Wood still takes forever to collect! C'mon, Blizzard, why can't we chop trees a little faster? I need to build stuff NOW!

Be forewarned: Warcraft II is more difficult than its predecessor, if only because there are more ways to die! However, between the two, I still have to recommend this one. It has more of everything, basically. More units, more methods of travel, better graphics, better sound... Warcraft II is everything that the original Warcraft was and then some.

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