1994 was a different time for the now mega-developer Blizzard Entertainment, a simpler time, before Activition exploded onto the scene, taking Blizzard’s soul with it. As the developer’s first outing into the strategy genre, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans would come to stand as a pioneer of modern strategy gaming and set the standard of quality not only for strategy games but for Blizzard Entertainment in the years to come.
I can recall my 7-year-old self finding Warcraft:O&H to be punishingly difficult and I have to admit that at that age I only ever played with the help of cheats. Warcraft has that kind of old school difficulty that ensured longevity and has you pulling your hair out until you figure out exactly how it is that the AI thinks. Once you’ve learnt this it isn’t too difficult to counteract their attack methods using modern strategy methods like tanking, the kind of methods that didn’t really exist back in 1994. Once you’ve got the hang of this its actually kinda easy to just wade through the rest of the game. Oh this fantastic developed brain of mine!
My initial reaction to playing this classic was, “Woah, this game is way more rudimentary than I remember.” Just how rudimentary you ask? Well for example:
- No control groups
- No fog of war
- Often horrific unit path finding
- Move and attack commands cannot be issued by right click and require the press of a button first
- All units carry the same voice with a handful of utterances (contrary to the popular slew with which Warcraft would eventually become synonymous)
- No box drag selection
- Only 4 units selected at a time
This is of course excusable considering it existed before many of the common strategy innovations we have nowadays and also considering that the Warcraft series would eventually come to introduce such innovations themselves.
These are just the first things I noticed about the game as I started to play and it took a degree of unlearning what my spoilt contemporary brain knew about strategy gaming. These qualities don’t detract from the experience however and Warcraft still delivers in an air of quaint simplicity. Your units are limited not only in number but also in variation and abilities.
Warcraft is regarded as the pioneer of new single-player mission types such as capturing bases or units to be used as well as limited-forces missions requiring smart unit management. This broke from the common RTS mould of collect, build, destroy made popular by Westwood Studio’s Dune II in 1992. This innovation of non-standard mission types would be used to great effect by Westwood’s Command and Conquer series, which would become Warcraft’s main competitor. A battle that Blizzard would arguably win as they went from strength to strength with World of Warcraft, Diablo and the Starcraft series sucking up awards, money and peoples time as Westwood faded into obscurity.
Nowadays Blizzard has become something of a soulless giant, but one cannot deny their penchant for gaming innovation. Using new IPs to lay groundwork for future titles has been one of Blizzard’s greatest strengths and its amazing how even though incredibly subtle, a measure of Warcraft’s lore has carried through even from their first game. It’s refreshing to look back at the progenitor of what would become Blizzard’s flagship that would dictate their high standard of quality for years to come.