Greatest Game of 1995: Warcraft II

For many people, Warcraft II is the best RTS game ever made.That list includes millions of consumers, top developers, gaming experts but also, more importantly includes:

  1. Me
  2. My mother

Me

This is NOT me

Even before actually playing Warcraft II Blizzard won me over with five little words shouted by a man with a ridiculous accent: “Your sound card works perfectly!”

For years I had endured myriad DOS game installation sequences beset with headache inducing graphics, eardrum busting beeping noises and the general personality of a toaster. But while setting up Warcraft II I knew immediately that it was going to be something new, something special.

Warcraft II was when I first experienced a truly complete and polished game.  What company before Blizzard really “got” what a polished gaming experience could mean to a 13 year old packing serious heat: a Gateway 2000 and a Soundblaster 16?  No company!

Cut to eight hours later: my eyes were bloodshot, my parents were yelling at me to “get off the damn computer” (which could probably be the title for a biography about my life) and my finger ached from frenzied clicking, but there was no stopping my first Warcraft II session.   In spite of my deteriorating health and family relationships, I slayed my way through Azeroth and delighted in each new unit Blizzard threw my way.  I vividly remember the joy of first getting knights and being able to largely leave my underpowered foot soldiers behind.  By the time I cast my first polymorph spell i was hopelessly addicted to Warcraft II.

For the next eight years I enjoyed Warcraft II and while the amount I played each year diminished every year it still stands as the longest overall period of playing a game I’ve ever experienced (random games of Pac-man and Tetris don’t count!)

Part of my current fondness for the game also springs from my peak proficiency at the game.  There was once a golden era when I could boot up Warcraft II and crush three human opponents simultaneously.  Now I can’t kill a cartwheeling 10 year old brat with a gnasher.  Oh, how times have changed.

Ultimately, my admittedly unhealthy love for Warcraft II lead to heartbreak.  Warcraft II set the standard so high for Warcraft III that the “Reign of Chaos” largely fell short of my expectations.  To this day I consider Warcraft III a solid 8.5…that’s 1.5 fewer points than Warcraft II.

My Mother

This is NOT my Mother

Last week when I was helping with a few random chores when visiting my parents my mom looked at me and said in her best orc peon voice, “zug zug.” My friends and I played so much Warcraft II in my house that it has the dubious honor of being the only game my mother quotes to this very day.  That accolade is partly due to the vast amount of hours we spent with the game, but not entirely.  It can’t be completely about frequency or my mom would run around all day quoting Solid Snake and Parrapa the Rapper.

My mom’s remembrance stems from something deeper than a high level of production polish and compelling, addictive gameplay. It stems from the game’s personality.  Warcraft II oozed character across all of its components. It probably didn’t hook everyone during the installation process but it certainly hooked millions of other gamers at some point.  Even my mom, who has never played and will likely never play a video game saw the appeal, albeit in a more limited quantity.  Could she even name the game she is quoting?  No.  Did she enjoy all of the voices and the music? Yes, and it all stuck with her.  That’s ultimately Blizzard’s greatest skill, making games that are not only technically solid but games that you can’t shake.  Fellow Stew Over editor Roger, still plays Diablo II to this day. Are there better hack ‘n slash games out there? Sure.  Do any of them stick to him like Diablo II?  Absolutely not, at least not until Diablo III.

Sidebar #1:  Much Ado About Orcs

Although I loved Warcraft II I feel like it’s my duty to finally come clean about something I hate: Blizzard’s take on orcs.   I don’t care for the way Blizzard made the greatest cog in every evil wizard’s war machine into a group of goofy looking green clowns.  Needless to say, in Warcraft II, Blizzard paints the entire conflict with a more humorous brush, and that’s part of its personality, but did they have to use such a heavy brush on the orcs?  Even with some of the more lighthearted, humorous elements I always felt the humans maintained a sense of dignity.  Orcs ended up with the dignity of a street performer.

And don’t even get me started on the travesty they committed with trolls:

THIS IS NOT A TROLL:

THESE ARE TROLLS:

They are massive

And they are melee fighters (and sometimes cycloptic)

Sidebar #2:  Warcraft II vs. Command & Conquer

If you’re looking for my answer to the never-ending Command & Conquer vs. Warcraft II debate I can’t completely appease you.  My heart would be torn in half if I answered that question.  Ultimately I gave the Best of 1995 nod to Warcraft II due to the series better weathering the passage of time.  Warcraft, largely due to WOW, still commands an incredible cache in the gaming community where as C&C is a stumbling shell of its former glory.  C&C’s history is a fractured, roller coaster between “thoroughly mediocre” and “above average but not excellent” follow-up games.  Perhaps that’s unfair to C&C, a series which has been through many development studios, publisher acquisitions and genre experimentation but Blizzard’s lock on the quality of Warcraft is unyielding.  Remember when they were going to make an Azerothian adventure game, Warcraft: Lord of the Clans?  Yeah, they scrapped it because they didn’t want it bringing down the entire Warcraft universe.  Take that, C&C: Renegade.

“Work complete.”

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