A few pieces of belated Blizzard-related news came to my attention recently. Let’s start with the item that everyone else has known for months: they are working on a new, comprehensively updated release of Warcraft 3.

For the hoooorde! Pic plundered from blizzard.

This has me quite excited, ready to lead armies of orcs and trolls once again. WC3 features some excellent story driven campaigns, set in a richly detailed fantasy world. If you’re a World of Warcraft fan but never played the realtime strategy games that preceeded it, this basically establishes the state of Azeroth as we saw it when WoW first launched. So we see the tragedy of Arthas, the noble paladin who’s desire for vengeance drove him irrevocably into darkness. Then there’s Thrall, the idealistic young orc leader thrall trying to find a better life for his people away from demonic corruption. You’ll also see the awakening of the night elves, after centuries of seclusion.

The main characters all appear in games has “hero” units that grow more powerful as they gain experience. This adds a slightly RPG-style aspect. Armies are relatively small compared to some other RTS games; if I remember right it’s rare to have more than 25-30 units total in a map. So it’s more about the Hero and their personal warband than a huge legion. That doesn’t mean battles are necessarily simple though, as there’s a lot of micromanaging of some units with special powers, an area where skilled players can gain an edge. Druids turn into animals, necromancers raise skeletons, priests cast healing spells and so on.

There’s quite a variety of missions, so it’s not all just about building a base, smashing enemy base and repeating. You may have to rescue beleaguered allies, or fight off repeated waves of enemies for a certain amount of time. Sometime you get “task force” type missions with more of a focus on keeping limited number of units standing.

That’s the hasty summary, anyway. It’s one of my favourite RTS games, and strongly recommended. Looking to this remake, titled “Reforged”, the screenshots all look quite promising. Units are now made of more than about seven polygons, but they’ve kept the bold, and stylised aesthetics we associate with Warcraft. It wouldn’t feel right without cute little pine trees (all about to be razed in the pursuit of resources) and bright blue slate roofs on the alliance buildings.

Other improvements include re balancing of units, and modern multiplayer features. I completely don’t care about the latter feature, but then I am more solitary than a lot of gamers. A few years back I did actually try WC3 multiplayer, battling alongside a friend, against random internet people. We lost… a lot.

One grumble: I noticed a line on the blizzard website about “internet connection required to play.” I’m hoping for some sort of offline option after installation\checking in with blizzard servers, because I’m old fashioned like that. I don’t see why any game’s single player content should require an internet connection.

The Reforged edition is due sometime in 2019 – a bit vague, but the game is already nearly 17 years old, so we can wait a bit longer.

Now onto news that’s only a couple of weeks old: Diablo 1 has been released on gog.com. This is the classic action-RPG’s first ever appearance on digital distribution. I’m a little surprised that Blizz don’t want to handle it themselves on their battle.net service; but I’m happy to see gog get the job.

If you’re more familiar with the latter two entries, and their frantic action against hordes of enemies, you’ll probably find this one rather different in style. You’re still hacking down plenty of goatmen with your sword, but it’s all a bit more a slow and cautious affair. Well okay, partially because your guy can’t actually run.

Also though, Diablo has an ominous, doom-laden atmosphere to it that was kind of lost in the sequels. The entire game is based around exploring one enormous set of crypts and catacombs, under a church. There’s a real sense of descending into somewhere dark and terrible, deep beneath the surface, wherein unspeakable horrors dwell. A place where stygian labyrinths eventually lead to hell itself, a realm of pure terror and malevolence.

In later games you go to hell again, sure, and they’re more epic in scope with wold-spanning adventures. Yet you’re never quite so wary of descending into the shadows. There’s not that feeling of creeping horror permeating every element.

I suppose those things are subjective. A more concrete difference is in developing your hero as they gain levels. Action-rpgs have come to mean endlessly fussing over character builds, pouring over forum threads looking for a killer combination of skills and bonuses. None of that applies here. Everyone has access to the same set of spells, which are either bought in town or randomly found in the dungeons. The warrior sucks at them anyway.

I imagine some gamers will find such a basic system off-putting; but perhaps its kind of a relief to not have such total focus on finding ideal synergies of skills. Another familiar rpg mechanic is still present though – endless hunt for ever better loot (+2 sword of extra chopping etc).

The gog release gives you a couple of choices – you can if you wish have the original, untouched version of the game. That means SVGA graphics and connecting to the ye olde version of Battle.net for multiplayer (amazing that Bizzard have kept their servers going all these years). Or there’s an enhanced edition with bug fixes and high-res graphics, although you only get multiplayer via LAN or P2P.

I’m not sure which I’d prefer – the original is murky as hell; in fact when I last played I found myself squinting at the screen trying to pick out monsters from the background. Yet in some ways that actually suits the environments in which the game is set, with various vicious creatures shambling at you out of an oppressive gloom. It’s good to be given a choice, anyway.

Blizzard have stated there are more re-releases on the horizon. Going back to Warcraft, the first two RTS games are due to appear on gog at some point . Presumably these will also have their graphics sharpened up for modern monitors. Just in my opinion, the first game would benefit from its rather clunky controls being upgraded to match those used in Warcraft 2.

That would leave Diablo 2 as the only major game, pre about 2003, for which there has been no mention of an update or re-release. (yeah I hear you, nerd at the back shouting “what about Lost Vikings”). Given all the other remakes, though, seems inevitable it’ll happen sooner or later. For now you can buy the game on battle.net, and multiplayer servers are of course still online.

This means that all the Warcraft, Diablo and starcraft games can now be purchased, one way or another. So here at this humble site, we salute blizzard for their commitment to supporting and updating their classic games.