As with all of its high-profile games, Blizzard Entertainment will inevitably release an expansion pack, therefore it came as no surprise when they initially announced Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. Being the expansion to last year's impressive release in this ever-growing series, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, this game has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, Blizzard has never been known to release sub-standard games. Blizzard is one of only a small handful of publishers that will simply not release a title before it is complete, and meets all the tough standards of its employees, and that is not an easy feat to say the least.
Albeit an expansion, Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne plays like a standalone title. It contains a completely new campaign, and twenty-four new missions to carry on the epic Warcraft III storyline. Arthas and Illidan are both pursuing the evil Lich King, who is trapped inside the Icecrown glacier. This will not prove easy though, as they must first deal with the remaining Night Elves and Humans, all while in a power struggle with one another. The story begins with the Night Elf Sentinels campaign, followed by the Human Alliance campaign and finishes with the Undead Scourge campaign.
Unlike the original, The Frozen Throne does not contain an Orc campaign in the main storyline (Blizzard didn't see where they were to fit in), fortunately the game features a bonus campaign that details the rebuilding of the Orcish Horde. This campaign seems to be more focused on RPG style gameplay, somewhat different than the overall game, in the sense that players only have control over a couple of heroes and have many different quests to complete. The campaign has no missions that involve building a base or preparing for large-scale battles. And, because of this, it is here that we begin to see some of the new features of the World Editor. One of the new features is the ability to link maps together and let the story progress from one map to another and back to the first, all while saving the state of the original map. This is used extensively in this bonus campaign, with tremendous results. Unfortunately, only Act I of the campaign was ready when the game went to production, however Act's II and III are set to be released shortly, and made available for free download from the official website when they are complete.
Fortunately, the additions to the Warcraft universe include more than a new campaign, Blizzard has added a new heroes, and the ability to choose from five neutral heroes. These initially neutral heroes are available for purchase at specific buildings randomly placed throughout the new maps. New units have also been added to further balance the races and to fill in voids present in the first. A good example of this is demonstrated with the Night Elves, whom now have Mountain Giant as one of the premiere units. The Mountain Giant's are essentially a huge melee unit with high hit point ratio designed to direct attacks away from other units and to itself, something the race had been long lacking. These units have have introduced new strategies in multiplayer games; however The Frozen Throne isn't limited to new units. Each of the four races also now offer a new building in their tech trees that, once built, sells items such as potions and other hero items that can turn the tide of a battle for better or for worse. The Frozen Throne also introduces a few new beautiful tilesets to the game, including the Sunken Ruins and the Ice Crown, as well as several new multiplayer maps with manynew critters and creeps.
However, probably of more importance are the changes affecting gameplay. These are most noticeable in multiplayer games and this is where Blizzard has really shown that user suggestions do make a difference. First off, the ability to queue units and upgrades together was long overdue; fortunately the final result was worth the wait. Upkeep levels now start at higher amounts of units and the alternate keys now display health bars for all units and buildings on screen. Also, buildings can be queued; a marker is placed where future buildings will be constructed. Wisps and druids that are set to rally to an unfinished gold mine will now automatically enter it when it is completely built. Transports now feature an added bar showing their current capacity and load. These changes, along with the many others included are intended to enhance the overall gameplay experience, not only by making it easier to follow and understand, but by making it more exciting as well.
Another interesting element present in The Frozen Throne is the reintroduction of naval warfare to the Warcraft Series. Though this was a major area, with both the Orcs and Humans having had the ability to build ships in the previous two titles, it was completely removed from Reign of Chaos. Although not fully implemented as one may expect (races cannot build their own ships, transports and destroyers may be purchased from a neutral building), this aspect plays a small role in several campaign missions and leads us to believe that watercraft may have a bigger role to play in the future of this series. Another noteworthy inclusion is the secret mission in the Human Alliance campaign. This is a tower defense mission based on the immensely popular user-created custom multiplayer maps and is simply a lot of fun. The fact that the developer took the time to notice this trend and incorporate it into the game shows dedication, just another reason Blizzard is one of the most popular publishers on the market today.
Although some may argue that Warcraft III contains too much micromanagement, let it be known that Blizzard has not made changes to the number of units that can be grouped together in one selection. The focus of Warcraft III has become more strategic in the sense that players must use these smaller groups of units to take on huge fortresses (hence the lower unit cap than previous Blizzard games), and place an emphasis on the use of heroes. This is integral to the current gameplay, and any changes made could completely disrupt the current role-playing element present in the series. If you are looking for a title that does not offer this RPG style gameplay, then you may want to wait very patiently for an announcement of Starcraft II, albeit I wouldn't hold your breath as it may be awhile.
By now, you're probably asking, what makes this expansion different from any other? To be completely honest, not very much, so don't run out thinking that this is the most innovative product on the market. The Frozen Throne is a typical Blizzard expansion, simply enhancing and building upon on the already immersive storyline and improving the gameplay. The Frozen Throne adds to the existing races, corrects game balance issues by introducing new units and buildings, and improves the overall interface of the series. On top of this, The Frozen Throne also contains an all-new single player campaign for hours of replay value. This is definitely more than enough for fans of the series, as Blizzard has once again produced a highly polished title well worth the purchase price. As a further benefit for those who have yet to purchase Reign of Chaos, Blizzard will soon introduce a bundled package containing both the original and expansion. For those who haven't had the opportunity to enjoy the first, it will be a great starting point. Blizzard has once again proven they are capable of followed a major release with a high-quality expansion pack, so feature-packed that it could easily compete with other standalone titles on its own.