Another thing Warcraft got right even back in 1994 was its mission variety. Although they are pretty much the same across both campaigns, they reminded me very much of Starcraft’s and Warcraft III’s single player campaigns. You’ve got your standard base-building levels, but also more dungeon-crawling ones where you’re managing a fixed number of units. Regardless of the mission type, I did find it strange that the level wouldn’t end unless all enemies on the map were killed. Even the dungeon maps weren’t exempt from this, as I’d have to end the level by completing my objectives and then have to hunt down a single spider I’d somehow passed up. Remember, the enemy could see me, but I couldn’t see it. Occasionally I’d aggro the final unit from the other side of a wall, and it would stroll through the caverns with single-minded resolve to do battle, die, and earn me a victory screen. And earn that screen I did.
I’ve got to make a special mention for the more objectives-based levels. These were the ones that got my lore boner raging the most, as controlling (and assassinating) Warcraft luminaries such as Garona Half-Orcen, Lothar the Lionheart, and mother effing Medivh were neat, if not particularly impressive (they are no different than other units except for a unique unit model). However, seeing levels like these was very rewarding, considering how diverse Warcraft III and especially Starcraft II would approach missions objectives. “Kill the enemy” was a good start for 1994, but I’m impressed they made the effort to add “assassinate a specific enemy” and “rescue the hero” as well. What’s more, special hero units would return in Starcraft and would become a major component of Warcraft III, the latter of which eventually led to what we know as the MOBA. If you were to tell me that a unique character model would form the basis for an entire genre of gaming, I’d have told you you were crazy!
Gameplay Retrograde: 36 orcish spearmen
Ultimately, I found going back to the first Warcraft one of the more interesting history lessons I’ve ever imposed on myself. It was rough diving in at first, but challenging myself to think the way an RTS player would have 20 years ago was very rewarding once I cracked the code and began to abuse the game’s limitations. Going back for the lore wasn’t as gratifying as I expected, since the only notable units you come across lack any truly impactful features, but I didn’t expect to find so much that would influence not only future Warcrafts but other Blizzard titles as well. The legacy of Blizzard’s focus on heroes is a trend they’ve continued to this day.
Many of the missions in Warcraft have since been retconned by Blizzard, discarded in favor of a smoother storytelling experience. However, I did get a kick out of demolishing Stormwind as the orcs, a place I’ve walked in the shoes of many a WoW character. Seeing the roots of what would eventually grow into one of gaming’s biggest franchises and how that world expanded from a top-down strategy game to a fully 3D world gave me a newfound appreciation for what was already one of my favorite game series. As punishing as it was at times, it’s made me excited to do more Retrogradings in the future.
What from the past will be next? Tune in next time to find out!