Hey guys! I’m back with another article on Warcraft: Orcs and Humans! Having just completed the human campaign myself, we will be exploring the beauty and simplicity that Warcraft employs in its missions in order to create two amazing campaigns and factions. Warcraft perfectly illustrates how complexity is not necessarily a requirement to build an interesting, unique RTS game.
So before we delve deep into this topic, let me first define what I mean by acute asymmetry with the help of a couple of examples. The faction of the humans versus the faction of the orcs perfectly depicts this. Each unit/building has an equivalent counterpart which has minute differences. The spearman unit is similar to that of the archer – however the archer has higher range but is weaker in a straight up fight as it deals one less damage.
In my opinion; these small decisions fit so well with the overall factions. Orcs are meant to be muscular brutes; with a lot of power but with poorer accuracy whilst the humans are meant to be the opposite. If you were to picture a fight between a human and an orc; the orc would dominate in brute strength; but the human should have more manoeuvrability and flexibility.
Specifically; the orc necrolyte and its counterpart the human cleric (which I end up constantly mistakenly calling a priest) have an extremely different spell set. Whilst the warlock and conjurer also have slightly different spells; theirs are not as wildly contrasting as the necrolyte and cleric.
The necrolyte has the ability to summon undead skeletons (Raise the Dead), reveal a plot of land (Dark Vision) and finally cast a spell (unholy armor) which reduces a unit’s health by 50 percent and gives it invulnerability for a period of time which then wears off.
As a contrast; the cleric has vastly differing skills excepting Far Seeing which is the direct equivalence of Dark Vision. The cleric can also cast a Healing spell and an Invisibility spell which turns a single unit invisible for a specific period of time.
These differences; although only 2 spells difference can completely change the playstyle and feel of the two factions. With the skill “Raise the dead”, orc players (when they have necrolytes with mana) are encouraged to have a more aggressive playstyle to increase the number of dead units on the battlefield which they can convert into skeleton warriors. This is the complete opposite of the cleric’s “Healing” spell; which encourages slower paced methodical approaches.
I for one, enjoyed the self-imposed challenge of trying to keep as many units alive as possible and the healing spell really helped me in my semi-perfectionist play-style. The clerics other ability; invisibility also allows for a safer playstyle, allowing units to dodge enemies and to attain map vision (at least; that’s how I used the skill). This ability essentially renders far seeing useless though; as an invisible unit is able to easily scout a lot more than the patch of ground shown by far seeing.
It is also worth noting that in the orc campaign, invisible units are used in very effective raids against your base, and I’m sure the same would apply to multiplayer games, but in the human campaign – as there is constantly a huge army in the orcs main base this is not so much the case.
I would also like to briefly touch upon the human conjuror vs the orc warlock. The skills with these two units are indeed all different; but they share the same use cases and core ideas. The conjuror can summon scorpions whilst the warlock can summon spiders. This in itself is not that important as these minor summonings are extremely weak.
The warlock can cast Cloud of Poison, whilst the conjuror may cast Rain of Fire which feels a lot stronger, however – in my experience – the best use out of both spellcasters is the final spell: Major summoning. On the orc side; this allows players to take control of a daemon for a short period of time and on the human side; a water elemental. Similar to the archer versus spearman, the water elemental has range but lower attack damage, whilst the daemon has lower range (in this case melee) – but higher damage.
However; this is one of the few design aspects that I didn’t like in warcraft orcs and humans. The Water elementals comparatively feel much weaker to the Daemons. The added range does not feel like enough to offset the damage reduction, and as an extra nerf – water elementals in fact have less health than daemons and are capable of being one shot by enemy catapults. Mix in the fact that they are ranged units; this means catapults will have a lot of chances to hit a water elemental, unless the water elemental is specifically ordered to move right up next to a catapult.
Moving away from the units now, let’s have a little exploration around the actual design of the campaign missions themselves. Whilst some critics and players may deem the missions themselves to be too similar and boring the second time round, I personally did not find that the case.
Whilst the missions do mirror each other and I had a fair sense of what to expect next, I did not feel bored at all by the human campaign. This was partly due to the fact that the units are ever so slightly different and the aesthetics too as I mentioned before; but also because of the acute asymmetry of the campaigns themselves.
The missions; whilst very similar in key concepts and progression – have some unique and subtle ways of differentiating themselves. For example – despite the objectives being extremely similar; each map is unique and separate; even the ones that may appear similar at first glance (i.e. the cave levels).
On top of this; there are unique mechanics and objectives, such as rescuing peasants from an orc cage, getting to wounded units in the cave levels and turning them into healthy archers, killing Medievh a strong mage hero unit who can summon daemons and also rescuing Lothar (an extremely strong hero unit) from a separate Cave mission.
Overall, whilst an RTS does not even need two factions to be fun to play (look at little war-game or to a lesser degree Zero-K), the application of subtle acute asymmetry to produce a secondary faction and campaign is a simple yet effective one. Whilst a mirror matchup can be fun and exciting; from my personal preference and opinion – I prefer there to be a little variety in the factions. I personally find mirror matchups to be a little more stressful and not as fun (think of the constant scanning and inching forwards and backwards of tanks in starcraft 2 Terran versus Terran games).
Whilst others may disagree with me on this, I believe that the method of making small adaptations and changes to units to create a secondary faction is a useful tool to have in a RTS developer’s toolkit. Especially if resources are limited such as time and money. It is better to create two similar factions to a great standard, than to sacrifice quality and time balancing and fixing two completely different factions to a not so good standard. Warcraft Orcs and Humans perfectly uses this tool to give players endless hours of campaigns, multiplayer and fun.
What are your thoughts on this method? Leave your comments down below! And, if you haven’t already – feel free to check out this article on “Rediscovering the Roots of RTS – Warcraft Orcs and Humans”