My Gamer Geek Past, Part I - Of Orcs, Dwarves and Lich Kings

It was apparently Geek Pride Day when I started writing this last Friday, and while my wife would that I did otherwise, I've made no attempt to hide my geek-ness. I wear it proudly, albeit under normal clothes; I don't shout it from the rooftops, but if asked I deny it not.

Well-documented on this blog is my love of movies, particularly those that have the words "star," "wars," lord," "rings", etc. I can bandy movie names and trivia with the best, and discuss with ease the merits of the newest "Star Trek" and the failings of "Star Wars Episode I/II/III." Ask me about Tolkein, and I'll bend your ear about how the horsemen of Rohan are the coolest nation in Middle-Earth.

Not so covered is the love affair I used to have with a number of video games. Yes, I play still, but my weapon of choice has gone from keyboard-and-mouse to Wii remote. Nowadays, I delight in a round of Mario Kart, a ditty on Guitar Hero or blasting apart Indiana Jones-themed virtual LEGOS. But in my gaming days of yore, other worlds were my playground. I played many games, liked almost all but truly adored few. So here, to honor geeks worldwide, I present the pantheon of games, the reminiscence about which will always bring forth a tear of geekish joy.

(Editor's Note: This is all about video games and how much I loved playing them. Feel free to skip if you're not interested)

(Second Editor's Note: I may wax verbose here; as such, this may not be finished by the time Geek Pride Day is over. It's when you start the race that counts, not when you finish)

(Third Editor's Note: This will be a multi-part post, since said verbosity is rearing its wordy head more than I anticipated. Each post will focus on one game/series of games at a time. Also, each post could be long. Hey, Sarah does it, too, and you read those)

Warcraft (Warcraft, Warcraft II, Warcraft III, World of Warcraft), Blizzard Entertainment

This was, as I remember, my first real venture into the world of video gaming. I remember watching cousins play Prince of Persia at Uncle Eber/Aunt Judi's house, and there's the legend of our neighbor friends who invited us over to play Nintendo watch them play Nintendo. Those don't count.

The first time I ever played Warcraft, a fantasy-world real-time strategy game, was at my friend Bobby's house. He played on a computer upstairs, I played on one downstairs, and the fact we were both playing in the same game at the same time on different machines was fascinating. But that was a no more than a glance; some years later I would acquire my own copy and fall in love anew.

A note about Blizzard games: they are, in several words, genre-(re)defining; incredibly detailed, extremely well done. There were RTS games before Warcraft and many more after, but it's one of the games that immediately springs to mind when gamers talk about RTS. It wasn't even that the graphics were so incredible or the music symphonic (though the music, when heard years later, brings wave upon wave of nostalgia and glee); it was that the story was so deep, so immersive, so rich. In the twenty or so years since the first Warcraft game came out, the world of Azeroth in which the games are set has been so detailed, so fleshed out as to, in my opinion, rival most fantasy novel worlds.

The game that started it all , PC gaming and military headgear alike

Yes, it's that involved. This five-part history series details the universe Azeroth, but only serves as the skin on the Warcraft lore pudding. The games don't even pick up until the beginning of Chapter 4! Beyond these brief summaries, you have loads of in-game lore, novels, comic books, short stories and more, each one bringing more of the world of Azeroth to life. But none brought you into Blizzard's world of orcs and humans like the games themselves.

Each game added a new chapter to the tale, as well as a new way to immerse yourself in the world. In the first installment, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, you lead either the orcish Horde in an invasion of the human lands, or the human armies in defending against the Horde. Each side has a victory option, but lore-wise the Orcs win and destroy the human kingdom of Stormwind.

Cutting-edge graphics, y'all. Cutting. Edge.

In Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, it's still humans vs. orcs, and each had more abilities, but each side also gained new allies: elves, dwarves and gnomes for the humans (now called the Alliance), and trolls, ogres and goblins for the Horde. The game added sea-based combat and aerial attack units to give you the option of war by land, water or sky. The story is a continuation of the Horde's advance into Azeroth and the Alliance's attempt to keep their lands free. Lore-wise, the Horde is defeated and its survivors interred by the Alliance.

Take original artwork, replace hats with bandana/tri-corner...BOOM! You got yourself an expansion.

Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal
added to the story by taking you through the Dark Portal to the dying homeworld of the Orcs. Gamewise, it added new hero units that were more powerful than the basic units. That's about all.

Still cutting edge, believe me.

Players had to wait six long years for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, which Blizzard kept delaying in order to make a better product. It was worth it - not only were the effects more 3D than its predecessors, not only was the story of Azeroth greatly advanced, but the gameplay was incredible:

Now we're getting original.

  • Four races to play instead of two - Alliance, Horde, Night Elf and Undead, each with new units, abilities and heroes
  • You control of the heroes in a whole new way: customization. With each kill, your heroes gained experience; with enough experience they gained a level (up to 10); with each new level, a new ability or ability upgrade became available. You could choose which skills your Orc Blademaster or Human Archmage or Undead Death Knight or Night Elf Demon Hunter gained first.
  • You play each race in order, each campaign advancing the story. As humans, you fight a plague terrorizing your lands and turning your citizens into the walking Undead. As the Undead, you spread your scourge across Azeroth and summon your demon masters to capture and ultimately destroy the world. As the Horde, you struggle to settle a new land only to find the Undead threat not only outside your doors, but within as well. And as Night Elves, you fight to repel the Human and Horde refugees only to realize you need their help to save the world from burning.
Dang it.

Warcraft III was a game changer, and it's expansion, The Frozen Throne, was as well. More units, more heroes, more story, yes; the real biggie here was the multi-player experience, now better than it ever had been. Ten years later, Warcraft III multiplayer is still huge.

Next time, I'll talk about how Blizzard found a way to put you on the ground level of the war between the Alliance and Horde in a very literal way, and how they set a video gaming standard yet again.

Cutting edge, I tells ya, cutting...ah, forget it.


Sarah Lambson said…
This made me nostalgic for the only version of Warcraft I ever played (II). And I immediately went to Youtube and watched game clips and listened to that AMAZING (read cheesy but also amazing) music.

Thanks for this.

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