Blog 546: The SPRPG Diaries: Rise of the Lich King

Right from the beginning, I was all up in Warcraft III‘s singleplayer RPG scene; a combination of a long attention span (which, I have to admit, has since diminished) and limited internet access made it the natural choice. We might have exhausted the supply of maps that defined my own works, but there is still plenty of interesting stuff out there to have a go at…

Today: the indefatigable Rise of the Lich King by Armelior

Lies of the Rich King

You’re right, this isn’t strictly an RPG. But it’s a campaign, it’s singleplayer, and it’s sometimes a little bit of an RPG, so suck it!

Rise of the Lich King

I guess that’s actually the initial thing that gets me going about this campaign — the perspective shifts. It doesn’t focus on one side of the story, it deftly weaves them all together, swapping between altered melee skirmishes, dungeon crawls, defences and other game modes along the way. One minute you’ll be playing as Arthas and his dark minions, the next escaping from the very same as Sylvanas. The chop and change might sound jarring in theory, but in practice it is flawlessly executed.

Let's face it, there are as many campaigns about the merged Arthas/Ner'Zhul as there are custom models of him.

Let’s face it, there are as many campaigns about the merged Arthas/Ner’Zhul as there are custom models of him.

Set after the end of the Frozen Throne campaign, Arthas has merged with Ner’Zhul and Kael and Vashj are powerless to stop him. In Lordaeron, Sylvanas is (I’m pretty sure she was called Sylvanus in Reign of Chaos; am I havering?) is trying to kick Kel’Thuzad and his remaining boys to the curb when Arthas returns to throw a spanner in the works.

It’s classic high-fantasy fare, and in the established tradition of WC3 sees a crew of unlikely allies join forces to defeat the greater evil. Everybody runs off to hole up in Theramore, culminating in a collossal defence of the fortress and final counter-attack.

It’s not exactly custom-content central; a few choice imports are present for the likes of Arthas/Ner’Zhul and a few new unit types creep into the melee sections (and the enemies’ forces), but the bulk of the campaign is strongly entrenched in the base game.

By Nerub! Even my Naga Royal Guards are having a tough time against this tiny little undead outpost. Why are the ziggurats useless when I use them but devastatingly effective for the AIs?

By Nerub! Even my Naga Royal Guards are having a tough time against this tiny little undead outpost. Why are the ziggurats useless when I use them but devastatingly effective for the AIs?

The main advantage over the Blizzard campaigns is that it holds no pretensions to being training for multiplayer skirmishing. All missions begin with complete race tech trees, and all the heroes start off fairly high up the ladder with a full roster of abilities to unleash — so there’s no slow ramp-up from level 1 here. Kael and Vashj begin battling the Undead and soon unlock their ultimates, but Sylvanas comes out on top — with immediate access to Charm and Black Arrow she can attack alone and snowball an army out of nowhere.

On the other hand, the maximum hero level remains 10. Perhaps a raise to 15 and a few extra ability levels (or a fifth custom ability for each hero) would have been nice to keep things flowing.

The constant threat of undead squads catching up to you lends a certain tension to this ostensibly traditional dungeon crawly section.

The constant threat of undead squads catching up to you lends a certain tension to this ostensibly traditional dungeon crawly section.

Returning to the traditional theme of the SPRPG Diaries, complaining about difficulty, I have to say that the melee missions are tough. (The RPG missions are challenging too, but don’t feel so insurmountable.)

The undead assault on the classic dwarven stronghold of Ironforge, for example, is a sprawling snowy mountain range lined with defensive towers. There is a back door presented, but the constant attack waves of slightly over-powered custom dwarf units (including bloody motherfucking magic-immune Mithril Golems alongside painful Gryphon Riders and more traditional human units) mean you need to build a huge army and then divide it in two — one half to guard home sweet home, the other to press forward into the hideously fortified outposts.

Of course, if you press forward with only half an army, that has to walk across most of the map (or take air transports around the edge of that tower-lined front door), to attack the back door, that half has no support and pretty much no way of getting support. Your punitive force will be met by a base absolutely chocka with enemies both mobile and static.

But hey, I’m rubbish at strategies, so I’m probably just not microing hard enough.

No, Kel'Thuzad, the DOORWAY now belongs to the Scourge. There is a big difference.

No, Kel’Thuzad, the DOORWAY now belongs to the Scourge. There is a big difference.

The Verdict

A strong story told from all the angles keeps the game from becoming stale, custom lore expands plausibly without veering off into self-insert fanfiction and big meaty missions give you plenty of bang for your buck.

Then the bonus “interviews and howlers” cinematic is good for a larf.

Rise of the Lich King

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