Sixteen years have passed since the well-loved Frozen Throne expansion pack was released for Warcraft III. As of summer of 2019, the glaring absence of a fourth installment to the popular real-time strategy (RTS) games is still felt.
It’s a unanimous opinion among long-time fans of Warcraft that it’s a shame the third game never got a sequel. From the detail and insight on small but awesome hero units to the quality of army strategy in the gameplay, the RTS-shaped hole it left on today’s gaming landscape has not yet been filled.
True enough, Age of Empires IV has been confirmed and may be released by 2020 at soonest, but does that mean Warcraft will follow suit?
What sets Warcraft apart from other franchises is how much it now relies on Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games. World of Warcraft (WoW), although initially intended as a spin-off, surpassed the popularity of the original games and is known universally among casual online gamers. Get some geeks in, tune in your ambient occlusion settings for WoW and you are set!
Blizzard didn’t know what hit them back in 2004. WoW has been joined by other massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) to define the world of online gaming for the next decade or so.
In short, WoW has dominated and kept Blizzard afloat, along with their other franchises Diablo, StarCraft, and Overwatch.
Warcraft IV, meanwhile, has been largely forgotten by the studio… Or has it?
Blizzard Out To Pop Community’s Hopeful Bubble
The bad news is, Blizzard has outright said that they are not working on Warcraft IV. They’re not even in any planning stage whatsoever. The closest we have is Blizzard’s production director Tim Morten saying way back in 2016 that they’ll consider considering to make a new Warcraft.
But with the remastered Warcraft III booked for a 2019 release, it’s understandable that there’s not much space left for a sequel any time soon.
An onslaught of updates and patches for the third game over the past half-decade have been keeping Blizzard busy. At first, fans had thought that this could be build-up for a completely new Warcraft sequel, but it turned out to be the remaster, which was honestly more plausible.
But the community remains hopeful. Just because there have been no official announcements does not mean that Blizzard has forgotten Warcraft.
Untying The Knots In The Story For Warcraft IV
A large chunk of the fanbase agree that the opportunity for a direct sequel to Warcraft III had already passed with World of Warcraft. The MMORPG’s several expansions had gone back and stretched out and replayed and resolved the storylines left open by the third game.
Timeline-wise, it would be complicated to go back and start right where The Frozen Throne ended. Taking up another sequel would mean retconning the events in World of Warcraft and its expansions.
This could cause confusion among fans who’ve totally sunk their teeth in World of Warcraft.
When it comes to the original Warcraft fans, however, a reboot would mean that the unfavorable events that took place in the MMORPG could be undone. This would include the deaths of a few favorite characters, such as Arthas and Illidan, who were chopped in some of the WoW expansions.
Many also disliked the direction that Cataclysm went, with the story going off tangent and the game’s mechanics being dumbed down for mainstream audiences made up of casual players.
A reboot would undo what quite a few in the community perceive as mistakes or missed opportunities. There’s been a lot of wishful thinking among fans when it comes to how a Warcraft IV would feel like.
A harkening back to the third game would be a treat, with a wanderer character amidst beautiful, updated graphics a popular fever dream. Many have also wished to control various characters like Thrall or Sylvanas or Anduin, or even a new faction (maybe the Tuskarrs?).
Rebooting would satisfy this crowd of fans, and a fourth game would be the perfect vehicle to reset the already-complicated lore.
However, despite the demand for such a solution, the confusion of those uninterested in diverging storylines might still pose a problem. An alternative would be a timeskip.
The events of our hypothetical Warcraft IV can’t have happened in World of Warcraft, so the fourth game could instead come after one of the expansions, like Battle for Azeroth. Again, this could cause confusion, but there would be an advantage.
Players who only play WoW could be up for a surprise when they find out that a major character like Thrall is dead or that Stormwind has been destroyed in the latest expansion. They would then have interest in Warcraft IV, wanting to find out what they missed out on in the RTS game.
Although complicated in its own right, a timeskip gives gamers different scenarios to play with across time, so it could be worth a shot.
Timeskip way in the future?
Many speculate that a fourth installment can’t arrive while World of Warcraft has not yet been “finished”. After all, there’s a suspected queue of three more expansions after the latest Battle of Azeroth.
If Warcraft IV is to be set in a timeline way in the future, then it would have to wait its turn. That means it might take almost a decade for WoW to conclude its lore and fulfill its role as a cash cow before letting an RTS sequel take over.
The fun part is, the possibilities would be endless. Blizzard could introduce us to a completely new set of characters. Maybe things like the Lich King, Deathwing, and Sargeras might not be that relevant or even exist in the future timeline.
There could be factions and races led by new, different heroes and villains, still based on the world that we all know and love, of course. Establishing new lore or retconning existing events would no longer be a problem.
Set In Previous Expansion?
A solution that has absolutely zero confusion and a sure chance of fan satisfaction would be setting the fourth installment in a previous expansion. The storyline and lore would already be established, and all that’s left would be to flesh it out.
Let’s say Warcraft IV takes place in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. This would get brownie points for being a direct sequel to the third game. Awesome cinematic fight sequences could occur.
Fan suggestions have included the Horde showing up on the shores of Northrend to fight against Arthas, Garrosh Hellscream leading the Kor’kron elite, and the Alliance of humans, dwarves, gnomes, and the like marching through the Dragonblight and conquering Naxxramas.
A more daring yet intriguing option would be to introduce a totally new world, with new races and heroes and villains. Since it would take place in a previous expansion, this world would exist in the same universe, but have the added benefit of novelty. Perhaps this different world could also face the threat of the burning Legion or the power of the Old Gods.
Blizzard could even take it up a notch higher and just recreate the whole Warcraft series again, but instead from the villains’ perspective. This would be in a similar vein with what they did with Arthas in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, and that did quite well.
Of all the options, revisiting a past expansion seems to be the one that’s most beneficial to fans who want to go back to the RTS glory days and at the same time experience the franchise in a new light.
Whether it’s fleshing out an existing storyline, adding in a new world to the universe, or switching things up for a villain’s point-of-view, it’s sure to be great. Still, it’s sure to take much time and effort.
Whether it’s plausible enough for Blizzard to give it a go, only time can tell.
Stage Not Yet Set For Another Big Warcraft RTS game
Unfortunately, Warcraft IV must bide its time before making an entrance. The complicated knot of a situation that World of Warcraft left behind will make it difficult for Blizzard to decide on one path that is sure to do justice to the franchise.
After all, they have a lot of other, more lucrative projects planned. It would be a major risk and a huge commitment to labor over how to draw a worthy, amazing Warcraft IV out of a large hat. And from a hat, the game would have pretty big Warcraft III-sized shoes to fill.
The even harsher reality check that everyone has to face is that RTS games have lost the brute strength they had over a decade ago. They still have their charm, brought about by the extreme nostalgia that has become synonymous with strategy games, but no longer the same strength.
This strength is also known as profitability. A new RTS installment to the Warcraft series is highly unlikely given that the market has nearly dried up and died, which is unfortunate.
MOBAs have been accused of killing the RTS genre, but whether this statement is true or not remains a minor dilemma compared to the more urgent one: can RTS games be revived?
Demand Among Old Gamers, Potential For The Newbies
If one has to rack their brain for the last big RTS games that swept the video game landscape, titles like Halo Wars, Age of Empires, StarCraft, Warcraft, Command and Conquer, and Warhammer come to mind. They all dominated and peaked more or less a decade ago.
Gamers from this era have been waiting for the next big strategy game. Possible upcoming projects like Age of Empires IV, StarCraft III, and Warcraft IV would breathe new life into the RTS genre.
With Warcraft III: Reforged as a way to gauge the potential success of a fourth game, Blizzard may be headed towards helping build such a future. Despite those who pledge that World of Warcraft and MOBA games will rule forevermore, the demand for RTS remains and the tempting incentive of gaining a new, budding audience persists.
There’s also the untapped branch of gamers who are getting fed up with online gaming. Of course, it’s illogical to think that online gameplay will die out just because it’s snuffing out the genre which gave birth to it in the first place —heck, the very reason that happened in the first place is because it offers so many things that RTS doesn’t! But RTS will not go down without a fight.
The demographic who grew up with RTS games are now adults with work and even family commitments. MMORPGs and MOBAs require so much time and effort for players to become even remotely good.
Just because this demographic can only play campaigns twice a week instead of a teenager’s standard five a day does not mean they have to miss out on and suck at their favorites. Mind you, they are now the ones with some income and the long-groomed interest to buy a brand-new game.
They’re the ones who benefit the most from a quality RTS sequel. They will be the first to pre-order and then play the likes of Age of Empires IV, StarCraft III, and Warcraft IV for fun in their limited spare time.
WC4 Gameplay Must Adjust To Market
That demographic aside, RTS is realistically viewed as less popular in today’s age of MOBAs. Warcraft IV will have to be appeal to a wider audience.
Some have suggested letting individual players control individual heroes instead of managing an entire base to satisfy the mainstream MOBA players. For Warcraft and WoW fans, it seems making all races playable and adding more races would be cool. To appeal to those who may get overwhelmed by the complexity of RTS, reducing the number of races has been brought up.
A cross-platform Warcraft IV could satisfy Blizzard’s needs as well. Bases could be locked to PCs but hero players could be accessible on mobile, console, and maybe even VR devices.
With all platforms touched, the continuous revenue would help this fourth installment power forward.
Revisiting The Nostalgia
All this speculation will be for naught, however, if Blizzard doesn’t take the leap. Whether it’s tomorrow or in ten years, the only thing we can be sure of is that fans will be waiting. And surely, they’re aware of this fanbase that clamors for Warcraft IV.
In the meantime, while they consider it, all we can do is continuously replay the RTS games until another is added to its ranks.