Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness is the sequel to the popular real-time strategy game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, developed by Blizzard Entertainment and released in December of 1995. Users play as either orcs or humans in a fantasy medieval world full of swords and sorcery.
The game was originally written for MS-DOS; there was also a Mac OS version of the game. Blizzard also released an expansion pack, developed by Cyberlore Studios, known as Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal on April 30, 1996. Blizzard released Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness for Microsoft Windows, combined with its expansion, in 1999, under the name Warcraft II: Battle.net Edition. Changes made for this release included multiplayer support via Blizzard's online gaming service, Battle.net. There is also a sequel to this, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, released in July, 2002. The game has a linear single-player campaign for each side, and a multiplayer option via a LAN or the Internet, using existing or user-created maps. According to the README.TXT file included alongside the Warcraft II demo version, the graphics are pre-rendered 3D models.
The Orcish Horde staged a renewed invasion against the Humans. The survivors of Azeroth had fled to Lordaeron and the remaining Human nations banded together into the Alliance to withstand the Horde. They were joined by the High Elves of Quel'thalas and the Dwarves of Khaz Modan. The Alliance repelled assault on the southern shores of Lordaeron but came under siege in Quel'thalas and Khaz Modan. Gradually, the Alliance armies repelled the Horde. They faced treachery from the Nation of Alterac, which had started working with the Horde when the invasion began.
The Horde itself had become divided when Gul'dan split off his Stormreaver clan. Together with Cho'gall and his Twilight's Hammer clan, he searched for the Tomb of Sargeras. Orgrim Doomhammer, Warchief of the Horde, needed to dispatch some of his forces to deal with Gul'dan, weakening the Horde's front.
Eventually, the armies of the Alliance pressed into Azeroth and laid waste to the Orcish main base at Blackrock Spire, a battle in which the Alliance lost Lord Anduin Lothar, their military commander. The final battle was fought at the Dark Portal, the gateway between Azeroth and the Orcish homeworld Draenor. The Archmage Khadgar destroyed the portal but did not seal the rift between the two worlds. This would enable Ner'zhul to stage a new invasion in the expansion pack Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal. The Orcs that had not fled to Draenor through the portal before its destruction were either killed or rounded up in internment camps. Orgrim Doomhammer, the leader of the Orcish Horde, was taken prisoner and escorted to Lordaeron.
Like Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, most of the game's units on the two sides are immediate counterparts to each other. For example, the basic fighting units, the Human Footman and the Orc Grunt, share the same statistics, as do the Elven Archer/Ranger and Troll Axethrower/Berserker. The armies are balanced by their similarity; the only real differences can be found in the spells used by some higher-level units. The number of units has been increased, and the units themselves have more elaborate abilities.
Naval combat was first introduced into the Warcraft series. Again, similar naval units for both sides have equal capabilities and statistics; only their name and graphic design are different. There are transports, oil tankers and attacking ships, such as the destroyer and battleship (the Orcs have their counterpart ships, too).
As an aesthetic change, both sides are allied with three minor races. Humans allied with Elves, Dwarves and Gnomes while Orcs allied with Ogres, Trolls and Goblins.
Some campaign missions feature hero units. Hero units have heightened statistics compared to their normal counterparts, cause mission failure when killed, and each have a unique picture and name.
Playable heroes in the Tides of Darkness campaigns include Uther the Lightbringer, a Paladin, Zul'jin, an axethrower, and Cho’gall, an Ogre Mage. Non-playable characters in the campaigns are Sir Lothar, a Knight, and Gul'dan. In Beyond the Dark Portal, hero units are considerably more powerful than normal troops and take a greater part in the completion of missions.
The player's base is constructed by the side's worker unit. The Peasant or Peon harvests lumber and gold to construct the buildings that are the foundation of Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness' technology tree, with new buildings enabling players to build new units and research new attributes. The buildings are again balanced by similarity; every building in one army has a counterpart in the other army.
The basic main structure is the town hall, without which other buildings may not be built. Gold (from any available Gold Mine) and lumber (from the forested areas) can be returned here to add to the player's stockpile. The town hall buildings can be upgraded to make more advanced structures available and increase the gold income. A lumber mill can also act as a local collection facility for wood. One important difference between Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness and Warcraft:Orcs and Humans is that buildings no longer need to be placed next to a road, but rather anywhere in the game map, this allowed players a greater degree of freedom when creating their home base and defensive structures. The new game also allows for the creation of walls, but only in multiplayer mode.
There are also buildings to train units, upgrade units or make available more advanced units or town hall upgrades. A third resource, oil, is collected in the sea and is vital to building a navy. Oil tankers can build the oil platform and transport the oil back to the shipyard or refinery.
The next important breakthrough came when Alexander Cech and Lemberg broke the encryption used in the base game data files. Cech went on to create a program called Wardraft, which allowed users to browse and modify the contents of the game data files, allowing comprehensive modifications. The spawn of extensive alterations became known as "Total Conversions", and a great many projects were in motion for a good long while.
Although the Battle.net Edition wasn't released until 1999, online play was widespread from the game's release using IPX Emulators such as Kali. Warcraft II (along with Command & Conquer) was one of the first real-time strategy games to be played widely online, and spawned several leagues, including the International Warcraft League (IWL) and singles and teams ladders on Case's Ladder.
The Mac release allowed multiplayer games over TCP/IP. The IRC channel MacWarCraft served as a gathering place for online play, before Battle.net was created. There was also a popular league created by the Macintosh community, that provided a ranking system and helped players find opponents, called MaG League (short for Macintosh Gaming League).
When the Battle.net edition was released, a new meter of play speeds was added, including a turbo-like speed called "Fastest" that became popular with some players, while traditional players gamed on "Even Faster" speed. Despite the old age of the game, play continues on Battle.net today, along with a significant community on server.war2.ru servers.
For LAN (home) multi play, tools such as DOSBox can be used to emulate IPX or direct serial connections over TCP/IP.
There was also a reverse engineered free software game engine called Freecraft, which allowed users to import the actual game data from Warcraft II and play the game on different platforms and with additional features like queuing unit production, finding idle workers, an improved AI and network connectivity for up to 16 players. In addition to being compatible with Warcraft II, it could also be used with a set of artwork and scenarios made by the Freecraft Media Project (FcMP). Although the actual Freecraft program and FcMP used no art or code from Warcraft II, the project received a threatening cease-and-desist letter from Blizzard, apparently due to similarity to the Warcraft trademarks. Not willing to fight Blizzard, the maintainers canceled the whole project, later rekindling it under the name of Stratagus. By using this game engine through Wargus, the game is also playable on BSD, Linux, Mac OS X, AmigaOS 4 and MorphOS.