The Invasion of Kalimdor

While in Lordaeron, mortals tremble and despair as doom has come to this world, Thrall and his orcs and recently-joined Darkspear trolls continue to sail west to Kalimdor, blissfully unaware of the fate of the land they left — for now.


Look out, new world, here we come, brave, intrepid and then some!

In contrast to the hectic and dramatic presentation of the undead campaign finale, the orc campaign starts slow and quiet. The camera pans across the gulf towards a… burning ship. Of course.

I love the way we laaaaand!

The orcs have landed in some kind of tropical savanna. Thrall isn’t even sure that this is Kalimdor, but his grunt assures him that this must be it. The other ships are missing, and Grom Hellscream’s fate concerns Thrall in particular. Time to look around.

We start with two grunts and two troll headhunters, and in classic Reign of Chaos, which only includes the first two missions of the prologue campaign, it’s not explained where the trolls came from. They’re just… there, somehow. Their story is only told in full in the Warcraft 3 demo, in the bonus prologue missions I previously covered. Thankfully, these missions are included in Reforged.

The second main quest: lead them to their destiny.

All that effort spent on leveling and gearing Thrall in the prologue campaign — even in the first two missions that are included in retail Reign of Chaos — is gone. He’s back at level 1 and his inventory consists of a single Scroll of Healing. Presumably the campaign designers decided not to punish people for skipping the prologue campaign and not create an impression that it’s mandatory. It doesn’t really matter much, since we’re going to find the same or better loot in this campaign.

At release, this mission excited me. Kalimdor was a complete unknown, and I was entirely unspoiled about its geography and inhabitants. It really felt like I was on a journey of discovery in a whole new world, and I was as surprised by the subsequent developments as Thrall was. It’s still one of my favorite exploration missions in the game.

As I go out exploring, the first thing I notice is that this campaign actually forces me to be careful. Unlike Arthas and… er… Arthas, Thrall doesn’t have any healing spells. This means that the big, brutal orcs are, paradoxically, more vulnerable than the humans and undead were in their starting missions. I have to be careful with micromanagement, rotating units being attacked and moving away wounded ones so they can be healed later.

At least there’s no shortage of healing items on this map. There are two stacks of healing wards, of three each. I’ll spend one stack in this mission and leave the other one for the next mission, which is also scarce on healing and includes the additional component of time pressure.

We fight our way along the coast, fighting murlocs and, weirdly, bronze dragon whelps. Then we come across a burning outpost with the ground littered with skeletons.

Hey, at least it’s fertile!

Soon enough, we witness three horse-men fight and kill some kind of large… bull-man?

The battle is scripted in such a way that you can’t save any of the bull-men. Except in Reforged, where you can save them, but they have no dialogue and don’t acknowledge you in any way. Reforged: a cacophony of half-measures!

We also fight the quillboar [sic], a race of boar-porcupine-people.1

At least they’re prettier than the humans, says the grunt.

So far, all the natives has been attacking us on sight. This includes harpies, flying half-woman-half-birds, and thunder lizards, massive stegosaur-like animals that stomp the ground and shoot lightning.

This finally changes when Thrall comes upon another group of stranded orcs and trolls. He begins asking them whether they’ve seen any sign of Grom, but their conversation is unexpectedly interrupted when a group of bull-men breaks through the nearby trees.

Is he bent like that under the weight of the giant totem on his back?

Warcraft 3 is good at giving you an illusion of freedom, and this mission is no exception. On the surface, it seems like you’re free to go anywhere, but in fact this map is carefully designed so that you’ll always go past the major setpieces and end up here.

The leader of these bull-men is the elderly but vigorous chief Cairne Bloodhoof, and his people are the tauren. Cairne is intrigued by the orcs fighting with both savagery and valor, and has a rather funny (and insightful) reaction to Thrall seeking his destiny:

Thrall’s henchmen are so disinterested in this conversation that they’re just looking away.

Thrall immediately latches to the idea of finding this Oracle. When Cairne learns that there’s an army of horse-men — centaurs — marching north, he is immediately alarmed and storms off with his tauren to defend his village. And here, I hate to say it, the mission creates a fake sense of urgency.

The dialogue and the quest description makes it look like you need to follow Cairne right away and protect him from harm. However, there’s still a pretty large unexplored chunk of the map that contains some of the best loot in this mission. What the game doesn’t tell you is that Cairne will be safe as long as you don’t trigger the final event by following him. This fits with Warcraft 3’s overall philosophy of encouraging exploration and not punishing the player for it. And indeed, there’s a guarded Health Stone on the newly-unlocked portion of the map, as well as a large village of murlocs on the coast. The murlocs fight dirty, using poisons and nets, but the reward — a Periapt of Vitality — is well worth it.

The tauren are considered AI allies, so you see where they went. Don’t worry — they’ll patiently wait for you to clear the map.

As soon as Thrall approaches Cairne at the end of the map, the centaurs attack, and you have to survive four waves of them, ending with a Centaur Champion. Once they’re repelled, Cairne says that the centaur drove off all the game in this region, so the tauren will have to migrate north, to the verdant grasslands of Mulgore. Thrall offers to escort him on his march in exchange for being told more about the Oracle, and Cairne welcomes the orcs along.

The Long March

The Long March
Followed by the Short April.

Thrall displays a surprising knowledge of the world he never saw.

The Long March
Before the retcons, anyway.

I mean, it’s possible that Grom or other orcs from Draenor described to him what their world was like before the warlocks turned it into the barely-hospitable wasteland we saw in Beyond the Dark Portal. But still.

The tauren revere someone called the Earth Mother, and Cairne likes a life of freely roaming the plains. Thrall, on the other hand, wants the orcs to have a land they can call their own.

This is one long escort mission. The tauren have brought along four kodo beasts — horned dinosaur-like pack animals — and at least two of them must survive until the end. There are three oases (actually Fountains of Health) to visit along the way, and other than them, sources of healing continue to be very scarce, so you once again have to be careful with your limited units.

The Long March
I have no idea what that spell effect is.

Story-wise, very little of importance happens in this mission, and it ends up being kind of a drag. (We do learn that Grom Hellscream is alive and has sent scouts to find Thrall.) Gameplay-wise, its purpose is to teach you some micromanagement by putting you in a situation where you have to conserve your units.

In theory, this mission is a series of trade-offs. You can be purely defensive, following the main road and protecting the caravan from periodically spawning centaur raiders, or you can take forays into side paths and battle creeps in the hope of finding some good loot. Either way, as soon as you’re away from the caravan, you can expect to hear…

The Long March
These three headhunters graduated from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.

And you can expect Cairne to repeat this line again. And again. And again.

In practice, this is a rare mission that actually punishes you for exploration most of the time, as most of the loot here is really underwhelming. Some of the optional encounters drop nothing, others drop a potion or scroll that only just about covers the HP and mana you expended to defeat them in the first place, some drop items that give +1 strength or intelligence and aren’t even worth picking up considering you only have six inventory slots, and only three items in the entire mission are worth picking, one of which comes from an encounter right along the main road, and two from a hard optional boss fight.

In my playthrough I went into the other extreme, playing it too safe and thus missing a neat Mantle of Intelligence +3 from a group of harpies near the main road that I took care to avoid. Ah well. Thrall will find better items later anyway.

The final stretch, between the second and third oasis, goes past a series of towers, but thankfully, we get catapults to knock them down. Catapults that… Grom’s Warsong clan just brought us all the way here across half the Barrens, apparently.

The Long March
Despite being built by centaurs, these towers use the Horde tower model.

After we reach the last oasis, the ending cutscene plays. The caravan has reached Mulgore, but an overwhelming wave of centaurs advances through the nearby mountain pass. In response, Cairne stomps the ground so hard that it causes a cave-in, blocking the exit.

The Long March
Curses! We’re foiled by a head-high ramp we can just run over!

And… this is where, for the first time in my entire playthrough, I saw a Warcraft 3 cutscene actually bug out. Cairne started telling Thrall what the Oracle is, but one centaur got through the rubble, and Cairne interrupted his exposition for his catchphrase that he’s only supposed to say during the actual mission.

The Long March
That’s one suicidal centaur.

Cairne then engaged that centaur alongside his tauren, in a cutscene, while continuing to talk.

The Long March
“Cairne, we’re sort of in the middle of talking about the Oracle…” — “I can multitask!”

And there we go. The orcs and the tauren part ways for now, and Thrall sets out for his next destination: Stonetalon Peak, where the Oracle will hopefully give him the answers he seeks.

While this mission is fairly light on plot developments — its only significance is Thrall learning the location of the Oracle, which could easily be moved to the end of the previous mission — it helps introduce the new setting and set the pacing. It establishes the scope and breadth of Kalimdor and shows that Thrall took some time to traverse it while back in the east, the Burning Legion was engaged in…

The Wreckage of Lordaeron

The Wreckage of Lordaeron
They laughed at the Prophet. They called him mad. But who’s saying “I told you so” now?

We get another interlude. While the orcs are busy exploring this mysterious continent and gaining new allies, back in Lordaeron, things aren’t so rosy. The demons are mercilessly slaughtering whole human villages.

The Wreckage of Lordaeron
Arthas burned down human settlements before it was mainstream.

This large demon that Tichondrius is talking to is Mannoroth, a giant four-legged centauroid… thing. I like how demon designs from Warcraft 3 onwards are creative and varied instead of conventional “human with horns and hooves”2 designs of different sizes.

The Wreckage of Lordaeron
That infernal in the background is just chilling around.

It’s incredible how much story significance they managed to pack into a relatively short cutscene — and in a natural way, at that. First of all, it re-establishes a sense of urgency and tension. After two relatively quiet and low-stakes “Thrall’s tropical safari” missions, we get reminded that the Burning Legion is still a looming threat — and they aren’t going to stop at Lordaeron. Their ultimate goal is still to destroy the whole world, though how they’re planning to achieve it is yet unclear.

This cutscene also establishes an important fact about the backstory: Mannoroth considers the orcs to be “his”, and he is considered responsible for their previous failure to conquer this world. After learning that they escaped to Kalimdor3, he wants to follow and reclaim them. Suddenly, Archimonde appears and reminds both who’s the boss here.

The Wreckage of Lordaeron
I have no idea what’s going on with Archimonde’s model here. It’s a mess of polygons.

The final thing this cutscene establishes is the brains-and-brawn duo of Tichondrius and Mannoroth. Tichondrius is the schemer, playing the long game and making plans. Mannoroth, on the other hand, is not particularly bright, and is the muscle. The two also have little love for each other yet have to work together for the time being.

In the next mission, things will begin to heat up for the Horde.

Cry of the Warsong

Cry of the Warsong
So it takes a total of seven days to cross the Barrens on foot, got it!

By this point, the player is probably itching to build a base and maybe raze some enemy ones. One of Thrall’s grunts echoes this sentiment.

Cry of the Warsong
Poor Thrall. He’s an idealistic young leader stuck leading a nation of fantasy Klingons.

Soon, the opportunity presents itself:

Cry of the Warsong
The archmage says the orcs have followed them here, so yes, they’re refugees too.

We gain control, help Grom destroy this human base, and build our own on its ruins, all the while Grom stays at his fully built base nearby. He says that the humans got here the same way the orcs did, and “a frail girl named Proudmoore” leads them.

Scouts bring Thrall a report, and he formulates a plan.

Cry of the Warsong
You spotted something on the other side of the map? Couldn’t you also reveal the map for me?

There’s a goblin laboratory that will bring Thrall to Stonetalon Peak quickly, and he hopes to hire some zeppelins without causing much fuss. Then… basically, this happens.

Thrall: Right, here’s the plan. We’ll run through, get to the laboratory, secure the zeppelins, then fly them to Stonetalon Peak. Do not engage any of the humans. Hopefully we can do this with as few casualties as possible–
Grom: Alright chums, time’s up, let’s do this. GROOOOOOM HELLSCREEEEEEEEEAM!
Thrall: Oh spirits, he just ran in, save him!

That’s right — not only does Grom attack the humans in direct disregard of Thrall’s order, but he does it in the stupidest way possible. He takes, like, five grunts with him while leaving behind the rest of his army (including raiders, who would be very good at razing buildings), then charges across the map to one of the human bases at random. After he invariably dies if attacking on his own, the humans get alerted and counterattack, except they attack you. It’s like playing multiplayer with a blockhead ally with no comprehension of unit specialization or basic tactics.

Because of this, the optimal thing to do is to join Grom on his assaults and take out the human bases together, one by one. You still have to invest in base defense just in case one of the other human bases attacks you in the meantime.

Cry of the Warsong
That paladin will soon be paladout.

Thankfully, the map designers realized that you might want to explore the map at your own pace without Grom forcing your hand. Once all the humans are gone, Grom is content to sit at his base for the remainder of the mission, and for once, destroying all enemy bases doesn’t actually end the mission, as we still have to hire the zeppelins and bring them back to our base. This gives the player the opportunity to kill the remaining creeps and take their stuff. In particular, these folks are worth a visit:

Cry of the Warsong
What kind of creatures left these giant skulls? They’re much larger than the owlbears’ heads!

These owlbears, which drop some really nice Claws of Attack +9, are, as their name implies, part owl, part bear… and part stag, which handily avoids potential lawsuits. Between centaurs, harpies, tauren (minotaurs), and now these, Kalimdor sometimes really feels like a habitat for all those D&D creatures that Blizzard wanted to introduce into Warcraft as part of its ongoing retool into an adventure setting, but that didn’t fit thematically into the old world.

The path to the goblin laboratory is guarded by more centaurs and harpies — nothing too difficult. In theory, it’s possible to complete the main quest without destroying the humans, but the path is blocked by one of the human bases, so you’ll have to either level at least that one, or run your army through it, probably taking large casualties along the way. There’s also no advantage in doing so, since Warcraft 3 never remembers or acknowledges the player’s moral choices across missions.

Interestingly, early on, the developers did play with the possibility of moral choices. The idea was that if the player completed this mission without killing humans or stopped Grom from attacking them, there could be benefits later. The same was true of the next mission, which once again pits you against an enemy that isn’t your primary objective.

While that concept didn’t materialize, Reforged did make a nod to the abandoned idea. When patch 1.33 updated all the campaigns4, it added a new path allowing the player to bypass the human bases entirely. Like all other campaign changes, this one was reverted a year later in patch 1.36.1.

Thanks for nothing, Reforged. Again.

Once the zeppelins are brought back to the base, Thrall confronts Grom, who says a true warrior would have simply taken the pass from the humans. Thrall lashes out on him for disobeying a direct order, and then…

Cry of the Warsong

Thrall decides he can’t afford the liability that Grom represents, and punishes him by reassigning him to a menial task — building a settlement at the northern forest.

I’m sure this will end well and will not in any way backfire.

The Spirits of Ashenvale

The Spirits of Ashenvale
They’re just goddamn trees. Now bring Pandora to its knees and mine that unobtanium!

At a new Warsong base in the forest, Grom is pissed at Thrall for using his best warriors for manual labor. Nonetheless, when a grunt complains that the woods are too quiet, like they’re being watched, Grom simply mocks him for being afraid of spirits. To him, there’s nothing here but ancient trees in shadow… he says, while strange blue lights circle the nearby trees and, unknown to the orcs, they’re indeed being watched by some kind of archer in a cloak.

The Spirits of Ashenvale
Oh hey, new map tileset!

Not just that, but there are strange female voices being heard among the trees, laughing and whispering in an unknown language.

For now, all seems quiet. The peons are chopping wood, the strange lights aren’t displaying any kind of hostility, and you get your quest: to obtain fifteen thousand lumber.

The Spirits of Ashenvale
What could possibly require so much lumber, anyway?

The first thing you’ll realize is that harvesting this much lumber with peons alone would take forever, even if you built a lot of them and kept constructing new war mills to keep their trips to the trees and back as short as possible.

The second thing you’ll realize is that your starting base is cut off from the rest of the map by a thin row of trees. In a few seconds, however, your peons break through them, and as you run into the gap, you face… warrior women?

The Spirits of Ashenvale
Turns out neither culture has established first contact protocols.

This is such a stark contrast with Thrall’s first encounter with Cairne and the tauren that I wonder if it’s a deliberate juxtaposition. Had Thrall been leading this expedition and not Grom, I have no doubt that he’d defuse the situation and establish diplomatic relations with this new race. Unfortunately, Grom is interested in sating his bloodlust, rather than in peaceful coexistence, and so Thrall’s decision to send him here — whose consequences Thrall, in fairness, couldn’t have known — will result in tragedy for everyone involved.

This is our gameplay introduction to the night elves — the fourth playable race of Warcraft 3. I’ll talk more in detail about them when we get to their own campaign, but for now, I’ll just say this. Everyone knows how Grom characterizes his newfound opponents in this mission:

The Spirits of Ashenvale
I’ll take his word on the “far too tall” thing, since the in-game models of high elf and night elf archers are the same size (and are in fact recolors of each other).

He also says they fight with unmatched savagery and are the perfect warriors. Thing is, this characteristic is immediately undermined by storytelling considerations. Since they’re introduced as the player’s opponents in the orc campaign, it means that in their first on-screen appearance in a Warcraft game, the night elves lose.

The Sentinels had, as we know from the manual, ten thousand years to prepare for the return of the Burning Legion — yet the moment they’re actually attacked, they lose, and not even to the Burning Legion, but to mortal refugees in hostile territory who didn’t even know they were there.

Technically, you don’t have to defeat them all in this mission. In fact, it’s very likely that you’ll complete the mission without even destroying the majority of night elf bases. But story needs mean that they fail to stop you from cutting down their woods.

Which is not to say the victory will come easily. The third thing you’ll notice is that your starting base has no gold mine. There’s one some distance past the breach, but it’s out there in the open with no chokepoints, and the enemy will be very persistent in this mission. The night elves fight dirty. They ambush you at night, suddenly materializing their troops in the middle of your base by taking advantage of their Shadowmeld ability, which makes them invisible at night as long as they don’t move. They also send in archers riding flying beasts at a time when your anti-air options are very limited. You likely had time to practice the raiders’ Ensnare ability (which is not auto-cast) on harpies in the previous missions, but just in case you forgot, the game reminds you of it in Grom’s voice.

The Spirits of Ashenvale
Incorporating both unit introductions and a tutorial on unit abilities, diegetically, while maintaining tension. It’s just one of many touches that makes Warcraft 3 so special.

This is one of my favorite missions in the game. It captures the idea of Ashenvale as a dangerous, unknown place as the metaphorical fog of war is in full effect and you’re fighting night elves on their home turf. Those cute little orbs of light are enemy units spying on you. You have to protect your source of gold on a hard-to-defend forest clearing while the enemy has flying units and you don’t. Your goal — harvesting lumber — means removing your own bases’ natural defenses, leaving you open to more venues of attack. If you start harvesting at the wrong place, you open another route for the night elves to attack you. Meanwhile, they have three bases that do have natural chokepoints, and attack you from all sides — and at night, they could be lying in ambush, anywhere on the map.

The map design is clever as well, as it gives you ideas what should be done without bogging you down in overbearing tips.

After you secure the initial gold mine, you’ll notice that the eastern side of the minimap has neutral building icons showing up. You’ll naturally want to give this place a visit. It’s a goblin camp, run by this guy:

The Spirits of Ashenvale
That name is a bit too on the nose, isn’t it?

These furbolgs the goblin speaks of inhabit a camp to the west.

The Spirits of Ashenvale
Horse people, boar people, bull people, bear people… What’s next? Wolf people? Nah, that’s crazy talk.

Once you kill their chieftain and return to Neeloc, he gives you two goblin shredders5 for free and lets you hire more for gold. He also opens his shop to you. It’s a standard Goblin Merchant, and now one item that so far has been largely useless through the campaigns — the Gem of True Seeing — will be very useful, as it reveals nearby invisible units.

Let’s engage in some arithmetic. A single tree has 50 HP, and workers chop trees into lumber at a rate of one lumber per HP.6 Peons harvest 1 lumber per swing and carry bundles of 10 lumber per trip, so a single peon will make five trips before felling a single tree, and to meet the mission objective by just chopping wood, you have to fell 300 trees. A single shredder, on the other hand, harvests 10 lumber per swing and carries bundles of 200 lumber, so it will fell four trees before returning to the nearest great hall or war mill. If you aren’t careful about where you direct your shredders, they’ll quickly deforest the surroundings of your base, leaving you exposed to ground attacks — on a map that’s scarce on defensible positions to begin with.

The next thing you’ll likely notice is that your gold mine is pretty low on gold. You’ll want another one. There’s an unexplored patch of map to the south and west of your route to the furbolgs, and that sounds like a natural direction to head next. There’s a tiny night elf base there, whose main structure, the Tree of Life, yields 3000 lumber when destroyed7, to Grom’s glee. To the west of it is a gold mine with plenty of gold, guarded by dark troll creeps, but it’s close to a large night elf base that will pester you with attacks, so you’ll likely want to destroy that one, too.

The Spirits of Ashenvale
Without a source of healing, my casualties attacking this base were huge, but such is the life of orcs.

Combat, exploration, and story objectives are all intertwined — as it should be.

This leaves the south secured. At this point, your forces are stretched across a large territory that’s hard to defend, and it becomes progressively harder to defend as your shredders clear more and more patches of forest. This highlights, in an exaggerated form, the tactical considerations of harvesting lumber that are part of Warcraft 3 map design in campaigns and multiplayer alike. Night elves, importantly, do not have this disadvantage shared by the other three factions; their worker unit, the wisp, harvests lumber without destroying trees, so they don’t have to worry about leaving their bases explosed or about constructing more mills to shorten worker travel times.

It’s possible to destroy all enemies here, but there’s no real need. In my playthrough, as I was getting closer to the goal, I went northeast and destroyed another lightly defended Tree of Life, completing the mission without so much as ever seeing the two-and-a-half night elf bases in the north, and with half the map still unexplored.

The Spirits of Ashenvale
That small building is a moon well, and it heals nearby allies until it’s exhausted, effectively giving base defenders a larger HP pool.

I love the orc campaign. The gameplay is fun, the characters have distinct personalities and well-foreshadowed flaws that become important to the plot, and there’s a tragedy to it that is very Warcraft. Thrall would rather live and let live, but orcish culture values glory in battle, dragging him into fights he’d rather avoid and reopening old hatreds between orcs and humans. Grom, meanwhile, struggles with his old demonic bloodlust like a former drug addict, and cares little for Thrall’s diplomatic ways. Because of this, he drags the orcs into conflict with the most powerful race in Kalimdor that could have been avoided had it been Thrall in his place.

There’s tragedy. There’s conflict. And that’s good! It’s conflict that follows organically from past events and from the personalities of the characters involved. All the writers had to do was put Thrall and Grom in a new environment and simply let them be themselves. It’s conflict that opens up new story threads, opportunities for character development, and makes the endings of both this campaign and the next one that much more poignant. And it’s very, very different from forcing conflict by writer fiat for marketing reasons.

For now, Thrall is making new allies, and Grom is making new enemies.

Will the cycle of hatred be broken?

Time will tell.

Next Up…

Next up, Grom’s battle against the night elves sees two unexpected interventions from two completely different giant centaur-like people, and Grom rediscovers his long-forgotten favorite color.

— What are we going to do tonight, Tichondrius?
— The same thing we do every night, Mannoroth: try to DESTROY THE WORLD!

Hold your formations! The kodos must be protected!

  1. Boar-q-pines

  2. And maybe a goatee, because everyone knows goatee bearers are evil

  3. Tichondrius says that his “agents” told him the orcs landed in Kalimdor. Who these agents are and how they learned this is never explained. 

  4. While also making them noticeably harder all across the board, out of the developer’s unsolicited belief that the players wanted more challenge or something. 

  5. Notice how Warcraft 3 has towned down the crazy tech compared to Warcraft 2, but a bit of it is still there, courtesy of gnomes and goblins. Shredders are humanoid mechs with chainsaws, piloted by goblins. 

  6. Technically, trees are destructible doodads, like gates and bridges. “Doodad” is the Warcraft 3 engine term for all map objects that are not units or buildings, and destructible doodads are special because, while they cannot be selected, they have HP and can be destroyed. That a tree’s lumber yield is dependent on its remaining HP means that if you damage trees with AoE attacks, they will yield less lumber before falling. 

  7. Only in this one mission. They don’t normally work that way.