Revisiting Warcraft II: The Dark Saga

I, like many of you, was initially shocked when I first discovered Blizzard’s PC games had some Playstation ports. Growing up we didn’t have a desktop PC capable of handling beefier games until I was in middle school, at the start of the 2000s. I was just dipping my toes in the tidal pool of gaming at the time, but was turned on to the truly magical world of PC gaming by my older brother and his college friends. They would talk about playing these amazing sounding games, and when I’d see them in GamePro next to like Super Mario World I would be blown away at the sheer technical differences between the two. But how could I play something like Diablo or Warcraft if I was just a little ol’ kid that barely owned his own Game Boy?

The Playstation, that’s how!

Thanks to a couple of PC ports onto Sony’s console, gamers like me that didn’t have a PC could at least enjoy some of the computer world’s greatest offerings, albeit a truncated version. Or at least that’s what I would have been saying assuming I actually had a copy of the PS version of the game. I was like, 10 years old then, I didn’t have money. So I just had to suffer…

Anyway, we’ll have to save PS1 Diablo for another day, because today’s we’re focusing squarely on Warcraft II: The Dark Saga. The real time strategy game redefined the genre on the PC, and would go on to be arguably one of the most influential games of the era, selling millions of units, launching a hugely successful worldwide franchise, and cementing itself as one of the greatest games ever made. It makes sense Sony wanted some of that pie, and it also makes sense Blizzard would want to see a bit of that lucrative console market share. Thus, The Dark Saga was printed.

Full disclosure: I eventually ended up playing A LOT of the PC game (specifically the online enabled windows version) of Warcraft II, and only played the PS1 game much later. I wonder if I had swapped those experiences how my feelings toward the Warcraft franchise might have shifted. The PC game is a masterclass in what a real time strategy game should be, while the PS1 game is a good example of why these types of games are best played with a mouse and keyboard. At their core, both the PS1 and PC version of Warcraft II are the same: they have the same story, the same gameplay elements, the same challenges, and all the same content, or at least as far as I know it’s all the same. The difference comes in execution. The Playstation could never hold up to the might of a PC, even a late 90s PC. So graphically the PS1 game is inferior. The real clincher though should come as no surprise to anyone that has played an RTS: the Playstation controller isn’t ideal to play this type of game.

As to not rehash countless articles discussing how “Bad” the PS1 game is compared to the PC version, I would instead like to call out quite the opposite. Warcraft II: The Dark Saga is a damn fine game on the Playstation. It has what I would argue to be the best console version of an RTS at that time. All the content was there, including some nice quality of life updates that made the PS1 game a bit simpler to play. There is a ton of content here as well: nothing was cut, not even stuff in the included expansion to the game was cut, you get it all! Additionally, I can’t name another halfway decent game like this on ANY console at the time of release in 1997. Had you been someone that didn’t have a PC and wanted to experience Blizzard’s genre-defining masterpiece, you actually had a pretty great time ahead of you if you had a Playstation.

There’s no denying Warcraft II on the Playstation is an oddity. It released at a time when I would say publishers didn’t fully grasp what a video game really was. This isn’t to throw shade toward Blizzard and their team for trying to get a great game to more gamers. Rather, I think this is a move that wasn’t really necessary. While folks may have clamored to play the popular game, I think PC gaming was uniquely situated in the late 90s to be something quite different from console gaming. This was around the time you still had the “Console Wars” going on. Sony was a powerhouse, as was Nintendo and kind of Sega. But they had success in games that are traditionally more reserved for gamepads: action platformers, multiplayer focused couch co-op games, and more. Seeing something as foreign as a mouse and keyboard title show up on the console space was just weird. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it happened, but think it might not have been a wise use of resources at the time.

What about those of you that may have played this version as well as the PC version of the classic RTS game? What are your thoughts on this one? I’d love to hear reasons why one version was better than the other, and really any excuse to talk about quirky video games, I’m there!


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– Jason J

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