Reviews

Warcraft 3: Reforged Review – What The Hell, Blizzard?

Warcraft 3: Reforged is not what was promised. Not even close. Indeed, it’s so far from what was originally demoed and outlined in 2018 that Blizzard is arguably guilty of blatant false advertising. Of course, we all know that games are subject to change during development as developers alter their goals or decide to tweak the graphics for better performance. But in the case of Warcraft 3: Reforged, little was ever said to indicate that the original vision wasn’t going to come to pass. Even mere weeks before the game’s launch the official website boasted features that simply aren’t present in the finished product, including reworked cutscenes. So, let’s dive into this Warcraft 3: Reforged review and see why the Internet has dubbed it Warcraft 3: Refunded.

As I finished up this review Blizzard issued a non-apology where they stated they were sorry that some people didn’t have the experience they wanted. The wording makes it so that Blizzard isn’t actually apologising for the game and its problems, and even implies that it’s the fault of the consumers. In the same statement they attempted to explain away Reforged’s problems by saying that they didn’t want to steer away from Warcraft 3’s original vision, which is completely at odds with their own marketing for the game. It’s also strange that the original game can no longer be bought, and that owners of the original game need to download a 30GB update that automatically updates Warcraft 3 to the Reforged version. If you want to maintain the original vision of Warcraft 3, why remove the ability to play it as it was?

It’s baffling. Warcraft 3 is beloved by millions, was integral to the success of Blizzard as a company and holds an important spot in the annals of videogame history. Combine these things with Blizzard’s faltering reputation and one would imagine Warcraft 3: Reforged would have been a priority for Blizzard, a chance for them to celebrate their history and rebuild some of the trust they have lost. But alas, that isn’t the case.

Available On: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: Blizzard

The first hint that something is wrong comes early in the human campaign. When Blizzard first showed off Reforged in 2018 it presented a redone version of the culling of Stratholme cutscene where there were close-up views of the characters and a much more dynamic feel. It was fantastic, and exactly what the remaster needed. With four more hours of reforged cutscenes promised by Blizzard myself and millions of others were eager to replay the campaigns so that we could experience the story of Arthas like never before. But once you arrive at the Stratholme cutscene you’re greeted with something identical to the original game with static, zoomed out cameras and awkward animations. At the time of launch Reforged’s official website still showed the updated, improved cutscene. It’s hard not to feel like we’ve been lied to.

As for the cinematics they’ve been upscaled to run at 1080p instead of the original 240p, but otherwise remain mostly untouched. I say mostly because one other cinematic involving a fight between certain characters has gotten a major overhaul that looks good initially until characters actually start moving, at which point it becomes apparent that they are stiffer than concrete.

The good news is that Warcraft 3 remains an outstanding RTS game and Blizzard didn’t tinker with the core gameplay too much. This is the classic RTS formula at its peak: you build up a base, set some workers to gather gold and wood, churn out units and then hurl them at the enemy while sometimes clicking madly on some stuff to make it feel like you’re actually being tactical and not just hoping for the best. The real standout are your heroes who stomp around the battlefield armed with special abilities that you can activate. During the campaigns your heroes can gather loot that increases their stats and even level up, both things carrying over from mission to mission. It makes you grow attached to your heroes. They are the foundation of your armies, and clever use of their abilities can help turn the tide of an entire battle.

While I might joke about just hoping for the best, mostly because that’s what I do in any RTS, the truth of the matter is Warcraft had and continues to have a high skill threshold. There’s a lot of room to improve your craft and the speed at which you can dish out orders. Your build order, army composition and hero choice can all have huge ramifications for how matches play out, especially since the four factions feel distinctly different, something which the campaigns do a good job of showing you.

Speaking of the campaigns they are simply excellent. Reforged includes the Frozen Throne expansion content, meaning you get a total of seven meaty campaigns that span the game’s four different playable factions, kicking off with the Orks before moving on to Prince Arthas as he combats a deadly plague. The RTS genre has never been known for its storytelling abilities, but Warcraft 3 manages to tell a surprisingly strong tale with interesting characters and fun twists and turns. That just makes it even more of a shame that we didn’t get the properly improved cutscenes that could have given the story extra impact.

Still, it’s bloody amazing just how well Warcraft 3 holds up in 2020. It’s easily one of the best singleplayer RTS games on the market. The mission design is simply superb and nicely varied, even manging to include some light stealth elements. Getting through the campaign in many RTS games can feel like a slog, but Warcraft 3’s campaigns are nothing of the sort. If you’ve never experienced it before then it’s nearly impossible not to recommend picking this up for the campaigns alone.

As for the graphical upgrade, it’s…mixed. On the one hand the character models have been completely redone and are wonderfully detailed. However, on the other hand the animations are jerky and stiff. Partly this is because they’ve been rendered at a much lower framerate, which according to Blizzard is so that they remain compatible with the original Warcraft. Since I have no technical knowledge I can’t dispute this claim. All I can comment on is how they look in the finished game.

So, the character models look nice and detailed even if they don’t move as smoothly as they really should. The environments have also been revamped, and sadly like the character models they are a mixed bag in terms of quality; the extra colour saturation that help bring Warcraft 3 more in line with World of Warcraft is most notable within the various maps, and I reckon the boost of colour looks good. However, the environments themselves are lacking in detail, especially in comparison to the character models, and the lighting model is incredibly basic. This gives levels a flat, lifeless feel. Indeed, I’d argue that the original Warcraft 3 environments often look better than these supposedly Reforged ones.

The scale of heroes, buildings and troops also becomes a bit of a problem with the newly reworked graphics. In the original game the blocky characters that were nearly as big as the buildings around them. It wasn’t a problem, though. But now with the much more detailed, realistic character models the strange scale looks…odd. Ork chieften Thrall atop is monstrous wolf looks especially strange because he practically dwarfs most buildings.

Another one of the things that was promised was a complete re-working of the clumsy, old user interface but like so many other parts of Reforged that seems to have got abandoned during development. Instead, we’ve got something that looks almost identical to the original game and which takes up a horrible amount of space on the screen. There’s not even any UI scaling options, either, so you’re stuck with it. According to Blizzard the updated UI will be coming at a later date, a baffling decision. Why wouldn’t you launch a remaster with something so important to the experience?

Nor can you rebind the keys, which in a game as reliant on hotkeys as Warcraft 3 is an incredibly stupid oversight. It’s bloody 2020, Blizzard, rebinding keys should be normal. Instead if you really want to rebind your hotkeys you have to modify the game via the text files in the main directory.

Then there’s the little issue of performance problems. Usually Warcraft 3: Reforged runs perfectly fine, as you’d expect of a game that isn’t very demanding. But now and then the whole thing stutters, dropping frames like an optician whose drunk at work. It isn’t enough to ruin the game or anything, but the fact that a remaster of a game as old as Warcraft 3 has performance problems at all is insane.

Outside of the meaty campaigns you can always jump online and challenge other players, provided you’re willing to get beaten into the ground repeatedly by people who seemingly never stopped playing Warcraft 3 over the years. Thankfully the influx of new players should at least give idiots like me a shot at an occasional win. However, even the online play as been marred with issues as people have reported connection problems, struggling to launch custom games and much more.

There are once again completely mad omissions to be found. For example, despite Warcraft 3 already having competitive ladders they are missing in Reforged, as is clan support and automated tournaments. Blizzard are promising these features will be added in the future, but once again the question is why weren’t they included at launch? If that wasn’t bad enough custom campaign support has vanished, too.

The final thing to talk about with Warcraft 3: Reforged isn’t really anything to do with the game as such, but is important nonetheless. You see, the original DotA was born via the custom game feature in Warcraft 3, giving rise to a whole new genre in gaming. Had Blizzard been smart at the time they would have snapped up the people responsible for creating DotA, given them resources and tasked them with turning their idea into a fully-fledged game. Blizzard didn’t do that, though, and watched as Valve launched Dota 2 and Riot introduced League of Legends.

Clearly wanting to avoid this situation happening again Blizzard have put far more effort into rewriting their legal documentation for Warcraft 3 than they ever put into the game itself. Now, by playing Warcraft 3 you agree to forfeit all rights to anything you create in the custom game mode, including copyrights, meaning the concept you made using Warcraft 3 can’t then be replicated somewhere else.

It’s understandable that Blizzard would want some degree of control; after all, they made Warcraft 3 and all its assets, so it’s perfectly right that they would want some say in what happens with anything created from it. However, instead of opting to create a new policy where they and the community can work together, they’ve chosen complete domination and in the process have likely killed the community’s desire to create new content. If DotA was created today in Warcraft 3: Reforged it would likely never become a whole new genre, and while I personally don’t enjoy that style of game there’s no denying the millions who do.

But at least you will still get to enjoy the raft of custom games that people have forged using the newly improved editor. Sure, you’ll have to wade through a fair bit of questionable material that people are publishing to take advantage of Blizzard’s “ownership” of their creations, but there’s some awesome stuff out there.

Even if we ignore what was promised by Blizzard and look at Reforged on its own, this is still a pretty lacklustre remaster of a game that deserved so, so much better. We’ve seen a variety of classic games get fantastic remasters, especially these past couple of years. Warcraft 3 should have been an easy win for Blizzard, yet somehow they’ve managed to make Reforged worse than the original game. For every improvement there seems to be several failures.

Ultimately that makes reviewing Reforged rather tricky. The actual core game remains absolutely brilliant. And since this is now the only way to experience Warcraft 3 I find myself wanting to recommend it to anyone who has never played the game before. Warcraft 3 helped launch entire new genres, set the stage for World of Warcraft and was an excellent RTS in its own right. It deserves to be played. It did not, however, deserve this remake/remaster/reforging or whatever this is meant to be. When Warcraft 3: Reforged was first announced Blizzard seemed to have a clear vision of what they intended to do. Somewhere since 2018 that vision became blurred. It lost its clarity. What we’ve gotten is a strange product that doesn’t quite know what it’s meant to be. It hasn’t been reforged, it’s just been gently reheated. And maybe hit with a hammer a few times.

Blizzard, for an example of how to remaster a classic RTS game properly, go and play Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition.

2 out of 5

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