Review – WarCraft III: Reforged
I think it would be an understatement to say this game had a rocky launch. I actually struggle to think of another game that launched to this much backlash. Star Wars: Battlefront II perhaps, or maybe Destiny or Fallout 76? It’s hardly an achievement to be proud of and certainly not the reception Blizzard had to have been hoping for. Though they can’t have been surprised, the game’s launch condition was truly unacceptable. Bugs, missing features, multiplayer issues; it was a greatest hits of bad game launches. In spite of that though, I still enjoyed my time with WarCraft III: Reforged. It was frequently far more frustrating than any remaster has a right to be, but the core Warcraft III experience remains as strong as ever.
For the uninitiated, WarCraft III is a real-time strategy game focused on resource gathering, base building, and an innovative for the time RPG-lite hero system. The campaign follows four factions as they war both among themselves and against the long-standing enemies of the WarCraft universe: the demonic Burning Legion. Multiplayer features everything from 1v1 to Free-For-All, although leaderboards and skill-based matchmaking are currently missing pending an upcoming patch. WCIII’s core gimmick was the way special Hero units developed like RPG characters. Equipment, stats, skill trees, level-ups; it’s very Diablo-lite. In the campaign, Hero profiles carry between levels allowing for long-term development. Alongside the addition of side-quests, neutral mobs, and mini-bosses it made for a unique strategy experience at the time. As someone who’s favorite genres were strategy and RPGs, it was a match made in heaven.
The biggest source of confusion and controversy over WarCraft III: Reforged has been over what it is. Originally billed as more of a remake, Blizzard outlined some drastic revamps to the game. New in-engine cinematics, retconning broad swathes of the story to be more in line with later lore, and redoing all voice-acting with World of WarCraft voice actors. Needless to say, not everyone was happy with such fundamental changes to a game many considered quite perfect as is. Citing said fan backlash (and no doubt the chance to save some money), Blizzard responded by promising a more traditional remaster instead. However, later comments from the dev team and datamined files that revealed altered maps and new characters hinted that wouldn’t exactly be the case either. It’s a perfect example of hilariously poor communication between developers and the community. Despite closely following the game’s development since release, I myself really had no idea what I would be playing when I started up the campaign. Would it be a remake or just a remaster?
In short, it’s kind of both. The majority of the game is still basically the same. All factions have had some moderate balancing done and most maps feature small alterations sure, but nothing extreme. A new name for a previously generic lord here, a lore-accurate redesign for a model there, maybe a small shuffling of neutral monsters and terrain layout, but most maps still look and play essentially the same. Except for a few maps that have been completely redesigned and now play differently. New layouts, assets, new side-quests/mini-bosses, their basically brand new maps, although they all still follow the original story. Not exactly a remake, except for when it is.
Cutscenes received a similar treatment. They’ve all been technically redone, but still use the original’s voice-acting and in-game format. While some are almost the same except for more dramatic and close-up camera shots, a lot of them received much more substantial work. The Illidan/Arthas fight from the climax of The Frozen Throne for example was completely redone. Minus some visual glitches and a few animation errors, they actually look pretty good too. An improvement over the originals, if only because models interacting don’t look like melted wax emoting. All in all, it feels like an attempt to find the middle ground between two extremes. Some small map redesigns and new levels, but no major lore changes to the story. Some new cutscenes, but ones with the same style and voice-acting. I don’t know if things would have been better received if Blizzard had communicated better, but it sure couldn’t have been worse.
What’s completely inexcusable and far more an issue in my opinion, are the bugs. They may not have been game-breaking, but they were incredibly annoying and frustrating which can feel much worse. Chief among them was the instant defeat bug. Sometimes when you loaded into a campaign map, it would automatically end and kick you back to the menu. It only happened when you moved directly from one map to the next, and never once a map had started, but it took time to work around when it shouldn’t have ever been an issue.
Similarly, I had a few issues where a cutscene would simply stop playing. The game wouldn’t freeze, all units on screen would just stand idle, but the scene wouldn’t progress. Again nothing a quick checkpoint reload didn’t fix, but once again took time it shouldn’t have. There’s also a slew of cosmetic glitches from coloring issues to shadows not displaying. They may not affect gameplay or waste time, but what kind of remaster comes with busted graphics? That’s the one thing that should be perfect.
Finally there’s the matter of Custom Games. A core part of the WarCraft III experience, much has been said on both sides about Blizzard’s map ownership policies. Rather than getting into needless economic and legal debates, the real question for me is how it actually affects the scene. The answer from a quick perusal of Custom Game map sites and the in-game lobby is not much. There’s the same old combination of ten Helm’s Deep recreations, half a dozen Naruto/Dragonball Z levels, and a full blown Pokemon mod.
Someone’s already hard at work creating a third-person rpg that looks to be progressing smoothly as well. It seems business as usual to me, regardless of Blizzard owning the maps made with Blizzard tools inside of a Blizzard game. They also did come through on their promise that every classic WarCraft III Custom Game map would be compatible with Reforged. So map makers didn’t have the ground cut from under them and there’s an insane number of maps ready to play for any newcomers.
WarCraft III: Reforged is not the worst game ever made. It is however the latest in a long line of games pushed out before they were ready, with the “meh, we’ll patch it” reaction and faux apology at the ready. Core game features such as multiplayer leaderboards and skill-based matchmaking being delayed a month with no warning is a particularly ugly move. Still, seeing WarCraft III all prettied up is a treat I can’t deny.
The new models are fantastic, with brand new animations really bringing them to life. The small map changes both cosmetic and gameplay-wise make the game look and play much smoother. Yes, some of its mechanics are rather dated. We live in the age of the Grand Strategy now, and Total War: Warhammer did come and do everything WarCraft III did better and on a larger scale. However, there’s just something special about this game, and while it’s been undeniably mishandled and players have every right to be angry, at the end of the day it is still WarCraft III.
New models look amazing, map and building designs are clean and detailed, but sadly a litany of cosmetic glitches mar this faithful recreation of WCIII.
It’s still WarCraft III, a blend of RPG mechanics and classic base-building RTS that work well. Some new map and balance changes only make it better.
The price of retaining the classic VA work was a drop in sound quality from standard AAA releases. Music and sound effects are crisp however.
While various bugs and multiplayer issues hold it back, the campaign and nearly twenty years of accumulated custom games remain as strong as ever.
Final Verdict: 7.5
WarCraft III: Reforged is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of WarCraft III: Reforged was provided by the publisher.