Warcraft 3: Reforged Review on PC
There’s no doubt that Blizzard’s portfolio puts it among the pantheon of the industry’s greatest ever developers. Its four titan franchises –Starcraft, Warcraft, Overwatch, and Diablo– are some of the most popular of all time, at times transcending the gaming medium to disparate corners of pop culture. For years, the success of those titles has ensured that Blizzard as a brand has been synonymous with quality — a quality so impressive that consumers have been willing to forgive the company for a string of frustrating missteps. But that unshakeable faith has been tested in recent times, and it’s beginning to reach a tipping point.
Indeed, Blizzard has not had a very good time of it recently. The fiasco over Diablo Immortal’s reveal and that oh-so patronizing comment, and then the cold corporate handling of the Blitzchung incident has seen the company’s reputation sink to an all-time low. And yet the jubilant reception to Diablo 4’s big reveal during Blizzcon 2019, there was feeling that disaster may just about have been averted.
Things were looking up, and the hotly anticipated remake of Warcraft 3, the beloved RTS to which so much of Blizzard’s success is owed, signaled a possible further turning of the tide. Warcraft 3: Reforged was to be a celebration of the company’s history and a deliverance of fan service at a time when it was most needed. At least that was the plan. The reality is, unfortunately, far from that triumph.
Before I go any further venting my frustration with Reforged, though, let me first make one thing clear: Playing Warcraft 3 once again has highlighted to me what an absolutely brilliant game it still is to this day, and I found myself actually flabbergasted at how well it holds up nearly 20 years after its original launch. My life has been well and truly on pause as I’ve busily plowed through its gripping single-player campaign, and I’ve spent more than a few evenings researching build orders and strategies in a desperate (and largely unsuccessful) attempt to become remotely competitive at its multiplayer offering.
But really very little of this is as a result of “Reforged” itself. Quite frankly, I could have enjoyed the same experience the week before playing the original version of the game. That’s because very little about Reforged actually makes any substantial improvements.
There are newer and more detailed character models, as is there sharper and more pleasing environmental 4K textures. But that’s about it. Blizzard’s original vision for Reforged, which involved completely revamping all the game’s cinematics, redesigning the UI, adding new story elements, and tweaking its gameplay mechanics hasn’t been realized. Reforged, then, is much more a remaster than it is a remake.
Apparently, this scaled-back vision for Reforged was outlined by Blizzard in a blog post some time ago, but I must have missed the memo? I’m quite certain that many, many others would have done so, too. Surely, more should have been done on the part of the developer to highlight this shift in development priority. Certainly, for anybody that wasn’t aware, the differences between the initial Blizzcon 2018 Reforged demo and its 2020 launch are quite shocking.
Despite the disappointingly conservative changes, however, Reforged definitely does look much better than the 2002 release, and it makes the game’s 60-mission strong single-player campaign even more of a treat. But it’s actually what hasn’t been changed that strikes me most: Warcraft 3 is a two-decade-old piece of gaming history that doesn’t feel at all antiquated to play.
Of course, technically its design is old fashioned, but Reforged reminds me that I’ve sorely missed that classic RTS loop of resource management, base building, and tactical combat ever since the genre fell by the wayside. It’s strange to think that there are so few games that incorporate those three pillars of gameplay which were once the basis of the entire strategy scene. Returning to it now amidst that dearth is incredibly refreshing in a way that can’t just be my nostalgia in play.
Simultaneously, Warcraft 3’s design also vividly highlights how instrumental it was in evolving the RTS genre into something different, something more zoomed in and focused on RPG mechanics and hero control. It was, at the time, the sort of transition that was necessary as the scene was bogged down by year of Age of Empires clones, but it sure feels great to be back now. Experienced in isolation, either for returning players such as myself who haven’t continued to play RTS games extensively, or complete genre newcomers, Warcraft 3 is very engaging gameplay experience.
Again, though, these are all takeaways that one could appreciate without ever having paid for Warcraft 3: Reforged. There’s precious little additional value being added by this “remake” beyond the new and improved character models and textures, which are honestly not all that noticeable during the moment to moment gameplay except when zooming right the way in. Obviously, that’s not a practical way to play. And while the visual tweaks do breathe new life into cutscenes, it’s nowhere near as polished as I’m sure many fans would have hoped. Lip-synching is almost non-existent, for example, and there’s been no attempt made to animate characters realistically.
That lack of polish extends to the game’s overall technical performance, too, and this is probably the biggest of Reforged’s blunders. Despite Blizzard’s reduced ambition, despite limiting the scope of this remake to what is essentially just the replacement of assets, Reforged runs very poorly.
An often laggy UI, micro-stuttering, strange drops in frame rate, and several crashes throughout my playthrough of the campaign make for an overall package that just does not feel ready for launch.
Worse still, the technical issues are exasperated when playing multiplayer, and because both Reforged and the original game are now intrinsically linked through Battlenet, even those that don’t own Reforged are impacted. Doubly so, in fact, because many of the custom maps –a celebrated feature of Warcraft 3 built by an enormous community of passionate modders over many, many years– are now unplayable as a result of not being compatible with Reforged.
You can understand why Reforged has caused such a stir amongst Warcraft 3’s community: failing to deliver on the potential of the remake is one thing, but spoiling the original game is sure to have proved a particularly bitter pill to swallow.
And to think, Reforged was supposed to mark a triumphant return for Warcraft 3 and a steadying of the ship for a developer whose reputation has been majorly wobbling of late. Instead, rather than giving back to fans, Reforged feels as though it’s taking something away.
Even when the inevitable future patches smooth over Reforged’s rough, unfinished edges and rectify many of these performance issues, the game is, unfortunately, going to do down as yet anther blot on Blizzard’s record.
Reforged will never be the celebration of one of gaming’s most beloved IPs that it should have been, which is all rather depressing. As is the fact that despite the fun that I’ve had playing Warcraft 3: Reforged and for how it has reminded me what an incredibly influential and brilliant game it is, there’s no way I could recommend anyone outside of the absolute hardcore Warcraft fanbase to purchase it.
ProsEven though the visual changes are not as ambitious as they should have been, Reforged does look much better than the original game.
ConsMissing features from the original Reforged vision are disappointing.
Far too many technical issues, such as graphical glitches, micro-stuttering, and frops in frame rate.
Linking Reforged with the original game has meant that the 2002 version has inherited its problems, which has also made many custom maps unplayable.
Jan. 29, 2020