I was an avid StarCraft player when Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos first came out in 2002, opting to stick with the sci-fi and skip on the fantasy when it came to my real-time strategy game of choice. But I certainly understand Warcraft’s importance and thought the latest Blizzard remaster, Warcraft 3: Reforged, would be a great opportunity to play a classic for the first time. And while, yes, many of the gameplay aspects still hold up well in 2020, it falls well short of being the proper remaster that it was hyped to be.
From a technical standpoint, Reforged boasts significant graphical improvements, most noticeable in the detailed character models and redone textures. Below, you can see a side-by-side comparison of an in-game cutscene between the original and Reforged (and I’m very thankful for the portrait overhauls). You’re allowed to swap between the two in the graphics menu, and it’s only when you go back to classic mode that you really appreciate the upgrade.
Here’s where Reforged gets lost: What we saw back at BlizzCon 2018 isn’t what we got at launch. Part of the disappointment stems from the initial Reforged reveal and playable demo, which featured in-game cutscenes that were redone to capture a much more cinematic quality–that didn’t happen. Blizzard also stated that it was going to rework story elements to align with World of Warcraft’s lore, but decided against it, attributing the decision to fan feedback. Even smaller things, like the overhauled UI that would’ve streamlined its look, were scrapped in Reforged; the UI was also part of the preview build shown at BlizzCon.
Accounting for all the things we thought Warcraft 3 Reforged would be, it’s easy to feel underwhelmed by the launch product.
A larger problem with Reforged is that the classic game has been lumped in with the remaster, existing as one client as part of the new 1.31.1 patch–any issues present in Warcraft 3 apply to both classic and Reforged modes. There have been some improvements made to matchmaking, but competitive ladders are currently not in place with no word on when they’ll be implemented. It’s also been tough going trying to connect to custom games, though I’ve had some success getting in on a few neat tower defense matches. And while it doesn’t affect me directly, that improved world editor and the wild possibilities in custom maps, such as increased player counts and unlimited unit caps–well, Blizzard assumes control over user-generated content through its new user agreement.
I’m also here to enjoy the campaign, and I’m so far captivated by its structure and style, but I continue to encounter insurmountable bugs where cutscenes simply won’t play–they’ll load, then skip to a mission results screen. Essentially, I’m missing out on key moments in the story, which is one of the highlights of Warcraft 3 and the series as a whole.
As a longtime StarCraft player, I can’t help but think about how much its remaster helped reinvigorate a classic game. Reforged is of course a different beast because of its use of true 3D graphics and implementation of some actual core gameplay tweaks, and by comparison, the initial vision for Reforged had grander ambitions than the end result. But at its core, the expectation was for Reforged to usher a game several generations old into a new era with modernizations and refinements.
At the same time, I have nostalgia for the thrill of the ’00s-style RTS, base building, micromanaging, adapting build orders and all. And having missed out on Warcraft 3 all these years, playing Reforged is scratching that itch on its own. It’s like a trip back in time, the old feel of a classic RTS with mechanics that are easily noticeable for having influenced what came after it. You can trace the prevalence of the “hero” role in today’s competitive games back to Warcraft 3’s Hero units, which was a huge factor in distinguishing it from other RTS, and obviously paving the way for MOBAs. In that regard, Warcraft 3 still holds up well both as a worthwhile RTS and a game that retains a sense of mechanical modernity.
I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the work that was put into Reforged, but it’s clear the work isn’t quite finished. It’s also hard to tell exactly why Warcraft 3 Reforged became a lesser form than what was first promised.