Warcraft 3: Reforged review: It needs more time at the smithy

If its user reviews are to be believed, Warcraft 3: Reforged is the worst game in existence. Is it all hyperbole, or are there critical issues that need to be addressed?

Title: Warcraft 3: Reforged
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publishers: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: Windows (version reviewed)
Release Date:  January 28, 2020

Warcraft 3′s release in 2002 eventually changed the world. Its custom game editor spawned the MOBA genre, which these days has far outstripped the humble real-time strategy game in market share, e-sports, and sheer popularity. As a result, Blizzard’s willingness to return to its roots came as a pleasant surprise to many. Warcraft 3: Reforged’s announcement at Blizzcon 2018 appealed to the small but passionate community that still plays the classic title, returning fans, and new ones like myself.

Finding the balance between those three audiences is a tricky business, and it has ultimately been Reforged‘s downfall. A quick look at its 0.5  Metacritic user score shows that it’s the lowest in existence, with over 21,000 ratings. After spending countless hours with the game’s campaign and multiplayer, it’s difficult to concur with a ranking that low, but it’s also clear that this isn’t the “complete reimagining” Blizzard is still promoting.

As a new player, launching Reforged for the first time didn’t ring any major alarm bells. Its main menu has been given a new lick of paint and the support for modern resolutions is a huge plus. I was lucky enough to avoid all of the reported campaign bugs and performance/matchmaking issues, and haven’t run into a single one since.

Graphically, there’s also a lot to like. There’s an argument to be made about a slight loss of the original style, but from a pure fidelity standpoint, it’s hard to argue that Reforged is a downgrade. The character models move away from the single-digit polygons seen in the classic to detailed and expressive units whose main flaw is looking a bit plasticky at times. Without the nostalgia goggles of childhood, this looks like a definite upgrade, but with that said, it’s also not as great as I was expecting.

Blizzard

The major improvements that came to character models don’t seem to have extended to the rest of the game. Crates, for example, still feature muddy, low-quality textures. Environment textures are similar to classic, but sharper, which creates a little mismatch. Units are much closer to the modern World of Warcraft style, while land and buildings are firmly rooted in the past. The ground also lacks a feeling of depth, owing to the lack of strong ambient occlusion and shadowing.

On top of all this, animations feel just as clunky as the original, with a little smoothness and a feeling that characters are sort of gliding along the ground. Thanks to changes towards the end of the beta, the game is also very over-saturated – so much so that I had to tone down my monitor values while I played.

Still, Blizzard billed a major graphical improvement and it’s clearly higher fidelity overall. If you don’t like it, there’s always a toggle to go back to classic graphics, which also switches back the in-game UI.

Unfortunately, that also highlights how little the interface has changed between versions. The updated UI promised on Reforged‘s store page only extends to menu and resolution. Though early previews of the game showed off a smaller, less obtrusive in-game interface, that was scrapped during development. Whether it was to appease a subset of classic audience, or due to a lack of resources, we’ll probably never know. The end result is that it takes up an unwieldy amount of the screen and looks silly plonked in the middle of an ultrawide monitor.

For better or for worse, the underlying gameplay of Warcraft 3 also remains largely the same. In this case, Blizzard seems to have adopted an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy in an extension of its effort to keep the original feel.

This means that the campaign is still the excellent experience that it was eighteen years ago. Though sweeping changes were initially planned to put the game in line with modern lore, most of those have been axed, with changes primarily to the layout of a few cities and character names here and there.

For the unfamiliar, the core gameplay loop involves building up your base while trying to fulfill an objective, be it saving your allies or surviving until a timer ticks down. Within that, there’s a degree of freedom, with a few side-missions spattered around the map and rewards like hero items for those who find time to explore. If you’re new to Warcraft or the genre, this simplicity makes it an excellent place to jump in, the hard-hitting linear story tying the experience together.

Blizzard

Even so, I can’t help but think that Reforged could have done with some quality of life improvements. There are aspects that are clearly remnants of old limitations, such as the ability to select only a small amount of units at once. Controlling a large army requires dragging boxes around them multiple times to get them all to move. This can be a particular annoyance when trying to heal units with your hero, for example, as the main UI window only shows the health of units you have selected.

Likewise, changing key bindings is a throwback to decades ago. If you want anything beyond the preset ‘Grid’ or ‘Classic’ preferences, you’ll have to manually navigate to your documents and trawl through a long list to adjust them to your liking. These are things that can’t really be excused under the banner of keeping the original feel and just feel rushed or lazy.

The same applies somewhat to the game’s cutscenes. If you’ve followed gaming news over the past few days you will have seen the controversy regarding the differences between cinematics at Blizzcon and what’s present in the game today.

Aside from a couple of exceptions, pre-rendered cutscenes are the same as the original game, albeit with some up-scaling. Meanwhile, in-game ones use the new character models but ditch the cinematic angles we saw in demo footage for ones based on classic, with a few new interactions thrown in. Essentially, the promise of “over 4 hours of reforged cutscenes” doesn’t quite hit the mark.

In a recent statement, Blizzard addressed this issue, saying that it decided to keep the original in-game cutscenes because it didn’t want to stray too far from the original game. That is indeed what it talked about (quietly) at Blizzcon 2019, but the logic doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. What we have is a mix of new and old assets, with some reworks to both cutscene and missions. The end result both moves away from the original feel and breaks immersion, creating a worst of both worlds situation. Further, the company is still advertising with the revamped work-in-progress cutscenes on its site.

Despite these issues, I should emphasize that I had fun playing through Warcraft 3 for the first time. It’s too easy on the normal difficulty level, but there are some tense moments and challenges here and there. The excellent storytelling carries the somewhat repetitive gameplay, and the decision to keep the original corny voice acting gives it the nostalgic feel Blizzard was probably going for with its in-game cutscenes.

Improvements to the editor should also ensure that this game lives long beyond its sell-by-date. As well as improved skill-based matchmaking, players can take advantage of a better world editor and extended scripting support for custom game modes. In addition to the roster available at launch, we’re sure to see new and innovative concepts emerge in the future. With at least 30-40 hours of campaign to experience on top, I think most new players would enjoy Reforged at its base price, though $30 could be a bit steep for returning players.

Sadly, though, this is where the conversation circles back to balance. Activision-Blizzard has touted the need to satisfy its classic audience while simultaneously removing some of the things they love. Warcraft III: Reforged is missing a multitude of features that were in the original game, from a ranked ladder to profile stats, chat commands, custom campaigns, leaderboards, and automated tournaments. All of these were highly valued by the community.

The lack of some of these features at launch were again discussed in a lengthy in-depth panel. In its recent statement, the development team said the plan was always to launch leaderboards and clans in a major patch after release. Personally, I think a remaster should at least launch with the same features as the original. At a minimum, it shouldn’t be a downgrade in any way.

Blizzard also says it won’t be re-introducing tournaments and the Reign of Chaos ruleset. According to the company, they didn’t see a high level of play in the original so it cut them in mid-2019. However, fans say that the lack of usage was down to issues with the outdated matchmaking system, signifying that it might have been a better move for Blizzard to improve upon these features rather than remove them completely.

On top of all this, the changes break existing custom games that have been in play for decades due to changes in textures and other elements. A revamped policy also means Blizzard owns the rights to any new ones you create, so you won’t be able to go off and create your own Dota 2.

If it was possible to ignore the new client entirely and just play classic, none of this would be as big of an issue. However, in a bid to let both audiences match-make together, the new client is the only one old players can access. The only difference between versions now is whether or not you can flip that ‘Classic’ toggle in the menu.

This egregious mistake makes it clear why the game has been rated so poorly by users. There’s no going back to the old features and the rework hasn’t made enough improvements in other areas to justify their removal. Its value for money is largely for players who haven’t experienced the original campaign, but the client bundling has negatively impacted users who didn’t even buy the remaster.

Related Story: Why a remastered Warcraft 3 makes total sense right now

The bottom line is that Warcraft 3: Reforged is an upgrade in graphics and editor capabilities but it’s lacking in most other areas. There’s fun to be had for a new, naive player, but a good reforge doesn’t return a pretty piece of metal with chunks chipped out of it. The title fails to strike a cohesive harmony between new and old, and that just makes it a poor effort and an unconvincing remaster.

Warcraft 3: Reforged

Blizzard Entertainment

4.5

Warcraft 3: Reforged has value for the new or returning player but punishes its loyal fan base in the process. With so many features cut at launch, it’s difficult to say if this is even the best version of the game, and the choice between versions has been taken away. Blizzard has quietly failed to deliver on many of the features it announced at its 2018 convention and has not really met enough criteria to call the game “re-imagined”.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.

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