Review: Warcraft 3: Reforged is problematic for veterans and newbies

Platforms: PC (reviewed)

Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos was originally released in July of 2002 and was as highly anticipated as it was beloved by the thousands of gamers who filled its ladders and created custom games from its robust map editor. Steam was still a year and change away from being released to the public, so if you wanted to get a game as soon as it came out, then you had to attend a midnight sale, stand in a long line, and wait. Reign of Chaos and its sequel The Frozen Throne are the only two games that I ever did that for. Recently, Blizzard released a remastered version of Warcraft 3 called Reforged, and now that I’ve played (enough of) it, I can tell you that it’s not worth your money or time in its current state.

Since the story and the gameplay are basically unchanged, we’ll only cover the remastered aspects. As such, the question must be asked: What does Reforged offer consumers? That depends on which group the consumer falls in: those who played the original and those who did not.

The upgrade

If, like me, you did play this game 20 years ago, then the biggest reason to get Reforged is for the graphical upgrade. That may seem like a silly reason to buy a game that you’ve completed before, but it’s to remember that Warcraft 3 is a PC game, and PC gamers have a complicated relationship with graphics. Not all of us can afford to upgrade to the latest and greatest every time a new game comes out that demands new hardware. However, we still wanted to play those games, so we suffered through less than maximum graphical quality.

We also have to remember that real-time strategy games were moving away from 2D sprites to 3D polygons. As such, a lot of the unit models and terrain were very simple, like in Ground Control, Earth 2150, and Homeworld, which had no terrain at all. So, when Warcraft 3 came along with complex maps and units that were mostly humanoid instead of vehicular, many of us knew that we weren’t going to “see” the game as the developers intended us to.

Nevertheless, we had a great time with Warcraft 3. And when the campaign was over, it was the custom games that held our interest for years. New genres of gaming were spawned from Warcraft 3 custom games, like tower defense maps and MOBAs, like League of Legends. Before DOTA existed as its own property, it was a custom map in Warcraft 3. So, it’s no exaggeration or simple nostalgia to say that this game had a significant impact on the gamers who played it. Now that we’re 20 years older with disposable income, being able to relive a beloved game but with the best graphics money can buy is an attractive offer.

The first problem here is that the visual upgrade is not significant or modern enough to warrant the asking price. Granted, the graphics are better. Units have more detail. Models are not as blocky. But is that enough of a new experience to re-buy a game? I’m not convinced that it is.

The second problem, however, is how Blizzard sold the remaster to us. At Blizzcon 2018, we were shown in-game cutscenes featuring expressive characters who gesticulate and emote realistically. Moreover, the camera angles were more cinematic, offering players a closeup view of the drama. No longer would we have to split our attention between character portraits and unit models to experience dialog and movement. We could just focus on the drama before us like it was a pre-rendered cutscene.

What was delivered was far different. To be fair, Blizzard did include a disclaimer about non-final artwork, but the final product is so far away from what was shown that it makes one wonder if the work in progress artwork was ever intended for the final product. The cynic in me doesn’t think so.

To add insult to injury, features from the original game are missing, like clans, automated tournaments, ladder, and even profiles. The campaign screens were also changed. The once iconic 3D mission selection screens have been replaced by flat motion graphics that simulate three dimensions. As a result, it feels like gamers lost a lot of functionality to gain a modest boost in unit models.

Newbies should be wary

If you’ve never played Warcraft 3, then there’s at least a new experience to look forward to, and you won’t mind the missing features because you didn’t know they had been there previously anyway. What new players won’t be able to dismiss, however, are the numerous bugs. For all of Blizzard’s upgrading of the graphics that allow for mouth movement as characters speak, gamers will have to watch out-of-sync dialog like some poorly dubbed foreign film. Sometimes facial animations won’t trigger at all. Other times, WAV files will play twice resulting in repeated dialog even as conversations move forward. In worst case scenarios, units will stop giving verbal responses to commands.

While those cosmetic bugs can be shrugged off, other bugs are showstoppers. Reforged gives players the option to play the game with classic graphics. I switched it on just to see the difference. As I played through the prologue, a bug prevented the game from recognizing that I had completed a mission successfully. As a result, I couldn’t complete the prologue using classic graphics. It’s absurd that this bug exists in the go-to-market version of the game.

With enough patches, maybe Reforged will get into a shape that brings it up to par with the original version at least. As of right now, however, there’s really no reason to play this game. It’s buggy and it’s a far cry from what Blizzard teased us with back in 2018. If you’ve played the game before, then there’s not enough here to justify coming back. If you’ve waited until now to play Warcraft 3, then you can wait a little longer until Reforged is patched into a game that’s worthy of your money and your time.