Warcraft III: Reforged remasters the classic Warcraft III and Frozen Throne with some hot new visuals but barely much else. It’s half-hearted and disappointingly inconsistent with barely any trace of its developer, Blizzard’s usual love, thoughtfulness and penchant for quality and polish.
Reforged is not without its upside, however, with its greatest selling point being the newly updated graphics. The improvement is significant and actually downright impressive. Character models are better animated, have much more detail, and have better proportions than the bland and cartoonish originals. Units now bear more of a resemblance to their World of Warcraft analogues while still maintaining a look unique to Reforged. When you zoom in, all the work that they put in the models really shines. You can see the small rivets and scratches in the units’ armor as well as the expressive faces and detailed musculature. There are also a ton of clever design choices in each model, from the Undead Acolytes’ hidden dagger to Arthas bearing the iconic lion crest on his belt, gauntlets, and warhammer.
You can also switch back and forth between the original Warcraft III/ Frozen Throne graphics and Reforged by way of a toggle in the graphics menu. You can’t do it on the fly because it keeps your W3/FT campaign progress separate from Reforged but it’s still a cool thing to have on there.
Perhaps most impressive of all, is that the new character models roughly maintain the same silhouette of the original versions. Not only is this brilliant design work, but it also allows old players to recognize their favorite units much faster making the transition much less jarring and awkward. With all this, It’s clear that the visuals were clearly the primary focus of the development team for Reforged and for the most part, it astounds.
However, not everything is well in the graphical department. With as much detail and design work they put into the character models, the environment and terrain didn’t nearly get as much love and care. Trees are comically angular and flat; the ground is uninteresting and bland; and the water effects are disappointingly plain. This disconnect between the highly-detailed unit models and the lackluster terrain sometimes makes it look like that the two elements were from different games that were transplanted together.
As best as I can tell, the visuals are where the biggest changes/improvements are in Reforged when compared to the original. Both the gameplay and the narrative remains largely unchanged, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
On one hand, both elements hold up incredibly well, despite being more than a decade old at this point. The story is still powerful and evocative, capitalizing on brilliant cast of characters, a sweeping, epic narrative and a rich, lore-filled world. The tried-and-true gameplay is also still very fun and exciting to play: units are responsive to commands, the races are all perfectly-balanced and the heroes, as always still feel incredibly good to control.
On the other hand, this approach of “don’t fix what isn’t broken” does lead to some situations where Warcraft shows its age. While the story is brilliantly written and acted out, story sequences are usually presented in boring camera angles with the units shown in undynamic blocking as they deliver their lines. This bare-bones presentation style makes a lot of the scenes feel like a chore to watch. There’s barely anything to keep you interested in what’s being shown apart from the dialogue, which is a shame as Blizzard did promise that this was not the case when they showed off early footage of Reforged years ago.
Screencap from The Culling Demo at Blizzcon 2018
Additionally, while there’s nothing game shatteringly wrong with the gameplay, I would’ve wanted to see little tiny tweaks like custom hotkeys for heroes skills and items (ala DOTA) to have been implemented. Blizzard did add a cool feature in multiplayer where you can change the skin of your Demon Hunter or Death Knight into a newly designed and fully voiced alternate female variant but sadly this was only restricted to those 2 hero classes. It would have been good to see this feature be applied to all the hero types across all races, but sadly it isn’t.
In the Spoils of War edition of the game, there one Legendary variant for each race that you can swap models with namely: World Shaman Thrall for the Orc Farseer, Daughter of the Sea Jaina Proudmoore for the Human Archmage, Fallen King Arthas for the Undead Deathknight, Cenarius of the Emerald Nightmare for the Night Elf Keeper of the Grove. However, these are all stuck behind a paywall which is unfortunate because the feature was quite promising and would have added some much needed value to the base game.
In terms of additional content, Reforged doesn’t have more than a handful of new additions. There’s a new opening cinematic which, while beautiful and breathtaking, sets up an expectation that all the classic cutscenes will be redone. Again, unfortunately, this is not the case, as apart from the terrific opener, and the new Illidan versus Arthas fight at the end of the Frozen Throne, every other cinematic in the game is just an up-rezed version of the old one.
There’s also the Collection feature which lets you unlock and manage the previously mentioned hero skins and campaign portraits but these honestly amount to barely anything but cosmetic window dressing.
Multiplayer matchmaking is pretty reliable, given decent internet connection speeds, it’s pretty easy to find a match with players out there. The problem is, at the time of this writing, there isn’t any ranked mode or ladder at all which often ends up in some seriously lopsided matches. Also at the slightest desynchronization of your internet, the game immediately drops the match on the spot, which is definitely not a fun experience to have in multiplayer.
There’s also the issue of all the antecedent matters surrounding the game. The new clauses in Reforged’s End User License Agreement now means that if you make any Map of game type using assets from their platform, Blizzard effectively owns that piece of content. This is obviously to cover their bases in case any of us, suddenly invent the next DOTA.
Reforged also replaces your old Warcraft III/Frozen Throne game in the Battle.Net launcher so once you have it installed there’s no way to go back to the original version aside from the graphics campaign toggle. This is a pretty poor choice from Blizzard as it, unfortunately, locks everyone who purchased the new game from playing the superior old one.
Finally, I also encountered a weird audio bug that effectively turned off unit responses and even though I have the ticker activated in the audio menu. I tried multiple times to tick on and tick off the option but the unit responses in-game just were turning on. This happened quite a few times as even through the cinematics my Arthas’ mouth was wired shut while the dialogue played.
I also encountered a weird glitch that fused several elements of the main menu and login in screen together. It didn’t affect gameplay but it just speaks to the overall quality of the game.
All in all, Warcraft Reforged is a blast from the past but not in a good way. Reforged feels like it comes from the era when just a shiny, new coat of paint is enough to rerelease a game and call it “Remastered”. In recent years, gaming has left that practice behind with developers adding in extra content, brand new features, and quality-of-life improvements, to add more value to their remasters and remakes. And yet, with Warcraft Reforged, a remaster that was in development for over 3 years by a company known for its quality and polish, there is barely any of that additional value whatsoever.
Reforged is an apple that has fallen very far from a once proud and noble tree and those few willing to bite into its bright and shiny skin, will find only a hollow husk of what it once was.
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