Playing an updated, widescreen Warcraft 3 in 2018 is surreal

Warcraft 3 was one of those games I desperately wanted to play as a teenager, after years spent replaying Warcraft 2's campaigns and messing around in its map editor. But it wasn't meant to be, Warcraft 3 and me: when it came out, it demanded a CPU and a graphics card my family PC didn't have. I did finally play it, eventually, but mostly in tower defense custom games that were a prelude to Defense of the Ancients, so I still think of Warcraft 3 as this massive, groundbreaking RTS that blew away anything that came before and would still feel imposing today.

I don't quite feel the same way after booting up the game on Blizzard's test realm, where a new patch recently gave Warcraft 3 widescreen support and made balance tweaks to the multiplayer. Wow, there is some bad voice acting in Warcraft 3. I guess the same holds true for Warcraft 2, but Warcraft 3 had far greater narrative ambitions. And hoo boy, those 3D graphics don't hold up quite as well as the simpler, cleaner 2D art of Warcraft 2. The UI takes up so much space! Even with widescreen support, I crave more screen space to see what's going on around my base. You can watch about 15 minutes of video above.

I love Blizzard's giant flapping heads, though the models haven't aged well.

Warcraft 3 moves at a glacial pace for an RTS, with slow building queues, leisurely unit walking speeds and combat that feels clumsy compared to the violent shootouts of StarCraft, which had been out for years before it. But it's all in service of the heroes, which remain Warcraft 3's best idea. The human campaign cares less about introducing you to base building than it does the idea of controlling Arthas, wandering around talking to villagers, taking on quests to gain experience points and items. Revisiting Warcraft 3 is like staring at a portrait of Blizzard as a company circa 2002, its ambitions crystal clear in those heroes and the first stabs at dialogue and serious worldbuilding in-game rather than just in a manual.  Blizzard was done with real-time strategy. They wanted to make RPGs.

World of Warcraft was only two years away, and you can tell the studio was shifting that way as you play Warcraft 3 today. It's not just the emphasis on playing as heroes and going on quests, but also the cutscenes in between and during missions, which zoom in on the blocky 3D models chatting away. Blizzard's storytelling has grown vastly better since then, but I still prefer exploring Azeroth from the top down in a strategy game than from behind the skill bars of an MMO. 

Pacing is slow compared to StarCraft, but I still got demolished by the AI in a custom skirmish.

Blizzard isn't finished patching Warcraft 3, but the changes it rolled out this month make it the perfect time to replay the campaign. Future patches will likely continue to focus on multiplayer, which lives on on Battle.net. I hope Blizzard listens to the Warcraft 3 community as it continues to update the game—those players have kept the game alive through custom games and custom maps for the past decade, and some are reporting broken maps and features as a result of the new patch. It'd be a shame to lose compatibility with the thousands of maps and game modes they've built up over the years.

Replaying Warcraft 3 now, it's quaint but still charming and ambitious in ways that few RTS games have been since. Blizzard may have been done with the RTS genre at the time, but its designers were so good at it, dammit. Perhaps there's been too much storytelling done in WoW to ever return to Azeroth in a Warcraft 4, but just think what Blizzard could do in an RTS with the polish of Starcraft 2, with the narrative ambition of Warcraft 3. I'd definitely play that campaign the second I could get my hands on it. This time, at least, I'd have a PC that could run it.