What is it? A remaster of the classic RTS
Expect to pay: £25/$30
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Reviewed on: GTX 1080Ti, Intel i7-8086K, 16GB RAM
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
Warcraft 3: Reforged (opens in new tab) spins a yarn about a host of competing factions fighting over the course of several campaigns, and then again, endlessly, in multiplayer battles and skirmishes. There's also another conflict: the one between 2002 and 2020. There's the classic RTS, its elaborate faction design, memorable campaigns and clever RPG flourishes, and then there's the 'Reforged' part. It's an attempt to bring the game into the modern age, but one that feels half-hearted. This is not the remaster that Warcraft 3 deserves.
Blizzard hasn't done a great job of communicating what Warcraft 3: Reforged actually is. Initially, it sat somewhere between remaster and full-on remake. Not only was Blizzard going to add heaps of new art and modern graphics wizardry, it was going to go over the campaigns again, improving them, tinkering with the pace and even bringing the lore and story in line with World of Warcraft. There were going to be new cutscenes, a new UI and more. With the exception of the graphics improvements, Blizzard has walked most of these changes back.
For the purists, this might be good news. It's still the Warcraft 3 you remember, but it looks a bit nicer. Impressively, two decades hasn't dulled it at all. It helps that real-time strategy hasn't made many leaps since 2002. While it features most of the traditional elements of the genre, like base building, resource gathering and maps shrouded in a fog of war, it's really driven by its heroes. These super-charged units are fancy specialists with powerful abilities that can be upgraded as they level up and then be augmented with items purchased in shops or dropped by enemies. They're RPG characters, essentially, around which you build a small army.
Since you can only select 12 units at a time, it's all about micro-managing small groups. Not needing to worry about 100 faceless warriors, you've got more time to pop off healing spells, set up ambushes and build a specialised squad. Each of the factions—Horde, Alliance, Scourge and Night Elves—has a roster of unique and often exotic units that can also be upgraded. They're not as powerful as the heroes, but even the most basic units have tricks up their sleeves. Take the ghoul, for instance—it's an undead beastie that can harvest lumber, but it's also a grunt that can be used in your army and, thanks to its ability to munch on corpses to regenerate health, has surprising staying power.
I've once again fallen down the rabbit hole of obsessing over build orders, taking hastily-written notes and—something I didn't do in 2002—watching lots of talented players stream their experiments and battles. I want to get good again. I need to do my orc pals proud. With so many factions, monsters and troops, there are countless ways to build your forces, and that's before you even throw in mercenaries, which you can recruit from neutral buildings, usually after a fight. And if you've already got a build order that's tried and tested, you can hop into Reforged with it and not miss a beat.
These things don't need changing. The core of Warcraft 3 is as gripping as it's always been. The most noticeable difference between the original and Reforged is, of course, the art and graphics. Unit models and buildings in particular have benefited from the upgrade. Units are now considerably more detailed and now have an aesthetic that mirrors the style of later games like World of Warcraft and Heroes of the Storm, though not completely. Reforged still has its own look.
Unit animations, on the other hand, haven't been given the same attention, but what really makes the units look a bit odd is their low frame rate. Yes, you can enjoy Warcraft 3 at 200fps, but if you're looking at your army, it looks more like stop-motion. In cutscenes, they're a lot less animated than previously advertised, too. In 2018, Blizzard showed off an in-game cutscene from the Culling of Stratholme mission, featuring lots of close ups and characters having a very animated argument, but little of that is present now. There are a few exceptions, but most cutscenes lack the emotion or cinematic flair of what we saw just over a year ago. The cinematic cutscenes that bookend the campaigns, meanwhile, are the exact same ones from the original game. They've actually aged really well, but they're not nearly at the standard that Blizzard has since become known for.
Blizzard's also played it a bit safe with the maps. Some locations, like Dalaran and Strathholme have seen a more dramatic update, but for the most part they stick very close to the originals. Their design largely remains excellent, whether they have been built with story and pace in mind, or just a big free-for-all online fight. Veteran players will notice some tweaks, like camps, mines and other things being moved around, but meaningful changes are few and far between. Aesthetically, though, they are pretty unappealing. Despite the higher quality textures, it feels like playing WoW Classic with modern character models. The juxtaposition just makes the maps look more dated.
All the Warcraft 3 campaigns and expansions are available, but after nearly 20 years I'd really like to see what Blizzard can still do with its fantasy RTS. The dialogue and voice acting can be uneven, but this is still the best RTS story out there—sorry, StarCraft fans. It's also one I already know by heart. With the recent Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition, Microsoft added three new campaigns that actually tried new things, with quite a few successes. With that release still fresh in my mind, Blizzard's work on Reforged feels a lot more conservative. Still, replaying Arthas' fall from grace, devouring Azeroth as the Scourge and uniting the factions to fight Archimonde is a real treat. While the changes to the campaigns are few and far between, this is the best they've ever been.
Even if you're in the camp who wants everything apart from the graphics to stay the same, you might still be disappointed by other omissions. The massive UI and text that covers the screen are two big pains in the arse, and there are no UI scaling options at all. It looks comically huge. The ability to zoom in is rendered even more pointless because of the size of the UI, and you can't zoom out far enough to really see your surroundings. Even more bizarre is the inability to rebind keys without some external faffing around. This is a hotkey heavy game, so it's a significant oversight. Making a remaster in 2020 and skipping the accessibility options—aside from a new 'story' difficulty mode—is just a bit baffling.
Reforged was in beta for a while before launch, letting a large number of players test the multiplayer, and it was delayed to give the developers more time to polish it. It could have probably done with a bit more time. At launch, players started reporting authentication problems, not being able to make custom games and plenty of other issues. Some of them seem to have been resolved, while others that have been around since last year remain, like micro-stuttering that can occasionally reach unbearable levels.
Then there are the issues that aren't bug-related. Despite Warcraft 3 already featuring competitive ladders, Blizzard has yet to introduce them in Reforged, which isn't an auspicious start for an RTS looking to revive its esport scene. Clans and automated tournaments are missing, too. Perhaps because it doesn't want the next Dota to slip through its grasp, Blizzard has also changed its custom game policy. If you make a custom game in Warcraft 3 now, it belongs to Blizzard. It owns the copyright and can do what it wants with it, which could restrict creators from creating a standalone based on it, like Dota 2. Once players have finished the campaigns, these are the things that are meant to keep them around.
Unfortunately, if these things are putting you off, you can't simply return to Warcraft 3 Classic and forget about them. The original has been added to the new client, so the connection problems, lack of competitive ladders and other issues are now shared between them. This might be the first time a remaster has made its predecessor worse.
There's a long list of disappointments, some of which may be sorted in time, but others we're seemingly stuck with. I still can't shake the itch to play more, though. There's a real dearth of real-time strategy these days, and even with its issues, the core of Warcraft 3: Reforged is still exceptional. For years now, I've been dipping into MOBAs to get my fix, but it's not the same. Dota 2 might have dwarfed it, but I never quite got over the loss of all my units and buildings.
If you're just interested in the campaigns, which tends to be the case with the majority of RTS players, then you'll probably be more content with what Blizzard has released, even though you'll definitely still encounter some rough edges. This isn't anything like a comeback, however, and with the rough launch and the community seeming to turn against Blizzard after it very quietly walked back improvements, I'm not at all confident about its future.