There’s absolutely no denying Warcraft III’s influence in gaming. It spawned what is now one of the biggest genres through the original Defense of the Ancients (you know, DOTA) mod and helped cement the basis to the 15-year and running beast of an MMO, World of Warcraft. It also helps that it was also one hell of a game on its own, featuring some positively singular twists to the real-time strategy game space back in 2001. Originally announced at Blizzcon 2018, Warcraft III: Reforged is finally out, but is it the ultimate version of one of Blizzard’s most beloved titles?
Warcraft III was the beginning of the modern age for Warcraft. It took the story up many notches and placed the characters and world in a stage that slid into what would later become World of Warcraft, and even though some of the ramifications of its story only saw their continuations a few expansions into WoW, they were really worth the wait. Without fear of spoiling anything, after all this is almost a twenty year old game, seeing the fall of Arthas and the rise of the Scourge proved to be a great envelope for the already fantastic gameplay in Warcraft III.
I could go on and on my nostalgia about the story in these games, but it’s in the missions that the campaign takes you through that most of my enjoyment was had back in the day, and they’re pretty much the same in Reforged. Blizzard really stepped up their mission design game in Warcraft III, which eventually expanded and was mastered by Starcraft 2. Levels in this game hardly ever repeat core objectives, and the storytelling is so well weaved into the blow to blow events in them that there’s hardly a moment where you’ll curse the game for stopping the action for a moment in order to deliver a dialog or exposition. Whether you’re tasked with simply surviving for a number of turns while manning a base, allowing you to churn out new units, or having to make due with whatever the devs decided to give you in order to complete a mission, not one stage in Warcraft III ever felt boring.
And then there are the classic moments that found their way into World of Warcraft and are core parts of the lore. I’m talking about the Culling of Stratholme, finding Frostmourne, or even the death and rebirth of Sylvanas, the latter of which is still part of the active story of WoW, up until the still unreleased expansion pack. Even if you have never played Warcraft III before and only played the MMO, you’re messing around in geography and characters that were molded in this game some way or the other.
So yeah, Warcraft III is undisputedly a fantastic game, but it’s something that came out in 2001. It’s old. Reforged was promised to be a complete revamp that would bring it to current standards, instead of there simply being a Warcraft IV. Fans are already clamoring forums and social media complaining about the differences between what was drawn at Blizzcon 2018 and what is reality now. Outside of the upgrade in graphics, for instance, there haven’t been any improvements to the actual interface — something that can be explained away by the fact that Reforged and original Warcraft III players can face one another naturally over Battle.net, so the grounds have to be even in order for there to be fair play.
A powerhouse in cutscene production these days, Blizzard spent years improving their technical chops as the myriad of incredible trailers over the years can attest, but little has been done to the videos seen throughout Warcraft III — except for the intro, which was completely redone and looks amazing! — and don’t do a lot in the game’s favor, especially compared to the sharp new graphics during gameplay. The low amount of animation frames makes movement feel odd in these scenes, not to mention the models that simply don’t hold up. Admittedly, it would have been quite an ordeal getting all the rest of these cutscenes reworked and rendered all over again, but man, the disparity in quality is way too noticeable.
In terms of content, solo gameplay is pretty much exactly the same as in the original version and its expansion back, The Frozen Throne, with the sole exception that the prologue campaign now contains all five chapters that were once split between the retail release, demo, and then under custom games. Now you can play through them in order and see the entirety of Thrall’s prophetic journey to meet his destiny, and the first contact between the Orcs and the Trolls, the two races that grew into what we now know to be the Horde faction in World of Warcraft. As a fan of Warcraft III, I never knew about these last three chapters and really got a kick out of playing them for the first time.
Multiplayer is an entirely different matter. Aside from some much needed balance changes between the four in-game factions, little has changed when jumping online to play against other people. This time, Warcraft III: Reforged gets the benefits of connecting through Battle.net in order to host matches, but that in and of itself brings an entirely new set of issues in the form of connectivity problems that are currently plaguing the game’s launch. Surely these will be addressed very soon, but they’re there regardless, and are something that can occur at any time, as other Blizzard games can attest.
The lack of a ladder feature tops the list of omissions to the current built of Reforged that also includes clans and customization options for user-created campaigns and tournaments, stuff that was part of the vanilla release back in the day. Given that Blizzard has been known to violently revamp their games from time to time, I wouldn’t be surprised if these and a host of new features will be added in eventually, but not seeing them being addressed in this re-release makes it feel somewhat rushed out the door, something that is very uncharacteristic to Blizzard and their “we’ll release it when it’s done” approach.
For all its current faults, Warcraft III: Reforged is still a stumbling step in the right direction. With the right fixes and updates that are bound to be patched in, it has the potential to become the only version of Warcraft III you’ll likely ever want to play. If you’re jumping in with a straight focus on playing through the story, it is very much worth experiencing both as someone who enjoys WoW or who have yet to know anything about Warcraft whatsoever. Returning fans are sure to get a blast out of reliving their memories of the original version under a much needed bump in visuals. On the other hand, if you’re planning to play online or engage in modding and custom games, it’s best to keep your expectations in check.