It has been a few days since the release of WarCraft 3: Reforged, the long-awaited remaster of Blizzard’s classic RTS announced during BlizzCon 2018. Reforged is not the company’s first venture into the RTS remaster territory: in August 2017 Blizzard had released StarCraft Remastered, the game warmly welcomed by the community. What went wrong this time?
When I first launched WarCraft 3: Reforged, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. The blocky interface, the music, the colorful stocky units – everything felt like coming home. You see, I am a huge WarCraft nerd, and getting a chance to relive the adventures of Arthas, the forming of Orgrimmar and the first steps of Kalimdor Horde and other original campaigns seemed like a dream come true. The times were simpler during the period of WarCraft 3: The Frozen Throne & WarCraft 3: Reign of Chaos – there has been no BfA or WoD, no Cata, and TBC didn’t yet do my boy Kael’thas dirty. The new unit models are gorgeous, done in that over-the-top way that is so uniquely WarCraft. The Orcish Grunt and Human Footman look like they sprang forth from BlizzCon’s action figures! Below you can find the comparison video of some the old models to the Reforged versions.
I enthusiastically threw my armies (12 units at a time!) into the real battle for Azeroth. In a few hours, I’ve found that I have completely forgotten that Reforged is technically a new game, zoomed out to the max as I was. The game sounds like WC3, plays like WC3, and if the technology allowed, I’m sure it would smell like WC3, too. It simply looks better with a fresh coat of paint that you can only see up close.
Is it bad in and of itself? Not really, but it does turn out to be a problem coupled with other issues faced by the remaster. In its very core, Reforged is still WarCraft 3 so it simply can not be awful. The base gameplay, the story – all of it had been winning the hearts and minds of players for the last two decades. The question, however, becomes “did WarCraft 3 even need a remaster? And if so, then for whom?”
Speaking in very broad terms, you could split Reforged’s audience into new players, longtime fans, multiplayer fighters and content creators who give us new custom maps and campaigns. The game’s problems start here.
I have a relatively large number of friends who play World of Warcraft, about a half of them have never played WarCraft 3, overwhelmed at the idea of playing 20 years old game to catch up on lore that exists in books, comics, etc. as well as within WoW itself. Reforged could have been the perfect opportunity for some of them to check out what they were missing out on, but…
In trying to preserve the classic feel of WC3: TFT & RoC, Reforged did nothing to update the game to today’s standards: the cumbersome UI still takes over half of your screen, the units still have their 2002 AI and crowd a chest or get stuck in a bottleneck, you can’t control more than 12 characters at a time, maps are incredibly linear, etc.
Except for a more polished look, playing Reforged feels almost exactly like playing its legendary predecessor. I am not sure new players will be drawn in by the game when there are other, newer and more welcoming RTS. Look no further than SpellForce 3 (and its DLC Soul Harvest) and A Year of Rain that feels like WarCraft as much as Reforged does. In a word, it does not feel like Reforged is aimed at introducing the RTS world of Azeroth to the new players.
What about long-time fans of WoW, though? I will start with myself, thank you very much. The initial BlizzCon 2018 announcement mostly excited me with the promise of Reforging the original campaigns to reflect the (very different) canon of current Azeroth, represented in Blizzard’s MMORPG. That included adding more dialogue lines as well as giving more attention to certain WC3 characters such as Sylvanas Windrunner and Jaina Proudmoore. Even Arthas’ noble steed Invincible, introduced in Christie Golden’s book “Arthas: Rise of the Lich King”, was promised to be featured in the game.
I knew of Blizzard’s decision to move away from their initial plans due to players’ outcry from the interviews following BlizzCon, but I will not pretend the finished product did not disappoint me.
I am thankful for the Exodus of the Horde campaign being available in the game, as I have largely forgotten about it. However, Reforging of the campaigns started and ended with slightly altered geography of Stratholme, Silvermoon and Dalaran. There are a few more named NPCs, such as Anasterian Sunstrider, father of Kael’thas, but the game does nothing to highlight the presence of the High Elven King, treating him like a silent named mini-boss.
To sum it up, the game misses the audience interested in the lore – everything that exists in Reforged was already available through the WarCraft 3: TFT & RoC. Granted, I loved the new models of units and buildings and want to see them represented in WoW (especially as transmog!), but it is simply not enough to warrant being called Reforged over Remastered.
The fandom will be able to create amazing new experiences using the World Editor tools Blizzard generously gives them, right? Well, yes… and no.
Sure, the new layer of paint and updated World Editor will allow the creative fans – and WarCraft is blessed with a large creative community! – to come up with something amazing. However, just in case it is a new DOTA, Blizzard updated the EULA of the World Editor to claim the ownership of everything created in-game:
Custom Games are and shall remain the sole and exclusive property of Blizzard. Without limiting the foregoing, you hereby assign to Blizzard all of your rights, title, and interest in and to all Custom Games, including but not limited to any copyrights in the content of any Custom Games. If for any reason you are prevented or restricted from assigning any rights in the Custom Games to Blizzard, you grant to Blizzard an exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, unconditional, royalty free, irrevocable license enabling Blizzard to fully exploit the Custom Games (or any component thereof) for any purpose and in any manner whatsoever.
Use of Third Party Content in Custom Games. You represent and warrant that neither the content you use to create or incorporate into any Custom Games, nor the compilation, arrangement or display of such content (collectively, the “User Content”), infringes or will infringe any copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret or other intellectual property right of any third party
In addition to that, the Custom Campaigns have been disabled in WarCraft 3: Reforged, hopefully, temporarily. Nevertheless, so far Reforged does not look too good for content creators compared to its legendary classic version.
Are you into smashing your opponents in multiplayer matches and do not care about all that fluff above? I have news for you, too – and none of it is good at the moment.
Besides launching in a state that prevented many players from teaming up or entering games, Reforged also lacks certain features of its predecessor, namely, Clans, Tournaments and Ranked Ladder. Additionally, matchmaking as of the moment of writing this article takes a very long time. After spending about 20 minutes in the queue, I have switched back to playing Campaigns – except those broke, too, automatically assigning me a Defeat when starting a mission.
Swing and a miss. I hope that Blizzard does its homework, fixes whatever was broken and adds a variety of new social features but the first impression has already been made and it is not a pretty one.
Here comes the kicker, though. All of the above could have been fine (if upsetting) if uninterested players could simply get WarCraft 3: Refunded and go to the classic versions of WC3: TFT & WC3: RoC. Except it is no longer possible. Classic WC3 has been updated as only being available through the Reforged client. Even if you have not purchased the remaster, your game will automatically update to the latest version. Besides downloading 30 gigs of the new client, that also means that the problems of the creative and competitive communities have also tainted the classic Warcraft 3.
If you are like me and no longer have the installation CDs, there is no access to official classic WC3 anymore outside of Reforged.
Allegedly, Blizzard is also denying requested refunds and banning players for sharing information on how to get them.
As I have mentioned at the very beginning of the article, I am a huge WarCraft nerd. That cannot come without being a fan of Blizzard to a certain degree. Throughout my gaming years, I have come to appreciate the “Blizzard Quality”, “soon ™” and “when it’s ready” approach. All of this makes this situation even more disheartening. Between the failures of Battle for Azeroth and the unacceptable state Reforged launched in, I no longer believe Blizzard is the same company that had a standard of its own.
Looking at the list above, the game simply does not have a targeted audience. It gives bits and pieces to various groups of players but is not truly oriented at any given selection of fans. Add the technical difficulties and the destruction of classic WC3 brought by the arrival of Reforged, and it is enough to sink any game. However, its problems do not end there. Another huge issue is the shattered image of what Reforged could have been – and what players believed they were getting. Without the section below, the story of the game’s sudden ill fame is not complete.
The section below will have many quotes, links, screenshots and other material where the final version of Reforged is compared to what the developers promised. If you do not want to dig into the details, skip to the bullet point list below for a TL/DR version and the summary of the review.
When Warcraft 3: Reforged was initially announced during BlizzCon 2018, the largest selling point of the remaster for me was the addition of “reforged” campaigns. Blizzard marketed the game as something much more than your average graphic overhaul:
“There’s been 16 years of evolution of this franchise outside of this game,” Stillwell explained. “Some of that, especially central characters like Jaina and Sylvanas, these people who mean so much more to the world now who didn’t get as much focus [in the original Warcraft 3] because we just didn’t know where they were going to be.”
“The missions themselves, like what you see in ‘The Culling,’ we didn’t just replace the artwork, we relayed it out to be what people expect from World of Warcraft,” Souza, a lead artist on Reforged, said. “[Players have] gone through Stratholme while it’s burning. They’ve gone through Stratholme with Arthas as he’s doing the Culling, and that’s one of those things where we’re recreating the [Stratholme] that people know, rather than one that was in the original Warcraft 3, which if you looked at it really didn’t make much sense — it had Greek columns, and these whale statues and this river going through it. So where we can make those changes where it brings parity with World of Warcraft which has done so much with the characters, with the lore, and the locations…”
Over the course of the following year, Blizzard has decided to scale back on changing the story, allegedly due to the community’s outcry.
“Fundamentally, it was an amazing story, and everybody agrees it was an amazing story we don’t need to break that.”
Reforged ended in an uncomfortable area where it has changed too much to be considered a simple technical and graphical overhaul, but not enough to fit the ambitious vision Blizzard had for the game in the beginning.
In the Gameplay Trailer showed during BlizzCon 2018 (you can find it at the very beginning of the review), Blizzard let players see a glimpse of the upgraded user interface that was supposed to be introduced in Reforged. In various interviews, the developers mentioned discussing the possibility of players switching between the slim new UI and the classic bulky version from TFT/RoC.
Regardless, the new UI did not make it in. Below you can see the comparison images of the UI from the BlizzCon video and the one that made it into the final version of the game:
Reforged Cut-Scenes & Cinematics
During a presentation after Blizzcon, Blizzard lets players know that the intro cinematic you can find below, showing off a footman fighting against an orcish grunt as the invasion of the Burning Legion begins will be the only CGI cinematic completely remastered from scratch for Reforged.
It would be a lie if I called the HD WC3 cinematics in the final version of Reforged a broken promise. But Blizzard’s lack of clarity on the matter during the initial announcement of the game and a year-long silence lead people to believe that all CGI cinematics will get remastered, too. Thus the confusion when all that was found inside the finished version of the game were the good old’ videos from TFT & RoC.
There was nothing wrong with including higher resolutions versions of these iconic cinematics – Arthas returning to his father, Medivh’s vision and more. They have also aged ridiculously well. However, I also cannot lie that it would not have been awesome to see them redone to reflect Blizzard’s quality with the CGI that they accomplished by Battle for Azeroth.
It is kind of a weird feeling to see a nameless grunt looking amazing meanwhile Thrall is there fighting against Mannoroth looking like a sack of green HD clay.
During BlizzCon 2018, Blizzard showed community a tiny cut-scene taking place right before the Culling of Stratholme. Its quality was on par with most RPGs out there – dynamic camera, clear facial expressions of characters, close-ups and more. It is also the video linked on the official site of the game right next to the promise of “4+ hours of reforged in-game cutscenes”.
Logically, the players, myself included, figured that the quality of the Reforged cutscenes will match the one in the teaser. The reality couldn’t be further from those expectations.
The cutscenes in the final version of the game have been remastered using the new models of the characters, that is quite true. However, they are not even close to what has been teased in The Culling trailer. See for yourself in the comparison video below:
An entirely separate issue is the in-game cutscene that features a fight between Illidan and Arthas. The new cutscene looks like two plastic action figures duking it out – Arthas even anime leaps at the Demon Hunter, and Illidan pretty much Fel Rushes straight into Frostmourne.
For comparison’s sake, here’s a fan-made video alongside the original cutscene:
During a chat with Game Informer, the developers from Blizzard shared their plans to use the World of Warcraft maps for the Reforged.
“A World of Warcraft-styled world map will be available in-game to show players their voyage across Azeroth as they move from mission to mission. It will also show the location of key characters during each mission like Uther and Jaina during The Culling mission and will show visual effects on the map as missions take place, such as Stratholme being in flames on the map after completion of The Culling.”
The maps in the final version of the game are not from World of Warcraft, do not reflect the geography of the current world of Azeroth and certainly do not show Stratholme in flames.
During a chat with Game Informer, lead producer Pete Stilwell mentioned that the game will feature female versions of male heroes and female versions of zombies. Technically, it does – only in multiplayer, if you select the alternative skins in your Collection menu. Otherwise, your DK and DH heroes will be represented by Arthas and Illidan by default. During the same chat the devs brought up after-launch support for the game: new neutral buildings came up, a new tileset, new items, etc.
During the initial planning of Reforged, Blizzard intended to invite World of Warcraft voice actors to record new voice lines for the game. In order to preserve the classic WC3 feel, the company would have implemented a toggle between the new and the old voice overs. As Blizzard moved away from their plans to remake the campaigns, the plans for the new voice lines were left behind as well. It presented a new problem: as English-language Reforged uses the old sound files, there has been no need to implement the aforementioned toggle. However, certain localized versions, for example, Russian, introduced an entirely new set of voice lines instead of using the existing ones. The players are unhappy with the changes to voices and in certain cases translations/phrases of units, but there is no going back.
At some point, Blizzard developers discussed the possibility of removing or increasing the cap to unit selection up from 12 but nothing came out of those plans.
- Reforged campaigns that reflect current WoW lore and additional dialogue options did not happen, allegedly due to community outcry.
- New UI did not make it in, despite being shown in a few trailers
- The quality of in-game cutscenes has seen a massive downgrade since BlizzCon 2018 teaser
- New WoW-styled world map was not included, the geography of the world has not been updated
Considering all of the above, the initial plans for Warcraft 3: Reforged would have brought the community an ambitious new game, steeped in the classic gameplay and story of TFT & RoC. However, little by little the team started scaling back, starting with the story. Unfortunately, the finished product ended up being not much of an upgrade over the classic version of the game.
A few months ago, Microsoft has released Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition to celebrate the anniversary of their own RTS franchise. The remaster brought 4K Ultra HD graphics, a new and fully remastered soundtrack, and brand-new content, “The Last Khans” with 3 new campaigns and 4 new civilizations in addition to all the original campaigns.
Comparing WC3: Reforged to the AoEII: DE leaves a bad aftertaste. It feels like Blizzard’s priorities changed halfway through the development cycle of the game and the most interesting points of the remaster – the points that have given it the ambitious name Reforged – got cut to fit in with ever-shrinking time before release.
To me, this is more of a case of Blizzard overpromising – if the community knew from the very beginning that Reforged brings only graphical updates as well as retools the game for Battle.net, the project would have found its own player base over time without much hassle, just like StarCraft Remastered did. Blizzard’s lack of clarity, last-minute changes (including to already shown cutscenes and maps such as Stratholme), moving the release date forward and largely staying silent turned the game’s issues into one large pile of problems. After the announcement, people simply expected something else, being promised a “Reforged” experience instead of a simple Remastered version and Blizzard did nothing to address those expectations.
As a WoW player, I want to joke about “Blizzard Communication” which became a meme at this point but the matter is serious. The company had all the chances to inform their players of the changes to the game before the issues began – share a new launch trailer, demonstrating the game as it is (reworked classic UI, no reforging of the campaigns), send out e-mails that let players know of the changes in planning (it was done in terms of postponing release date so it is not out of the realm of possibilities), remove the confusing trailer showing BlizzCon 2018 cutscenes of Stratholme from the game info, even make a large post filled with bullet points on all of the above on the official site of the game/forums.
This is not the first time that Blizzard’s communication is lacking – Heroes of the Storm e-sports simply being canceled last moment and the game effectively left dead, Diablo Immortal business, questionable Hearthstone decisions, a lot of problems faced by World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth and now Warcraft 3: Reforged. It is time to step up your game, Blizzard. Do not expect the players to do your job for you and actively search for information.
In separation from the technical difficulties at launch and Blizzard’s failure to communicate with the players, Reforged remains just that – WarCraft 3 with a fresh coat of paint, a true Remaster. Is it worth $30? That is something for you to decide. The game is not awful, it looks quite stunning when zoomed in close, but it also offers very little over what you could have gotten in The Frozen Throne and Reign of Chaos.