When Warcraft III: Reforged was announced November 2018, more than 16 years after the release of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, fans of the fabled series rejoiced. The aging but beloved games (including The Frozen Throne expansion) were together undergoing a relatively major overhaul. Intended to be released 2019, Blizzard announced a late-stage delay that pushed the release date to January 28, 2020. No problem; Blizzard's reputation for polish had to be protected. The new character models, modernized graphics, and fresh cutscenes would certainly be worth the extra wait.
Warcraft III: Reforged met its delayed release, and you can play it right now. Whether you want to play is a different issue. Those following the story know that fans have review-bombed the Metacritic user score, pulling it down to a dismal 0.5 (out of 10) with more than 27,000 ratings. What went wrong? What went right? I played through the Warcraft III: Reforged campaigns and got wrecked in multiplayer matches to see where the game sits and why exactly so many people are so mad at what Blizzard has on offer here.
What Could Have Been
Warcraft III: Reforged
Bottom line: Warcraft III: Reforged still delivers the same satisfying core gameplay and laudable campaigns, but Blizzard under-delivered on promises and removed features that made the original game something exceptional.
- Campaign storylines alone are worth the price
- Warcraft III core gameplay is still a blast
- Updated graphics are mostly pleasant
- Features were under-delivered
- Character animations are sometimes jarring
- Classic Warcraft III client is gone
- Some networking bugs
What you'll love about Warcraft III: Reforged
Longtime Warcraft III players already know what the game is all about, and the core gameplay thankfully hasn't changed. Warcraft III: Reforged is still Warcraft, albeit with some fresh graphics that are no doubt more attractive (and accessible) to newcomers. You still need to establish a home base, gather resources from nearby forests and gold mines, train economic and military units, upgrade buildings and unit tech, expand your borders, and ultimately scour enemies from the map. There are day and night cycles that affect unit viability and fog of war, adding further strategy. This is classic real-time strategy (RTS) stuff, and any fans of the genre who didn't play original Warcraft III when it was released all those years ago can jump into Reforged and find something to like.
To make things extra interesting — and to differentiate itself from other RTS giants — Warcraft III features heroes that level up and gain access to new skills as they gain experience. Heroes have inventories that hold items, either purchased or pillaged during gameplay. Some items passively award the hero with extra power or protection, while others can be used to heal or protect nearby allies. When downed in battle, heroes can be resurrected, for a price. These roleplaying game (RPG) elements tacked onto the standard RTS base are a major part of what makes Warcraft III so enjoyable, and that is still present.
If you've been considering buying the game and haven't at all played Warcraft III in the past, the $30 price is fair admission for the campaigns alone. They're spread out over multiple races with all missions originally found in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion, Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. They'll take upwards of 40 hours to run through, longer if you make a point of hitting all the side quests available. Any game this good, disregarding the remake issues, that delivers hourly entertainment for less than a dollar is not a bad investment. Note that you cannot access all campaigns at once. You must begin with the Prologue or Human campaign, unlocking other entries as you complete the last. For longtime players, that might be a downside, but for newcomers, it's much less an issue.
The Warcraft III campaigns still hold up and are still worth your time 18 years later.
Blizzard has added a new "Story Mode" difficulty to the campaign for newbies, though the regular difficulty I used to play through was easy enough for anyone who has played an RTS in the past. Some map layouts have been tweaked slightly to better fit in with World of Warcraft (WoW) lore, and some units have been shuffled around, but otherwise, story changes that were discussed previously are not present.
Custom games are readily available to play against computer or human opponents on Blizzard-made maps (think skirmishes where you start with almost nothing and build your way up), and there are also custom games created by other players, like tower defense, available to download and play. Versus mode offers ranked games against other humans with just a couple of clicks. Multiplayer has its fair share of issues (which I discuss in the next section), but I've still been having fun getting absolutely stomped by Warcraft III pros.
As for the overhaul to graphics, for the most part, I don't mind what Blizzard has accomplished. Units and buildings are higher resolution, there's 4K support, and the game clearly looks a lot more modern than it used to. In-game cinematics, though not nearly as impressive as what was shown off in a 2018 trailer, have nevertheless been reworked. Blizzard did say in 2019 it was not going to quite go for the zoomed-in look to better align with the original game, but this is still a sticky point for many fans. As for general gameplay, you can zoom in to a point where the view is pretty much useless. A bit more space on the zoom out would have been appreciated; coming from other RTS games, it feels a bit claustrophobic at times.
Those pining for the classic look of Warcraft III, especially since the classic client is gone, are not completely doomed. Blizzard included a toggle to switch back and forth between Classic and Reforged graphics. Unfortunately, ultrawide monitor support is broken, and the UI hasn't been reworked to accommodate higher resolutions. Playing on a 2560x1440 (QHD) monitor, the UI seems enormous and crowded into the center of the display. With subtitles and hint popups turned on, the center square of the screen is quickly filled with information to the point where it's tough to see the action.
Comparing a screenshot from Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition and Warcraft III: Reforged clearly shows what I'm talking about. At least the game runs relatively smoothly on a mid-range gaming PC. I experienced one crash on the first day, and from there, it's been a crash-free experience. But for those who don't have as modern a PC — something that had no issue running original Warcraft III — there's not much hope.
PC requirements have taken a big step forward (nevermind the relatively huge installation size), and the Reforged client has replaced the classic version. Those satisfied with classic Warcraft III have been relegated to finding an old copy and playing LAN over internet or singleplayer matches. That just won't do for a lot of people, especially once we start digging into some of the flaws that come with Warcraft III: Reforged.
What you'll dislike about Warcraft III: Reforged
I'm not a diehard Warcraft III player, and I'd estimate more time spent playing Warcraft II than its sequel. That doesn't mean I can't see why Warcraft III fans are so upset. I imagine Blizzard releasing a Diablo II remake with these kinds of shenanigans present and how I'd be asking for a prompt refund. Instead of coming out completely remastered or completely remade, Warcraft III: Reforged sits in the middle. There's a lot of backlash going on as I write this review, and it's up in the air whether or not its full force is warranted. But digging into the game past the initial thrill of playing Warcraft III again, it becomes clear where Blizzard went wrong.
Character animations are often janky and stiff. The settings menu hasn't received an update, to the point where you still need to open a .txt file to change hotkeys (yes, that's right). Custom games, once a huge draw to Warcraft III and the laboratory from which multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games likes Dota 2 and League of Legends were birthed, now all belong to Blizzard and are subject to its discretion.
There are no player profiles, no rankings, and no leagues. Tournament mode is scrapped. Ladders and clans are apparently coming at a later date. You can't play custom games with players from other regions (shrinking the player pool), and you can't create or load existing custom campaigns. These are all features available in the original Warcraft III. To boot, there's a common bug in Versus matchmaking mode that stops you from joining a match once one has been found.
It could have (should have) used valuable feedback to improve the game.
Blizzard released a statement a few days after the game's release to explain its position. Blizzard reiterated its long-term commitment to Warcraft III: Reforged, stating fixes are coming for classic version graphics, portrait animation bugs, and UI bugs. It's unclear if that includes any kind of scaling. Leaderboards and clans are also expected to return at some point, with more information coming at a later date. This is ultimately good news, but questions remain. Why wasn't this stuff included at launch? Why was so much of this a surprise upon release?
Blizzard could have been upfront about its progress with the remake. It could have better-involved members from a passionate community of players. It could have (should have) used valuable feedback to improve the game. Warcraft III: Reforged is a bit of a mess right now, but at least the mess would have been expected. Along with the clear transition to a setup that won't allow any sort of Dota 2 situation (where Valve took the MOBA idea and ran to the bank with it), Warcraft III: Reforged in this state does not seem like a labor of love. Especially compared to Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition — another classic RTS remake that received a lot of praise when it was released late 2019 — Warcraft III: Reforged is a disappointment.
Should you buy Warcraft III: Reforged?
Considering the ado surrounding Warcraft III: Reforged — including the nickname Warcraft III: Refunded — and Blizzard actually acknowledging the outrage with automatic refunds, you'll probably not want to go with an impulse buy.
Warcraft III: Reforged in this state does not seem like a labor of love.
I mostly had fun playing Warcraft III: Reforged, but I should be considered a casual. Others who like a story-driven campaign will no doubt also have a lot of fun with hours of quality content, as well as the blend of RTS and RPG elements.
However, gamers seeking a nostalgia trip back to Azeroth will be let down. Overwriting the classic client is an extra slap in the face of dedicated supporters, and I'm sure many fans wish there had been no remake at all. None of these issues help with Blizzard's failing reputation, and it's becoming difficult to trust the company that was once lauded for taking its time to polish games to a shimmer.
A patch released February 6 fixed some smaller bugs, but there's still a long way to go to reach the expectations. I hope Warcraft III: Reforged eventually becomes the game everyone wanted, but it's up to Blizzard to continue working on its creation well after the money stops rolling in.