You may have seen a lot of online chatter about Warcraft 3 Reforged lately. If you’re one of the nearly 27,000 people who downvoted the game on Metacritic, you will almost certainly not agree with the content of this review. Because here’s the thing: Warcraft 3 Reforged simply isn’t all that bad. Are there some glaring omissions from the original client? There are. Has my multiplayer experience suffered due to lag outs and disconnections? It has. Is it still possible to create a popular multiplayer mod, accidentally birthing a new genre that kills its own mother, and becoming the dominant force in global esports over the course of the ensuing 20 years? Technically yes, but not terribly likely.
Is it still, by and large, the game I fell in love with in 2002? Yes, it is.
Warcraft 3 is a cornerstone of the current World of Warcraft story bible. Warcraft 3‘s narrative arc plays out across four factions — The Horde, The Alliance, the Undead and the Night Elves. The game begins with then Horde Warchief Thrall leading his people on a desperate sea crossing. The battered, war-weary Horde flees the Alliance controlled Eastern Kingdoms, taking its first steps into Kalimdor where it remains to this day.
Seeing the Horde driven from their lands delights the Alliance, but the victory is shortlived. A plague is spreading throughout the Kingdoms and it falls to young Prince Arthas Menethil to stamp it out. What begins as a fairly routine series of hazard checks quickly becomes a greater threat, the plague turning ordinary citizens into horrifying, shambling Undead. As the menace begins to spread, Arthas’ attempts to contain it become more and more brutal. His failure to protect his people culminates in The Purging of Stratholme, a point-of-no-return moment so immense that it echoes in WoW history even now.
It is the kind of taught, inter-connected story that Blizzard was so good at in its RTS heyday. The actions of one faction would have a knock-on effect in the campaign of another. You sunder the Undead during the Alliance campaign before beginning the Undead campaign and witnessing the true scope of their machinations.
In terms of the ongoing WoW lore bible, Warcraft 3 Reforged is an opportune moment for a bit of housekeeping. It adds additional missions to certain sections, expanding on the existing material and slightly altering other moments so that they fall more in line with WoW‘s version of events. Some may balk at this but 15 years of constant lore updates from a changing team of writers mean that mistakes will happen. Incongruities will appear in canon. This helps make these changes more understandable.
Right-click+A across the map
Warcraft 3 Reforged retains the strategic heart that had been the core of the series up to its release. It’s a different animal to a game like Starcraft, eschewing large armies and lightspeed APM for smaller, stronger squads with big impact. It seems utterly commonplace now but Warcraft 3 was the first game to meaningfully incorporate Hero units in the way we know them now. Named Hero units were more powerful and could be leveled up with new attacks and moves. The fastest way to level them up was by venturing out and battling creeps, computer-controlled enemies of varying power, and claiming the XP and items they drop. The higher your Hero’s level, the more likely you were to prevail in battle.
That’s still true now, and falling back into the old rhythms was like putting on an old and comfortable pair of shoes.
Warcraft 3 Reforged still delivers on the rock-paper-scissors style unit countering of StarCraft, but on a smaller scale. There’s no time to build a huge army the way there is in StarCraft. Warcraft 3 wants you out of your base and creeping by minute three and throwing stones at the enemy by minute eight. It’s a fast game, where small squads have a big impact and having a strong, overarching plan will get you further than simply reacting to enemy provocation. That’s just good RTS right there.
And it is a good RTS. Warcraft 3 Reforged is an exemplar of the form all these years later. The balance remains as strong as ever, and with its fresh coat of paint overall readability has gone way up. It runs more smoothly and takes better advantage of modern hardware.
Warcraft 3 Reforged has undergone a remaster of its entire presentation, from visuals to sound and even UI. Everything is much crisper and clearer, with each unit now much more distinct and identifiable. Many of the models appear to have been pulled from World of Warcraft which helps sell the game’s crossover appeal but also provides nice looking models that won’t break your computer to render en masse. This applies to cutscenes too, where certain angles have been changed. No, it doesn’t look like the panning and sweeping camera work of the BlizzCon trailer, but that trailer also had Work In Progress, Shit Might Change stamped all over it.
There are still a few features from the original that are missing from the Reforged package. One that has been dividing players is the lack of a competitive ladder, which was present in the original but isn’t represented here. This will almost certainly be patched in at some point in the future. Its omission appears to be tied to Blizzard’s desire to have the original Warcraft 3 client and Warcraft 3 Reforged run on the same architecture. The idea behind this is that it doesn’t matter which version the game you’re playing, you’ll still be able to get a game. I can’t imagine the difficulty of hammering out the netcode on a project like this. I’m sure it’s doable but, god, at what cost? My thoughts are with the unlucky engineers tasked with figuring it out.
As it stands, I’ve found the existing online multiplayer to be fairly solid. To date, I’ve only had two 2v2 online matches disconnect on me, both occurring days apart. This is a far cry from the regular disruptions of the closed beta. While some have decried the disconnections as proof that Blizzard have failed to implement a strong online framework, for me, this is entirely congruent with disconnections in StarCraft 2. They happen every now and again. You make your peace with them. It would be worse if the competitive ladder was involved, but it isn’t and as far as I can tell, there’s no real matchmaking in place as yet either. Therefore, is it really that big of a problem right now? I suppose that’s for you to decide.
Warcraft 3 Reforged is a bit like returning to your home town after a long time away. It’s familiar in the sense that the sights, the sounds, the day-to-day remain the same, but the details are different. You notice small changes everywhere you look, and some of them you like and some of them feel wrong. Ultimately though, the heart of what you remember about it is still there. People can have their gripes. They can have their problems. But you shouldn’t take their word for it any more than you should take mine. After everything I’ve outlined about my own experience, here’s what I’ve got for you: play it yourself and form your own opinion. Who knows, you might actually like it.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Great new presentational tweaks; Still a hell of a lot of fun to play
Lowlights: No competitive ladder just yet; Some low-level audio glitches
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac OS
Review conducted on Windows PC with a Spoils of War Edition code provided by the publisher.