Thursday, 27 February 2020 16:49

Warcraft III: Reforged Review

Written by

Edited by: Jade Swann

This isn’t a normal review. I didn’t go through the usual channels of requesting a review copy of Warcraft III: Reforged, I actually pre-ordered the game and paid for it with my own money. I was, in other words, really excited for the release. In fact, every day for years I have watched a match of Warcraft III with my afternoon cup of tea, so suffice it to say I am a bit of a fan. The biggest reason for my purchase wasn’t actually to play melee matches of the game, though (that was the icing on the cake for me). Instead, it was the fact that Warcraft III has always had a powerful world editor and a rich custom game community, which I thought would be revitalized by the new and improved release. As a designer, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the new World Editor and start making maps of my own. Imagine my chagrin when Blizzard changed their policy, staking a claim over any custom map made with their editor. That same day, the YouTube outrage started pouring forth, leading to the lowest user score of any game for Reforged on Metacritic. I decided I had to write about my experience.

This isn’t going to be the kind of cathartic review you’re expecting.

I considered getting a refund for Reforged, but that wasn’t fair — I hadn’t even played the thing. I decided to let it finish downloading and see for myself. In the meantime, I watched some more YouTube outrage videos about the disastrous release and started to notice something: YouTubers were ruthlessly dragging Activision Blizzard when some of them had clearly never played either the original or the remaster. And let’s just say I don’t even need to provide an example of gamers overreacting to something for you to think of a dozen examples. I started to suspect this was another case of gamers raging because it feels good, actually upvoting the lowest scored game on Metacritic to put Reforged in its place, all while YouTubers disingenuously profited off the massive dogpile.

I won’t ever say I’m satisfied by the release of Reforged as a hardcore fan, but one only needs to go to the game’s forums to see just how ridiculous things have gotten. Particularly gratuitous are the people blaming the Malaysian developer behind the remaster — doing so is just racist, especially since overseas studios are often forced to do quality work for a fraction of the cost.

I’m also not going to comment on Activision Blizzard’s morality in regards to the China/Hong Kong debacle. That whole issue is entangled with a web of consumer hypocrisy that, when it comes down to it, means nobody’s hands are clean unless they don’t consume any entertainment products that are self-censored and watered down to appease the Chinese government — like Apple’s app store, Marvel movies, Tencent, etc. etc.

Instead, I think Activision Blizzard should be held accountable for a money-grabbing release, but I also think they deserve an honest review score. One that isn’t just a cathartic Internet rage-jab at this week’s sacrificial lamb. So, that’s what I’m going to set out to do.

The elephant in the room is Blizzard’s ownership of your intellectual property.

With all the above being said, I was extremely disappointed to see that Blizzard claims ownership over all custom maps now. It makes sense from their point of view because Dota slipped through their fingers, but when it comes down to it, Activision Blizzard had nothing to do with the creation of Dota. Imagine if Unity suddenly decided they own all games created with their engine — there would be no more video games.

And here I am, an actual example of a creative, eager to use the World Editor to innovate new games. The wind was really taken out of my sails. I might still play around with a few things, but now I do so for the benefit of Blizzard, not really the community or myself. If I’m smart, I will turn to another engine for my games, and that’s honestly what I will probably end up doing.

Especially since the World Editor is nothing special. There are a few subtle new features included — you can easily paint pathing blockers onto the maps, for example — but for the most part the World Editor looks pretty much exactly the same as the original. That’s a running theme for Reforged.

It’s basically just new skin on an old game.

Reforged isn’t actually reforged, it’s just remastered. I feel like many players would have less of an issue with that if they had just called it a remaster. The biggest complaint from the community is that Activision Blizzard misrepresented their product. I don’t know if that’s completely true, however, anyone that followed the beta and news before the release could see there was going to be little if any new content.

One of the biggest grievances is that Blizzard used a beautiful cutscene that wasn’t actually included in the final game — false advertisement, many are screaming. But they had the standard disclaimer on the trailer, warning that the final product may look different, and there have to be somewhere around zero games in history that actually look like their release trailer. I’m not saying this is a respectable practice, but it is by now a predictable one.

I’m also not very concerned with the Reign of Chaos ruleset being phased out — it had a very niche audience, and complaining about it is in the same vein as complaining about a new balance patch. It’s going to happen, so might as well get over it. You can still play the old game if you really have to (even though it's trickier than it should be).

The biggest sticking point for me was my hope, alongside many other long-term fans of the game, that Blizzard would fix the multiplayer experience and matchmaking, but they didn’t. There were indeed many opportunities for improvement, but instead what we got was a bare-minimum remaster with the rough edges sanded down.

But this is still based on two of the best games in history.

With all of that out of the way, I can say that the game at its core has aged well, and the fresh coat of paint looks good. It could have been much worse — in the initial beta, it looked like the realistic art style would make the units near impossible to see, but they have since cranked up those signature bright Blizzard colors.

The voice acting is still phenomenal, as is the level design, the score, and the mechanics. The cutscenes benefited the least from the remaster, looking virtually the same as they did before, but at the time of the original release they were amazing — enchanting, even. The only thing that hasn’t aged well are the racial clichés, especially the cheesy Jamaican accents all the trolls have.

And the plot has always been a bit cheesy too, but that’s kind of Blizzard’s thing. Warcraft is and always has been an exaggerated pastiche of the fantasy genre that’s somehow more accessible and enticing than the real thing. That’s what I love about it.

There’s little else to say about Reforged. The single-player campaign is one of my favorites in RTS history, and although it seemed a little too easy (maybe from my decades of practice), it still looks good and it’s still satisfying, cutscenes and all. While I wish Blizzard had added new content, there’s not a huge expectation to do so for remasters. I believe their mistake was calling it a reforge, because that’s certainly not what it is. So, I’m disappointed, but I also think we should be reasonable in our expectations. Review bombing games isn’t the right response. It robs people of honest reviews, and it makes studios fear innovation and distrust their fans.

Reforged is not a very good remaster, but it is still a great RTS.


The Verdict: Good

Warcraft III: Reforged has disappointed many, some justifiably, others not. Blizzard’s claim over the copyright of all custom maps is particularly stifling for creatives, and the virtual lack of new content is a letdown for long-time fans. Still, the game has aged incredibly well, and Reforged remains a quality RTS if it can be viewed outside of the chaotic controversy its launch has created.

See About Us to learn how we score

Read 1852 times
Nicholas Barkdull

Nic is a writer and narrative designer with a PhD in Social Research and Cultural Studies. He thinks real time strategy games are still a valid form of e-sport, that true RPGs should be turn-based (with huge casts of characters), and that AAA games have a long way to go before they earn back our trust. He is the Lead Writer for Pathea Games's My Time at Sandrock, and his work can be seen in Playboy, South China Morning Post, The Daily Beast, and many other places.