Warcraft 3 Reforged's most brutal battle isn't any of the game's sprawling fights between the Orcs, Humans, Undead or Night Elf factions. It's between 2002 and 2020, as the legacy of RTS smash-hit Warcraft 3 is completely totalled by the launch of barely-remastered-at-all Reforged edition.
This remaster, a reimagining of one of Blizzard's most beloved games, should have been an open goal. Blizzard, hunting for good publicity after the Blitzchung incident in October last year and several minor PR disasters, should have had everyone they needed with this to slot the ball into the back of the net and rode from the field victorious on the back of an army of ecstatic Warcraft 3 fans. Instead, Blizzard has wound up for the kick before hoofing it out of the stadium, crashing down in a carpark nearby.
Blizzard, heartbreakingly, has massively missed the mark.
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I've been a fan of Warcraft 3 for a long time, and playing it after 18 years was obviously going to be a little bumpy. Given time, it's easy to see the impact the title has had on video games as a whole around it, from the MMORPG smash-hit World of Warcraft to the way its hero-centric gameplay morphed into a custom game (and later, Valve's prodigiously popular standalone) DotA, which spawned the MOBA genre and was a large part in killing off the real-time strategy genre that Warcraft 3 was a shining example of.
In 2020, Warcraft 3's gameplay still holds up, but I found digital tourism was my main draw, wandering through the game's several campaigns and many skirmishes as a video game-specific edition of before they were famous, as I saw early versions of fan-favourite World of Warcraft characters, Hearthstone cards and even, although Valve is sure to argue they are legally distinct, a few DotA 2 heroes about the place.
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The game itself plays somewhat the same, looks somewhat the same and as the original voices have been included as a piece of fan service, it plays out mostly the same too.
Unfortunately, it's so hard to see exactly what has been improved upon here, that with the £30 price tag and the fact that you can no longer play custom campaigns, have rudimentary access to mods and now have a terms of service change that states any custom games made now belong to Blizzard — who were no doubt stung hard by that whole DotA thing — it's potentially the first remaster in history to actually make the original game worse.
It's a shame. We're in an age where remakes don't need to be a solid retread of the original and instead can obey the spirit of the thing: Final Fantasy 7 is on the way with a brand-new real-time combat system and Resident Evil 2 came out last year with a phenomenal reimagining of the classic horror game.
Instead, Warcraft 3 Reforged forces players of the original to balloon their install size from 2GB to 30GB and created a £30 nostalgia pack that seems to have upset players that were happily throwing down in the original game, and returning fans who were hoping for more than a slight lick of paint.
Beyond all that, it kind of works. The RTS genre is largely gone now and Warcraft 3 Reforged delivers the sort of experience that was a great example of what it can do well: juggling several tasks in your base to keep your relentless production going while you also charge around the map trying to level up your heroes in preparation for an apocalyptic brawl with your opponents is a hell of a kick, and offers up an early game like no other.
It's just a shame this renewed edition feels half-baked, from a company that usually produces nothing but butter-smooth releases with thoughtful changes and mechanics.
You can see these sensibilities in what is there: each of the campaigns in Warcraft 3 are engaging, even if the mechanics feel long in the tooth. The core story beat — a human paladin so obsessed with purity that he slides into darkness — is somewhat cliched, but playing it from both sides (and a few supporting angles) means you really get to experience some well-rounded characters.
The cliches run deep, but Blizzard walked away from plans to rework the story after fans claimed they wanted to keep the original voices, so really it's… you know… the fan's fault. Somehow.
The hero-focused gameplay adds some real zest to multiplayer skirmishes, where one hero's powerful abilities can often turn the tide of a fight, meaning even impossible-looking battles can be won and you can be upset even when you have an overwhelming force. The different factions all play completely differently, from the spreading darkness of the undead to the "we don't actually burn any natural resources" playstyle of the night elves.
It's still a game where creative decision-making is shelved in favour of relentlessly memorising build orders, which is an element that time has forgotten moving forwards.
But, that's Warcraft 3 Reforged in a nutshell. The nostalgia works because it feels like the same game from 2002, and the game works because it's pretty much the same game: you can even play it with people that own the 2002 edition of the game.
However, this means that the flaws from the game are present today, and it's hard not to wish that Blizzard had done something a little more exciting, because fluffing this remaster of one of their most beloved properties will hurt them.