Since it’s announcement at BlizzCon in 2018 it’s safe to say that we’ve been more than a little excited to dive back into Warcraft III’s campaign – an epic tale that encompasses both the base-game’s Reign of Chaos arc dealing with the arrival of a new green-glowy threat through to The Frozen Throne’s dark expansion into ancient demonic corruption. Released in the first half of the 2000s Warcraft III also managed to tap into a widespread pop-cultural obsession with high-fantasy, spurred by the cinematic debut of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Building on Blizzard’s real-time strategy core Warcraft III also saw a shift in direction that was not limited to the generational leap to fully-3D visuals from the sprite-based Warcraft II and StarCraft before it. With a focus on smaller groups of units to command and heroic super-units in the form of iconic characters like Arthas, Thrall, and many more - being able to level up, equip and use inventory items, and cast any number of abilities or buff nearby forces with passive stat boosters added a new strategic dimension. An RPG element that bridges the Warcraft franchise chasm, so to speak, between the traditional RTS mechanics of old and the massive online role-player it was about to become.
The first three missions of the Prologue Campaign captured in UltraWide
In a matter of weeks after debuting in big-box form on retail shelves, Warcraft III went on to become one of the fastest and highest selling PC games of all time. Digging deeper into the lore and the cinematic ambition of the franchise saw Warcraft grow from a tale between warring factions to a rich character-driven study of betrayal, loyalty, destiny, and redemption. It grew the universe and helped define that high-fantasy art-style we’ve come to know of as “hey, that looks like a Blizzard game”.
“So then, what went wrong? Warcraft III: Reforged is by no means a complete disaster or as bad as some would have you believe. It is, however, disappointing."
So then, what went wrong? Warcraft III: Reforged is by no means a complete disaster or as bad as some would have you believe. It is, however, disappointing. In that Blizzard didn’t live up to the initial promise of reimagining the expansive and engaging campaign with newly remastered in-engine cinematics and story beats – which the studio demonstrated in 2018. For some reason Warcraft III: Reforged was quietly scaled back in terms of its ambition, leaving the Warcraft III campaigns ‘as is’ without anything new or revolutionary coming out of the forge - outside of the visual overhaul of course.
As a game from the earlier side of 3D gaming, Warcraft III is the sort of experience that benefits immediately from Reforged’s visual updates to units, heroes, and the environments. Visually, it retains the vibrant toon-style of the original in a way that captures the right feel. That being, the memory that this was how it all looked back in the day. The best example would probably be the Orc Grunt – which is no longer a chunky polygonal blob of green and red but instead a highly detailed mix of green skin menace with spiky red armour.
As a remaster Warcraft III: Reforged is more than welcome, but the ‘Reforged’ wording alludes to something much more. With a client, ala StarCraft Remastered, that sits on-top of the original release, the work carried out to make both the remastered visuals and those of the original work in parallel is commendable. But only up to a point, even on this front the disappointment is very much there. With no ability to seamlessly switch between old and new graphics, animation that feels dated, a UI that should have been overhauled or at the very least become scalable in size, and lighting that can go from moody to flat and lifeless in a moment’s notice – it all points to a release that feels, well, unfinished.
Something further exacerbated by the bare-bones multiplayer mode that does away with features like clans and leaderboards and custom game support that is questionable in how it treats over a decade’s worth of player-created material. Even with these shortcomings player-created content in the form of third-person World of Warcraft-style action-RPGs, updates to classic tower defence modes, and the re-birth of the phenomenon that is Defense of the Ancients (or DOTA) are in the works. But issues with net-code, matchmaking, crashes, and compatibility make the forced update to a new client in the form of many gigs of bandwidth - even for those that don’t own Warcraft III: Reforged - is, again, disappointing.
“As a game from the earlier side of 3D gaming, Warcraft III is the sort of experience that benefits immediately from Reforged’s visual updates to units, heroes, and the environments."
These issues aside playing through the story with the updated visuals and experiencing the grand tale that begins with the downfall of Prince Arthas through to the arrival of the Night Elves over the course of several lengthy linear campaigns that switches up the playable races and the protagonists at regular intervals is still a joy. And a testament to the monumental work carried out by the original development team back in the day, to be able to tell such a grand epic tale in the guise of an RTS. So much so that the disappointment that creeps up on you after walking away from Reforged all but disappears whilst you’re sitting there playing a campaign mission.
On that front mission design, although not up to par with the excellent variation seen in StarCraft II’s trilogy of campaigns, is still uniformly engaging. And paced in such a way that no two encounters feel completely alike. A lot of this comes down to the RPG-like elements that make up Warcraft III’s core, and the focus on adding creeps (these being random monster and creature encounters) that are unique to specific locations that draw on a Warcraft universe full of history. In fact, this is one area where Reforged serves up a massive improvement over the original – the increased variety of creatures and the improved environment detail add that World of Warcraft feel of being there.
With the inclusion of both Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne what you get is truly one of the great videogame stories that helped not only shape a genre but move the medium ever forward into immersive cinematic territory. The disappointment, there’s that word again, comes with Blizzard not giving Warcraft III’s story the attention it deserved. Being able to replay the campaign ‘as is’ should of course be an option but improving in-game cinematics and even tweaking certain missions to make them more in line with the studio’s continued evolution as mission designers is what we were after. That was, after all, the original plan.
In the end it’s worth noting that when viewing a remake or remaster what needs to be taken into consideration is the source material, how it looks, feels, and plays. That is, in addition to the work carried out to recreate moments, update visuals, and change any of the presentation. To do otherwise would be silly, a terrible game with a wonderful remaster doesn’t warrant a high score. In the case of Warcraft III, the inverse to that is also true. So, what we end up with is something in-between. A classic reborn, in a package that doesn’t warrant all that much in the way of celebration.
What we liked
New character, unit, building, and environment models
Excellent and lengthy campaign still holds up in the story department
The blend of RPG elements with base building is still one that works
What we didn't like
Feels unfinished as both a remaster and a remake of sorts
Animation is a disappointment when compared to the detail in some of the character models
Fewer features (especially in multiplayer) compared to the original