After prolonged radio silence and a 2019 release that never became a reality, Warcraft III: Reforged has finally landed on our digital gaming shelves. Like lots of other Warcraft fans, we've had access to certain parts of the game since last week. Specifically, the Versus section where one is automatically pitted against other bloodthirsty strategists, as well as the Custom module, where game modifications such as Wintermaul, Hero Line Wars and others have been resurrected from the dead. This week, the thing we had been the most excited for, the campaign featuring Thrall, Arthas and a number of other iconic characters whose dramatic clashes have formed the foundation of Blizzard's fantasy universe, was released.
We've often wanted to return to Warcraft 3, but haven't really dared to touch it in the past decade. It was a grand experience at release but since then, the game has gone through so many phases that it served as a Dota platform more than a strategy-RPG adventure. Although this didn't always please us, it was a testament to the game's survivability. Warcraft 3 has adapted into a flexible, hyper-mobile beast of chimerical proportions over the years. Through its close-to-two-decade-long lifespan, the game has meant a lot to a lot of people.
With that being the case, how has Blizzard ensured the same grandeur and flexibility in this 2020 re-release? The studio has taken a somewhat sympathetic approach with Reforged, focusing on making the core of the game reasonably recognisable without major flaws and shortcomings. At first glance, the game looks similar to what it looked like in 2002. This is, of course, not even close to the truth and more-so a factor of one remembering the original as more of a graphical wonder than it actually was. Yet the title screen with its dynamic background and large blue icons quickly brings back memories of the good old days. On the right side of the screen, however, a semi-transparent chat box has been added. The purpose of this is for players to be able to communicate across not only internal gaming sessions but also through other Blizzard games. The idea is a good one, but the presence of a semi-transparent chat window on top of the game's menu is a bit distracting.
The autumnal re-release of Age of Empires 2 also had an eyesore in the shape of an Xbox button in the right corner, so maybe it's not so bad. When creating a new platform ecosystem, such changes are needed. The most significant difference is, of course, the graphical facelift, and it's truly exciting to experience the classic in its new suit, even though the quality does appear to be unevenly distributed. The game's character models have been replaced, but the overall style of the game's forests, waterfalls and villages seems to have been left unaltered. This gives the game a strangely anachronistic feel, with some of the audiovisual elements appearing modern, while others appear to have been taken straight out of the 2002 original, with many others falling somewhere in between the two.
While the characters in Warcraft III: Reforged look better than their counterparts in the recently released World of Warcraft: Classic, the surroundings in Warcraft III: Reforged don't offer the same level detail or depth of field. This creates an uneven graphical experience with textures and models that feel as though they don't go together. The main concerns regarding the new graphics could have been remedied by letting us experience the game with 'Classic' settings, but that feature has not opened up yet, which is a bizarre restriction.
Admittedly, we have only scratched the surface so far, but Warcraft III: Reforged has already shown some cracks in its facade. No game's release is without issues, but from such an acclaimed studio with source material as legendary as this as its starting point, the margin for error should be minimal. In the end, the fate of the re-release doesn't lie in its additions, but in what it might end up lacking: a smooth user interface, adequate system settings, proper search filters, a coherent visual expression and, most importantly, an active and dedicated player-base.
We were delighted to experience Thrall's journey to Kalimdor and Arthas tragic fall from greatness once again, but in the end, a grand campaign experience isn't enough to lure one in, eighteen years after a game's original release. It's through online games and the user-created content that the game will need to offer that's going to prolong its lifespan, or not as the case may be. The fact that one can experience classic game mods like Wintermaul and Hero Line Wars is a valuable bonus, not only for the players, but for Blizzard as well, and we hope the legendary studio is aware of that.