Warcraft 3: Reforged Review06 Feb 2020 0
Warcraft 3: Reforged Review
Released 29 Jan 2020
It should be apparent to anyone following gaming news that, in the eyes of many, Blizzard did not deliver on their original promises for their re-imaging of Warcraft 3. The campaigns remain largely unchanged from the original game, and do not appear to have been brought in line with World of Warcraft lore. The cinematics are mostly the same, and the UI remains chunky. The main work appears to have been updating the models to higher resolutions--which means 'Reforged' is little more than a marketing gimmick.
For the unfamiliar, Warcraft 3 was one of the peaks of classic RTS design, building on the traditional resource-gathering, base-building, and micro-actions by adding four distinct sides rather than two, and unique hero units that could gain levels, skills, and items like RPG characters. Under the hands of Blizzard this resulted in a tight, exciting game of small clusters of units and powerful abilities and magic. Eventually, this hero unit concept spun off into the custom map Defense of the Ancients and its progeny, including Dota 2 and League of Legends. Warcraft 3 Reforged is a chance for new players to go back in time to see where their favorite obsession was fostered.
While I’ve covered the changes to multiplayer elsewhere, here the focus is on the campaign missions. World of Warcraft deepened the lore of Azeroth to a much greater degree, but Blizzard’s talent for giving their tiny monsters and swordsmen distinct personalities and objectives are on full display here. It’s not Tolkein, but the tale is a good time and it’s delivered with a series of challenging and diverse missions.
The campaign itself has changes that will only be recognized by dedicated players and/or those with very good memories--replacements of mines and mobs mostly. A few levels have been added; back in the day, developers used to provide what were called ‘demos’ of the games to encourage players to buy the full product, rather than giving tasteless knickknacks and ‘free’ in-game items to pre-orderers. Sometimes these ‘demos’ were even original levels not included in the full game! Here, the opening prologue campaign has been expanded with a few new orc missions from the original demo disc that came in a magazine, including a fairly elaborate dungeon crawl and boss fight. Overall, though, the campaign is as you remember it. There’s a mix of traditional base-building and enemy-destroying with more RPG-like quest-based missions.
There’s some additional direction for new players, which should be appreciated by any newbie who picks up the game. The tutorial and popups are quite reactive as you play, giving a new player room to experiment without holding their hand too much, but also being quickly available when you try something new. Get ahead of the initial tutorial, for instance, and the game takes it in stride, introducing concepts that are somewhat more advanced than “left click to select” and “right click to command.” It doesn’t get too deep, however, skipping a lot of important hotkeys. You can also play in 'Story' mode, but this is so easy it makes gameplay into more of a rote exercise.
But the main changes here are the upgraded graphics, which definitely make the game more attractive for the new decade. The highly-detailed models let you zoom all the way into the action. The camera is twitchy, so it’s hard to get a perfect view, but it’s still cool to check out all the details as your soldiers clash. On the other hand, the environments have not undergone the same level of embellishment, leaving the trees looking like they’re from another generation of game.
The new models give the game a more serious atmosphere overall. Soldiers seem to have more weight to their steps rather than skipping airily across the battlefield. In the original game, despite the low-poly models, the patented amusing Blizzard idle animations that give the soldiers a lot of life - priests spinning their staffs and peons tossing axes when they are bored. These are still present in Reforged, although some players have noticed that certain animations appear to be missing, limiting the variety. The new level of detail also enhances the character portraits, whose faces no longer look like modeling clay.
One of the big disappointments for fans who have been following the development of Reforged are the remastered cutscenes -- or rather, the lack of remastered cutscenes in the final product. At Blizzcon 2018, Blizzard previewed new cinematic cinematics that brought the camera down to the characters’ level. But, instead of swooping crane shots and closeups that would have really showed off the new detail in the models, they decided to leave the cutscene programming from the original game. That means each mission begins with a slightly zoomed in commander view and classic roleplaying talking portraits. It leaves one wondering why they put so much effort into redoing the details on the models, if the only way to look at them is to pause the game and try and wrangle the camera into place yourself.
Blizzard says they scrapped the more contemporary cutscene style in order to preserve the tale as fans remember it being told, but the old-school talking head boxes don’t do the game any favors in the storytelling department. Eighteen years ago, it was cool enough to swing down into an isometric view to watch two characters converse, but the technique hasn’t aged well. There’s a reason films don’t often sit the camera on a lamppost during a dialogue scene: it’s incredibly tedious, with nothing visually interesting about the scene. That just shifts all the focus onto the dialogue, delivered by postage-stamp-sized moving portraits with subtitles sitting right next to their head. Every awkward phrasing goes through your mind twice, and the okay-for-a-video-game line readings don’t help. Why go through the trouble of making your characters so lifelike if you’re going to leave your cinematics so wooden?
Blizzard is pitching the lack of changes--both to campaign missions and storyline--as a reluctance to mess with a classic design. But if that was the case, why not just re-release the original? Why all the hype around a rebuilt ‘reforged’ version of the game, that’s priced as though it’s a new title? Warcraft III is still a great game, and the new models make it a lot more palatable to gamers today. The changes are too minimal, however, to justify the price for those who’ve played this one before.