Warcraft 3 Reforged is not the disaster you think it is

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Warcraft 3: Reforged is an unmitigated disaster. A bug ridden, incomplete cash grab that not only fails to deliver on its original promise, but scorches its own legacy like a burning legion invasion. The final nail in a gold-plated coffin for a morally bankrupt, creatively anemic company.

At least, that’s the consensus.

As far as I can tell, Warcraft 3: Reforged is fine.

The original cinematics have been scaled badly, and look choppy and low-res as a result. The new in-engine cutscenes are generally an improvement – sometimes excellent – but the lip syncing is way off. Sometimes, the animations are off too, like when I watched Arthas kill Mal’Ganis by stabbing Frostmourne through his left bollock.

The UI changes shown off in the original trailers have been abandoned, replaced by some minor changes to size and visual clarity. Some in-engine cutscenes use the dynamic camera angles shown off at Blizzcon 2018, but many don’t. The model redesigns are excellent, and each new one brings me untold joy, but taken as a whole, the game is missing the post-processing that ties it all together into a cohesive aesthetic. Blizzard did stealth-announce these changes, but failed to pull the original video from the store page. For that, they’re absolutely at fault.

Most troubling are the copyright changes Blizzard have made to custom game ownership. If anything about Reforged disregards the legacy of Warcraft 3, it’s this.

Competitive ladders have been removed from multiplayer. Custom campaigns are not currently accessible. Even players that haven’t purchased Reforged have been forced to download a huge update, and now have to face some of the same server problems.

These are all notable issues, some more serious than others. I don’t mean to downplay the community’s complaints.

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But I’m still having a blast.

In my review-in-progress, I hoped that after I’d spent more time with Reforged, I’d be able to separate my own nostalgia and history from what I was experiencing.

As It turns out, I can’t. So I’m not even going to try. I can’t tell you what returning to this version of Azeroth should mean to you. Here’s what it means to me.

On the right side of my chest, I have the words “I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl” tattooed in simple, black script. I got it just at the tail end of my first year at uni.

I dropped out of school at fifteen years old, didn’t finish my exams. I had no qualifications. No real ambitions aside from playing bass and getting stoned every day. By the time I turned 21, I’d completed community college, and due to the bursaries and loans from being from a low income family, I’d been able to start a three year creative writing course at university. I came close to dropping out several times from depression, but eventually got through the first year.

If I managed that, I decided, I could manage anything.

I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl. My first tat, and still the only one I have.

You might recognise the line. It’s from the song Scar Tissue by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It’s still one of my favourite lines. But I also felt comfortable getting it inked because I figured – and still do – that if I ever fell out of love with the band’s music, it was good enough poetry to stand on its own terms.

I really loved the band then, and had for a while. I bring this all up because I want to emphasise what a difficult choice it was when, the week Warcraft 3 released back in 2002, my mum – who had just separated from my dad, and was making up for lost time – decided she wanted to take me and my two brothers and sister to see RHCP live. If any of us didn’t want to go, we could have the money instead.

50 quid. Exactly how much Warcraft 3 cost. I could go see a band I loved with my family, or I could have the house – and the PC – to myself for a few days.

It was a great few days.

I’m not sure I’d have ever started writing if it wasn’t for Warcraft 2. At least, I wouldn’t have had my imagination captured by epic fantasy in the same way. Watching old footage back, it seems like a stretch to square up those two concepts. There’s not much epic, in hindsight, about Warcraft 2’s tiny skirmishes. It didn’t feel like that then, though. It felt huge, exciting. Six years before The Fellowship of the Ring awed me in the cinema, commanding these bands of green skinned warriors was the closest thing to watching a full scale battle between elves, humans, dwarves, orcs, and trolls I’d ever seen. I figured Warcraft had invented orcs for quite a while.

Warcraft 2 was even more special because I’d watched my dad playing it first. There was something sophisticated and adult about the concept of a strategy game. Drawing green boxes around bands of units, upgrading weapons and armour, building settlements.

When my Dad, Roy, passed, he had the same long silver hair he’d had for most of his life. He’d let his beard, usually trimmed short, grow out to wizardly proportions. When I spoke to the coroner over the phone to confirm some details, he said to me:

“He looked awesome, your dad. Looked like Gandalf the Grey.”

I tend towards gallows humour on a good day. In times of tragedy, it’s instinctual.

“I don’t think he’ll be back as Roy the White somehow” I responded.

He didn’t know what to say to that.

Thing is, growing up, my dad was Gandalf. A long haired, intimidating, but tender guardian that introduced me and my siblings to mythical creatures and magical worlds. Warhammer. Godzilla films. Comic books. Action figures. And PC games. Like Warcraft.

When I was very young, maybe nine or ten, the record and electronics shop my dad owned was broken into, and the thieves stole dozens of Sega Megadrive games. After that, he only left empty cases in the shop, and brought a huge bag full of PlayStation 1 – and later Dreamcast – discs home with him every day. We weren’t rich, or even wealthy. Everything was second hand, and my dad did swaps for a couple of pounds far more often than he sold anything. But if my dad had it at the end of the day, I could play it.

I think Warcraft 3 was the first game I ever bought from somewhere that wasn’t my dad’s shop, and probably the first game I ever bought new, too. I didn’t love games then any less than I do now, but aside from copies of Suikoden II and Abe’s Exodus I begged for various birthdays, I was usually content to just play whatever my dad had installed, or in-stock.

Not Warcraft 3. Needed to have it. I needed to return to Azeroth, and finish the story. What I found was something far more ambitious and thoughtful than I’d dared to hope. A story that not only expanded what existed previously into a few pages of lore to an MMO-worthy world, but breathed life into two dimensional archetypes. It was inspiring, tragic, gripping, and vast. It was everything a good fantasy story should be.

As I said, without Warcraft, I’m not sure I’d be a writer. Would never have gone to university. Would never have got that tattoo.

All these moments I loved originally are still there. Arthas stopping to catch a falling petal in his gloved hands as he marches into King Terenas’ throne room and commits the act that will damn him forever. Sylvana’s death and undeath. Gromm being corrupted by demon blood, and later, fighting side by side with Thrall again. That incredible final mission, where men and orcs and elves band together to defend the world against Archimonde.

Some are so much better. The remastered cutscene where Arthas finds the cursed blade Frostmourne is stunning. Watching it side by side with the original, it’s impossible to conclude that no care or love went into Reforged. Whether through budget, neglect, or mismanagement, cutscenes like this are the exception – not the rule that was advertised. It’s a shame, because if nothing else, the artists and animators that worked on Reforged seem like they were dead set on creating something truly special.

If there are any serious bugs, I haven’t found any, save the one time I had to restart the game because I was auto-failing any mission I tried to start. I shut it down, started it back up again, and things have been fine since. That said, I get the impression I’m the outlier here, so I’d suggest seeking out some other evidence – as in pictures, videos, specific descriptions, not just vague shouting on the internet – before you make up your own mind.

Two thirds of the way through the orcish campaign in Reign of Chaos, Thrall sends Gromm Hellscream off to a northern forest to collect lumber for a new orcish settlement. What neither of them realise is that the forest is sacred to the Night Elves that reside there. The trees that the orcs cut down and repurpose are ancient beyond measure.

After fighting the Night Elves, and collecting a huge stockpile of lumber from their sacred forest, Gromm starts work on the base. Something new, built from the remains of the old.

Gromm eventually builds the base, and it’s a fine base. Maybe not exactly what was promised, but it’s…fine, you know?

It’s just a shame he has to destroy so much history to get there.

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