Warcraft 3 Reforged: How Blizzard sabotaged its own legacy and the best RTS of all time
Three months ago, right after Blizzcon 2019, I asked the question if Blizzard redeemed itself with what they showed there. My answer was rather "yes", I really liked what Blizzard did there, especially revealing Diablo 4. I ended my post with the following words:
But personally I prefer to wait longer for a game and everything works well, instead of it being a buggy mess.
Ironically, this turned out to be somewhat prophetic, since their latest game: Warcraft 3 Reforged turned out to be a buggy mess. But there is so much wrong with this game, that this just one aspect of it.
So, where do I start? Warcraft 3 Reforged was announced at Blizzcon 2018, the one with the Diablo Immortal debacle. Its announcement was a glimmer of light during that event, and I think probably the best part of the whole event for a lot of people (which is kind of strange, if you think about it: people are happy to pay again for a game they most likely already own). But I understand why people were excited about this game: Warcraft 3 (including its expansion The Frozen Throne) is one of the best games of all time and probably the best real-time strategy game of all time. If you look at the state RTS games are in right now, people were not only excited to get a new old RTS game, but a remaster of the RTS game, the pinnacle of the genre. I'm sure, many saw in Warcraft 3 Reforged the potential savior for genre as whole. If it had gone well, then there could have been a Warcraft 4 or maybe a Starcraft 3 and other (big budget) developers would also see, that you can still make money with a classical RTS game.
The hopes were high, so was the hype. Even with the recent scandals surrounding Blizzard it was still Blizzard, and Blizzard is a name you could trust, when it comes to polished and quality games. You could, but you can't any more. They did not only introduce bugs into an 18-year-old game that never had much (harsh) bugs, they also removed features from that almost perfect game. On top of that, if you just own the classic Warcraft 3, you are now forced to use the new launcher for Warcraft 3 Reforged and you are forced to download a 30 GB update for a game that was originally only 3 GB. You don't have the new, updated graphics, just an updated GUI (which people are also not very fond of). Not only did Warcraft 3 Reforged dishonour the classic Warcraft 3, it almost literally destroyed its legacy. This of course only applies if you use the Battle.net client for launching Warcraft 3. Thank God the game was originally released in 2002, long before online services became the norm, so if you have an old CD version of Warcraft 3 and The Frozen Throne lying around somewhere, you are good.
Although you can't download the latest patches, which add some nice features to the game, like support for widescreen resolutions. But if you aren't afraid to edit your registry, you don't need the official patch. I did it just earlier today and it worked fine. Speaking of patches: Warcraft 3 got its last patch in May 2019, 17 years after its original release (!!!). This level of dedication and consumer-friendliness is what got Blizzard its reputation as legendary developer and well deserved success.
But this was the old Blizzard, a company which could be best described as from gamers for gamers. Nowadays it is just a regular business, run by regular business people who have only one goal in mind: money, profit maximization and increasing shareholder value. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against business, everybody needs to make a living, but if your enterprise is in the creative realm, you have to find a balance between art and business. Finding such a balance is difficult, going too much into one direction is bad for the other: this ends either in companies going broke (RIP Troika Games) or games just becoming soulless cash-grabs with a such an aggressive monetization-strategy, that it is borderline gambling (95% of all mobile games).
Blizzards pendulum swung strongly to the business side recently, including everything that comes with it: Nuisances for the hardcore fans, like more focus on mobile games, loot boxes and a slow departure from single player games, as well as lay-offs, when having a record year and paying big bonuses to higher level executives. Like any company Blizzard is in a constant state of flux, but while it became "bigger and better", it lost what made it great in the first place. Warcraft 3 Reforged is a good example for this, I assume that just a few years ago, they would have never released a game in this state. The creator of Diablo and Diablo II, David Brevik, confirmed that in an interview, where he claimed that Blizzard completely changed, which is normal for a company that grows from 180 employees to thousands. He left Blizzard when the writing that something like this is happening was on the wall, back in 2003, long before the smashing success of World of Warcraft.
With all of this in mind, you can slowly start to see, where Warcraft 3 Reforged went wrong. It seems like it is just an afterthought: RTS aren't making a lot of money, therefore I assume that the team only got a small budget and was under pressure to release the game (it was supposed to be released 2019). Unfortunately the final game reflects this: with limited time and a limited budget even the best developers can't turn a bad project into a good one. The response is a disaster on so many levels for Blizzard:
A current user rating of 0.5 on Metacritic makes it the worst major game on the platform ever. Surely you could call it nerd rage of some very disappointed fans, but also critic score of 63 is in for a Blizzard game shows, that something is very wrong. You can explain this low score with the nostalgia a lot of people still have for the original Warcraft 3. Similar disappointments, like Bioware's Anthem have user scores between 3.4 and 4.0. Even major scandals like Star Wars Battlefront II only got 1.2 as lowest user score.
Bioware is a good cue: 2019 was the year were Bioware finally destroyed its own legacy with Anthem, after Mass Effect Andromeda was already foreshadowing a decline. Could 2020 be the year when the same thing happens to Blizzard? The scandals and debacles of 2018 and 2019 also seemed to have foreshadowed that something is wrong and Warcraft 3 Reforged proved that something is wrong.
However, luckily I found an old version of Warcraft 3 lying around at home and I'm going to play it now. Thanks to the above mentioned tip with a widescreen resolution. While I finished the original game, I never finished the expansion and it is about time that I make good for that. After playing it for a while today I have to say, not only does it hold up to today's games, it is really amazing how close this 18 year old game is to perfection. It might never needed a remastered version in the first place.