Revisiting a well-loved part of our shared past is a precarious position to put yourself in. People believe that remasters and remakes are easy, but there's an art in updating nostalgia. Go too far, and you've changed what drew people in about the original. Don't go far enough, and you risk tarnishing what people loved.
Warcraft 3: Reforged is leaning in the latter direction, if the community is any indication. Spirits were high when Reforged was announced at BlizzCon 2018. Warcraft 3 is one of Blizzard Entertainment's most beloved games, and neither of the company's RTS franchise has seen even a small update since 2016. Done well, like Forgotten Empires' excellent Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition, a proper remaster or remake of Warcraft 3 would've likely created some goodwill for a company that has lost some of its luster.
Warcraft 3: Reforged has come in for a rough landing, though. Since its launch, fans have been unhappy with the update, taking to Reddit, Twitter, and the official forums to express their displeasure. Building on Blizzard's previous missteps, like the announcement of Diablo Immortal in the face of fan expectations of Diablo 4, the ban of Hearthstone player Blitzchung, or the poor reception of the latter part of World of Warcraft's Battle for Azeroth expansion, Warcraft 3: Reforged's launch feels like more of the same.
Part of the anger aimed at the game is still due to expectations. When Blizzard first announced Reforged back in 2018, it promised a much more extensive reimagining of the game. That included the redone models apparent in the version that launched yesterday, but also several completely redone cutscenes. These cutscenes were supposed to offer new cinematic presentation, newly-recorded voice acting and even new storylines, fleshing out the campaign of Warcraft 3 and bringing it closer to where the universe has gone in World of Warcraft.
In 2019 though, Blizzard announced that it was cutting back on the widespread revamp, citing complaints from the most fervent and hardcore of fans. That meant no new cutscenes, no storyline changes, and no new voice acting. But the problem is the shift was only communicated at BlizzCon 2019, and any reporting related to the convention. The Warcraft 3: Reforged official channels never acknowledged the change in direction, and in fact a trailer featuring an updated version of The Culling of Stratholme cutscene is still on the official site. Many buyers of Warcraft 3: Reforged didn't know the additional changes weren't coming until they booted the game up.
Until Tuesday's launch, the official YouTube channel hadn't been updated since November 2018. That update was a gameplay trailer based on the 2018 BlizzCon playable demo. The community has noted since a beta period in 2019, that the graphical prowess of Warcraft 3: Reforged has changed in a single year. The real-time shadows are toned down, as is the color saturation and more detailed ground textures. The user interface is also larger, reflecting the original game, though apparently that was another change made to appease hardcore Warcraft 3 players. When you're playing, the changes are less noticeable, but side-by-side, the differences between the demo and the final release are clear.
Some of these cuts make sense in terms of performance optimizations, but players are reporting low frame rate issues even when the game shouldn't be under heavy load. Worse, for players with more robust PC hardware, the graphics options are lacking. Even with higher refresh rates, the animations are locked to 30 fps. There's no ultrawide resolution options in fullscreen, only with Borderless Windowed mode; Blizzard has said it's looking into a fix for this problem. And all that is before you get to connection issues and crashes.
Then there are the features that were working in the original Warcraft 3 client, but aren't in the new Reforged client. With Reforged's launch, you can't go back and play the original Warcraft 3, you simply have the option to play Reforged with the original graphics. But previous online features, like player profiles, clans, automated tournaments, and online ladders, are simply gone. Custom campaigns? The option to play those is gone as well. Some players have asked for the old client back, noting that they never paid for Reforged, so Blizzard has essentially taken a working game from them. (And it's not directly related to the game itself, but Blizzard also updated its terms and conditions to grant the company rights to all custom games.)
"I’ve been playing Warcraft 3 since 2004. I see a lot of people complaining about new graphics looking bad, lack of content, unfulfilled promises, post-launch bugs/crashes. However, I do not care about new graphics, campaigns, cinematics or Reforged as a whole. I just want to keep playing the game I played my entire life, the game that was already perfect for me," wrote Warcraft forums user Bakker.
The ultimate result of all this turmoil is a number of players asking Blizzard for refunds. The top post on the Warcraft 3 subreddit is recasting the "Reforged" part of the official logo with "Refunded" instead. Another post has a short guide on how buyers of Reforged should request a refund from Battle.net. It's always difficult to gauge how many players are actually refunding their game rather than saying it, but the mood surrounding Warcraft 3: Reforged isn't a happy one online.
It's hard to guess how much resources Blizzard will put towards fixing the issues surrounding Warcraft 3: Reforged. Given that it wiped away the old client, it stands to reason that this should be a long-time project for the company simply to make good for long-time players. However, that clashes with the realities of business. Blizzard could simply decide that it's better to pack up shop than it is to knuckle down and commit to fulfilling the promise of Warcraft 3: Reforged. How the studio decides to handle the situation will determine who Blizzard is in 2020 and beyond.