Until not too long ago, Blizzard Entertainment still had all the prestige that the developer had typically been associated with over the years. When Blizzard put out a new game, the entire industry would pause and take notice, and almost as a rule, these new games would shatter expectations and be met with rapturous critical and commercial reception. Recent years, however, have brought a few blemishes to Blizzard’s pristine record- and probably the biggest blemish of the lot is Warcraft 3: Reforged.
Warcraft 3 is, of course, a special game- widely regarded as one of the greatest strategy games ever made, it holds a special place in the hearts of millions and is often seen as a landmark PC title. You’d think that a remaster of a project with that kind of legacy would warrant proper care and attention from Blizzard, but things, of course, turned out very differently. Rather than going all out with the remaster and delivering a truly definitive version of an all-time classic, Blizzard Entertainment made one wrong decision after another – enforced by directives from Activision, which we’ll get to in a bit – and that led to, quite simply, a disastrous game.
Warcraft 3: Reforged launched in January 2020, and it was instantly clear upon its release that the game was something of an unmitigated disaster. Reviews were surprisingly negative by and large, with criticism being focused on a number of factors, including the poor technical state the game had launched in, it’s cumbersome UI, the fact that many features that Blizzard had promised before launch were missing (like updated cutscenes and re-recorded voice overs), and the fact that even some key features from the original game were missing (like clans and the ladder system).
It was a failure on all fronts, and it didn’t help at all that Blizzard made some other questionable decisions related to the game as well that only served to frustrate the community more. Most significantly, Warcraft 3: Reforged’s client completely replaced the original game, rendering it inaccessible, which meant that not only was Reforged a bad remaster, it somehow managed to actively make the original game – an unabashed masterpiece in its own right – worse.
Of course, it wasn’t just the reviews that slammed the game. Warcraft 3: Reforged was widely critcized by players as well. User scores aren’t necessarily perfectly reflective of a game’s quality all the time, but they are often reflective of how a game’s community is feeling about that particular product- and Warcraft 3: Reforged’s user reviews painted an ugly picture. In fact, for a few good months until Madden NFL 21’s launch in August 2020, Reforged had the lowest user-score for any game on Metacritic, while its Metacritic user score was also the lowest ever for a Blizzard game until Diablo Immortal came along earlier this year (which was another big mess- but that’s a different story entirely).
Not long after Warcraft 3: Reforged’s launch, Blizzard started accepting refund requests from players with a no-questions-asked policy, and within a few months of the remaster’s release, its development team was disbanded. So again, the words “unmitigated disaster” seem like a pretty apt description for the whole situation. And really, even a cursory glance at the details of the game’s messy development will tell you that its rapid post-launch failure was not much of a surprise- even to Blizzard, really.
In July of 2021, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier published a detailed report that shed light on the troubled development of Warcraft 3: Reforged, which, more than anything else, made it clear that right from the get go, the game was fighting an uphill battle- and as I mentioned earlier, directives passed down to Blizzard by Activision were almost singularly responsible for that. More and more over the years, Activision has become hyper focused on maximizing profits. Now don’t get me wrong, all companies are focused on maximizing profits, that’s the sole purpose of their existence- but Activision does it unlike no one else, to the extent that it’s very become become one, large Call of Duty machine at this point. Blizzard, of course, doesn’t touch Call of Duty, but it, too, now focuses primarily on the projects that’ll bring in the big bucks- and Warcraft 3: Reforged, a remaster of a PC-only strategy game, was deemed to not fit that mould.
As Schreier described in his report, Activision didn’t think Warcraft 3: Reforged was going to be a big title for the company, which meant that the budget that was set aside for it was a fraction of what its development team needed to fulfil its vision, and crucially, to make good on the promises it had made to fans upon the game’s announcement. Warcraft 3: Reforged had a small development team that was struggling with the scope of the project, and apparently had management and production issues of its own. That, combined with the smaller budget afforded to the team by Activision meant that the game’s development was a mess, leading to the poor technical state it released in, and all the features it was missing.
Another damning detail that Schreier revealed in his report, interestingly enough, was that the reason Activision was so willing to move forward with Warcraft 3: Reforged’s launch in spite of how much work it still very clearly needed was the fact that a lot of pre-orders had already been placed for the game. Rather than having to refund those pre-orders in the event that the project was delayed or cancelled, Activision and Blizzard decided to push the game out, knowing full well that it was not even close to being ready and that it would be slaughtered upon release.
Blizzard promised key changes and improvements to Warcraft 3: Reforged not long after it came out, but those improvements haven’t arrived. The game is still missing features and still has more than its fair share of issues, and once again, fan-made mods have had to carry the weight in Blizzard’s absence here. It’s worth mentioning that the game has now been handed over to a new team within Blizzard, and recently got its first new update in quite some time, which, significantly enough, finally added Ranked Play to the remaster, in addition to a number of other tweaks. Whether or not Blizzard will be able to keep up a healthy cadence of updates and actually bring the game up to a decent level of quality remains to be seen.
Blizzard has, of course, seemingly learned more than a few lessons from the botched release and development of Warcraft 3: Reforged. It was careful not to repeat a lot of the same mistakes with Diablo 2: Resurrected, a game that very much seemed to be a statement meant to reassure fans that the company can still properly handle remasters of beloved classics. Sure enough, the results were drastically better, and that’s certainly restored some confidence.
Blizzard is a company with many major issues right now, with many that go far beyond a single failed game- fixing all of that is going to be a long-term process, but hopefully the company will continue to look at its past mistakes and keep making sure that it doesn’t make them again.
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