What Might Have Been: Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans

by Matt Miller on Jul 01, 2011 at 11:00 AM

In the first of our series on games that never saw the light of day, we examine the Blizzard-produced Warcraft adventure game that never released.

By 1997, Blizzard was already making it big in the world of PC gaming. Both Warcraft and Warcraft II had released to consumers, and the fledgling game universe was a huge hit. Simultaneously, companies like LucasArts had found great success with franchises like Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, and were only a year away from releasing Grim Fandango -- all now considered classics in the adventure game field. It seemed like a good time to bring the fiction-rich Warcraft universe into the adventure game landscape.

Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans would have been a classic point-and-click adventure game starring a strange choice of  protagonist -- an orc named Thrall. While modern Warcraft III and World of Warcraft players will recognize the name as one of the foundational characters within Warcraft lore, the choice to release a game in the late 90s starring a green-skinned orc seemed like a strange decision at the time. That said, the game was intended as a sort of comedic piece, so the fanged orcs make a little more sense in that light. Later, Blizzard would pick back up the thread of Thrall's story of a slave who goes on to reunite the warring orc tribes. However, that story would not come from Warcraft Adventures.

It wasn't just Thrall's importance in Warcraft Adventures that made the game notable. The game also included personalities like Grom Hellscream, Alexstrasza the Dragon Queen, and Deathwing, the central antagonist of Cataclysm. However, the mighty black dragon appears in Warcraft Adventures in a comical scene involving a hookah, as seen in the shot below. The game also featured familiar Azeroth locations, from Dalaran to Alterac.

Blizzard developed Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans internally, but the studio turned outward to a company called Animation Magic to produce over 20 minutes of classic 2D animation that would be included in the game. An early press release for the game promised "60 stunning locations within seven Azeroth regions," and "over 70 animated characters". The game would also have included some high level voice talent, including Peter Cullen (Transformers), Clancy Brown (Highlander, Shawshank Redemption, Carnivale), and Tony Jay (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, ReBoot).

Warcraft Adventures was first announced for a release in late 1997, but was delayed to late 1998. Sadly for many enthusiasts, that release would never occur.

Early reports praised the artistic style and storytelling built into Warcraft Adventures, but the gameplay was something else entirely. Blizzard doesn't get to be one of the most respected developers in the gaming industry by releasing games that are just okay, and Warcraft Adventures was deemed behind the times and not ready for public consumption. Blizzard opted to cancel the game in 1998 and immediately met with fan backlash. The fervor was so intense that an online petition was started to resurrect the game. Blizzard eventually had to step in with a press release to clear the air. Within the release, the team made clear that cancellation was an issue of quality, rather than a marketing or business call. The team at Blizzard also took that moment to reassure its fans that Warcraft would return in some form sometime soon -- a promise that was fulfilled by 2002's Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and 2004's World of Warcraft.

Lord of the Clans would later be reworked as a novel by Christie Golden and released in October 2001, just shortly before Warcraft III hit the market. Like the lost game, the novel of Lord of the Clans followed Thrall's rise to prominence from a slave to a warchief.

If you'd like to have a more up-close look at the game that might have emerged back in 1998 as Warcraft Adventures, check out the videos below.

When you're done watching those, tell us your thoughts about the game in the comments below, and share what other canceled games you might be curious for us to cover in the future.

Original Trailer

Alpha Gameplay Footage