Imagine Blizzard’s development leads Mark Kern and Bill Roper, and Infocom interactive fiction legend (as confirmed by PC Gamer magazine) Steve Meretzky locked inside a conference room working 14 hour days, desperately trying to salvage the Warcraft franchise from what could be a huge misstep. Eighteen years, and one massively successful MMORPG later, it’s hard to imagine that Blizzard would ever find themselves in such a situation, but for two weeks in 1998, the fight to save Warcraft Adventures: The Lord of the Clans, the Warcraft franchise, and Blizzard itself, from the stain of mediocrity was real.
That they failed confirmed that all video game companies can make mistakes, and also forced Blizzard to redouble their efforts to only release games that they thought met the highest quality standards. In subsequent years Starcraft: Ghost and Titan, both far down the development road, joined a long list of Blizzard games that have been cancelled. On both occasion, Blizzard got so far and thought, “Nah. This isn’t going to work.” But neither of those titles got as far as Warcraft Adventures, which was reportedly 90% to 95% finished when it was cancelled days before E3 1998.
And now after 18 years, a fully playable version of the game, complete with cutcenes, has been leaked to the internet, four years after clips of its opening scenes first appeared on YouTube. It’s a flash from the past, a glimpse into a time before World of Warcraft reshaped Warcraft lore beyond its strategy game beginnings. First announced in 1997, Warcraft Adventures promised to be “the pivotal next chapter in the epic Warcraft saga”, allowing players a whistle-stop tour of Azeroth in their quest to guide Thrall to his ultimate destiny of leading the Horde.