As you may have heard, a playable version of Blizzard’s unreleased point-‘n’-click adventure title, Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans, was recently leaked. Being a fan of the series and having heard about the game for years, I decided to give the game a play. Here’s my review.
Note: I am not criticizing the game based on things that are clearly broken or unfinished. The game was not 100% ready for release so there are missing bits of voice acting, glitches in cutscenes, etc. I am only judging the game based on what is finished and playable. All of the screenshots in this review were taken by me during my playthrough.
I didn’t realize it was possible to feel nostalgic about a game I’d never played before. Everything about Warcraft Adventures screams 90's, from the janky animations to the classic adventure game mechanics. There’s a portion of the game in which you have to snowboard across a chasm on your shield. For better or worse, the game feels like a time capsule of pop culture and PC gaming from my childhood.
Gameplay-wise, Warcraft Adventures doesn’t stand out much from its contemporaries. It can be controlled entirely with the mouse and you click where you want to go. Things you can interact with change the cursor from green to red and holding down the left mouse button brings up a menu to allow you to select how you are interacting with it (i.e. look at, talk to, or pick up/touch).
The lack of ambiguity as to what can and cannot be interacted with is welcome, as is the ability to double-click or hit the escape key to skip animations or scenes you’ve already watched.
Unfortunately, the game also includes some of the not so great stuff from classic adventure games, including a bad case of “adventure game logic”. Thrall tells me that a robe won’t fit him in one scene and then in the next scene he has to put it on to disguise himself and it fits just fine. In one section I needed a discarded animal horn in order to set off a trap, even though I already had a massive leg bone I could have used to set it off. Vultures will eat a leg of pork but not a dead rat. What you can and can’t pick up and what works in any given scenario seems totally random. It makes puzzle solving fundamentally unsatisfying since the best way to go about it is just try to combine every item with every other item and piece of the environment until something happens. You’re going to hear Thrall say a lot of “Nuh-uh” and “I don’t want to stick that there!” over the course of the game.
This might be more tolerable if there was more to do in the game but there isn’t. There’s no branching paths, exploration is very limited, there’s no combat. The gameplay loop simply involves entering an area, picking up/interacting with everything you can find, and repeating until a new area opens up. Forget to pick up something from an earlier area and you will have to backtrack and scour the land for whatever you are missing in order to advance.
Warcraft Adventures forms an interesting point in the history of the Warcraft franchise, having been developed after Warcraft II and before Warcraft III. Much of Azeroth’s world building was done for Adventures and forms the basis of what we know as Warcraft lore today. As in Warcraft III, you play as Thrall and the orcs have been retconned from their appearance in Warcraft I and II as a bunch of evil brutes to a misunderstood shamanistic tribal society. Essentially all of Adventures is still canon and has been adapted into the appropriately named novel Warcraft: Lord of the Clans.
If you love the lore of the Warcraft franchise, you may enjoy this aspect of Adventures and the ability to play through Thrall’s early life. Then again, while I have yet to read it, I’d guess that the writing is much better in the book. The plot moves along quickly here and without a ton of exposition. Things sort of just happen and you don’t get any say in how they progress. Thrall doesn’t even seem particularly cunning or fierce and I saw no reason by the end of the game why the Orc elders would want him to be the new Warcheif of the Horde. He just bumbles through the environment and gets lucky a lot. I found it very difficult to get invested in the plot or characters here, even though I loved Warcraft III’s story and this is essentially a prequel.
The humor of the Warcraft series is also very much present, but it feels a bit more in-your-face and juvenile to me. A few examples are when Thrall exclaimed, “It’s taking all of my willpower not to choke the chicken” or, “Whoa! I can see my house from here!” during the aforementioned snowboarding scene. At one point there is a very forward female dwarf with braided armpits. Shown below is a scene in the room of a chaplain where I discovered an interesting poster in his closet while he snored loudly.
While I’ve always enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek style of the Warcraft games, the humor here just feels more miss than hit to me. That said, it does have its moments, like a drunk clan of orcs sitting around a campfire singing songs like Fourteen Ways to Skin a Dwarf.
While I find the hand-drawn visuals of Warcraft Adventures charming and fitting with the aesthetic of the series, they look a lot better in screenshots than in motion. This is partially because the number of frames is exceedingly low, making every movement look choppy, and partially because the choreography of the animations just seems off. Characters move in unnatural ways, Thrall pulls a window off a stone wall like it’s made out of cardboard, and the animators seemed to have a poor grasp on anatomy. Characters have the bizarre motions of an old cartoon like Masters of the Universe or the 1960's Spider-Man animated series.
Unfortunately for Warcraft Adventures, it’s not just visually dated by today’s standards but also standards in 1998, when it was cancelled. Consider that the same year saw the release of games like Half-Life, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and a 3D-animated adventure game in Grim Fandango. Warcraft Adventures looks like a game from half a decade earlier than it was set to be released and no one at the time was clamoring for 2D games.
The game’s sound design is problematic as well. The voice acting isn’t bad but it’s hammy as hell and almost always over the top. Combine this with lots of obnoxious and repetitive sounds from the environment, such as pigs squealing, orcs burping, snow beasts snarling, etc. and it’s not all that fun to listen to. The music is alright but much less memorable than other entries in the series.
I can fully understand why Blizzard made the difficult decision not to release Warcraft Adventures, despite it being basically complete. It’s not a terrible game, just mediocre with visuals and mechanics that were already dated in 1998. Blizzard wasn’t just being political when they said it is not up to their standards, because it absolutely isn’t. If I had to give the game a score it would be somewhere in the range of 4-6 out of 10. Had they gone ahead and released the game, the damage to the brand could have potentially prevented us from getting the hugely successful Warcraft III and World of Warcraft. The Warcraft franchise today would likely exist simply as internet memes rather than as one of the most played games in the world.
But should you play it? That very much depends on your interests.
- Love classic point-’n’-click adventure games
- Want to experience any and all things Warcraft
- Want to find out for yourself why Blizzard decided not to release the game
- Get frustrated by “adventure game logic”
- Want to experience a gripping and well told story
- Have never played a Warcraft game