BlizzCon: Live Updates and Initial Thoughts!

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BlizzCon is looming closer, with more and more leaks and announcements steadily making their way into the internet. While they all look pretty cool, it’s a rare moment for me to want to avoid these potential leaks and wait these final few days to hear them from Blizzard’s own mouth, instead of somebody trolling Reddit or MMO-Champion. There have been an increasing amount of fake news and people spouting that they’re some Chinese Scrolls of Lore legitimate leaker, that I’ve been disillusioned by many of the spoilers over the past year.

Nevertheless, I have access to the Virtual Ticket this year instead of going to BlizzCon itself, and I’ll be watching particular panels throughout the event and will be attempting to do live updates of those panels I watch. This will be the first time I ever do anything like this, and the events go late into the night local time for me, so it’ll likely be terrible and an excellent learning experience for next time!

You can expect live updates (hopefully) for the following panels. All times are in GMT:

Friday

  • 19:00-19:45: Opening Ceremony
  • 20:30-22:00: World of Warcraft: Legion – World and Content Overview
  • 22:15-23:15: Heroes of the Storm – Hero Deep Dive
  • 23:30-00:30: Blood and Treasure – New Content and Features for Reaper of Souls
  • 00:45-01:45: Overwatch: What’s New

Saturday

  • 19:30-20:30: Heroes of the Storm – State of the Game
  • 21:00-22:00: World of Warcraft: Legion – Game Systems
  • 22:30-23:30: World of Warcraft Q&A
  • 00:00-01:00: Heroes of the Storm: Battlegrounds

No Hearthstone or Starcraft details from me unfortunately, but that’s largely because I haven’t invested much time into those games and feel that my initial thoughts wouldn’t venture far from simple “Ooh that’s pretty cool” when in fact it ends up being something not worth talking about or disgustingly OP. Also, as you may notice because of both main stage and panel stage events being on at the same time I’ll only be able to cover half the panels – the rest will have to be watched and discussed later on. Be sure to check out my BlizzCon post from two weeks ago to remind yourselves of what to expect at these panels.

BlizzCon 2015: The Year of No Announcements?

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Earlier this week we were teased with the map and schedule for Friday and Saturday of BlizzCon 2015. Much hype was had, until I took a deeper look into what panels are being shown and began to speculate what we might actually end up seeing in less than 3 weeks’ time.

General Events

The same as every year, we still have our opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the talent, original art, movie and cosplay contests. We’ve also got a behind-the-scenes look at cinematics that looks pretty fun as well as discussion and presentation on how to cosplay. We were also teased with an engineering panel at some point in the two days. No live raids, interestingly enough, though I guess with Method turning into Serenity and a number of top raiders in the world being pulled into the new guild, a raid race would be kinda weird – though it would be cool to see how Serenity harmonise with each other.

One big difference between last year and this year that made me think of this article’s title is that we don’t have a large empty gap for Blizzard to fill with a panel of a surprise announcement. That means no new franchises for two years running (surprisingly enough), but what does this mean for Blizzard’s six main titles?

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World of Warcraft

Taking up the majority of game-specific titles, it’s clear that WoW‘s development is still the biggest thing Blizzard has going for it. Hearthstone may be their current cash cow but the development of a CCG is still overshadowed by the behemoth of an MMORPG. Heck, we’ve got Legacy of the Void releasing a few days afterwards and all three of its panels are at the much smaller panel stage, while three of WoW‘s four panels are on the main stage itself.

I did note that when I went last year, the only time the main stage was filled was for the opening and closing ceremonies, so it’s not like the space is totally needed. However, Blizzard still definitely knows that World of Warcraft is the game that most Blizzard fans want to know about, especially with Legion on the horizon. As mentioned before, we’ve got four development panels to look forward to with WoW: World and Content Overview, Cinematics – The Road to Legion, Game Systems and the Q&A.

In World of Warcraft: Legion – World and Content Overview, it has been cited that we will be taken on an epic tour of the new content we’ll be exploring in the expansion, including the zones of the Broken Isles, new dungeons and raids, and how the story unfolds. We’ll also get a sneak peek at upcoming features. This is the biggest slice of pie that we’ll be getting over the two days, not to mention the first big preview of Legion information since gamescom in August! As a lore nerd, it’ll certainly be my favourite panel and a brilliant introduction to BlizzCon.

15 minutes later we’ll be getting World of Warcraft Cinematics – The Road to Legion where Blizzard’s cinematic artists share a behind-the-scenes look at how they bring some of Azeroth’s most iconic figures to life. I doubt we’ll be seeing the Legion cinematic any time just yet – maybe a lot closer to its release around PAX East 2016 or something? Regardless, it’ll still be an interesting hour to check out how Blizzard get to be the best in the gaming industry in pictorial euphoria.

Saturday’s Legion news starts off with World of Warcraft: Legion – Game Systems to take a closer look at the major features coming in Legion. We’ll dig deeper into classes, Artifacts, itemisation, progessions, the Demon Hunter, and other evolving gameplay elements. At only an hour long, I sincerely hope it’s Hazzikostas has a part to say in this, as he talks at lightning speed in comparison to Chilton – though it’s more likely the latter will be having the bulk to say here as Ion is more about encounters, of which there are… None to talk about here. I’m hoping this section will be expanded upon in the coming weeks, as there’s a lot of information to be had here!

Finally, we have the World of Warcraft Q&A rounding out the WoW panels. Just like every year, I’m sure we’ll have benign questions asking things like “When will we see Legion released?” that they’ll never answer, or getting developers to repeat themselves from previous panels. Unless Metzen screws up and thinks Shandris is dead as the reason for not having seen her yet in Legion. Something I would like for them to do is either at the end of this panel or at the opening ceremony is to announce beta in December 2015… One can hope, eh?

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StarCraft II

StarCraft II is in the same position that World of Warcraft was last year: on the cusp of releasing a major expansion just as BlizzCon ends. Legacy of the Void is the final chapter in the StarCraft II storyline, continuing on from the Heart of the Swarm campaign in terms of story, as well as bringing in some new mechanics and units for multiplayer. Whether or not this will make the game more popular than Brood War was/is… In all honesty, I don’t really follow the StarCraft pro scene – I just like the campaign and will generally be done with the game until I feel like playing the arcade or replaying the campaign. Allied Commanders and Archon Mode might allow me to piggyback on an experienced friend to learn more of the multiplayer aspects of the game however!

Three panels are ours for the taking over the two days of BlizzCon: the first of which The Future of StarCraft where we will hear about the future of StarCraft II, including plans to continue enhancing the gameplay experience beyond Legacy of the Void‘s launch. With plans for beyond LotV, it’s encouraging to see that Blizzard are keeping their claws in the RTS genre – even if there are many people that would like to see development of Warcraft IV over more StarCraft II stuff.

The second panel is all about StarCraft II: Competitive Multiplayer learning how StarCraft II competitive multiplayer will continue to evolve after Legacy of the Void, including ladder improvement, lessons learned from the beta, and what the future holds. As I’ve said previously, I’m not entirely into the competitive scene of this title so this hour is unlikely going to be watched by myself unfortunately, though I know from last year when LotV was announced that the crowd was super pumped. Plus, the StarCraft tournament stage was phenomenal last year – clearly their best stage by a large margin, and I know that StarCraft used to be the powerhouse of PC PvP before League of Legends and CS:GO took the world by storm, so this panel is definitely going to be the highlight of a number of people’s BlizzCon story.

Finally on Saturday we see some behind-the-scenes action in the StarCraft II Sounds from the Void. Blizzard’s sound team showcases the music and audio of Legacy of the Void – featuring special performances from the musicians who helped shape StarCraft II‘s soundscape. As a fledgling game designer, the audio is a massive part of designing a game, so it will be interesting to see (and hear!) what this panel has to offer when audio comes from a AAA company such as Blizzard.

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Hearthstone

Hearthstone, alongside Heroes of the Storm, is unique in the sense that it’s going to be a game that’s always going to be built upon. The Grand Tournament is the latest expansion, coming to us August 24th 2015. With Hearthstone itself releasing March 11th 2014 and GvG out December 8th 2014, that means that it’s likely we’ll be seeing a new expansion to it around April-May 2016. That seems like a long time between announcement at BlizzCon and release – unless Blizzard speed up their expansion release cycle on Hearthstone! However, the Hearthstone team seem to announce and then release soon after, so unless they release the expansion in December and do in fact speed up the expansion process, I just don’t think another expansion will be coming so soon.

What we haven’t seen in a while however is a new adventure… Following on from their vanilla dungeons and raid experiences, I think it’d be pretty cool to see Ahn’Qiraj inside this collector’s card game. The first of the mere two panels Hearthstone is showcasing Hearthstone: What’s Next where we will come warm ourselves by the hearth and hear a tale of adventures yet to come! If the wording on that is no hint, then I don’t know what is. If there will be an announcement, it will be in these panels.

On Saturday the second Hearthstone panel is on the main stage where we get to have a Hearthstone: Fireside Chat with members of the design team to hear how Tavern Brawls come together, and then join them for open Q&A with the team. The first section will be interesting, and once again the Q&A will likely be people asking them to repeat the first section. Or a release date on the new adventure.

Overwatch

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With Overwatch beta releasing to the US on October 27th, and other regions confirmed to not be available until after BlizzCon, I think the main announcement for this game will be an EU beta date as well as a sneak peak at a couple new characters, maps and gameplay features – perhaps a little more discussion on what happened at the two-hour stream on the 15th October from Haylinic and Ellohime!

Similar to HearthstoneOverwatch has two panels – both on the main stage – where we find out more about the game and how we play it, as well as a little story and inspirations. Not so much behind the scenes, but with a game in such infancy there’s no doubt that people are more looking forward to playing it rather than how Blizzard have created it. Late on the Friday, we find this out exactly in the panel Overwatch: What’s New – joining Overwatch developers as they discuss the newest heroes, maps, and gameplay features coming in Blizzard’s team-based first person shooter.

Earlier in the day on Saturday is when we get to see The World of Overwatch. This hour will be a deep dive into the expansive lore of the Overwatch world and discover the inspiration behind the game’s unique visuals, characters and locations. This is the first chance we get to see why these guys are fighting each other more than just their backstories. I love the little bio’s that have come out, especially with the recent Junkrat and Roadhog being more villains than heroes (why is it always a fat guy in Blizzard’s universes that has a chain hook to pull people in?). I’m looking forward to seeing novels about this place too, and the more that Overwatch gets off the ground, is more opportunity for interesting characters to come into Heroes of the Storm – Symmetra being able to teleport allies from the core to a particular area? Tracer being able to rewind time for herself to heal up and unload a second set of cooldowns – Rewind on steroids?

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Heroes of the Storm

Speaking of Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s Hero Brawler has landed itself three panels at BlizzCon this year. Straight after Legion‘s overview on Friday, we’re immediately going into new heroes to be announced in the Heroes of the Storm – Hero Deep Dive. Similar to Hearthstone as mentioned earlier, every few months we’re going to be getting new heroes announced anyway as long as Blizzard keep to their 3-4 week cycle with new hero releases so it’s no real major announcement if it’s to be expected, realistically. In this hour, we’ll get to join the Heroes of the Storm development team to take a closer look at all of the new Heroes coming to the Nexus. I’ll expect at least 3 new heroes to be announced, if not more as 3 will only take us to Dec-Jan time for a new set of heroes to join us. As much as I’d love for Blizzard to come to Insomnia, I doubt that’s big enough coverage for Blizzard.

Saturday is the big day for Heroes, even if they’re the first competitive gaming title to finish BlizzCon. However for the panels we have the earlier one being Heroes of the Storm – State of the Game where the Heroes of the Storm development team discusses how the game’s evolved and where it’s going next, including upcoming changes for Heroes, Battleground and talents. This directly looks like that Blizzard will be continuing on from their deep dive into Warrior changes recently to go to the rest of the hero pool. Perhaps Sylvanas and Zagara will get their heroics tweaked so that in niche situations their Possession and Nydus Network might actually be useful. Who knows? Time will tell!

In the afternoon Heroes of the Storm: Battlegrounds will round out all of the Heroes content at BlizzCon in which we will journey into the Battlegrounds of the Nexus with an in-depth look at the new locations and objective you’ll conquer in Heroes of the Storm. New battlegrounds is always good, though we might start getting into a depth that might daunt new players, so I imagine they’ll start implementing a map rotation soon with nine battlegrounds already in the mix. Blizzard already mentioned that they’re not afraid of removing battlegrounds entirely if they’re not liked – I wonder if Garden of Terror might be weeded out if the latest changes still don’t sway the crowd. I know it still doesn’t get my vote! New battlegrounds however mean that the wait for the map editor that I’ve so long awaited will have to wait even longer.

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Diablo III

Considering how successful patch 2.3 has been with Diablo, it seemed that this year would be Diablo‘s year at BlizzCon with an announcement of a new expansion, though it looks like the best we can hope for is details on patch 2.4 with a measly single panel and an even smaller play area than they had last year. With no real space either on the floor or in the schedule to sneak in panels or extra stations for any big Diablo news, it’s not looking promising for our ARPG genre from Blizzard.

What we do have is an hour slot on Friday called Blood and Treasure – New Content and Features for Reaper of Souls where, right next to the Diablo stations on the panel stage you get to join the Diablo development team to learn about new zones, new sets and legendary powers, new monsters, new features, and more. With how much Diablo has improved since launch, whenever a new patch comes out it’s like a contagion spreading through my friends list, rendering them inactive from any other game for at least a week or two. I’ve still lost a few friends to the hack n slash virus to this day, may they RIP (in peace).

Heroes of the Storm

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Formerly known as Blizzard All-Stars, and before that Blizzard DotA, the latest game franchise for Blizzard to publish is Heroes of the Storm! It was originally going to be a Starcraft II mod, though since the original inception, it will now be a standalone game, believed to be free-to-play and released digitally. With strong competition among similar games such as League of Legends, Dota 2 and SMITE, Blizzard are entering a tough market in the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre.

Now personally, my only experience of MOBAs is with Dota 2 – I’ve dabbled in League of Legends and SMITE, but neither took my fancy as much as Valve’s Dota 2. I do definitely recommend playing both of those games: League is obviously the more popular MOBA for a reason; and SMITE is a great game for those looking to get into the genre – with recent polishing it’s certainly a solid game in of itself. Blizzard is likely aiming Heroes at the kind of gamer that SMITE has attracted in those that are looking to get into the MOBA genre but have been too cautious of the community that games like Dota and League have produced. That’s not to say that Heroes won’t have these kind of players, but I’m expecting at worst Barrens chat to begin with… Having said that, I hope Blizz introduces Mankrik at some point!

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Heroes

At the moment, we know that 22 heroes are in HotS: 10 from Warcraft, 7 from Starcraft and 5 from Diablo. It’s not surprising that Warcraft has the highest representation, and I’m sure we’ll continue to see more heroes from Warcraft than we will the other Blizzard franchises. According to rumours and certain game files, we might even see the Lost Vikings turn up, for those of you who have followed Blizzard for many, many years! Although I have to say, characters from Blackthorne and Rock n Roll Racing are likely to make people wonder who they are and why they are supposed Heroes in this game – I’d have to say I’d draw the line at Lost Vikings myself anyway.

Oddly enough from the characters I’ve seen in videos and what I’ve read about them, I really enjoy the playstyle of a lot of the Starcraft Heroes. Abathur, Nova and Tassadar are all Heroes that I’m likely going to be maining on their rotation, though I’ll try to unlock Abathur as soon as possible so I can be all pro and stuff on him. Totally. For those that don’t know how he plays, he can tunnel across the map to anywhere out of the fog of war and create nests that will blow up on enemies running over them – great for split pushing in itself, but his real strength is in his first ability, Symbiote and his heroic ability, Ultimate Evolution.

My Life for Aiu… I mean Abathur

iconabathurSymbiote allows Abathur to jump inside allied heroes, minions or towers, shielding them and gaining new abilities to use while inside someone… On a 4sec cooldown. I can totally see him jumping from hero to hero, depending on who’s getting focused, to shield them, while also keeping an eye on where Abathur was to make sure he doesn’t get focused. While inside someone else, he also has access to a line-nuke and a point blank AoE nuke. His main weakness as a result is that Abathur is very dependent on his team to be positioned well – he doesn’t have much combat presence outside of Symbiote, and he is vulnerable if his allies don’t capitalise and play more aggressively as a result of having an Abathur on their team. Communication is also key as well, random initiations won’t work out well if the rest of the team aren’t with you!

Creep Tumours are his second ability, placing up to three tumours on the map, providing vision and exploding on enemy contact. Excellent for scouting out ganks for the former, and great for team fights to be able to push aggressively, as the enemy will fear stepping on these mines when every point of health can matter. Deep Tunnel, as already mentioned is a global teleport – some maps have positional requirements like Dragon Shire where Abathur could have a Tumour at the Shrine, then as soon as the Obelisk of the Moon and Obelisk of the Sun are captured, he can teleport instantly to the Dragon Altar to get his team a huge advantage. It’s also a useful escape mechanic if things do get hairy, or if he finds himself in a bad position after a team fight, he can quickly Deep Tunnel behind a tower and continue being a nuisance. He uses Deep Tunnel instead of a mount, so unfortunately I won’t be able to see my worm on a pwnie. Sad times.

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While Abathur only has one heroic ability to choose from, the impact it has will change on a game to game basis regardless. He creates a copy of an allied hero and takes control of it, with its attributes based on Abathur’s level/talents. Think about it, you could have two Raynors calling down Hyperions on the battlefield, or maybe you need to be a bit more defensive in the next team fight, so Evolve Uther and stack/stagger Divine Shields or spam heals on your team. The possibilities are endless, and as a result Abathur is going to be one of the higher skill cap Heroes in the game. He’ll need a working knowledge of all his team mates, and how best to use what Ultimate Evolution when or to simply Symbiote for smaller skirmishes.

His heroic trait is passively spawning minions that will push the nearest lane, and this is where I feel that Abathur’s biggest downfall is. His minions will be pushing the lane way too early, and as such his split push potential may harm his team in the early game. While Abathur doesn’t have much combat presence in himself, his strength is in assisting his team mates. I don’t know what his heroic trait should be, but this forces Abathur to split lanes whenever his lane appears to be pushed too far, especially in the early game when you don’t want to be underneath the enemy towers. Maybe with secondary objectives this might work out in his favour, but in classic MOBA strategies, this isn’t a good one. In mid-late game however, I more than welcome his capabilities of split pushing and keeping the enemy team pinned in their own base. I wonder if his babies will give free farm however…

Abathur-Concept-ArtHis other main weakness is that he’s overall… Well, as squishy as a worm. His HP and HP Regen are the lowest of all Heroes we know about so far. His attack damage and speed are also in a similar boat. If he’s the sole survivor of a team fight and the rest of the team are pushing down on his base, he’s done something wrong, and there’s not a lot he can do in that situation other than hide in a tower or creep wave. Similarly, if he’s the first to die, he’s done something wrong and he needs to watch his positioning. Silly deaths are silly, but the overall role of the support is not to run away from his own team, unless his survival can change the match.

Words can’t describe how excited I am to try out Abathur: despite me not enjoying the multiplayer aspect of Starcraft, he has to be my favourite character in the campaign, if not the entire Blizzard universe. The fact that although he’s listed as a specialist, he is very much a support – a role that I am more than comfortable with in MOBAs (though with shared gold and no item shop in HotS, I might give Warriors and Assassins a good shot here). I have no idea if I’ll do another hero spotlight before I get my teeth into HotS, as I’m sure even most of the things here will change by the time beta comes out, let alone live, but if another hero takes my fancy, I might do another… Here’s looking at you, Tassadar (and totally not checking out more than just Nova’s skills, ahem).

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