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.

TGT

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

Overwatch

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?

Heroes of the Storm

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).

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Heroes Launch Detected, The Mayhem Begins and E3!

The game is finally live after around a year of player testing, and a whole whirl of exciting news has followed it! For one of the few times in Blizzard history, they decided to do the official launch event here in the UK, with a free celebration in cloudy London (which, when it was evening and indoors, didn’t really matter much anyway – we’re all nerds!) that left people feeling a little underwhelmed, in true modern Blizzard fashion. Let’s face it, even Hearthstone was just a switch-flip and suddenly it was live.

At least with Heroes and the London party, it had a little more pizzazz! What we got for the free event however was a pretty neat light show (shown here); a recap of what we already knew since BlizzCon 2014; the Johanna hero trailer; the same length of discussion about the game as the length of a Madeon gig; some awesome cosplay; a presenter that seemed like he didn’t know an awful lot about the game (when we had people like Khaldor and MFPallytime there who were both even interviewed), and some free swag. So there were lots of ups and downs, but the main downer in my opinion that for a launch event of a video game… We didn’t actually see any gaming going on other than the 20 PCs they had set up for. Key developers were there, the Yogscast were there, many famous streamers were there; I don’t think it would have been too much of a stretch to get a shoutcast going of a Blizzard Brawl or something.

Nevertheless, it was a free event that I probably wouldn’t have gone to if it wasn’t in the UK anyway, so I can’t complain too much – it was mainly a thank you to the players for supporting Blizzard over the past year. If we’d have known beforehand what to expect I’m pretty sure that people flying in from all over Europe (and I think I even heard an Aussie accent!) likely would have just watched YouTube at home.

Eternal Conflict map

The very next weekend however we were teased and presented with an event that included a matchup between Heroes of the Dorm winners UC Berkeley and pro team Cloud9 Maelstrom. It was a very close game to prove that the collegiate scene is very competitive when they held up so well against one of the best teams in the world – even if two of Berkeley’s team members were pro players Fan, who plays for Cloud9’s other team, Vortex, and Suppy, who plays for Evil Geniuses in Starcraft II. The game could have gone either way right up until the final team fight where 3 of Berkely’s players fell, and the remaining two could not defend against Cloud9’s five push through the lane’s final keep and eventually core.

That was followed shortly by BlizzCon 2014 Blizzard Brawl’s champions Low Expectations – Jesse Cox’s team – up against an assortment of streamers teaming up as The Challengers. Low Expectations used an unconventional lineup in using both Murky and Abathur, neither really seen on their own in pro play let alone together, but with Johanna, Brightwing and Jaina rounding out the team they managed to get plenty of global play, alongside massive sustainability with the warrior and just heavily pushed and forced The Challengers to split up enough for effective teamfights. In the end, although Low Expectations suffered more team deaths, they ended up winning through the brutal split push and objective domination. With amusing smack-talk and a much more relaxed atmosphere in comparison to the previous match, it definitely shows a different light on high-skill games.

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Next up we were teased with the first event coming to Heroes of the Storm – the Eternal Conflict! Already starting with Johanna the Crusader at launch, we’ll be seeing some Diablo-focused content for the next few months, and once we hit June 30th we’ll see the new battleground Battlefield of Eternity and new assassin, the Butcher! Looking at Butcher first, we were shown his entire kit, which looks as follows:

  • [Trait] Fresh Meat: Nearby minions drop 1 and heroes drop 3 fresh meat when they die, which you can pick up to gain 1% bonus attack damage. Can hold up to 25 meat. All meat is lost on dying.
  • [Q] Hamstring: Slams your axe down into the ground, dealing 40 damage and slowing units by 50%. This slow fades away over 2 seconds.
  • [W] Butcher’s Brand: Deal 32 damage to an enemy and cause your basic attacks against them to heal you for 75% of the damage done for 5 seconds. Healing doubled versus heroes.
  • [E] Rutheless Onslaught: Charge at an enemy, becoming unstoppable and gaining movement speed. If you reach the target, they are stunned for 1 second and take 110 damage.
  • [R1] Furnace Blast: After a 3 second delay, fire explodes around you dealing 685 damage to enemies. Can be cast while using Ruthless Onslaught.
  • [R2] Lamb for the Slaughter: Throw a hitching post that attaches to the nearest enemy hero after a 1 second delay. This deals 75 damage and causes the enemy to be chained to the post for 4 seconds.

There’s also a full list of talents ready for him to go out of the gate, so it’s a bit disappointing that the PTR isn’t testing him. Cited as being the Illidan counter, we also saw a matchup of heroes that are good with Butcher, and not so great against him, and I have to admit the heroes they picked for this (Diablo, Sylvanas, Tassadar, Rehgar and of course Illidan) is a setup you’d typically see in ranked play. To see that Butcher feeds well on this kind of set up is going to make July onwards very interesting for Heroes ranked and competitive play! It’ll be interesting to see if he’s balanced for assuming he has 12-15 stacks of Fresh Meat, or for 0 or even 25!

Not only do we have a new hero, but as I mentioned earlier we’ll also be seeing a new battleground coming to Heroes along with Butcher! The High Heavens and Burning Hells are at war with each other as always, and this two-lane map looks to be an interesting addition to the map roster:

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Looks pretty gorgeous, doesn’t it? I’ll likely do a breakdown of the map once I get my hands onto it for tips and tricks, but holy cow it looked good on the playtest match! The main map objective of two immortals duking it out anime-style, the mercs being Diablo themed… My only issue when we saw the playthrough was that the map objective didn’t really appear to do much, but we didn’t really see what a full powered immortal does down the lane.

Finally, E3 recently happened, and while there’s plenty of stuff that I could talk about there, Blizzard did appear at the PC Gaming Show on Tues 16th June and talked even more about what to expect over the next few weeks with the Eternal Conflict! It looks like they’re going to try to stick to their 3-4 week schedule of new heroes as we got information about two more heroes after Butcher – it hasn’t even been that long since we saw Johanna make her debut.

Leoric

The first hero announced was Leoric, as many Diablo players will recognise as the Skeleton King. While we don’t know too much about him in comparison to Butcher, what we do know is very interesting. Firstly, his trait allows him to never leave the field of battle, where upon death he turns into a wraith (similar to Uther) and cast spells. Instead of doing damage, these will slow enemies, but the damage he would have done reduces his respawn time. When he respawns, he comes back at full health wherever he ends up. I don’t know if he continues to earn exp or walks through obstacles like Uther’s ghost, but I can certainly see some heavy diving happening and potentially heavy feeding.

His Q will slow enemies in an arc in front of him; his W is a skillshot that will tether him to an enemy, draining their life and regenerating his; while E is similar to Sylvanas’s Haunting Wave, where he sends out a wraith that Leoric can control and teleport to. The first of his ultimates is called Entomb, which creates a U shape of tombs around a target, creating temporary walls that on first indication is a big massive “kill this target” or a decent way to trap enemies inside for a wombo combo. Definitely something I’d see the pro’s use, as different ways to control enemy movement is king (no pun intended). At level 20 this upgrades to tombstones with spikes. Because that makes sense.

His second heroic on the other hand is March of the Black King, which Diablo III players will recognise as his three massive swings while moving forward that deals huge damage while healing himself – while being unstoppable at the same time. Useful if you have someone like an ETC already keeping the enemies in place, or in maps where there are plenty of choke points to fight people in like Tomb of the Spider Queen. At level 20, this will upgrade it to cast his W on anyone nearby once done, allowing for massive survivability and staying within the fight.

Overall, he seems like quite a unique hero who’s trait aids in separating Heroes from the MOBA genre again. Leoric wasn’t the only thing teased at the PC Gaming Show however, we also found out about the Monk, rounding out the D3 roster of Nephalem with the exception of the Wizard! Not only that, but we also see Diablo’s first support (and Heroes’ second non-WoW support!). We know even less about this hero than we do Leoric, but from the Eternal Conflict trailer we can assume he gets Seven-Sided Strike, but one thing that Blizzard has mentioned is that at level 1 we get to choose what trait he gets to go with for the rest of the fight – one more support, one more tanky and one more of a damage dealer role, similar to his mantras in D3. Amazing for Quick Match, but if it holds him back in competitive play we’ll have to see.

Treasure Goblin

Regardless, it’s good for Blizzard to be branching out to make unique heroes that hopefully will continue to have different playstyles from each other, though we’ll see what happens when we get to rosters of 60+ heroes, let alone the 100 or more that League or Dota have. One thing that Blizzard mentioned that was pretty fun to hear was that at the start of each map during the Eternal Conflict event will have a Treasure Goblin at the start of each battle, and if you kill him before he escapes you’ll earn extra gold at the end of the match! I can only imagine the rage people will have if you fail to kill him… “GG NOT ENOUGH DPS TO KILL GOBLIN MAY AS WELL QUIT NOW!”

Overall, it looks like a fantastic event that will bring the roster of Diablo heroes to at least 10 by the end of it, some awesome skins with Archangel Diablo (and what appears to be an update to Demonic Tyrael?) as well as a bunch of cross-universe skins from Butcher and Leoric too! It was a badly represented universe, especially in comparison to the slew of Warcraft heroes we had received. I’d hope that it doesn’t mean that when it’s over, it’ll be half a year until we see more Diablo heroes again (if we go 12 weeks per event) as I’d really love to see the final Nephalem, as well as more angels like Imperius, Malthael and Auriel, and of course more of the Evils like Belial, Baal and Mephisto. For some reason, Diablo characters just seem far more suited for Heroes than other universes.

 

Weekly Roundup: Happy Birthday Diablo!

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Diablo 3 came out two years ago! Two years! That’s time gone by so quickly it’s unbelievable. To celebrate, Blizzard have increased legendary drop rate by 100% and will earn double rift fragments on their bounties from 15th-22nd May. Take a wild guess as to where the majority of my gaming time has been this week… If you guessed it was Hello Kitty: Island Adventure I’ll have to disappoint.

I’ve actually spent a lot less time than I’ve wanted the past few days starting the anniversary holiday in Diablo, but I’d still say a sizable chunk of my online time has been on there. I’ve managed to get new boots, new shoulders and my first Tal Rasha’s piece on my Wizard so far. I’m also certainly enjoying the increased drop rate of the worse legendaries just to get more Forgotten Souls to get better reforges and whatnot.

With news of patch 5.4.8 on the horizon, and gear upgrades going up another 8 item levels for SoO gear, we decided on halting progression on Blackfuse for the time being, to get some more gear improvements through either gearing alts/bench players, getting Warforged gear or generally getting upgrades through other means (still no Immerseus trinket though, QQ). When the patch drops, we can upgrade 8 items in the first week if they’re already 2/2 upgrades to 4/4, so hopefully on next Sunday’s raid we can get a bigger dent into Blackfuse by being able to take care of the belt or mines or whatever just that little bit easier. Sure, we’re struggling on mechanics, but getting rid of those mechanics faster might be that push we need to get onto Paragons, and then Garrosh himself.

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It’s good that Blizz are looking at new ways of nerfing content: In ICC we saw the zone-wide buff to players’ health, healing and damage; in Dragon Soul, tier 14 and Throne of Thunder bosses received health and damage reductions in a zonewide debuff on them all; and now Blizzard are looking to buff players again, but in a new fashion of us being able to choose where we upgrade our gear to do more damage or healing, or get more health. Over time, it will act similar to the 5/10/15/etc% stacking (de)buffs, but the immediate punch to those of us with 3k valor already will notice a significant difference straight away.

I know instanced PvP has an item level cap, but I wonder if world PvP will be impacted by those that will end up having full 588 HCWF gear, against those Prideful PVPers with only 550 iLvl. Is this Blizzard preparing for perhaps another PvP season before Warlords is out? I’m certainly hoping for more expansion details soon, as I’m pretty sure it won’t be a happy BlizzCon if there’s no Warlords out by then… Though having said that, even a month before BlizzCon would be awkward for the race to world first – unless we end up having a live raid between Method and Blood Legion or whatever at BlizzCon to watch them attempt new bosses right in front of us.