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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Weekly Roundup: ExcitedSoup Heads to BlizzCon 2014!

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Whether it was a gift or a curse last night to be suddenly struck with a minor case of manflu, while feeling terrible and sorry for myself it helped me stay awake until 3am for BlizzCon tickets to go on sale in the UK (damn time zones…)! The very first batch of tickets were gone within seconds, and I mean seconds: I was hastily refreshing the EventBrite page from about 02:55 just in case the tickets went out early, and sure enough they did. Although it was at 02:59 on my clock when the “N/A” button turned active, I tried to grab my ticket. I was put into the waiting room for about 30-40secs, before realising my fear when it sent me back to the BlizzCon booking page, notifying me that the tickets were now unavailable.

Within seconds, just as my PC’s clock turned 03:00, tickets were all booked up! Knowing that you had an 8min timeout period, I still clung onto hope that one of three things would happen:

  • People who were group-buying tickets for their friends ended up having their friends also get in, so canceled their order for tickets.
  • People who weren’t prepared but so hyped about trying to get tickets, ended up fumbling through the form and timing out after 8mins.
  • People were jerks who were just going to sit on the ticket page and let it time out, without any intention of actually buying tickets.

Fortunately enough, I stuck around constantly refreshing the page “just in case” – I’d have given up after about 20mins and just tried again on Saturday otherwise, but sure enough a few minutes later, the “Unavailable” tag turned live again and again as I tried to get my ticket. Then finally at about 03:15 I managed to grab my ticket! I think I actually squeaked, thanks to the cold (totally…!) and am now looking forward to this November, when I’ll be heading out to my first BlizzCon – heck, my first convention altogether! I’m so stoked, it’s now just to book flights and hotels, and to extend my holiday at work as I originally just had the two convention days for the virtual ticket, and hopefully I’ll get to meet some awesome people while I’m down there!

Apologies for the lack of roundup earlier in the week, so I’ll do a quick one at the end of this post. I have to admit not an awful lot has gone on in the past week – with extra time off work last week I ended up writing an extra blog article, and updated my side-panel so that my Hero Spotlights in Heroes would be much easier to access, as I imagine when more and more heroes become spotlighted, it might be a bit more difficult to scroll through if you wanted to find out about one of the earlier spotlights such as Kerrigan or Tyrael. The gravity on the home brew was finally stable, so we bottled that up and we should be enjoying around 40 pints of bitter in around a couple of weeks time! It’s certainly a cheaper way to enjoy beer, but we’ll have to see how it tastes first.

Hero Spotlight: Kerrigan

Shifting from WoW and into Heroes of the Storm once again, and we have a new hero spotlight and trailer! Featuring the most badass queen from Blizzard’s games, I’m really digging the style of these trailers that Blizz are showing us to introduce Heroes into the Nexus. Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, is a major character in the StarCraft franchise, making her first appearance in the original RTS, becoming the central character in its expansion, Brood War, appearing once again in Wings of Liberty before taking another central role in Heart of the Swarm. She’ll likely appear in Legacy of the Void, but that expansion won’t be focusing on her as much as Brood War or Heart of the Swarm did.

She also appears in the novels Uprising (a prequel to StarCraft); Liberty’s Crusade and Queen of Blades (a novelisation of the original StarCraft games); in Shadow of the Xel’Naga (set between StarCraft and Brood War) and finally in The Dark Templar Saga (the precursor to Wings of Liberty).

In Heroes, she is a fairly high skillcap melee Assassin hero that can leap into battle, pull enemies toward as well as shield herself with her attacks. From what I’ve seen of her, she’s a pure assassin and doesn’t really fill other roles in the game other than perhaps a split pusher – so if Blizzard’s matchmaking system fails and you roll with two other assassins, just tell the Tychus to spec into a tanky assassin, as YOU’RE the one who will be dealing the damage. Please note that at the time of writing this article, Heroes of the Storm is in technical alpha, and I’m not in the alpha to be able to check live updates, so chances are that some of the numbers may have been tweaked and are yet to be updated on online sources.

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Assimilation_Icon[Trait] Assimilation: 10% of attack damage and 20% of ability damage is turned into shields for 6 seconds. The shield’s maximum value increases as you level.

  • [Level 4 Upgrade] Fury of the Swarm: Basic Attacks splash for 50% damage around Kerrigan.
  • [Level 13 Upgrade] Lingering Essence: Assimilation Shield duration increased to 12 seconds.

This gives Kerrigan staying power in lane to be able to take a few rogue hits onto her. The shield isn’t massive, the current maximum the shield can withstand is only 200 damage, but as a passive trait it’s certainly enough for Kerrigan to essentially be able to give herself an extra 200 health, or continually creating that shield within team fights. Certainly as a melee hero she needs this kind of thing to be able to keep up the assassin role, especially as her escapes aren’t entirely that reliable. Upgrades to the trait give Kerrigan the ability to build the shield up faster, and to allow her to easily move from lane to lane without having to build up that shield again. Although talents will change on a per-game basis, the first upgrade seems superior to others in the tier (though Psionic Pulse may win out, I’ll have to play some to see how it feels), though I can’t see the second upgrade being superior to Sprint, in the same tier, let alone the situational effectiveness of the other talents in the tier.

Ravage_Icon[Q] Ravage: Leaps to a target, dealing 450 (70 + 20 per level) damage.

  • [Level 1 Upgrade] Siphoning Impact: Kerrigan heals for 20% of the damage dealt by Ravage.
  • [Level 7 Upgrade] Clean Kill: If Ravage kills the enemy, its cooldown is immediately reset and 90% of its Mana cost is returned.
  • [Level 13 Upgrade] Eviscerate: Increases the range of Ravage by 2.

The thing with Kerrigan, is that all of her abilities are incredibly iconic, unlike my previous spotlight with Tyrael. Pouncing around all over the place, it’s hard to escape a Kerrigan unless you have decent escapes yourself. All of her abilities get a potential upgrade at level 1 as well as the Path of the Assassin, so Siphoning Impact may lose out as our role as an assassin is to eat face. Supports can do our healing for us, and a heal for 14-90 health doesn’t seem to great, unless you also go for Clean Kill and use it to heal up in split pushes. However, this viability diminishes as you lose out on Impaling Swarm, one of the stronger options to push down lanes with extra pets to send down there. Eviscerate is a fairly good option for the tier, especially against heroes that might try to escape the Queen of Blades, and it gives you that little extra edge in surprise attacks.

Impaling_Blades_Icon[W] Impaling Blades: Deals 1050 (290 + 40 per level) damage to enemies within the target area, stunning them for 1 second.

  • [Level 1 Upgrade] Sharpened Blades: Impaling Blades deals 15% more damage.
  • [Level 7 Upgrade] Impaling Swarm: Impaling Blades also spawns 3 Zerglings at the target location.
  • [Level 16 Upgrade] Blade Torrent: Increases the size of Impaling Blades by 50%.

Her strongest nuke as well as a stun, this is easily one of an assassin’s favourite abilities as Kerrigan, and the level 1 upgrade can be a strong contender against Path of the Assassin when you know you can land the stun, and you need the massive damage it provides. Combined with Primal Grasp, you can easily grip a bunch of enemies toward you and nuke/stun them all, while an Ultralisk is cleaving them down or your Maelstrom whittles them away. Impaling Swarm is another strong contender in the tier, especially if you go for the split push option where you can send little minions down the lane to tank for you (and munch face) while you can focus elsewhere on objectives or teamfights. Blade Torrent can help with enemies that do spread out a little more, so you can hit multiple with the stun, but with Primal Grasp on such a low cooldown I don’t see much use in the talent, especially with others in the tier.

Primal_Grasp_Icon[E] Primal Grasp: Pulls enemies within the target area towards Kerrigan, dealing 310 (63 + 13 per level) damage.

  • [Level 1 Upgrade] Sweeping Grasp: Increases the range of Primal Grasp by 20%.
  • [Level 4 Upgrade] Psionic Pulse: Casting Primal Grasp gives Kerrigan an aura that deals 30 damage over 5 seconds in a small area around her.

Primal Grasp is Kerrigan’s AoE grip, great for enemies that are trying to escape when they realise you have them targeted, as well as making heroes like Sgt. Hammer or Abathur panic when you pull them out of position. It deals a low amount of damage too, but its biggest draw is in the grip, followed up by you being able to stun with your W. Both of the upgrades for her E come early, so the theme for Primal Grasp will be defined early into the game. The first upgrade is decent to catch those quicker heroes, or if your latency is high and you need the buffer, but overall I’m still leaning toward Path or Sharpened Blades. Similarly Psionic Pulse deals quite a low amount of damage (unless that’s the level 4 damage, and it does scale higher… Gimme the game so I can test this!) so against other talents in the tier you may not end up taking this. Though an AoE grip with an AoE DOT does indeed sound like a great combo, I just feel that the ability isn’t there for the damage.

76px-Summon_Ultralisk_Icon[R] Summon Ultralisk: Summons an Ultralisk that deals 200 (48 + 8 per level) damage. Attacks splash to nearby enemies for 100 (24 + 4 per level) damage. Lasts for 20 seconds.

  • [Level 20 Upgrade] Torrasque: Ultralisk duration and health increased by 100%.

While she may be able to summon three little puppies through a talented Impaling Blades, it’s nothing in comparison to the hound itself, the Ultralisk! While he’s not as flashy as Maelstrom, and if you can’t micro well (I don’t even know if he is controllable?) he doesn’t feel like he makes a big impact in fights in comparison to Kerrigan’s other ulti. However, he makes a great candidate for pushing, and it gives enemies another target to hit that’s slowly eating away at the enemy team. With the talent he gets even tankier and lasts 40secs, and with the 80sec cooldown it allows the ult to be active for half the rest of the match, which is pretty insane! In comparison to the teleport and the cleave you get at level 20, again it depends on the match but overall I feel that Bolt of the Storm (teleport) or Torrasque will be the main options here.

Maelstrom_Icon[R] Maelstrom: Deals 150 (55 + 5 per level) damage per second to enemies nearby. Lasts for 12 seconds.

  • [Level 20 Upgrade] Omegastorm: Maelstrom size increased by 25%. Amount of Assimilation Shields generated by Maelstrom increased by 100%.

Maelstrom, Kerrigan’s other option, deals much more DPS than the Ultralisk does and contributes much more to your trait, but it does have the drawback lower duration and longer cooldown. Depending on how often you need Maelstrom to be up (depending on maps with their objectives, like you can save Maelstrom for the Dragon Knight each time, or an Abathur may use you for Ultimate Evolution to completely wipe out a team) it may on occasion be the superior choice. But in concept I prefer the Ultralisk and until I get to play around with both, I’m sticking to the other ulti. However, if you do pick up Maelstrom, Omegastorm is a certain way to increase your survivability and staying power in team fights, especially when the other options don’t seem anywhere near as powerful for your role to kill people. Well, Fury of the Storm might help, but with the amount of times that people will be running from you, the upgrade just seems more viable while you spam your abilities.

Kerrigan

 

 

 

There’s only two skins available to Kerrigan at the moment: her basic skin and her Warcraft crossover to turn her into a succubus. With how little I play the assassin role in MOBAs, again I doubt I’ll be buying the skin for her, but I can certainly see that it’ll be a favourite skin among many fans of her. There was a datamined skin for her as well turning her into a countess with a Transylvanian vibe to her, which actually looks fantastic. Both skins are below for you to check out!

As a footnote, PAX East this weekend! Blizzard will be attending, and in Heroes news we have four new heroes, two of which which be playable straight off the bat at PAX, being announced! There are many heroes announced that aren’t in the game yet (something like 15 hinted at previous BlizzCons are yet to be ingame), though I’m hoping we see heroes from multiple franchises, and with Sylvanas and Chen featuring on so much artwork, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see those two. That leaves two non-Warcraft heroes to be implemented… Perhaps Leoric and Zagara from Diablo and StarCraft? Maybe we’ll see the Lost Vikings? We’ll find out before the weekend is over, and I’m sure I’ll do a general post, as well as spotlights further on down the line, so keep tuned!