Blizzcon 2011 Wrap-Up

Let me shake out this awesome Foo Fighters-induced hangover... Okay, there we go. Hey Bearders! This year's Blizzcon? It was awesome! So awesome, in fact, that I'm here to do a quick wrap-up, touching base with each of Blizzard's 'Big 3', and mentioning important news, updates, and overall letting you know the future plans of one of the gaming industries top-tier developers. Blizzard's made a career out of taking existing ideas, and crafting them to a perfect sheen, and this year is proof positive that things haven't changed.

I also know, though, that not everyone is a Blizzard fan. Sure, Blizzard and Games Workshop have had some 'history' with one another, and you probably have a close friend that's hopelessly addicted to World of Warcraft, but I'll do my best not only to cover the news and announcements in the most non-intrusive way possible, but I'll ask the honest question, point-blank: Why should you care? With that, let's get started!

THE SCOOP: This year, as a suprise to nobody, Starcraft's main panel discussions were covering the upcoming expansion pack, Heart of the Swarm. A heavy focus was given on the lore of this expansion, showing that while Wings of Liberty focused on re-establishing the Starcraft brand in the general consensus, Heart of the Swarm is looking to deliver a direct narrative thread, one that's been hanging in the balance for upwards of a decade.

A Starcraft showing wouldn't truly be Starcraft without a heavy emphasis dedicated to the game's mutliplayer, which was covered in its own independent panel. Each race is getting three new units to patch up some rough spots with class balance, and each unit addition is looking to literally change the game. A Terran zapper-field that fries zerg rushes? I'll take seven, please. Get a better look at the newest units (and a nice story synopsis, as well) in the Blizzcon 2011 Heart of the Swarm trailer:

WHY SHOULD I CARE?: It's simple: If you're a fan of macro-strategy, and economic management in a fast-paced setting, Starcraft 2 is the game for you. If you're not, Starcraft 2 could be the game to change your mind. I've had many stories, encounters, and escapades in Starcraft 2 since launch (including being in an online-streamed, worldwide invitational tournament!), and can say with authority, that there's no better Real Time Strategy title for newcomers to learn. Blizzard's mantra has always been 'Easy to learn, difficult to master', and Starcraft is the epitome of the mindset. No matter if you enjoy solid storytelling, competitive multiplayer, or a way to goof off with friends, Starcraft has you covered.

Starcraft 2's mod tools are unbelievable, as well. This year, they're adding full-on "Arcade Marketplace" support for user-made content, Cinematic editors for machinima creators, and Blizzard-created add-ons, such as the newly shown Blizzard DOTA. The effect that the original DOTA has had on the gaming industry in recent years is undeniable, and Blizzard's outspoken about continuing to support this sort of user-created goodness.

 

THE SCOOP: I was only partially right on the latest Beardcast, seeing as how I predicted that Blizzcon 2011 would be primarily Diablo themed. While the show definitely had more Diablo 3 content than ever before (by a wide margin), every title got an equal share of love. We learned about the world in which Diablo 3 takes place in, reveals of key plot characters, and in a move that outright shocked me, they've given a name to the Wanderer (otherwise known as the player character in the original Diablo). It seems as though while the world of Diablo is still the beasts and demons we've come to expect, the overall tone of the franchise is getting more sinister. I mean, as if the personification of Satan himself attacking the world wasn't dark enough for you, we've come to a point where characters are at a crossroads: The demons are well aware of your plans, and are three steps ahead of you at any given time. Seemingly gone are the days of 'I would've gotten away with it, too, if not for you meddling kids!' villians, and they've been replaced with evil tipping the scales, and having total control, placing us (the players) at a disadvantage right out of the gate. Ah, who am I kidding, I'm sure Chris Metzen and the lore panel can explain things much, much better than I can:

 They've done a great job at differentiating between World of Warcraft and Diablo: It's very clear, these two titles are night and day. Whereas WoW has existed as a 'platform' of sorts for Blizzard's smaller ideas (more on that later), Diablo's a very focused experience. A world that is inhabited, and fully changed, is WoW's mantra. Diablo's a more instanced ordeal, as you enjoy an intimate questing experience with close friends. Yes, the introduction of the Real Money Auction House is going to change a few dynamics, but considering that every weapon and armor drop in the game is random, there will be no limit on the economic variances: A weapon that is absolutely useless to your Witch Doctor may be the greatest asset on the Auction House to a Barbarian, and you'll get paid accordingly. It's this sense of the unknown (also perpetuated by the randomized world maps) that has always been the appeal of Diablo as a franchise.

WHY SHOULD I CARE?: To put it fairly bluntly, the success (or failure) of Blizzard's Real Money Auction House can change the way non-MMO videogames are paid for, played, and experienced. There's also an open agreement to gamers at the moment: If Blizzard can find a tangible, solid way to adapt Diablo 3 into a console experience, it'll be coming to consoles, period. If not, no dice. It's a very direct approach, to be sure, but for a major company to be so open and truthful about the current multiplatform development process is enriching. Also, it's fucking Diablo, man! DIAAABLLLOOOO!

 

THE SCOOP: Now here's where the article's gonna get a little preachy. We're all aware that WoW's new expansion, Mists of Pandaria, has pandas. Oh noes! It's also introducing sweeping changes to the core game mechanics (no more talent points, no central villian, WoW Pokemon, a 'Looking For Raid' utility), something that's fairly ballsy for a well-established front-runner to do. WoW's numbers may be "slipping", but saying that an MMO is going from 12 million subscribers to 10 million subscribers, and using that point as 'proof of Blizzard's failings' is laughable at best, and simply idiotic at worst. World of Warcraft is THE game at the moment (and has been for half a decade), and can safely lose more subscribers than other games in the genre have comfortably kept, combined.

Even without that stale argument to fall back on, let's talk about this whole panda thing. The internet is exploding, seeing the Pandaren race having an entire expansion dedicated to themselves. As for me? I say it's about time we get away from the onslaught of nonsense that's been happening lately. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Blizzard lore guy, but I'm sick of each and every story addition being more 'epic', 'sweeping', 'world shattering', and 'unbelievable' than ever before. There's only so many times I get can get excited by seeing the villian of the week, whether it be Arthas, Illidan, Ragnaros, or most recently, Deathwing (when patch 4.3 drops). Here, I display a fake passage of pure hyperbole, written for comedic effect to prove a point:

IN A TIME OF GREAT CHAOS, THE VERY SEAMS AND FABRICS OF TIME SHALL ROLL FORTH, UNBRIDLED IN THEIR FURY, AS THEY ENCOMPASS AND COVER EACH TORMENTED SOUL THAT DARES CHALLENGES IT. THE GREAT DRAGON ZIMBABOBOBOBOBO HAS LUSTED FOR FLESH FOR CENTURIES, AND IS NOW YOURS TO KILL ONCE A WEEK FOR SOME PRIZE TOKENS TO UPGRADE YOUR GEAR. TREMBLE WITH POOP AS BLAH BLAH STUPID

I mean, at some point, enough is enough. Hell, I'm all about crazed fantasy and ridiculous fictional circumstances (fun fact: I bought a physical Warcraft lore book today), but when you've had nothing but world-ending nonsense for 3 solid years, it's time for a break. The answer? Pandaria.

 

In Pandaria, Blizzard's introducing a race they established back in 2003, in Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne. Chen Stormstout was one of my favorite mercenaries in the game, and I always wondered what the heritage and backstory were for him and his people. The expansion is taking place in a completely neutral territory that has been unaffected by the chaos that has plauged Azeroth for the past few years. There are some wonderful benefits from this, both from a gameplay and a story perspective: Firstly, World of Warcraft has lost some of its wonderment for me over the past few months, simply because I've seen alot of the content in the game. Alot. I can make my way around the world with ease, and could draw you a map of any particular zone on a napkin, but there's no sense of exploration anymore. With Pandaria, I have absolutely no idea what to expect, and that sense of the unknown is definitely a welcome change. Also, the fact that there's no centralized villian is a huge benefit to the game, as there will be no more 'Horde and Alliance hate one another, BUT they should team up to take out __________' storytelling techniques: It's back to the way it should be, and that's player versus player, faction versus faction, duking it out to know who reigns supreme over this new, untampered territory.

WHY SHOULD I CARE?: Blizzard has balls of steel. The fact of the matter is, there's tons of lore that they could've used to shovel out another expansion, and satiate the already rabid fanbase. They could've thrown in a few menial gameplay tweaks, and a rebalance of certain class aspects, and called it a day. Instead, they've reinvented themselves in a way that no other company has the balls (or to be fair, money and shareholder interest) to attempt. Using a much more carefree, easy-going race as the new faction was a big gamble, and one that I hope pays off. For those of you that feel like having pandas in your game will 'ruin the sanctity' of Azeroth, or somehow diminish your super amazing badass Sephiroth-wannabe "I walk alone, and don't play by nobody's rules" character, go screw yourself.

Let's pull out the weirdness of the Draenei, for god sake. It's a literal blue alien species with hooves that just so happened to crash onto the planet, and had never existed beforehand in Warcraft. How are you liking your newly specced Tauren, which, for the record, is a walking cow? How about that one time that the Goblins did the Souljaboy dance? Dwarves in Ironforge talking about taking blue and red pills to enter the vortex? Un'Goro Crater existing of gorillas that drop barrels, a boy with amnesia named Linken, and the two fighting brothers, Muigin and Larion?

Yes, Warcraft can have extremely provocative and emotional storytelling, but the reason why the franchise is so well-loved in the gaming community, is Blizzard also knows when to reel in the drama, for the sake of context, and for the sake of fun.

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Alright, gang, that's a wrap! Blizzcon was amazing this year, and as you can probably tell by my 2000-word article, I have an inherent love for this company, and the fictional universes it creates. The support they not only give their products, but their fanbase, is staggering, and in my opinion, is the reason for their continued success in the industry. Blizzard's definitely a company whose vision isn't necessarily for everyone, but no matter who you are, if you're a fan of PC gaming or not, I urge you to give at least one of their titles a chance, whether it be the World of Warcraft Starter Kit (free!), or the Starcraft 2 Starter Kit (free!), just to get your feet wet. There's a full family of fellow gamers here to greet you with open arms, and whether you're a newcomer, or a true nerd historian like myself, there's something to truly love.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some Warcraft lore to read. Until next time, Bearders! Lok'tar Ogar!