Blizzcon 2013 Wrap-Up Part 2

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Diablo's Return To Form, Heroes Of The Storm Shifts The Landscape

With not much on the Starcraft and Hearthstone front, and the odd dismissal of Titan, it seems that the weight of this year’s Blizzcon was on the shoulders of Warcraft, and Diablo. Couple this with the fact that Blizzard announced Diablo 3’s first expansion, Reaper of Souls, mere weeks before Blizzcon, it didn’t seem like there was much more to cover. The devil’s in the details, as they say, and this year they expanded on changes they’ve promised, and in many ways returned to what makes Diablo such a storied franchise.

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We knew the overarching details from Reaper of Souls: No more Auction House, an additional act, and a new character class. While I was excited by these announcements (namely the removal of the Auction House, which we’ll get to in a bit), there still didn’t seem to be the ‘something special’ that I felt was missing from Diablo 3 as a whole. There was a certain flair, flavor, and addictive quality in Diablo 2 that just didn’t resonate in Diablo 3, and couple the fact that I’d already beaten the story, there didn’t seem to be much reason to go back to the well, so to speak. Little did I know that Blizzard was working overtime for people just like me, in more ways than one.

From the above video, you can see the three main changes in the way Diablo 3 will deliver your monster-killing escapades: Adventure Mode, Nephalem Rifts, and Clan Support.

Adventure Mode is a non-story, open-exploration mode that will reward player exploration, and nonstop monster slaying. Every waypoint from every act in the game is automatically unlocked, and new quest types called ‘Bounties’ will be given. Bounties can range from everything to clearing out a certain area, discovering a specific region of the map, to killing specific monsters or bosses. You’ll be rewarded for each Bounty you complete, and a full new set of random Bounties will begin with each play session. This open structure might not be for everyone though, so if you’re craving the story-driven Campaign that you’re used to in Diablo 3, you can change back to Campaign Mode at the click of a button.
 

Nephalem Rifts (also called ‘loot runs’) are small portals that will open in the world after turning in Rift Keystones, transporting you to a fully randomized area of the game, where rules are meant to be broken. Perhaps you’ll be sent to a 10 floor dungeon filled with bosses and a few mobs from every Act in the game, or a 2 dungeon super-dungeon filled to the brim with more treasure goblins than you can handle? It’s all randomized, and players can even expect to get random bonuses or debuffs depending on the luck of the draw. Some of the dev team calls Nephalem Rifts a way to “break all of the rules”, so when I say anything can happen, I mean it. Gulp.

Clan Support is just a small snippet shown in the first video I posted, but it’s a fun addition nonetheless. An easy way to keep track of friends, the clan’s overall progress, and characters is a fantastic addition, especially considering the Auction House is going away. This will allow friends to truly work together, trade gear, and have fun experiences INSIDE the game, instead of farming equipment for the sole purpose of selling on the Auction House.

On a personal note, when I saw the ‘Roster’ layout page continued the chat channel tradition of Diablo 2 (players in full gear across the bottom of the page with names) I let out a cheer in my seat. My two year old daughter stared at me, to which I gave her a thumbs up. She clapped, as she knows how badass of an addition this is. Plus, something tells me all of my years of loot running on the USWest ladder in Diablo 2 has somehow sculpted her very DNA, and the fact that there was positive Diablo news automatically causes her to cheer on a very primal, instinctual level.

All of these things, though, take a backseat to the brilliant move of removing the Auction House. I’ve spoken about it before on various Nitrobeard podcasts and articles, but the Auction House took the fun out of Diablo 3 for me: I never felt like I was actually enjoying the content the game had to offer, because no matter what I found in my game, there was always something infinitely better on the Auction House. There was no incentive to get money, because any money found in the game would invariably have to be saved to purchase something on the Auction House. I missed the days of finding a true rare weapon, and bartering in chat rooms with other players in order to make solid trades. You needed some Stones of Jordan, and I needed a Unique Fleshripper? Let’s make a deal. The Auction House took the personality out of the trading mechanics, and everything became a transaction, a cold purchase that had no character: It isolated players where there used to be community.

This is bringing that sense of community back to the franchise I loved so dearly, and couple this with the new Adventure Mode, the always random Nephalem Rifts, and the addition of a brand new Act and character class, and we have ourselves a winner. Welcome back, Diablo. I missed you.

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For better or worse, the MOBA genre exists because of Blizzard. What started as a mod in Warcraft 3 has exploded into a juggernaut in the gaming industry, with world tournaments, various games, and a new lexicon of gaming vocabulary. Oddly enough, though, the most popular entries into the MOBA genre (DOTA 2, League of Legends) haven’t changed very much from the original Warcraft 3 mod, and in many respects, reward themselves for outright replicating it.

In comes Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s first stand-alone entry into the very genre it helped create. Instead of overburdened metagames, Blizzard’s trying to simplify the process of gameplay. Instead of battling on a set map, Blizzard’s bringing some variety to the battlefields. No more hour-long games as the standard, Heroes of the Storm is looking to shorten the playtime of each match to an impressive 15 minutes, meaning it’s much easier to jump in, get a match in, and jump out, no huge time commitment required.

Heroes of the Storm is a free to play game, focusing on the major players from all of Blizzard’s franchises. You’ll see Arthas, Jim Raynor, Kerrigan, Nova, Tyrael, Diablo, and many more do battle, and that’s pretty fantastic news for me. I’ve always found the biggest barrier to entry into the MOBA style of games isn’t the playstyle, and isn’t the metagame, but connecting with the characters: How can I tell apart 100 characters, DOTA 2? I don’t know what half of these characters do, League of Legends. With Heroes of the Storm, I have a set of characters I’ve known for over 15 years in some respects, so the connection is already there. Now, I know this may not be the case for everyone, but it’s a pretty big deal for me.

Being a big lore nerd is going to help, as well. I may not know the exact function of every move as soon as I log on, but when Jimmy Raynor calls in a Battlecruiser, I know it means to get out of there. When Arthas summons Sapphiron, I know this party has kicked it up a notch. It’ll be a much easier learning curve, and I’ll be able to focus on the deeper mechanics, once the basics sink in.

The addition of dynamic maps, with various goals, is a huge help too. Sure you’ll have your PvP combat, but you’ll also have to work together with your team in order to win each objective, such as collecting bones in the Haunted Mines in order to build a super-skeleton that destroys everything in his path. Or, we can collect some treasure in Blackhand’s Bay, using it to hire a crazed pirate ship that will rain down explosions on our enemies. Couple this with the fact there’s that fun Blizzard sense of humor (Diablo riding a horse in the trailer, for instance), and some fun cosmetic things for each character, and you have a winner on your hands in my book.

Oh yes, it’s hammy, it’s silly, it’s badass, and it’s set to buttrock. The MOBA genre needs a bit of fun thrown in, and I’m happy to see that Blizzard realizes this. They’re taking the mechanics of the game very seriously, but they understand the hilarity of these characters waging war for no apparent reason.

I can’t wait to hop on the battlefield with you all. Let the buttrock flow through you, and let it guide you in your path to righteousness, friends.

All-in-all this Blizzcon was a huge success, and a ‘back to the basics’ approach after a shaky 2012 seems to be where Blizzard truly shines. Bringing back exploration and discovery to Diablo, showcasing a fun new twist on a rising genre with Heroes of the Storm, going full throttle in Hearthstone’s card-battling chaos, keeping the ship steady in Starcraft, and going back to the origins in World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor.

The future’s looking brighter already.