Weasel’s BlizzCon 2015 Opening Ceremony Impressions
As Blizzard Entertainment is about to begin their twenty-fifth year of making video games, on Friday, November 6, 2015, they kicked off their ninth BlizzCon convention with their standard opening ceremony that was free for anyone to watch. During it, Blizzard tends to make their most important announcements, while keeping their more specific details to the panels and workshops that make up the rest of the convention schedule. This year, Blizzard had a handful of different announcements to make, but not all of their games got enough updates to warrant a main stage shout-out. We’ll talk about the ones that did here.
Starting out the show, Blizzard began by showing a new trailer for the upcoming installment in the series of StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void. For those who are fans of StarCraft II, they’ll find a lot more StarCraft in this game. Unfortunately, they didn’t share many additional details about the game, as they’ve already announced mostly everything since the game is coming out on November 10, 2015, but they did have one big new thing to share. To add longevity to StarCraft, they announced single player mission packs and, specifically, the first one will be titled Nova Covert Ops, starring Nova from the previous StarCraft II games. They haven’t announced a pricing plan for these yet, but this seems like a good way of keeping people interested in both the lore of the StarCraft series, and the single player component, for those that can’t or won’t play it online. Of course, since there probably won’t be a StarCraft III for a while, if ever, this is also a way of keeping the StarCraft brand alive longer. It’ll be very interesting to see where they decide to take this franchise after everything is released in the end.
After they finished with Starcraft, Blizzard had a non-video game related surprise in store. The knowledge that the trailer that was going to launch wasn’t a surprise, but the trailer itself was, for the new Legendary Pictures movie, Warcraft. If you’re looking for a movie with a plot that seems to be a mix between the typical Hollywood love storyline and some of the lore from the Warcraft franchise, this will be the movie for you. However, I can’t seem to find any interest in it, and not because of what its based on. I loved the Warcraft franchise before World of Warcraft came into the picture, so I’m sure that I would enjoy the callbacks to the Warcraft franchise’s lore, but the movie itself doesn’t seem to have anything that makes it stand out from any other fantasy movie these days. Topping it all off, the CGI that they showed in the trailer doesn’t seem to be that good, given what some other movies have done these days. To be fair, I have gotten very picky with the movies that I go to see these days, and this movie is obviously not out yet, so it can’t be judged just based on a trailer, but for a first impression, it hasn’t really made me want to go and see it yet. The Warcraft movie will hit theaters on June 10, 2016.
The newest MOBA to take the scene, Heroes of the Storm, was presented next. Since Heroes of the Storm has already been released, the main focus was on ways that they were able to expand it further. Luckily, Heroes of the Storm is very versatile with the way that it was created, allowing for varied map configurations and themes, and allowing for the addition of new heroes from their franchises. Based on that information, they announced three new heroes: Greymane, Lunara, and Cho’gall; and one new map: Towers of Doom. Cho’gall is a special hero in that two players actually have to control the single hero, and won’t be sold in the store. Instead, if you play on a team with Cho’gall in it, you’ll be given access to use him. Finally, they announced a new, shorter game mode for those who are looking for a different type of challenge. All of these new additions are very good for keeping Heroes of the Storm alive and well in the MOBA ecosystem these days. Heroes of the Storm has been very popular for people who aren’t looking to spend too much time trying to learn the more complicated systems of League of Legends or Dota 2, so to keep updating it at a constant rate is something that will keep their fans excited for time to come.
Reaching the halfway point, Blizzard took out their ever popular collectible card game, Hearthstone. Keeping with the tradition of announcing a new expansion for it each BlizzCon, they didn’t back down this year with the newest adventure pack called League of Explorers. For $20, you can get a new selection of cards, including a new mechanic, Discover. Discover allows you to search your deck for a card that fits within a certain criteria, and if you can find the right selection of cards, you’ll be able to summon the Golden Monkey, which turns all of the cards in your hand and deck to Legendaries. Besides the fact that it adds new cards to the decks for multiplayer games, it also adds some additional single player storyline which you can go through. One of the biggest concerns that I have with it is balancing. Obviously, it seems like it will be kind of a joke deck, much like the hero Techies is in Dota 2, but depending on how well it does, it can become an annoyance to people who are trying to have fun playing online games. The League of Explorers pack releases very soon, on November 12, 2015.
The most interesting announcements for me were in regards to their new Team Fortress 2-like game, Overwatch. Overwatch is still in closed beta as of this writing, but for those who don’t need to get in to the beta, or have been convinced by it already, you are now able to pre-order it. Before we dig in to those details, they announced an additional three heroes, bringing the total up to twenty-one; and one new map, bringing the total up to five. Overwatch seems like the most interesting and new thing to have come out of Blizzard in years, but when they announced the price, it stopped me from immediately pre-ordering it based off of what I’ve seen. As of the beta, they have announced the twenty-one heroes, five maps, and two game modes. One can only imagine that they will have more game modes at launch, but the question that they haven’t answered yet is how they will be monetizing the game past launch, which they will inevitably be doing. Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone have both gone the free to play model, which has worked extremely well for getting people interested while leaving the game still accessible to people who don’t want to pay anything. While I like the idea of paying for Overwatch, I worry about how they will support it moving in to the future. For the record, the base game will cost $40, a special edition that includes some new skins and unlocks for the rest of their games costs $60, and a collector’s edition with a statue and some physical goods will cost an unknown amount. If Blizzard decides to release new game modes and new heroes, if they decide to release any, for free for people who have bought the game, and make skins the micro-transaction, they they have made the right decision. But not announcing those details before announcing that they are taking money for it is a dangerous proposition that most people will overlook. This is, unfortunately, the way of the games industry as of late, and I will admit that, just based on watching people play it, I would love to buy it myself, but without this additional information, I can’t bring myself to do it just yet. As a random aside, it seems like a major oversight to not give beta access to those who pre-order, but as previously stated, this is the way of the games industry as of late since people will buy in to these things anyway.
Finally, the more details for the newest World of Warcraft expansion, Legion, were announced. As previously announced, the level cap will be raised to 110, the new Demon Hunter class will be introduced, there will be a new continent, new weapons, new dungeons, new raids, and new PvP content. Basically all that was announced at Blizzcon was a new trailer, including a Summer 2016 release date. And of course, it is pre-purchasable as well, standard for $50 or deluxe for $70. There isn’t much to say about this, other than if you already like World of Warcraft, this is another reason to bring you back. If you haven’t liked World of Warcraft in the past, then its really up to you if this will interest you in any way.
Throughout the rest of the weekend, Blizzard will continue to talk more about all of their games throughout the panels that they are holding, but if you aren’t at Blizzcon right now, the only way to find out more information is by paying DirecTV for access to watch it all. Noticeably missing from any announcements during this keynote was Diablo III, however it hasn’t necessarily been one of their forefront games as of late, and they have been trying to release content outside of their Blizzcon announcement schedule, so its possible that they just decided to give the spotlight to their other games this time around. Blizzard has a handful of really strong IPs and they won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Its very interesting to see what type of business models they use for each of their games, but once they hopefully announce more information, you’ll see me get hyped up for Overwatch as much as everyone else is right now. While I may not be a huge fan of where any of their IPs are going right now, as they haven’t announced Warcraft IV yet, I will always be interested in seeing where one of the biggest game companies in the world goes with their future game development.