Some of you might remember that, last year, I did a blow-by-blow recap of the BlizzCon opening ceremonies, and it turns out I’m in a good position to do it again! For those who aren’t familiar, BlizzCon is Blizzard Entertainment’s annual convention, where they show off everything they’ve got slated for the coming year. In the Opening Ceremonies, they’ll give little teases and tastes of everything they’re planning, so everyone’s watching with bated breath. What will we see this year?
From what I hear, Blizzard accidentally leaked a landing page showcasing a lot of their announcements. I haven’t checked that out yet, so now I don’t have to pretend to be surprised by anything! We’re five minutes until the ceremony kicks off, so it’s time for me to buckle in and get ready to recap! Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Starcraft, Diablo, Overwatch…it’s all here!
No pictures or anything, unfortunately; typing this from a hotel computer, so that’s all kinda limited. But we’ll see where we can go! As always, there’s an intro video, and this one is a neat retrospective of all sorts of people: Blizzard devs, professional players, streamers…and it’s a cool mix of perspectives on what it means to game. I’ll try and hunt down the link after, because I actually found it pretty touching as a perspective on how gaming can be important to people. Sure, it’s sappy promotional material, but it’s also a reminder of the fact that games can be meaningful to people.
The company’s CEO steps up, and runs through what seems to be a tradition at this point, a litany through all of the various fictional factions across Blizzard’s games. Short, sweet, a bit of an anchor. The only big change is that, instead of drawing the various teams’ developers to the main stage, the con has gotten so big that now they’re having devs present on their own game’s stage, remoting in to the big screen. It’s a pretty big convention–apparently 30,000 people in attendance, including a ton of folk in a literal sports arena for Overwatch.
After a brief overview of all the games, Mike pivots to discussing the Overwatch League, which still sounds utterly bonkers–and so far, it seems to actually be coming together! It’s going to be Blizzard’s biggest attempt in the eSports arena, trying to get eSports to jump into the public consciousness, with Overwatch sponsorships by major organizations, including professional sports teams! eSports has become a pivotal core of Blizzard, and it’s no mistake that they want to showcase all of their games in light of it.
The Starcraft II announcement is quick (and done by Mike instead of a Starcraft II dev), dropping an announcement about a new Commander for co-op play. And here’s something even bigger: completely free-to-play Starcraft II. Or, more accurately, everyone gets free access to the first Starcraft II game, with the Terran campaign. That’s pretty big! Even more importantly, everyone’s being given full access to units for ranked play, which is a big step forward, competitively. It also signals that they’re done with monetization on the base game, and relying on new Co-Op content and mission DLC going forward. That’s pretty cool.
Heroes of the Storm
So, there’s been some leaks, allegedly–we’ll see how true they pan out to be. A Heroes dev steps out to announce the game’s news. He recaps the Heroes 2.0 update that came out over last year, changing up how the game’s progression system worked (and adding loot boxes for cosmetics), and points out all the new content the game has gained since last BlizzCon. It’s definitely been a big year! So, what’s next? We’ve got a cinematic incoming, sounds like! What will we get?
It’s a big castle in the midst of the forest, so it looks like a Warcraft thing! A fire sorceress…and Hanzo from Overwatch! Oh, but the sorceress just changed his arrow into a flowery branch! She steps off of a cliff…and there’s a green glow–DRAGON! Big red dragon! Which is pretty apropos for Hanzo to fight, considering that his emblem is a dragon. Also, I’m wondering how they plan to implement this in the game, since they’ve been unsure how to handle massive characters like dragons previously. It’s a pretty big step forward, if they’ve figured it out!
Hanzo unleashes his ultimate move, striking the dragon down, and leaps down to follow her. It looks like he’s earned her respect, and apparently the whole thing was a sparring test. The dragon opens a gateway to a new land–and off they go to the Nexus! Okay, that was pretty cool, and the leak about Hanzo/Alexstraza was in fact accurate. Also, sounds like she does in fact turn into a dragon! Huzzah!
But wait, there’s more! It’s a video! Voice chat! New matchmaking! Stealth rework! “Laning improvements” (?)! All sorts of things! Sounds like they’ve got a lot planned! I’ll be really curious to dig into the news as it spools out, but this is all pretty huge for this game, with a “2018 gameplay update”. Also: dragon. The segment wraps up with a cryptic tease about “events unfolding in the Nexus”, whaa?
And here’s Ben Brode, being casted in from the Hearthstone stage! He’s hamming it up as usual, and everyone’s pretty stoked to hear about the inevitable announcement of the game’s next expansion. No matter what I think about his attitudes on game balance, I can’t deny that the guy is delightfully ebullient. So, here we go! It’s a quick recap of the year so far, from Un’Goro to Frozen Throne…so what wraps up the Year of the Mammoth?
It’s slated to come out next month, and “it takes us back to the roots of classic fantasy”. Dungeon delving? He’s actually referencing D&D! The trailer begins with an ominous underworld entrance…and we’re back to songs for Hearthstone trailers, fantastic! The whole thing looks like a delightful Hobbit pastiche. IT’S THE KOBOLDS! “YOU NO TAKE CANDLE!” Talk about a nostalgia hit!
And there we have it: “Kobolds & Catacombs”. Oh my word. That title is the best. Please tell me we get all the RPG jokes. I’m actually really tickled at this theme, and now for a card preview! He kicks it off…oh my gosh, he’s narrating an actual adventure, and getting the audience to decide! This is amazing. This is the role the guy was born for. He’d make a fun dungeon master.
The first card, Marin the Fox, seems super-cool! He summons a treasure chest for your opponent that you have to destroy, and you get a super-powerful loot card when you do! And…he’s being given out to everyone who logs into the game! WOO!
The next decision: a door marked “Kobold Treasure” vs. a door marked “CERTAIN DEATH”. Predictably, the audience chooses CERTAIN DEATH, and the party is…halfway crushed by a trash compactor trap! Interestingly, it’s a potentially powerful Hunter removal card. Huh.
He then reveals a new keyword: Recruit, which pulls a minion out of your deck directly.
Finally, he reveals a cave marked by claws, and a tunnel that’s on FIRE. Predictably, the audience chooses FIRE. I don’t disagree. And inside is…the legendary treasure “Dragon Soul”! It’s a weapon, and every class is getting a legendary weapon! Cool! It lets you summon dragons when you cast spells…which is gonna be pretty scary!
Oh snap, there’s new single-player content! “The Dungeon Run”. You’re going to defeat bosses, upgrading your deck as you go! That is amazing, and I would totally play that. It’s 100% free, apparently doesn’t draw on your collection at all, and promises to be a really fun experience. I’m excited!
Now for the centerpiece of the game experience, and I honestly feel bad for anyone following this act. Jeff Kaplan steps out into the arena, which is brilliantly decked out in futuristic-looking architecture. I still can’t believe they’ve literally set up a sports arena. This is actually becoming a thing! He has a pretty easygoing introduction, segueing into…”What would a Blizzard theme park look like?”
Oh man, is this a new Overwatch map? If it is, it’s absolutely massive. HAHAHAHAHA! The whole thing was a trailer being watched by the Overwatch team! And it is in fact a new map for the game! So…Blizzard exists in the Overwatch universe. But without Overwatch. Except for the Heroes of the Storm characters from Overwatch. Waaaaaaaaaaaaait. Eh, I won’t think about it too hard. It looks pretty fun, honestly, and I don’t even play Overwatch.
But hey, surprise surprise, new hero announcement! “Moira”. Whoa, she’s got all sorts of sciency tubes hooked into her. She’s like some sort of creepy space-warping superscience character with a light-and-shadow theme. So, basically, a sci-fi Shadowpriest. “In case you’re wondering how to spell Moira, it’s spelled ‘O-P-A-F’.” HEH. And what a jerk, he teases another announcement happening on the main stage. My my.
OH MY GOSH is that Darin DaPaul bursting into the stage, doing a full Reinhardt voice impression and…he’s throwing candy out into the crowd! HAHAHAHAHA! That was absolutely wonderful. I love this guy. And it looks like he’s going to tease the new character short…oh man, they’re actually showing it!
Character Trailer Follows
A shot of a bunch of castles…I forget what character that is. Oh, Reinhardt! He got Winston’s message from one of the early Overwatch videos…and it’s flashback time! We get a shot of Reinhardt in much younger days–apparently he was a “crusader”, which basically means “Warhammer 40K German Space Marine in the future”. There’s an epic throwdown against a bunch of evil assault robots, but Reindhardt abandons the foot soldiers with him, preferring to smash down enemies recklessly.
And that’s when a new robot shows up with some pretty impressive weaponry. Reinhardt jumps in…and he’s getting a lot more than he bargained for. Oh dear. Oh man, it’s his dad! Saved! But the robots are running up towards Reinhardt Castle. Reinhardt declares his intention to fight back to the unit with his dad, but his dad is going to hole up inside the castle. Aw man. And that’s when his dad passes the Overwatch invite on to Reinhardt. “Live with honor.” Dang. Dad takes Reinhardt’s hammer, and gets ready for a DOUBLE HAMMER THROWDOWN as he makes space for his son to go save the soldiers who are huddled under cover.
His shield breaks…and Reinhardt uses his body to shield the soldiers. That was pretty awesome. It’s not a new story, the tale of the young reckless warrior who learns the meaning of defending his people, but it’s still a powerful one. In a short span of time, too. That was pretty epic.
World of Warcraft
So, what’s this game got for us? I imagine they still have an expansion to announce, but not before a classic joke about Blizzard shoulderpads. I’m not super up on World of Warcraft current lore, but he briefly goes over the last year, but apparently Sargeras is on the docket soon.
Before he gets to the big news…he diverts the conversation into…ice cream? Okay, where’s the connection here? OHOHO “Vanilla”. Uh, wow. This is pretty big. Trailer kicks in, and here’s Chromormu the time-dragon, hitting big ol’ rewind on everything. Including huge numbers of iconic cutscenes. “World of Warcraft: Classic” We’re going retro in WoW, after going retro in all these other games! So how’s this going to work? Apparently there’s going to be a classic-server option for WoW. That’s pretty hefty and huge, and it’s still in development.
The intent is to “reproduce the game experience from Classic WoW”, and they’re working on polishing it up as much as possible. I don’t have any particular WoW nostalgia, but that’s going to be very big news for a lot of people. I assume it’ll be all the way back to basics, with none of the class options introduced later and no story advancement.
Now here’s the big news for the next expansion. Apparently it’s going to focus on Horde-Alliance rivalry again, with the developer hitting on big touchstones of the hostility between the factions. Oh boy. I don’t even play WoW, but I’m annoyed at the idea of them trying to artificially push conflict yet again between the in-game factions, “wounds that will never heal”. It’s the same old rehashing of a storyline that never changes, bringing nothing interesting and screwing up the lore heavily.
On the other hand, Mayan dinosaur islands, so that’s pretty cool. Though, it’s almost comical how this parallels the latest Magic: the Gathering set (Ixalan), although I don’t know how intentional that was. Also, I will say that Jaina’s braid is a neat costume development.
So, I guess that’s the other reason they’re rolling out Classic, to appease the folks who are tired of the way the lore has gone the way of mainstream comics. “The stakes have never been higher”, but how far can that go?
Now just one more thing. They’re dropping the opening cinematic for the expansion right now! Huh.
Intro Cinematic Follows
“Ours is a cycle of hatred, alliances forged and broken…” Oh hey, Sylvanas. And she holds Lordaeron against the Alliance. There’s a lot of war, and I don’t know enough about the factions to understand what exactly is going on. She does some pretty awesome acrobatics, and then a super-crazy banshee wail. And she declares allegiance to the Horde? Okay, now I’m officially lost. But hey, there’s Anduin Wrynn with a glowy magic sword, and he’s putting it down and calling on some sort of power to…oh, he’s resurrecting all the Alliance dudes! That’s pretty cool. Well, at least I enjoyed all of that, even if it didn’t resonate with me narratively. And the mass resurrection was pretty cool.
Nothing for Diablo, and no word of the secret next project that is in the wings for Blizzard, so maybe that’ll be next year. Still, some pretty cool stuff, some big announcements for Heroes and Hearthstone in particular (although Vanilla WoW is pretty big too!), and there were definitely some cool videos I might be able to wrangle up later.
Thanks for following along with the recap, and we’ll see what I can do next year!