BlizzCon 2019 was sure a hell of a lot better for Blizzard than BlizzCon 2018.
I watched some of panels I wanted to see, but not all of them yet. So, while this isn’t quite a hot take on the event, it is my impressions about what was announced in a slightly more detailed fashion than my recap of the big four announcements post I did on Friday. That post has links to all the cinematics and game play videos that Blizz posted as they announced things, if those interest you.
So, lets dive in by categories that almost line up by franchise.
World of Warcraft
A new expansion. Pretty much a requirement at BlizzCons that fall on odd numbered years. So they got that right. But honestly, I am not sure how I feel about Shadowlands.
Part of that is just what you get when your game gets past maybe three expansions, they start to blur for all but the most hardcore. There are some cool things in the plan. The covenants things seems like it could make for interesting choices. I like the return to a plan to focus on classes rather than specs. A single narrative arc that drives you through four zones in order is back to the old school, and how alts will be handled seems innovative.
Better character customization is good direction. Everybody can be a death knight now. But the ideas for a new class… again, perfect chance for a necromancer class to show up… seems to have been bypassed. And thus in its way it will be more of the same, more zones, more levels, more dungeons, more raids, and so on. And it feels a bit like they were inspired by Stranger Things, which means we will no doubt run into plenty of references to the show.
Wait, did I say “more levels?” I meant LESS levels. The level squish is coming.
I said Blizz wouldn’t do it, so I have clearly been proven wrong on that front. And my concerns from that post remain, though there are some updsides. It sounds like they will rescale… again… all of the old content so you can get to level 50 playing through any previous expansion then head into the Shadowlands. Still, it will be odd to have max level characters in WoW and WoW Classic at the same level. There were more details about this in the deep dive, which I watched, and I will probably throw together another post just to look at how leveling is going to change with Shadowlands. But the level squish is coming.
Overall though, you can color me somewhat interested in the expansion. I am sure the fact that it was made available for pre-order will get hopes up that it will show up sooner rather than later, but I doubt it will show any time before June of 2020.
There is no doubt another post to be made in Blizz moving to three levels of expansion packages, especially just as Daybreak moved to four levels. No level 120… eventually level 50… boost with the base package either.
We got the very bare minimum of news about WoW Classic, something I indicated might end up being the case back at the start of October. There was a bit of “isn’t this great!” and the date for the phase 2 unlock (November 12th), and that was that. No future plans, no talk about expansions, and nothing even daring to look in the direction of somebody low key hinting that there might be anything like original content for the WoW Classic path.
In fact, WoW Classic was stuck in the “oh, by the way” section of the keynote with StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm. Talk about being put on the bench. Even at the WoW Q&A session the question about future expansions for WoW Classic was pretty much deflected.
But Blizzard moves slowly, something I have to keep reminding myself. I am sure they are still trying to figure out what to do with this unexpected success story. We will likely have to wait until next BlizzCon to hear anything new I guess, but that will put it after the Shadowlands launch, so Blizz will be able to focus on it.
I will say though, at least we got a self deprecating crack from J. Allen Brack about serving vanilla ice cream at the BlizzCon concessions. He didn’t think we would want it, but it turns out we did.
I don’t find Brack to be a particularly compelling or convincing speaker. He lacks Metzen’s energy or Morhaime’s air of goofy humility. And, of course, after the infamous quote, I associate him with a level of smug condescension, which biases my perception even when I agree with what he is saying. We all see things through our own filters. But at least he was willing to stand up there and remind everybody how wrong he was.
I previously wrote that if he said something about that quote I’d stop bringing it up every time I mentioned him. I think I can stick to that now. I won’t mention it every time, though I reserve the right to bring it up when it fits the situation.
Diablo IV was announced, to nobody’s surprise.
I guess I can see why they didn’t want to announce it last year.
Basically, I will be a lot more interested in this when it seems like its launch is imminent.
Again, if even I was predicting something like Overwatch 2 more than a month ago, then having that announced was probably not a huge surprise.
If you own Overwatch, you can keep playing that and your play will overlap with Overwatch 2 players, which includes all the original content plus all the goodies you may have gotten. Overwatch 2 players will get their own content as well, including a PvE campaign.
I think the latter, the PvE campaign, might be the key here. The thing that the original lacked was new stuff to sell players… besides loot boxes. And if loot boxes are you revenue stream it might be prudent to diversify that a bit. But additional PvE co-op campaigns, that is something Blizz could sell people on.
It is interesting to see how they have chosen to go. EA gets you to buy their latest Battlefield game by shutting off the servers to the past ones. I assume Activision does something similar with their Call of Duty games, along with leaving a year gap between launches and trying to add new gimmicks with each annual generation. In contrast, Blizz wants to keep people playing together. I suspect that you won’t be able to buy Overwatch once Overwatch 2 is out. But if you do have the original, you won’t be left completely out in the cold.
A new expansion. What a surprise! It isn’t like we don’t get a few of those every year in any case.
The real surprise was that Blizz decided to take the Auto Chess/Auto Battler idea and integrate it with Hearthstone with their new Battlegrounds play mode. That demonstrates some oddly un-Blizzard-like thinking, since the obvious route was to copy Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords and build it off of their MOBA. I didn’t exactly get how this was going to work, in part because the description during the opening ceremony was pretty fast and in part because I have no interest in Hearthstone so I didn’t watch the panel where it would have been explained.
At least I haven’t watched it yet. It was well down on my list of priorities. I might still, just to get an idea where Blizz is going with this.
Warcraft III Reforged
The re-release of Warcraft III seems to be getting closer. No ship date was announced, but they are spreading the beta further afield now. If you were at BlizzCon or had the Virtual Ticket, you now have access to the beta and can download it from the Battle.net launcher. I was actually in already, as I saw I was able to install it early last week, though I couldn’t tell you if that was because I was special or because they started opening it up to Virtual Ticket holders early. Either way, it seems unlikely that I will download it to play before it goes live.
StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm
A new commander and a new AI for the former, and new unit for the latter, all mentioned during what felt like an apologetic side bar in the midst of the opening ceremonies. I was not expecting much, and so was unsurprised when that was exactly what we got. Still, being in the same segment where they mentioned the Blizzard Arcade at BlizzCon, where you could go play Rock n Roll Racing and Lost Vikings, does tend to set a tone.
The Heroes of the Storm fans are probably happy for any scraps they get, but the StarCraft II playerbase has to have some mixed feelings since SCII is still one of the Blizz esports titles.
I did not hear anything about the remaster of Diablo II yet again. It came up as part of the ideal for Diablo IV, but it was left out otherwise. I still want this. I would happily take a GoG.com version updated to run on Windows 10, though I would really like something more akin to the Warcraft III Reforged full remaster for modern screen sizes. Maybe someday.
Then, maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear anything about Diablo: Immortal. Did fan reaction really bury that? My complaint from last year wasn’t that it wouldn’t find an audience, just that it was presented to the wrong audience. They put some updates on the official site… it was mixed in with the feed on their “all news” page… but they seemed loathe to mention it yet again in front of a live studio audience.
Also, any hope for a completely new game or IP was left in the dust. Everything was an expansion or a sequel. There wasn’t even a mobile version of any other Blizzard IPs mentioned. Hearthstone might have had the only new idea… or, newly stolen idea, this being Blizzard and all… with it picking up the Auto Chess/Auto Battler idea.
The Virtual Ticket plan still seems like an acceptable value to me. There is still a list of panels I want to watch that I could not make time for over the weekend, so I am able to watch them at my leisure. As I noted previously, this year Blizz has decided that access to the videos will remain up until March 2020.
One feature I noticed was that Blizz also gave Virtual Ticket holders access to the videos from the past two BlizzCons as well. So you can, if you want, go back and watch the horrible Diablo: Immortal panel or the informative Play Nice, Play Fair panel that was completely bypassed by the gaming media that often rages about how companies like Blizzard do nothing to contain player toxicity.
This should have been pretty much the ideal BlizzCon for the company, with four big product announcements. Back at the start of October it looked to be huge. And then, of course, there was the Hong Kong thing, which necessitated the apology, which I covered in its own post.
After Blizz banned Blitzchung and the outrage was at its peak there were wild predictions that they might even cancel BlizzCon. Or, if BlizzCon went on, it would be tightly controlled, a mirror image of the repressive Chinese state on stage in Anaheim. Would Brack even get up in front of the audience live, or would he just appear on the monitor so the engineers could cut out the sounds of the crowd should they get 40,000 people chanting “Free Hong Kong!” or some such? Would Blizzard be able to contain the outrage of the fan base?
In the end, things went mostly as they usually do. The vast majority of the fans were there to see Blizz and to revel in the spectacle and be a part of the event. Cheering was the norm. And when, during the WoW Q&A panel, a questioner ended his interaction with a message about Hong Kong, he wasn’t cut off or ejected from the event. People chanted a bit and Blizz let it all pass like the guy in the Winnie the Pooh costume, who showed up on camera at least once.
People will take whatever message they want from that. You can read into that the promise of better behavior from Brack’s apology, or you can assume it is Blizz throwing a minimal bone to some fans that does not otherwise reflect corporate policy. It still puts them ahead of the NBA in either case.
In the end though, Blizz clearly won the news cycle. Every “What about Hong Kong?” story had to contend with a dozen or more “OMG! New Things!” stories out of BlizzCon. With that and what will likely be a somewhat rosy Q3 2019 earnings report later this week (thanks to WoW Classic) and the 15th Anniversary WoW events coming up, the company seems to be well positioned for the balance of the year.