Tag Archives: Level Squish

Arrival in a Level Squished Northrend

I suppose, given the nature of the level squish, I should call it a “level expanded” Northrend.  But it’s current status is a by-product of the level squish, so you get what you get.

In checking out the Shadowlands pre-patch, running through the new starter area is fine and dandy, but it is only a 1-10 level experience that won’t take you more than an hour unless you’re set to explore every nook and cranny of the place.  And for us… Ula, Skronk, and I… the idea was always to go check out Wrath of the Lich King in its new 10-50 incarnation.  So it was off to Northrend!

Northrend awaits

Back in the day WotLK was a level 60-70 experience.

As the level cap grew in WoW though, Blizz started experimenting with expanding the level ranges of some of the older content so that players in a game with a 100+ level cap and an xp curve adjusted to suit that wouldn’t constantly out-level zone and expansion content.

Blizz took a shot at solving this first with the Legion 7.3.5 patch, which expanded the level ranges for expansions and made everything scale to your level within those ranges.  At that point you could go to Northrend at 58 rather than 70 and could stick around until 80.

  • All starting zones scale up to level 10.
  • World of Warcraft Vanilla (Eastern Kingdoms & Kalimdor) scales up to level 60.
  • At level 58, players can choose between Outland or Northrend (capped at level 80).
  • At level 80, players can choose between Cataclysm or Pandaria (capped at level 90).
  • Zones still have a minimum level requirement.
  • Dungeons also scale
  • Quest rewards scale up to your level.

That was not enough.  Levels were still a problem.  And last week we all dropped down to a level cap of 50 with the promise of being able to choose any of the expansions as a route to that, pending the release of the Shadowlands expansion, at which point the cap would go to 60.

I made this graphic, so I am going to use it again

So off we went on the boat to Valliance Keep in Northrend.  Our little group was:

  • Merchi – Level 10 Hunter
  • Fergorin – Level 10 Shaman
  • Mendula – Level 10 Priest

Waiting for Ula… or Mendula

Unlike the old days, one of the first quests you get sends you to Dalaran, a flight point you get by default.  You can also fly directly to Howling Fjord, as that flight point is available as well.  There would be no need to repeat our 2008 ride across the continent.

Our first ride across Northrend

One of the first things I noticed looking at the map… the real map… was that while the expansion now scales from 10 to 50, the individual zones are not all equally accessible.  There are different ranges for the zones.

  • Borean Tundra 10-50
  • Howling Fjord 10-50
  • Dragonblight 15-50
  • Grizzly Hills 15-50
  • Sholazar Basin 20-50
  • Zul’Drak 20-50
  • Crystalsong 25-50
  • Ice Crown 25-50
  • Storm Peaks 25-50

So they haven’t gone full Legion/BFA “all zones are equal” with the scaling.  They do want you to go through the content in some semblance of the original order.  And that is fine.  We didn’t have any intention otherwise.

Running through the initial content was fun.  It has been nearly a dozen years since we did this, but a lot of it remains fairly fresh in my memory.  And what I had forgotten was renewed and fresh again as we moved along.

I didn’t do a lot of posts about particular zones or bits of content back then.

When we got down to the the mist shrouded beach at Riplash Strand and the haunting music I could vividly recall the first night in the expansion.  We were all out there together and I particularly recall being held up on one quest that required you to slay a named mob, Gamel the Cruel.

Gamel, Gamel, bright as a camel…

Back in the day there was no sharing a kill with people outside of your group and there was a crowd of people showing up to slay him.  This wasn’t the happy times of the launch of WoW Classic either, with everybody lining up politely and waiting their turn. (Except Poncho! Never forget Poncho the line cutter!)  I recall standing on his spawn point and casting consecrate with my pally in hopes of getting the first hit on him.  It took quite a few tries before we got him.

But it is not 2008 any more and much has changed.  You can now get a hit on a mob that somebody on your faction has started with and get credit.  And there certainly were no launch day crowds down at the beach with us, though we saw a few other players around almost everywhere we went.

And when we went to get Gamel another player ran up after we had started… a Horde player too.  But he was able to get credit, because the faction exclusion doesn’t apply to named quest mobs.  Everybody gets credit in this happy new world.

We carried on, running down the quests, swimming through the misty water, and advancing down the quest chains.

Swimming in the mists

I had the pumpkin head transmog on because I had to explain how to hide your helm, which used to be a checkbox in the settings… and still is… but which now requires you do interact with a transmog NPC.  Fortunately somebody had the Tundra Yak out in Valliance Keep, so we could use the NPC on that.

And, then when I got a new helm I had to add in that transmog isn’t applied to your character, but to the individual piece of gear, so my pumpkin head was gone.

I also had to bring up… still bitter… about how the Azure Water Strider, the most OP mount in the game and maybe the best thing to come out of Mists of Pandaria, had been nerfed so it no longer let you walk on water by default.  Our mounts had to schlep through the water like suckers.

No walking on water here

We made our way along, found ourselves out at the D.E.H.T.A. camp to run through their quests, then down to the shore and the first interaction with the Kaluak.  I spent a lot of the time with the Kaluak back in the day.  Vikund, my main, still carries the fishing pole he got from reaching exalted status with them.

We finished that up and made it to the airfield.  Along the way we all made it to level 20.

Another achievement

At level 20 the list of things like battle grounds that open up to you can take a while to flash by.

The leveling is probably a bit faster than the rate you might want if you didn’t want to hit level cap before you finished up the expansion, but that is okay.  I’m not sure we’re in it for the long haul, but for now it is fun and memories and an odd mesh between how the game used to be and how it plays now.

What is that diamond? Is this The Sims?

There are still some oddities.

At one point I was standing around and decided to talk to the trade skill trainers.  I trained cooking, then got the option to train Northrend cooking.

Cooking choices

That made some sense to me because Blizz had divided up trade skills into expansion based grouping.  When I trained Northrend cooking I was then able to train up a bunch of recipes.

Then I went to the fishing trainer and that was less clear.

All the fishing

When you get fishing you get the option to train up all the expansion fishing variations.  That seemed kind of odd.  I guess it knows where you are fishing and can apply the skill up to that  area.  But I feel it might have been better to have skipped this one.

And some bugs from Exile’s Reach followed us.  In the starter area you get some skills early on, but later you choose a spec.  If your spec did not include one of the initial skill it stayed on you your hot bar and was usable… until the game tried to push a new skill onto the bar after you left the starter area.  Then the skill would just disappear, replaced on your action bar by a new one.  And it is never well received when things just disappear, so we spent some time trying to figure that one out.

But otherwise it has been a light and fun trip through some old memories.

Ula also wrote a bit about this on her blog.  Check it out.

Into the Level Squished World of Warcraft

It was busy in EVE Online last week, but I still found a bit of time to poke my nose into World of Warcraft to see what the Shadowlands pre-patch and the big level squish did to us.

In preparation I made sure, the night before the patch, to list out all of my characters with their current level and how much xp they had on their bar to see how things changed.  That wasn’t because I expected Blizz to mess things up.  And my characters all aligned with the chart I borrowed from WoW Head for my previous post.  But still, if you don’t record something you can’t tell how much things changes.  So my Eldre’Thalas characters fell out like this:

  • Vikund – 120 – 50
  • Tistann – 120 – 50
  • Alioto -120 – 50
  • Tokarev – 116 10% – 48 53%
  • Hurmoo – 112 36% – 46 100%
  • Makarov -112 25% – 46 100%
  • Maloney – 111 26% – 45 100%
  • Makawao – 66 1% – 26 3%
  • Garnatz – 62 48% – 25 100%
  • Blintz – 48 46% – 21 100%
  • Honecker – 42 9% – 18 44%
  • Hruga – 33 5% – 14 22%

I had three characters at level cap and they ended up at 50 as expected.  And my level 116 mapped right into level 48 with a half a level of xp in his bar, which I guess was about right.  But then a few of the other ones ended up with their xp bar filled up to 100% so that they were effectively one level higher than I expected.

I am not complaining.  I’ll take the level.  I said I was likely to regret squandering the double xp that Blizzard had been offering on retail WoW for months, but a couple of free levels helped mitigate that I suppose.

Also, the level curve in the new 20-50 world is pretty easy.  I have already pushed Tokarev from half way into level 48 to level 50 just by doing some battle pets matches.  (The first week of the squish was also a 200% xp week for battle pets, so I went in and leveled some up.)

I feel like I’ve been here before

I was, however, a bit surprised at the shape of the leveling world post-squish.  For ages I have had this chart in my mind.

The promised shape of the leveling experience

And, since I have been following my usual policy of only watching the high level news about the upcoming expansion so as not to spoil anything, I let my brain draw its own picture of how I expected things to be.  Basically, that chart viewed as a series of parallel vertical paths into Shadowlands.

My vision in Excel format

However, when I got into the game with my first character with 100% xp and figured I would just go kill a mob close by to get the level, I found gray mobs where I happened to be, which was in the Warlords of Draenor content.  (Say what you will about garrisons, I do still hang out in them, largely to make 30-slot bags and do pet battle stuff.)

I then discovered that there still existed a way from the starter areas up to the level cap that ran through the old expansions in something akin to the old way.  Each expansion had a new level range, with a cap on it.

The horizontal stack with level caps on each expansion

That seemed like a ticket to a somewhat unsatisfying ride to 50.  With everything squished down and the xp curve juiced up, it meant that players on that route were very likely to out-level the content before they finished it, a problem the game already suffered from in its level 120 cap form.

Also, I was a bit confused as to how to get to the world I was promised, the realm of parallel paths to the level cap.  Fortunately, somebody quickly mentioned Chromie and I remembered that this was all revolving around her and the time stream in order to explain it in the lore.  So I ran over to the Stormwind Embassy area in Stormwind and found her.  There is a little hourglass on the map that shows you where she is.

Where to get Chromie timed

There, if you are eligible… more on that in another post… she will let you slide into whichever time line you want, so long as it is one of the six she has to offer currently.

The six paths

There is plenty of room on that selection screen to put Shadowlands when they squish that before the next expansion.

I was confused for a moment as to where Battle for Azeroth and the Kalimdor & Eastern Kingdoms content was hiding.  But BFA is on by default, it already scales up to level 50 without visiting Chromie.  Meanwhile, I realized that the content on the old continents was wrapped up into Cataclysm, since that was the point when they changed and updated all of it.  The Cataclysm zones are not off on their own island like Northrend, but blended into the old locations.

So there it is.  And as I even think I figured out why Blizz would bother keeping the old style form of the world with all the expansions stacked in horizontal bands.

So long as the content is stacked that way, players retain the ability to go run old instances and raids solo for transmog gear and pet drops and the like.  That is a surprisingly critical item so far as the community is concerned.

Next up will be my venture into the new starting area, Exile’s Reach.

The WoW Shadowlands Pre-Patch with the Big Level Squish Arrives Today

The Shadowlands expansion has been delayed, but the pre-patch is still arriving today.

The pre-patch comes with a lot of stuff.  The patch notes for the pre-patch are long and detailed and touch aspects of the game from character customization to class updates.  Every new expansion means relearning you class.  Blizzard even put up a video to help players with the changes.

But, in my opinion, the biggest thing in the pre-patch, and perhaps one of the most ambitious changes Blizzard has ever made to the game, is the level squish.

After some rumblings, the WoW team came out in March of last year with the statement that leveling in WoW needed help.

The question that brought this up

120 levels is a lot, the time it takes to get through them and into the current content felt like too much, and levels themselves were no longer all that special.  Gone were the days when you would get a talent point to spend every level, or even a new skill or a skill upgrade every other level. (Unless, like me, you were back playing WoW Classic.)

So Blizz decided to put the level cap back to 60.  There will now be a new level 1-10 starter area, after which veteran players will be able to play through levels 10-50 via any one of the past expansions, though new accounts will apparently be forced to level through Battle for Azeroth.  And, at the top of the pyramid, for now at least, will be the Shadowlands expansion, taking players from level 50-60.

What the new level ranges will be

Back at BlizzCon this was all summed up this way:

Leveling up after Shadowlands

The basics of the squish are pretty simple.  There is the new leveling path above.  If you have a level 120 character before the squish, you will have a level 50 character afterwards.  If your character is under level 50, there is a chart.

Where will you end up after the squish?

I stole that chart (and modified it a bit) from the article about the big squish over at WoWHead.  That covers a lot of the details, but also brings up some of the unknowns.  I haven’t seen a clear answer about when a new character will unlock flying, for example.  And how the new 10-50 path will play with the Shadowlands classes is still up in the air.  There are a lot of questions to be answered.

In preparation for the squeeze I finally spent some time in retail WoW over the past weekend.  As predicted, I do in fact regret squandering the 100% xp boost that Blizz has had running there for months now.  I ran through Darkmoon Faire and grabbed a few levels with various characters, just to get them a little further along.  But I could have easily had eight or more level 120 characters if I had put in a couple week’s worth of effort rather than the three I do have.

I also went through and noted down the names, levels, and percentage into their current level, for all of my characters.  I am curious as to whether or not that chart above will hold true and what happens with the excess xp hanging around.

But the patch is here.  Everything is going to change.  We’ll have to see how it looks once the smoke clears and the servers are up again.  There was some talk in the instance group about maybe rolling some fresh alts for a run through WotLK, just to see how it plays.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Are We Going to Get a Level Squish with Every WoW Expansion Now?

The level squish is coming.  Shadowlands may have been delayed, but Blizzard is still giving us the 9.0.1 pre-patch in a matter of days… hell, we’re close enough to start measuring the time comfortably in hours… and so I started thinking about that.

At some point Blizzard recognized that too many levels had become an issue; levels were no longer special and leveling needed help. So they set out to fix the problem.  The level squish is the solution, announced at BlizzCon last year.  With the pre-patch everybody at level cap, currently level 120, will suddenly be level 50.

There is a new starting experience that will cover levels 1-10, after which all of the past expansions, as well as post-Cataclysm vanilla WoW, will run in parallel as level 20-50 experiences, allowing the player to choose which path they want to take to level 50, or swap between them, or whatever.

And then Shadowlands will pick up and be the level 50-60 experience.  We got all of that last year at BlizzCon.

What the new level ranges will be

Blizzard, for whatever reason, will favor Battle for Azeroth for you first run through, but if you already have a character at level cap you will find it easy to choose your route though the game.  Or so we’re told.  I haven’t played with it yet, but we’ll take that as read because that isn’t really the topic today.

Instead, the topic is what happens after Shadowlands?

There will, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, be an expansion after Shadowlands, and probably a few more after that.  World of Warcraft isn’t as lucrative as it was a decade ago, but it is still by far the most lucrative and reliable money maker the company has.  This cow will be milked on schedule so long as it remains profitable.

But if you add another expansion after Shadowlands, another ten level experience, because Blizzard has decided that ten levels is the optimum cap raise for an expansion, we will, with the passage of time, be at level 70 then 80 then 90 and so on and back into the problem that brought about the level squish in the first place.

Blizzard is silly and sometimes seems incapable of spotting the oncoming train of a problem, but they just solved this spiraling level cap issue so I have to think it will remain fresh in their minds long enough to consider the expansion after Shadowlands.

I am pretty sure that at BlizzCon 2021, after they finish celebrating the success of Burning Crusade Classic, and whatever server move solution they have come up with to link it to WoW Classic, during the usual summing up segment that kicks off the keynote, the big reveal for the franchise will be the next expansion for retail WoW.

And I am curious, during the big panel to go over the main details, if they will tell us that, with the launch of this expansion, the level cap will again be 60, that being the optimum level cap since it was where the game started (stop looking over at the level 70 cap on Burning Crusade Classic) and that everybody will be squished back down to level 50 again, that Shadowlands will be made another parallel track on the 20-50 experience, and that the new expansion will occupy the level 50-60 slot.

Are we embarking on an era where levels 50-60 will always be the new expansion and any past expansion will be made yet another option on the way there?  It seems both over-wrought and deceptively simple as a solution.

I suppose the real question is whether or not it will work?  Will players be happy to reset to level 50 every expansion only to earn their way back up to 60 yet again?  If levels lacked meaning before, what meaning would they have in that scenario?

And, finally, can Blizzard stop changing up character classes and specs and whatnot so much with every new expansion? That all trickles down on the parallel 20-50 expansions ever time they do.  That is the reason they need to introduce Burning Crusade Classic.  The content is all still there in game, mostly unaltered since 2008 or so.  But every time they change up classes and specs and talent points and gear and all the other things that work together and dictate how your character plays, they change up how the expansions play.

Top Five Rejected WoW Squish Ideas

We know Blizzard isn’t exactly a font of new ideas.  When they find something that works, they like to re-use it, to hone it, and to stick it in completely unexpected and inappropriate situations.  We have had the stats squish twice already, and what essentially adds up to a server squish on retail. (They don’t merge servers like failing games! But suddenly two servers now behave like one.)  At BlizzCon we were told that the level squish is coming coming with the Shadowlands expansion next year.  So squishing is clearly a thing at Blizz.

As it turns out, there was a leak recently that showed some of the other things that Blizzard has been considering squishing as part of an attempt to revitalize the game.  A few of them have made their way to me.

Jeff Kaplan hearing about more leaks…

  • Gold Squish

The economy has been a big concern for Blizzard.  They put in easy gold faucets so that casual players can obtain enough gold to stay afloat, but hardcore players exploit and farm every such faucet.  Even after boosting the cap on gold, more and more players are ending up at the 10 million mark.  The various sinks do not absorb enough gold as most of them tend to be one-time purchases and players with maximum gold tend to distort the auction house.

So the idea of a “gold squish” was floated.  The plan was to simply cut the amount of gold on every character by 50%.  The whole thing was easy to understand and affected everybody equally.

However the idea was scrapped when feedback from focus groups indicated that reinstating Blitzchung’s original year long suspension, taking his prize money away again, and incorporating the flag of the People’s Republic of China into the Blizzard logo would be more popular with fans than taking any of their gold away.

  • Alt Squish

Name usage and database size are big issues when it comes to a game the size of WoW.  People make alts, roll up on multiple servers, and generally use up all the names and hoard stuff in their banks until the database tables runneth over and a new player cannot show up and roll up a new toon without putting special characters in their name.

A management consultant group came up with the idea of “squishing” player alts that had been idle for a specific amount of time into a special “conglomerate” character that would total up all the currency, experience, and inventory into a single meta character.  If a player returned, they could activate that meta character, selecting sex, race, and class and collect all of the combined assets into one new character.  Names would be freed up and the idea of being able to get a new, revitalized character might bring people back to the game.

However, somebody pointed out that this might cut into level boost sales while the database team complained that there wasn’t a lot of benefit to them unless there was also something like an inventory squish as well, so the whole idea was scrapped.

  • Guild Squish

As with alts, there are many idle guilds with inactive membership roles littering Azeroth.  Similar to the alt squish, the plan was to create something like an unnamed meta guild and push together sets of inactive guilds on individual servers into them.  Which ever member of any of the guilds logged on first got the meta guild, could name it, and was named leader, after which they could do with it as they pleased.

After much discussion it was decided that it was easier to just stick to the current plan where the database team would just delete inactive guilds and if anybody called customer support about such a guild, a flag would come up to prompt the agent to tell the caller that it looked like one of the member accounts got hacked, took over the guild, then was deleted for suspicious activity, then lecture them about the importance of account security.

  • Battle Pet Squish

In a little over nine years Blizzard cranked out almost 1,250 battle pets in WoW.  Nintendo and Game Freak have been at Pokemon for more than 20 years and across eight game generations still haven’t crossed into four digits.  Some at Blizz were starting to feel that maybe they had gone too fast and that, perhaps, some of the battle pets were not very… special.

A proposal was made to tighten up the battle pet roles by doing what was at one point called “the bug squish,” largely because the roach and moth battle pet population were two of the main targets.

The idea was to squish down the number of battle pets who share the same model and abilities (and have nearly the same name in many cases) to a more discreet number.  Who needs, for example, a dozen variations on the cockroach?  Roaches, moths, frogs, and a few other common model/ability families were facing the squish.

And then the Shadowlands art team spoke up and said that there was no way they were going to be able to produce 200+ new battle pets for the expansion and meet their schedule if they all had to be unique.  Already pressed for time, the idea was dropped.  Expect some new, yet very familiar, roaches, moths, frogs, and whatnot in the next expansion.

  • Expansion Squish

We heard at BlizzCon that the the company felt the path to level cap was too circuitous and confusing.

Before they decided to go the Chromie route, allowing players the initial plan was to mash the expansions together to make the path through to the current expansion more clear.  However, the whole idea fell apart when the group looking into it could not come to a consensus as to which expansions to mash up.

For example, the group seemed fine with Pandaclysm.  However, the strict orderist faction felt that meant you had to either mash up the base game and the first expansion, giving you something like The Vanilla Crusade, or leave the original game alone (good plan) and end up with Wrath of the Burning Crusade.

More radical suggestions included lumping together the three Draenor/Burning Legion related expansions into Legion of the Burning Crusade Warlords, though there was a strong argument made for just  disappearing Warlords of Draenor altogether.

At one extreme point towards the end of the life of the working group it was being proposed that they mash ALL the expansions together into something like Wrath of the Burning Panda Cataclysmic Vanilla Warlord Legion of Azeroth when one wag at the back of the room suggested that maybe they shouldn’t mash any of the expansions together and just make them all scale across the the same range of levels so the player could decide.

You get to choose

The idea was accepted, the working group was disbanded, and we got the result at BlizzCon.  It was an expansion squish of a different color, but one all the same.

Looking Back at BlizzCon 2019

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.

No more re-grinding

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.

It sure looks like the Azeroth Upsidedown to me

Wait, did I say “more levels?”  I meant LESS levels.  The level squish is coming.

Leveling up after Shadowlands

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.

MMO Champion has a good outline of the main presentation.  Or you can look at the pretty pictures on the official expansion page.

WoW Classic

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

Diablo IV was announced, to nobody’s surprise.

It looks interesting.  I like the direction they are going.  Darker.  A more open world.  Mounts even.  No RMT auction house.  I have no doubt I will play it some day.  But that day will be… when?  2022?

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.

Overwatch

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.

I am not an Overwatch player.  I don’t even eat the cereal.  But I am interested in how they are handling Overwatch 2, which is more like an expansion than a new game.

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.

Hearthstone

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.

Unmentioned

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.

Virtual Ticket

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.

BlizzCon Overall

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.