Blizzard News: Heroes Additions, Overwatch Announcements, and WoW PLEX

There’s been a lot of news on the Blizzard front as of late, largely due to several announcements at PAX East. Thought I’d do a big post to round it all up.

Heroes of the Storm: A Tale of Two Queens:

A preview image of Sylvanas Windrunner in Heroes of the StormMost of the news for Heroes of the Storm coming out of PAX East wasn’t terribly surprising, but that made it no less exciting.

Firstly, after what feels like an eternity of waiting, the Banshee Queen Sylvanas Windrunner has been confirmed as the next hero to be added to the game.

Sylvanas will be a specialist, but an unusual one. She seems heavily hybridized with the assassin role and will have very high damage and mobility. Mobility tends to be an Achilles heel for most specialists, but Sylvanas looks to be bordering on Illidan levels of crazy mobility with a teleport and the ability to fire her bread and butter ability while moving.

She also has some welcome nods to her Warcraft III incarnation through her ultimate abilities. One is an AoE silence, and the other allows her to mind control enemy minions and mercenaries, with the cooldown varying based on the power of the stolen minion. The latter in particular is very interesting and could be a real game-changer. Is the enemy team even going to want to capture mercenaries if they’re just feeding Sylvanas potential reinforcements?

As a long-time Sylvanas fan, I’m very happy to see her finally show up. I hope I’ll enjoy playing her, as specialist is the one role where I haven’t found a hero that I’m really excited about. I like Azmodan and Nazeebo in terms of gameplay, but their lore and aesthetics don’t really do it for me, and Abathur can be fun, but he’s a very different experience from other specialists — really a unique role unto himself — and he’s very challenging and high-stress, so I don’t play him too often.

A shot from the trailer for Sylvanas Windrunner in Heroes of the StormHopefully Sylvanas can become my go-to specialist.

The one downside is that Blizzard caved to the trolls and decided to revert Sylvanas to her traditional, impractically under-dressed appearance. I guess their new commitment to respect and diversity only applies to Overwatch.

The other big but also totally expected piece of news was a preview of the next map, Tomb of the Spider Queen. To be honest, at face value, it looks pretty boring to me.

The mechanic involves collecting gems from enemy minions and using them to summon waves of spiders, and to me, this sounds like it’s going to lead to matches such as you’d see in any other MOBA: camping in lanes to endlessly grind minions. You drop gems when you die, but the enemy can’t steal them, so there’s not a lot of impetus for crazy slaughterfests like you might see on Blackheart’s Bay.

I also don’t see extra waves of minions being terribly powerful compared to other map mechanics. If a team has one or more good wave-clearing heroes like Jaina or Sonya, how much of a threat is a bunch of spiders going to be?

Maybe it will be better in practice than I’m imagining, but at face value, Tomb of the Spider Queen seems like something designed to appeal to fans of traditional MOBA mechanics — which royally sucks for those of us who play Heroes specifically because it’s not like other MOBAs.

A preview of the Tomb of the Spider Queen map for Heroes of the StormSome other tweaks were announced that sound very welcome.

For one thing, they’ll be offering an option to disable all in-game chat.

Thank God.

The game isn’t even out of beta yet, and my ignore list is already full. The Heroes community is terrible, and it’s only going to get worse as more people join. The constant frustration of dealing with trolls, bigots, and cyber-bullies is really starting to wear on me, and I was worried it would ultimately turn me off the game for good.

But now, relief is in sight. Hallelujah.

Progression with also be improved. Many account level milestones will once again reward large sums of gold, and account level ten will award a free seven day stimpack (gold/XP booster). This doesn’t entirely solve the overly slow rate of gold acquisition, since it’s a one-time thing, but it does make leveling feel meaningful again, which is very welcome.

The really nice thing is these new rewards will be added retroactively to existing accounts, so whenever the patch with these changes goes live, I’ll have a pretty big payout coming my way. Might even buy Sylvanas at her initial 15K price point, assuming her release comes around the same time as these changes.

Jaina casting Blizzard in Heroes of the StormOverwatch: From Russia With Love

PAX East also saw the first significant batch of Overwatch news since its announcement at BlizzCon.

Firstly, beta is slated to begin in fall of this year. This is a bit disappointing, but I guess I have only myself to blame for feeling that way. My fault for believing the early beta hype — this is Blizzard, after all. They don’t do anything quickly.

Aside from that, they also revealed two new characters and a new map.

The first new character is McCree, a damage-oriented cyborg cowboy. Don’t really have a strong opinion of him either way; he is what he is. I still find Tracer a much more appealing way to scratch my gunslinger itch.

The more interesting is Zarya, the game’s first female tank. She is another clear example of Blizzard’s attempt to be more inclusive with Overwatch, though their success remains up for debate. She’s definitely not the stereotypical pencil-thin video game babe — that’s for sure.

On the downside, the whole “butch Russian lady” thing is pretty damn stereotypical… But reading her backstory did make me feel a bit better. To my surprise, she’s another character that’s being portrayed as quite pure-hearted and noble. Her story talks about how she was a promising athlete headed for fame and fortune and then abandoned all that to take up arms and defend her homeland from the Omnic machines.

A promotional image of Zarya in OverwatchSo they’ve certainly broken the “evil Russian” stereotype, at least. Fairly impressive considering the West’s past and recent history with Russia.

From a gameplay perspective, I’d say I find Zarya the most appealing of the current tank characters, if only for the pew-pew lasers factor. Also that blackhole ultimate of hers looks pretty lethal under the right circumstances.

The other reveal was a new map, Watchpoint: Gibraltar. It looks like a pretty generic sci-fi base, and I can’t say I’m impressed. Not nearly as colourful as the other maps we’ve seen so far.

World of Warcraft: Introducing the WoW Token

“We have a lot of money, but we don’t yet have all the money, so we are pleased to announce a new way for you to give us money.”-Blizzard press release.*

*(Not really.)

Official logo for World of WarcraftAll snark aside, the news recently broke that Blizzard is planning to add a system similar to PLEX, the “pay your sub with in-game currency” system pioneered by EVE Online and now offered by many other games with subscriptions, to World of Warcraft.

The WoW Token, as it’s being called, is something players can purchase for real life cash and then sell to other players for gold. These players can then redeem the token to add a month of subscription time to their account.

It’s another way for Blizzard to soften their subscription-only model, a tough sell in today’s market, without the risk, effort, or poor publicity of a free to play or buy to play transition.

There are some twists to the WoW Token compared to similar systems. It can only be traded through a special part of the auction house that will be added soon, and it can only be traded once, so there will be no flipping Tokens for profit or trading between friends. It also sounds as though Blizzard is planning to regulate the gold price of Tokens to some extent, at least at first.

On a visceral level, this does leave something of a poor taste in my mouth. Blizzard has now added pretty much every possible monetization strategy there is to WoW. It has a fully-stocked cash shop, a box price, paid expansions, paid character boosts and account services, a mandatory subscription, and now sanctioned gold-selling.

My rogue stares down Deathwing in the Dragon Soul raid in World of WarcraftHow anyone can still convince themselves this less a case of being nickle-and-dimed than the average free to play is beyond me.

That said, thinking about it rationally, I don’t see the WoW Token having a terribly negative impact on the game. Really, I don’t think it will have much impact at all.

This seems like the sort of thing that will only benefit players who are already the most privileged. Those wealthy in real life can now also be wealthy in-game, and those wealthy in-game can now essentially play for free.

They’re already ahead of everyone else, so giving them further advantages doesn’t seem to matter.

I very much doubt more average players like me are going to see any difference. The Tokens will likely be priced in tens or hundreds of thousands of gold, putting them well out of reach of us mere mortals, and I don’t have enough disposable income to throw at buying gold when I need to pay to play the game at all.

My warlock battles Al'akir the Windlord in Throne of the Four Winds in World of WarcraftIt has been argued that this will sabotage the effort of the current, illicit gold-sellers, but I’m not sure it will make that much difference. It should be easy enough for illegal gold-sellers to undercut Blizzard, and honestly, if anyone’s foolish enough to buy from them now, they’re foolish enough to buy from them when there’s a better option.

It probably won’t do the current gold-sellers any favours, but I’m sure they’ll still be fairly common even after Tokens are introduced.

In the end, mostly I’m just glad that Blizzard didn’t come up with yet another goofy, random acronym for the Tokens. Just because EVE made theirs an acronym doesn’t mean everyone has to, guys..

*Glares at WildStar, Rift, and Darkfall.*

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