BlizzCon 2016 Is a Disappointment

I woke up today feeling like it was Christmas morning. BlizzCon is always exciting, and after some of the hints we’ve seen, I was expecting some really huge news.

A promotional image of Overwatch's sombraInstead, it’s turned out to be perhaps the most disappointing BlizzCon to date. Certainly the most disappointing since I’ve started following it closely.

Overwatch: The worst kept secret in gaming

They began with the announcement we all knew was coming: The hacker Sombra will be the next playable character in Overwatch.

I’ll give them some credit for announcing her in a pretty dramatic way. They began with a retrospective video of Overwatch’s launch, only for Sombra to hack the feed — I genuinely thought the stream was crashing for a bit — and for that to dovetail into a new animated short introducing Sombra as she aids her Talon allies in attacking Volskaya Industries.

Sombra looks a lot more interesting than Overwatch’s other antagonists to date. She has an agenda of her own and seems to be playing both sides — her loyalty to Talon seems far from absolute.

That said, Blizzard’s continued reticence to do anything with the Overwatch IP is making it increasingly hard for me to get excited about anything to do with the game.

Overwatch's Sombra in her animated shortI do appreciate that they are maintaining their commitment to diversity in Overwatch, if nothing else. Both characters added post-launch have been women of colour, and the game’s cast is now close to perfect gender parity, as well. Now at ten females, twelve males, one non-gendered.

They also announced a new “arcade” mode that mostly seems to involve death match arenas, some new maps, and an ambitious new eSports league, but again, not really interesting me.

StarCraft: SkyNet, Nova, and Stukov

StarCraft II is the only game coming out of this BlizzCon’s opening ceremony to offer me anything approaching genuine excitement, which is a sad commentary on the whole convention.

Firstly, the final installment of the Nova DLC was confirmed to be launching on November 22 (appropriately enough), which is welcome news. More Nova is always good, and now that all three parts are out, I can finally play through it.

Second, fan favourite and eternal badass Alexei Stukov has been confirmed as the next playable commander in co-op. He would count as a Zerg commander, I suppose, but he seems to be very unique, based mainly on infested versions of Terran buildings and units.

A promotional image of co-op commander Alexei Stukov in StarCraft IIWe’re short on details on exactly how Stukov is going to play at the moment, but it’s good to see more ambitious updates to co-op regardless. And those infested battlecruisers look pretty sweet.

Also, walking bunkers.

Yes.

They’ve also mentioned new co-op maps coming soon. Details on this are only now coming in as I’m writing, but it looks like we’re finally getting that co-op version of Outbreak we’ve all been wanting forever. Awesome!

On the downside, I’m also hearing Blizzard is going to add leaderboards to co-op —  a competitive aspect that I don’t think anyone wanted, and which may lead to co-op ending up on the same endless nerf/buff rollercoaster as 1v1.

Finally, perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of BlizzCon so far is that Blizzard has partnered with the DeepMind team to use StarCraft II for advanced artificial intelligence research. It’s at best unclear what if any benefits this will ultimately have for us as players, but the very fact that the game we love is now going to be at the forefront of AI research is really exciting.

Heroes and Hearthstone: Steady as she goes

A shot from the announcement trailer for Hearthstone's Mean Streets of GadgetzanHeroes of the Storm and Hearthstone are pretty much just chugging along as you’d expect. Nothing to complain about, but nothing to get particularly excited for, either.

As many expected, Varian Wrynn will be joining Heroes as its next playable character. Although I was expecting a very standard warrior, he’s looking to be one of the most unique heroes to date. He’s actually a multi-role hero (I wonder how that will work with quests?) who can radically change his capabilities through several crucial talent choices.

The other new hero is Ragnaros the Firelord. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about him at the moment.

They also spent a lot of time talking about next week’s brawl. I’m not sure why a weekly brawl is worth so much attention in the opening ceremonies. Were they just trying to fill time?

Meanwhile, Hearthstone is of course getting another expansion, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. I don’t have a lot of interest in Hearthstone, and I don’t see this expansion changing that, but I will say they seem to have some neat ideas. Tri-class cards are pretty creative, and the Kabal and Jade Lotus factions seem genuinely interesting — would love to explore them in WoW.

Diablo: Remake, necromancer, and disappointment

Concept art for Diablo III's new necromancer classBut by far the biggest disappointment came when they finally got around to Diablo announcements. After the necromancer leak, I was sure we were finally getting another expansion to wrap up Reaper of Souls’ cliff-hanger ending.

Nope.

We are getting the necromancer as a paid DLC, but no new story content. They did mention two new zones (as free updates), but they’re going to be adventure-mode exclusives like Greyhollow Island. Something to poke your head into for an hour and then forget about.

The other big news is that the first Diablo game is being recreated within Diablo III. We’ll be able to use our existing characters, so I guess the original classes aren’t coming back, but they will be bringing back at least some of the original mechanics (including intentionally making the graphics look worse, because apparently common sense and the Diablo franchise have severed all ties).

This is a confusing decision, and I’m not sure who the target audience is. I can understand trying to capitalize on some nostalgia, and broadly I like the idea of resurrecting old games, but it’s going to be too different from the original to satisfy the purists, and I’m not sure how much modern gamers are going to enjoy something that has been deliberately designed to be more clunky and visually unappealing than current content.

Diablo III badly needed a new expansion. There are so many story threads left unfinished, so many lands left to explore. The game can’t survive on adventure mode and seasons forever. I want to play more, but there’s just nothing left in the game for me to do. The base game and its expansion were wildly successful, and there can be no doubt a new expansion would do well. I just don’t get it.

A shot from the announcement video for Diablo III's new necromancer classThe necromancer does look cool — I love necromancers in general, and Diablo’s take on the archetype especially — but is it worth forking over cash just to play through exactly the same content as a new character?

I hate how gamers are always pronouncing premature death on games, but at the risk of hypocrisy, I think we may now declare Diablo III dead in the water. Yes, it’s getting some more updates, but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of true forward momentum here. The story has been abandoned unfinished, and the game is just chasing its tail.

Between this, StarCraft’s apparent abandonment of mission packs, and Overwatch’s inexplicable aversion to exploring its own lore, I’m beginning to wonder if Blizzard is simply moving away from narrative in its games altogether.

That’s pretty much the only thing that could finally break my lifelong Blizzard fandom.

* * *

And that’s it. Nothing at all announced for World of Warcraft. No mention of a Warcraft movie sequel. Undoubtedly more news is to come as the convention unfolds, but it’s not likely to be anything huge.

What a massive disappointment.

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4 thoughts on “BlizzCon 2016 Is a Disappointment

  1. I bet it’s because Christ Metzen retired so they’re just being very lazy when it comes to story telling and just want to make things easy on themselves. I knew there wasn’t going to be anything new this Blizzcon but just paid to get the exclusive in-game items as usual. Disappointing but whatever, at least I have something to watch, even though they don’t have half the stages being streamed which is REALLY disappointing since I want to see a lot of the stuff that they’re not showing this year. Apparently they think everyone wants to watch e-sports since all the kiddies love Twitch now instead of the creative stuff like voice acting and art direction.

    • I have been a little concerned that Metzen’s leaving may single a move away from story for Blizzard. From what I understand he was the main voice at the company arguing for the importance of lore and story over the years.

  2. I figured the way they were selling Blizzcon it was just going to be an anniversary celebration so my expectations were low.
    Overwatch diversity is terrible. 10 women of which 1 is old, 1 is large, 1 is Mei and the remaining 7 are all young, lithe and conventionally attractive.

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