BlizzCon 2018 Wishlist/Predictions

Right now my usually unshakeable Blizzard fandom is at an all time low. I played Blizzard games for the story, but Blizzard now seems to have given up on meaningful narrative for all of its games with the exception of World of Warcraft, whose plot is currently going off the rails on the lazy train.

The official logo for Blizzard EntertainmentStill, old habits die hard. I’m sure I’ll still be there watching the opening ceremonies live, and if I’m to keep that tradition alive, I might as well also do my traditional post of wishes and predictions for what’s ahead.

What I think will happen:

This is one of those weird BlizzCons where you wonder why they’re even holding the convention. It doesn’t seem likely that there will be any major announcements, and a relative lack of news panels on the schedule seem to back this conclusion. Maybe BlizzCon is just about the eSports now? It would track with the overall direction of the company lately.

There will be announcements, of course. I just don’t see any of them being big news.

WoW has already spilled all the beans on 8.1. We’ll probably get some info on 8.1.5 and a brief tease of 8.2, but big or detailed revelations are unlikely.

Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch will both inevitably announce one or two new heroes and/or maps, but that’s hardly news at this point. Similarly we can expect a new Hearthstone expansion, but again, those come out so often it’s hardly noteworthy these days.

Alarak in StarCraft II's Covert Ops DLCStarCraft is a big question mark. There is a 45 minute “What’s Next” panel listed for StarCraft II on the schedule, so they must have something to announce, but I’m not sure what. A new co-op commander is the obvious answer, but we just got Tychus, and considering how long he took, I doubt we’ll see another for some months yet. A new co-op map is a possibility, but is that enough to fill up a 45 minute panel?

That does leave the elephant in the room, though: Diablo.

There has been a surprising amount of momentum building for Diablo lately. The announcement of the Book of Adria and a new comics series, as well as a bunch of new Diablo apparel bearing the tagline “Reign of Terror,” which does sound suspiciously like an expansion title, though we’ve been misled by things like this before.

Also, a Diablo “What’s Next” panel is scheduled for the main stage immediately after the opening ceremony, a timeslot normally reserved for whatever the biggest news to come out of the convention is.

I’ve been hoping for another expansion for Diablo III for years and been disappointed every time, so I refuse to get my hopes up again. A lot of people are jumping on the Diablo IV bandwagon, but given Blizzard’s, shall we say, stately pace of development, I think a whole new Diablo game this soon is all but impossible. I also think the announcement of an entire new game would call for more than two panels at the convention, but two is all Diablo is getting according to the current schedule.

A cutscene from Diablo III: Reaper of SoulsThere’s also been wild rumours of a Diablo Netflix series of all things, and while I think there’s a decent chance it may be announced at BlizzCon, I don’t see it filling up a “What’s Next” panel, which are always about new game updates.

Considering all that, I believe the most likely scenario is that we will see the announcement of another DLC for Diablo III, possibly alongside (maybe even tying into) the Netflix series. I expect a new class (probably druid or something similar), and maybe a small amount of new story or a new gameplay feature.

What I want to happen:

The trouble is most of the things I’d want to see at BlizzCon this year are so vanishingly unlikely it’s hardly worth mentioning them even as a wishlist.

I want WoW to announce an end to the subscription, Pathfinder achievements, and the Alliance/Horde conflict. I’d also like to see Vrykul, Forsaken High Elves, and Sargerai as playable Allied Races. And hey, might as well throw in that dark ranger class I’ve wanted forever while we’re at it. And bring back artifact weapons! And badges!

With blackjack! And hookers!

I want a single-player campaign and a permanent, repeatable co-op mode for Overwatch. A robust co-op mode for Heroes of the Storm would be pretty cool, too.

Hierarch Artanis and Executor Selendis rally the Golden Armada in StarCraft II: Legacy of the VoidI’d like to see Selendis announced as the next co-op commander — this at least is somewhat within the realm of possibility — with a strong focus on air units, and the Planetcracker.

I’d also love more story DLC for StarCraft II. Again, ideally focusing on Selendis, though I’d also accept stories about Stukov or Talandar.

Most of all, I want a new expansion for Diablo III, with a full graphical overhaul to the Heroes of the Storm/SC2 engine, redemption for Leah’s soul, Imperius as a boss we can kill, a new class, and a final resolution to the Eternal Conflict.

But of all of those, Selendis in co-op is the only that seems even remotely feasible, unfortunately.

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BlizzCon 2017: Battle for Azeroth, the Horners, and Questioning My Fandom

BlizzCon is once again upon us. After an utterly cringey video trying to sell the Blizzard community as some warm and welcoming place (a notion easily disproved by 30 seconds in WoW), the announcements started coming hard and fast. And yet in all that news, I found very little that excites me.

The official logo for World of Warcraft: Battle for AzerothThe Battle for Azeroth begins:

Let’s get the biggest news out of the way. The next World of Warcraft expansion is Battle for Azeroth, focusing on the war between Alliance and Horde.

Again. Seriously.

Sigh…

So many awesome expansion ideas. So many potential plot threads. And they decide to once again flog the same dead horse they’ve been trying vainly to resurrect for over ten years. What a waste.

The thing is, we know this is a story that can’t go anywhere. No faction can either win or lose. We already went down this road in Pandaria, and while there was some great story-telling along the way, it was a story that ultimately went nowhere and changed almost nothing.

It makes the characters out to be such numb-skulls, too. By working together, the Alliance and Horde just defeated the most powerful army in the entire universe and saved countless trillions of lives. And now they’re back to clubbing each other over the head for land. Sure, that makes sense.

I do like her new outfit, I'll give you thatAnd honestly, it’s just depressing. Every day I wake up to news of the world spiraling deeper into hatred and despair, intolerance and paranoia spreading like wildfire, conflicts that will never be solved claiming more and more innocent lives. Do we really need that in our entertainment, too?

Urgh…

To add insult to injury, Azshara will be in this expansion as a raid boss, but that means we’ll never get an expansion all about her. The most legendary and exciting villain left in the Warcraft universe is being thrown away as an afterthought. It’s like if Wrath of the Lich King had been just one tier.

Now maybe — maybe — if she’s the last boss of the expansion, if it turns out everything else builds to her, maybe they might be able to do her justice. But I’m not hopeful right now.

I’m not sure if this is a silver lining or salt in the wound, but a lot of the actual features of the expansion are things I like. There’s two new continents this time, Kul Tiras and Zandalar, and those are both places I’ve wanted to see in the game for a very long time. I just wish they weren’t tied to such a pathetically dull meta-plot.

This time the continents are actually faction-specific, though you can access the other at max level. My guess is as an Alliance player (for example) you will never have access to Zandalar’s main stories, but you will be able to do world quests and dungeons there.

A preview of the new World of Warcraft expansion, Battle for AzerothThe most big ticket feature, at least in my view, is the oft-requested sub-races, though Blizzard is calling them allied races, and mechanics-wise they’re closer to full new races. There will be six at launch — including two new types of Elves — with more coming later.

Oddly, you’ll have to unlock the right to play these new races. The cynic in me is expecting some terrible pointless grind, but maybe it will be more story-driven like artifact quests, in which case it could be fun.

The new content types -Warfronts and Island Expeditions — are the sort of thing I’ll need to see in action to form an opinion of. And we’re getting a new artifact, but this time everyone gets the same artifact, and it’s a necklace. So basically the artifact system is continuing minus everything that made artifacts interesting. Sure, why not?

There will be leveling changes, as well, and at least some of these will be available before the expansion launches. While they’re not implementing the “One Azeroth” system I dreamed of, they are expanding level-scaling to give the old world broad level ranges. Legacy content is still irrelevant to max level players, but at least leveling will now flow a bit better. And you can skip Outland.

It’s unclear what, if any, other changes there will be. The plot of the expansion includes massive geo-political changes, most notably the destruction of Teldrassil (which means Horde are bad guys again, because absolutely everything about this has to be as tired and stale as possible, apparently), but there’s no talk of actual world changes. Will it be a phased thing? Will it only be in lore and not reflected in gameplay? You’d think if they were doing another Cataclysm, that would be a big headline.

The new Void Elf subrace in World of Warcraft: Battle for AzerothBattle for Azeroth is also missing a lot of other things I was hoping to see: No playable Vrykul, no new character customization, no new classes or specs.

Eh… I don’t know, man. I can’t muster any enthusiasm for any of this right now. Not even new Elves, and that’s a red flag if ever there was one.

Warcraft classic:

Here’s something no one saw coming: Blizzard is finally caving and planning to implement official vanilla servers.

There are a lot of people with a lot of very strong feelings on this. I’m not one of them. Honestly I never really saw the appeal. There are a few things I’d like to able to revisit about classic WoW, but it’s not enough of a draw for me to want to actually put in the time needed to actually level through it all.

I just don’t have much to say about this. I’m including mention of it for the sake of being thorough, but I just don’t care either way.

StarCraft: Meet the Horners

If there’s one thing about this BlizzCon I’m unabashedly excited for, it’s the new StarCraft II co-op commander(s): Matt and Mira Horner.

Mira Han-Horner in StarCraft IIThe idea of Matthew and Mira Han being a joint commander has been floated in the community a couple of times, and I’ve loved the idea from the beginning, but I never imagined Blizzard would actually do it. That they have is just delightful. The banter, people, think of the banter!

The gameplay video makes them look so fun, too. You can crash a space station into your enemies!

They will also be implementing the winner of the fan-made co-op map contest, though at this point I think I want a map veto more than I want new maps, so I’m not so excited for that.

The other news is that StarCraft II is about to go free to play… which is a little confusing, because it already is. And while the new update will relax some of the restrictions on non-paying players, it won’t eliminate them entirely, so really this is just a marketing gimmick more than any meaningful change.

But if it gets more people in StarCraft II, that can only be a good thing. Even if it’s winding down now, SC2 is one of the best things Blizzard’s done in the modern era.

The rest:

Blizzard’s other titles have gotten pretty much the news you would expect. Overwatch is getting a new map and hero.

The new support hero, Moira, in OverwatchThe map is BlizzardWorld, a theme-park based on Blizzard’s non-Overwatch games. It’s the most meta thing in the history of meta. The Protoss section is so beautiful I almost cried, though, and I admit I did laugh at “Snaxxramas.”

The new hero is an evil Scottish scientist named Moira. She’s a support.

They also had another animated short (about Reinhardt this time), which once again gives a hint of how amazing the Overwatch universe could be if Blizzard actually did anything with it, but they aren’t, so my ability to care is pretty much gone at this point.

Heroes of the Storm announced some general tweaks, including what appears to be massive nerfs to all stealth heroes, plus two new heroes: Overwatch’s Hanzo and Warcraft’s Alexstrasza. My enthusiasm for Heroes is greatly diminished these days, but I have to say the cinematic for those two was absolutely nerdgasmic. Man, I wish my Elven characters in WoW could look like Alex did there.

I’m probably reading too much in, but I was also intrigued by the repeated hints to “events in the Nexus” that will be unveiled at a later date. Not sure what that means, but it sounds important. Again, I may be reading too much in.

Finally, Hearthstone is of course getting another expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs. This was mainly amusing for watching the developer tie himself in knots trying to describe an expansion based on Dungeons and Dragons without using the phrase “Dungeons and Dragons.”

Alexstrasza the Dragon Queen in a Heroes of the Storm cinematicEngage cynicism:

I have to be honest: Mayhap soon the disappointment will wear off, or things will turn out better than I expect, but I have never questioned my Blizzard fandom as much as I am right now. This is a pretty big BlizzCon for news, and the only thing I’m genuinely excited about is a minor patch for StarCraft II. That’s bad.

It boils down to this: I became a Blizzard fan for the stories. Say what you will about Blizzard’s story-telling, but it always made me happy, since I was a little kid. But now we’ve reached a point where every single one of Blizzard’s franchises seems to have given up on story altogether, except Warcraft.

And Warcraft? Well, the Legion’s gone. Azshara’s about to be gone, and apparently she’s just being thrown away as a side story instead of being treated as the epic legend she is. There’s still N’Zoth, but as much as I’ve enjoyed the build-up around him over the years, I don’t really have much emotional investment in him.

It’s hard to imagine a future where I’m not a WoW player, but I think Blizzard may have finally run out of stories that I want to hear in that universe.

And I just don’t know where I go from here.