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Blizzcon Catchup: What’s Next for all Blizzard’s Games

Image courtesy: Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzcon is massive, as we mentioned, and there’s tons to see and do during the convention. Whether you’re live on the floor at the Anaheim Convention Center or you’ve purchased a Virtual Ticket to the con, some of the most anticipated panels of the weekend are the What’s Next panels for the pantheon of Blizzard titles. We checked in on each of Blizzard’s What’s Next panels and have all the details for you in case you missed them.

 

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth

World of Warcraft:

World of Warcraft , or WoW, as it’s affectionately known, just came off a giant expansion that brought many people back into the fold, so you’d be forgiven if you thought there wasn’t too much to report when it comes to what’s next for this massively multiplayer giant. Battle for Azeroth and the current content for it are just the beginning though, and WoW has a lot in store for its loyal and returning player base. In just one month 8.15, the first major content patch, will drop, but the panel went even further to discuss and even show off what it’s got in store for players on to 8.25 (which as yet does not have a release date.) This patch, formally named Tides of Vengeance, includes brand new raid instances, like the Battle for Dazar’alor in 8.15, which is unique in that it will provide a different experience for each faction, Horde and Alliance, as they either defend the Zandalari capital or attempt to destroy it.

World of Warcraft. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

On top of new warfront missions, new island expeditions and new assaults, changes are being made to rewards and in-game systems, including adding a doubloon vendor for island expeditions (and many more exciting rewards) as well as improved emissary rewards. Game devs also announced systematic improvements, like one reputation grind across all a player’s characters, a rework of the PvP talents, a new structure for Warfront quests and war mode rebalancing. Another exciting announcement was the exploration of lore for two of WoW’s races–Blood Elves and Dwarves–which will delve deeper into the history behind these races.

In addition, Tides of Vengeance will introduce two new races to the game. For the Alliance, Kul Tiran humans, and for the Horde, Zandalari Trolls. Ryan Shwayder, WoW’s senior game designer, showed off the racial traits, heritage armor and models for these new races to a lot of excitement from the crowd. Both races introduce unique roles for Alliance and Horde characters, allowing for a horde paladin and an alliance shaman, respectively. Attendees were also shown the special mounts and druid forms.

World of Warcraft. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

8.15 will also bring an overhaul of holidays, beginning with some additions to Children’s Week, and even more micro holidays, including The Wanderer’s Festival, Vash’jir Diving and a Free T-Shirt Day. Timewalking dungeons will continue, this time with Warlords of Draenor content being the feature, and two mounts from that expansion as rewards. Portal rooms will be added to major cities Orgrimmar and Stormwind for Horde and Alliance, respectively, and new questlines and rewards for every profession will be available.

The Brawler’s guild will get an overhaul with new bosses, a new ‘whodunit’ questline, and new rewards, including T-shirts and mounts, and Battlegrounds are being retooled as well, with Arathi Highlands and Warsong Gulch both getting remastered. Another surprise regarding battlegrounds came with the introduction of the Arathi Comp Stomp Brawl, announced for the 8.25 update, which will allow players to battle against AI players for the first time ever. Rounding out the 8.15 patch news was new character models for worgen and goblins.

World of Warcraft. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

As for after Tides of Vengeance? WoW’s Jeremy Feasel, a Senior Game Designer, had even more to tease. Following the time of the raids on Dazar’Alor, when both factions are struggling to recoup their losses, naga assaults will begin, and a crack in the ocean discovered, leading up to the 8.25 discovery of the land of Nazjatar. This is the kickoff to Rise of Azshara, another new boatload of content.

Rise of Azshara features Nazjatar, an entire new playable area with several different zones, including the Kelp Forest and Ship Graveyard. There will be plenty of new races to encounter, new weapons to acquire, baby naga pets, and even two new mounts–a crab mount and a seahorse– and a march to the Eternal Palace where Queen Azshara waits for you in a new raid, aptly titled Azshara’s Eternal Palace, which will feature 8 new bosses.

Another huge addition in Rise of Azshara takes place on the Alliance side, where the mysterious vault door in the land of the gnomes finally opens, leading to the discovery of a second new area, Mechagon. Mechagon, too, features new races, including robot foes and junker gnomes trying to escape a society where becoming more robot determines your social strata.

Mechagon features a new dungeon, too, that’s being called a Megadungeon. It’s a double length dungeon recalling the likes of Karazhan, and at least for now is planned to be only playable as a mythic dungeon, with new mounts and gear to be discovered within. Finally, as the story continues beyond these areas, Feasel promised more story for Sylvanas, Saurfang, Jana, and even Magni. As you can tell, if you’re a World of Warcraft Player, you’ve got an awful lot to look forward to, and that’s even without the addition of World of Warcraft Classic, which is backed by the entire weight of the current WoW team.

 

Overwatch. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

Overwatch:

For Overwatch, what’s next was really more about what’s now. During Blizzcon’s opening ceremony, when it came time for Overwatch news, they had a cinematic locked and loaded that featured Ashe, the 29th hero in the roster, voiced by legendary voice actress Jennifer Hale (who some may already know as the voice of FemShep from another hit game series, Mass Effect.) The community really seemed to embrace the new addition, a rough and tumble cowgirl who’s not quite squeaky clean, and in the What’s Next panel, most of the time was devoted to learning more about her and how she works in the the game universe and her functionality.

Ashe, Overwatch. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

Ashe is less the do-gooder hero and more the vigilante seeking justice at any cost, and she came from a wealthy family. In fact, her giant robot friend Bob is actually her former butler. Game devs and designers talked about the work that went into designer her and her companion, Bob, and what a challenge (and budget stretch) it was to introduce a hero that was essentially two characters. They then took a deep dive into her various weapons and what they wanted for their feel, to a very excited crowd. We expect Ashe will be a vital part of the story this year and a well loved and oft-played hero.

 

Hearthstone:

Hearthstone Concept Art. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

Echoing World of Warcraft’s Battle for Azeroth expansion, Hearthstone’s plans for the future include the troll race. As announced at the opening ceremonies, Rastakhan’s Rumble is the next expansion for the Warcraft-based strategy card game. As the Hearthstone: What’s Next panelists put it, perhaps overly aggressively, trolls are cool. The expansion takes place in the Gurubashi Arena, and centers on everything troll. This means dinosaurs, ostentatious armor, spirits and loa–or spirit animals–that rep the different factions. It’s all about style and unnecessary strength, and looks to be a fun addition to the game.

 

 

Heroes of the Storm. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

 

Heroes of the Storm:

The beginning of the Heroes of the Storm: What’s Next panel read more like an apology than a hype-fest like the others. Even though they’d introduced a new playable character, Orphea, to great excitement in the opening ceremonies, it seemed like they were more focused on assuring the player community that they would continue to be transparent with them about plans for the game, at the same time . Perhaps this was due to some restructuring as far as classes, as Heroes of the Storm branched out their character classes to become more specific, from a more generic term like “warrior” to Tank or Bruiser, indicating different strengths. The classes for the game are now as follows: Tank, Bruiser, Healer, Support, Melee Assassin, and Ranged Assassin.

Orphea, Heroes of the Storm. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

With the introduction of the new character, Orphea, who will be a ranged assassin, comes the addition of a fourth comic book based on the game, which will release later this month and delve into her back story. And on top of new characters, familiar ones will be getting reworked, with the dev team promising to alternate between introducing new heroes and revamping old ones.

The Heroes of the Storm Team also announced gameplay changes meant to help with matchmaking problems that currently existed–namely, to eliminate situations in which Quick Match, the most popular mode for multiplayer, would include several of one class and none of another, vital to the match class, so that matches are more fair. They also announced rank point decay, and added solo and 4s to team leagues. To address problems with disconnecting during ranked play, if you’re saddled with an AI player after someone on your team disconnects, and you lose the match, it won’t count in your stats. Additionally, if players are consistent disconnecters, they will receive penalties that stack over time. To make it easier to gain access to ranked play, the number of matches needed to qualify will drop from 10 to 3, though players will need to complete a questline in order to receive their seasonal rewards, and promotion/demotion matches will be eliminated from the game, because as the Heroes of the Storm team put it–it’s just not fun. Some final announcements included reworks for Stitches, who’ll be classified as a tank and get an upgrade to his already powerful hooks, and a rework for Sylvanas, who will be an epic ranged assassin, not a specialist, which “better fits her vibe.” She will also receive more powerful talents. Final fixes include a camera pullback, revamp to the stealth system, regen globes and tower ammunition. All in all, it looks like Heroes of the Storm will only improve with these planned changes.  

 

Starcraft II. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

Starcraft II:

Starcraft is one of the biggest IPs Blizzard has in its pantheon, and has a very devoted fan base. Naturally, this means the company needs to deliver, and it seems they know that too. Currently on the table for Starcraft II players are changes to the leaderboards, the ability to watch Starcraft Esports in the game client, and of course, new warchests.

Warchests are part of a program in Starcraft that you pay admission to so you can then unlock things by playing the game. New for the game is the chance to get warchest rewards for watching on Twitch, and rewards include new unit skins as well as all new building skins.

Starcraft II. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

Building skins are exactly what they sound like, and will be available to match your armies. Quite a few skins were shown off to the delight of Starcraft fans in the audience, and it looks to be a positive change. On top of these changes was the addition of a new co-op commander, Zeratul, as well as Xel’Naga and Prophecy enhancements, with new legendary protoss options and Ultimate Xel’Naga constructs.

Game designer Michael Scipione took the stage for a bit to discuss the overall goals for Starcraft II’s Versus Mode, including adjustment of end game units for each race, an assurance of sorts of a continuing stream of interesting upgrades and the reintroduction of exciting compositions from the past. There will be new races, new balance patches and an overall respect of the time investment made by players, Scipione ensured the audience.

Starcraft II. Image courtesy Blizzard Entertainment.

After this news, Scipione and the Starcraft II team were joined by a researcher from Deepmind, a company at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence who have been using video games to help AI become more advanced and more human in their strategies.The discussion centered around the use of Starcraft and Starcraft II to introduce the AI to more complex strategic decisions than it had ever encountered in the past, and the struggles the AI had to keep up in the beginning versus what the Deepmind team considers a “very competent human performance” to date, including Deepmind’s ability to beat the hardest UI in the game. There’s still a while to go before it can beat Starcraft’s elite players, and despite a seeming eagerness to do so, attempting to battle Deepmind is still TBD, but the overall insight into the complex strategy of Starcraft II and the development of artificial intelligence were interesting even if you’ve never played the game.

Though none of the announcements at this year’s Blizzcon “What’s Next” series of panels were particularly mind-blowing, it looks like there’s a whole lot of work and love going into each of the company’s titles, and players of any of these games will have something to look forward to in the near future.

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