ZAM tries to digest some of the most important news that came out of BlizzCon 2009 last weekend. The new WoW expansion, Blizzard's "new" Battle.net service and more...
As covered live by the ZAM.com reporting team, BlizzCon 2009 ended with a roaring thunder of a performance by Ozzy Osbourne and BlizzCon-regulars Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftain. After two days of new and exciting announcements, fun contests and fan-driven celebrations, around 25,000 people left Anaheim, California as the convention came to a close.
The news and announcements that came out of BlizzCon 2009 will be dissected, analyzed and refined by the media and fan community for months to come. Even though BlizzCon 2009 provided a finite amount of information, nearly every piece of it will be examined with a fine-tooth comb, leading to almost infinite speculation and pondering. New questions spawn from the answers we received, and this is just the beginning.
World of Warcraft is headed to a new era; the upcoming expansion, Cataclysm, will forever change the world’s most popular MMO. Blizzard’s new-and-improved Battle.net system is poised to change the way we play upcoming games like StarCraft II and Diablo III; possibly impacting the market as substantially as services like XBox Live. If you weren't able to find out what happened at BlizzCon until now, don’t worry; you'll be reading about it for months to come. In the meantime, here’s a succinct recap of the most important news and announcements that came out of BlizzCon 2009.
WORLD OF WARCRAFT: CATACLYSM
Blizzard didn't waste any time this year when it came to getting to the most important question on everyone's mind: "Are all these rumors of the next WoW expansion true?" At the opening ceremony, Blizzard's Vice President of Creative Development, Chris Metzen, confirmed that the next expansion would be "nothing less than earth-shattering," as he described it to the audience. "It will very literally change the face of the world of Azeroth as you know it." For the most part, yes…the rumors were spot-on.
I, for one, won't make the mistake of doubting "Boubouille" of MMO-Champion ever again. Back in mid-August, the same guy who made some pretty accurate predictions about Wrath of the Lich King reported a slew of "leaked" information about the upcoming expansion (which we all presumed might be called "Cataclysm," since Blizzard trademarked the name earlier this summer).
Although the rumors might have seemed to come out of left field, they did tend to make a bit more sense as the media and fans began to critically analyze them, once the initial shock had worn off. For months, fans had tried to decide if The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King implied a future pattern for WoW expansions, or if we would see the game veer off into a new direction. Would each expansion extend our level cap by 10, and open up a new region and race/class? Or could the original game world be revisited and improved upon?
The rumors floating around suggested a few concepts that seemed pretty far-out, like the Old World being torn asunder; its geography and topography ripped apart and reshaped into something brand-new. But as you can read in our coverage of the expansion panel, or on the official Cataclysm FAQ, the world-altering event is only the beginning.
Blizzard confirmed that the next two playable races will be the Goblins and Worgen, for the Horde and Alliance respectively. BlizzCon attendees even had the chance to try out the new races in their starting zones; check out our coverage of the gameplay demo. The majority of information about the expansion came from the Cataclysm Preview Panel, which announced it would revolve around Deathwing, one of the Five Dragon Aspects and leader of the Black Dragonflight in WoW lore.
Deathwing's influence will leave no part of Azeroth untouched, according to Metzen. Some zones, like the Barrens and Darkshore, will be completely reshaped, while other zones might see lesser changes. The Undercity will finally be completed; the ruins of Lordaeron swept away so that players can fly in and out of it; something they will be able to do in all capital cities. Quests and quest hubs will be heavily changed, to reflect the new events and landscape, and the entire"1 to 60" leveling progression will be redesigned.
The level cap will be raised to 85, and Azeroth will receive seven new zones, including an underwater zone. There will be many other changes to core game mechanics, like the removal of certain stats —in the interest of simplicity, the addition of a new secondary profession called Archeology, a revamped guild system with achievements and special abilities, and much more. And as mentioned, this is just the beginning; it's only what we've learned the first two days after the expansion was officially announced.
Fan reactions, for the most part, have been positive. It's easy to see how such a game-altering expansion could spook the majority of players, but everyone I've talked to and most of what I've read online points to the fact that fans are more excited than skeptical. Many have pointed out that Cataclysm will probably be the closest we will ever get to a "sequel," or the "WoW 2.0" that fans have requested. The Old World is evolving into something brand-new, and many core game mechanics are being re-worked and improved upon, in the interests of both fun and accessibility.
I believe Cataclysm is the closest thing to a WoW sequel that we will ever get, and the more I learn about the upcoming expansion, the more I agree with its direction and purpose. It's delivering many features that players have begged for throughout the years; Cataclysm is going back to where it all began, but this time Blizzard has five years worth of learning experience to draw from.
At the StarCraft II and Battle.net Panel on Friday afternoon, Blizzard finally answered some of the questions regarding the "new" Battle.net service that fans have been wondering about. Most significant is that the new Battle.net hopes to be a community-driven"hub" like many fans anticipated. You can read all the specifics at the official panel recap page, but this is how Blizzard described it, in summary:
We are building the new Battle.net to be the premier online gaming destination. The new Battle.net experience is a full-featured online game service designed specifically around Blizzard Entertainment titles, and will include a complete set of around-the-game features including a state-of-the-art matchmaking system, achievement system, social networking features, structured competitive play options, a marketplace, and much more. Our vision is to create an environment where gamers can compete online, develop an online persona, and stay connected to friends and the rest of the community while enjoying our games. In doing this, the new Battle.net will deliver the ultimate social and competitive experience for Blizzard Entertainment gamers everywhere.
Not only is it meant to connect players with the social utilities of a service like Steam, it's also going to feature its own, proprietary "marketplace," where you can make small purchases similar to Apple's "App Store." Anyone, from casual players to amateur developers, will be able to post their own content—like StarCraft mods and maps—and sell them to other players via consignment from Blizzard.
Blizzard hopes to capitalize on the proven success of social gaming networks like XBox Live, while using the Battle.net service as an additional source of revenue for upcoming games like StarCraft II and Diablo III, beyond their"box prices." It's actually just as brilliant as most of us would expect from Blizzard, and as long as the company doesn't begin charging for online play—or anything we used to get for free—the service doesn't appear to be quite as detrimental as it once appeared, although I'd still like Blizzard to give us back the ability to play on LANs.
STARCRAFT II AND DIABLO III
Although Blizzard's two major non-MMO games had a strong presence at the BlizzCon 2009, there wasn't a whole lot of new information released about either of them. StarCraft II news was noticeably lacking, aside from what little could be gleaned from the Battle.net panel.
Blizzard announced the next playable class in Diablo III; the Monk. Convention-goers had the chance to see the Monk class unveiled with a new video, then had the chance to try the character out in a playable gameplay demo. You can check out the official "Heroes and Monsters" panel recap here, which covers a lot of the Monk class mechanics and the design process involved in the creation of Diablo III's monsters.
Aside from all the new WoW: Cataclysm information, Blizzard offered some insight into the paid race changes that are coming to the game in the first Q&A session, which we reported here. The Dungeons and Raids panel offered information on the upcoming WoW patch 3.3, in which players will face down Arthas in Icecrown Citadel. The second Class panel and Q&A featured more fan questions fielded by the developers, which you can read about here.
The Game Systems panel featured an interesting look into some new features coming to WoW as soon as patch 3.3, like cross-server instances. Other new game features include an improved guild system and UI, rated Battlegrounds and more.
You can check out all the official BlizzCon 2009 recap coverage on the official BlizzCon website. All of the most substantial panels and announcements from the convention have been categorized and transcribed, with links to photos, art and gameplay videos and stills. You can also go back and check out our live BlizzCon coverage here.