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Published on August 26th, 2009 | by gareth

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Blizzcon 09 Final Report

By Jeff Lange and Trista Olson

What do you get when 20,000 rabid gamers descend on one convention center for two days in Anaheim, California? That’s right, it’s Blizzcon 2009 and it’s bigger and crazier than ever. One year ago here I threw down the gauntlet in Blizzard’s direction, saying that if they intend to make Blizzcon a yearly event, they’d better bring more to the table than announcing that there will be a caster class (wizard) in a game that’s multiple years away from release (Diablo 3). Well Blizzard picked up that gauntlet, placed a laser cannon in it’s grip, and blasted me right in the face. Blizzcon 2009 hit, and it hit hard. Incredible announcements, Insightful panels, Show-stopping gameplay, hard-fought tournaments, and a concert hosted by none other than the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne rattled the walls of the Anaheim Convention Center for two days and nights, giving avid Blizzard fans just what they were looking for.

The sheer volume of bodies present at the convention would stun a first time visitor to Blizzcon. In fact, for the first half of day one, it was difficult to get around. So. Many. People. This year, Blizzard secured all four main halls of the convention center (up from 3 in 2009, and 2 in 2007, 2005) and really packed the house. With 20,000 tickets being sold out in less than a minute, it’s curious to wonder just how many people would purchase tickets to this event and attend if size and logistics would permit? 50,000? 100,000? 200,000? It’s mind boggling to say the least. Although lines were daunting, they were much improved this year. Lines to play demos moved rather quickly, and the Blizzard store, a soulcrushing ogre of a line in years past, was manageable and well stocked.

Even on the second half of day two, I found myself able to purchase the items I wanted. Third party vendors were in full swing, many taking a page out of the book of companies like J!nx and offering fun interactive games and demonstrations to attract convention goers. In the past, I have found myself late on day 2 wondering what was left to do. This year, I found myself running from place to place screaming, “Oh my god let’s go do that!!!”

World of Warcraft needs no introduction. It’s the biggest game in the world. Period. Hey, and since it’s the biggest game, let’s go ahead and add to that. Boom. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is next in line to expand the universe, and not one but two new playable races are set to make their debut: Worgen for the Alliance, and Goblins for the Horde. You know what to expect right? New zones, dungeons, levels, creatures, quests, and NPCs all will grab you by the throat and demand what remains of your real life. However, what you may not have been expecting is a complete makeover of the Azeroth world. It’s called Cataclysm for a reason folks.

The world of Azeroth is going to be ripped open and landscapes changed forever to reflect the tumultuous times. Blizzard has also promised new quests, better level flow from zone to zone, and amazing fleshing out of the existing world. In previous expansions, players have been asked to get to know and love new areas and content. You’re going to have that in WoW: Cataclysm, but what you’re also going to get is new twists and excitement from familiar content. Remember that girl from high school that hung out with your group of friends sometimes. She was funny, kinda cute, and smart. Well now you’re both back home from college for the summer and she looks drop dead gorgeous! Oh, and she wants to know if you’re free this weekend. Clear your calendar when this one hits. You may not want to turn away from your computer when it does.

Jacked up and good to go! That’s how Starcraft 2 looks, plays, and feels. The release date of the game has been pushed back to early 2010, but from seeing the game itself, it seems that much of that may be due to the fine tuning of the new and vastly improved Battlenet matchmaker system which is firmly integrated into the Starcraft 2 experience. (More on that later.)

The single player campaign is an immersive experience. You will be involved deeply with the story delving into the personal lives of the main characters through cinematics and an impressive briefing room (Reminds me of Wing Commander. And who didn’t love Wing Commander? That’s right, nobody.) The ability to select what unit types you wish to develop between missions and a new emphasis on earning money will help to bridge missions together for a central purpose instead of feeling like separate jobs rattled off one after another to progress the story. Time and time again while talking about Starcraft 2, Blizzard developers stressed that missions are going to be of numerous variable types. You aren’t going to simply build-defend-attack 20 times and call that a campaign. As an example, developers discussed a mission where the goal was to harvest a ton of minerals.

Sounds simple, right? Well, not so simple in a hostile environment where raising and lowering lava can overwhelm your buildings and workers, leaving you hopeless. You’ll have to battle the environment as well as any unsympathetic forces that may be in the area in order to complete your goal. This is just one of what was promised to be many different types of new and fun ways to make missions fun and unique. Maybe the most exciting element of Starcraft 2 is the map editor. Actually, forget the term map editor. It’s more like a complete game editor. Players will be able to edit nearly every component of the game and create new and exciting ways to play Starcraft that we have never even thought of. Keep your eyes open on this one. The Starcraft game editor might be flying under the radar for now, but I’d bet anything that it’s going to be a tremendous influence on the Starcraft gaming experience. It may be over 10 years since the last Starcraft game, but this one is definitely going to be worth the wait.

Although still a long ways off, Diablo 3 completed the trilogy of Blizzard universes at Blizzcon 2009. This time, another class was unveiled to the masses – the Monk. Fists of Fury and blazing speed are his weapons. The best announcement about Diablo 3 came in one of the Q+A sessions with the attendees. One of the most hated things about Diablo 2 was watching the item you worked so hard to get be snatched up by some punk who had nothing to do with defeating the monsters.

Well players will be given one less reason to smash their mouse against the wall thanks to individualized loot drops. Your group kills a mob and it has a chance to drop loot for every player, and only that player. Take your time to dance around that unique ring that just dropped by your toes, because your buddy is going to be busy jitterbugging around his new axe. My main concern with Diablo 3 is still gameplay innovation. Is the classic “point-click-kill-loot” style gameplay going to be enough to satisfy today’s evolving gamer? Replayability is still a huge question mark with this one for me. Another concern I have is with the online component. I played a round of multiplayer with three friends of mine. This wasn’t just some pickup group. We’ve played together for years in guilds in various different games.

Like many gamers, we’re used to working together, strategizing, and executing our plans to achieve victory. Well battle tactics for this game seem to consist of one thing. “OMG there they are! Get them!” Well we got ‘em. How could we not? Every ability seemed to unleash lethal blow after blow splattering our enemies into piles of blood and bone. Yes, that’s great up to a point, but it doesn’t make for interesting or challenging gameplay. Rather, it just makes for a screen full of blood, confusion, and spam clicking on everything. I understand different people like different types of games, but to me this just feels like World of Warcraft minus any type of combat strategy plus gallons of gore. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong as development of this game continues. There’s still plenty of time.

The term “revolutionary” is thrown around a lot in the gaming industry, but it is seldom warranted. With that in mind, I’m fully confident that it is indeed the word revolutionary that best describes Blizzard’s new Battlenet service. More than just a matchmaking device, the new Battlenet looks to be turning games into communities. Imagine being able to find long lost friends from different games. Imagine true tiered ladder Starcraft leagues, giving everyone a chance to compete against those of comparable skill.

Imagine watching replays of professional Starcraft games complete with audio commentary right off of Battlenet. This new service is closing the gaps between individual games, bringing everyone together in one big Blizzard community of gaming. As many tremendous announcements as Blizzcon 2009 unveiled, I believe looking back 5 years from now, we will all remember the birth of this new Battlenet community system as being the most important moment. It’s that big.

I was asked a few times why Blizzard moved this year’s Blizzcon to August rather than the customary October. Prior to the convention, I didn’t have an answer. I have one now. Blizzard is bursting with exciting ideas and news and just couldn’t wait to tell everyone! The developers and senior Blizzard staff were so passionate and full of energy talking about all their new offerings. Blizzard brought the big guns out this year, no question about it. Part of me wishes that Blizzcon could have continued on another week for more fun, but most of me says, “Blizzard you rock! But playtime is over, get back in that studio and crank this stuff out! It looks great!”
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