Overwatch 2 – A Sequel to Reactivation

Despite leaks throughout all of last week, to the extent of Jeff Kaplan’s painful referencing during the opening of the panel last week, Overwatch 2 is indeed a very real thing. At Blizzcon 2019 we finally managed to get a look at the reclusive pseudo-sequel to Blizzard-Activision’s online team FPS. It’s presentation to the public, while informative, was quite a bit of sudden information and then speculative questions on its content. The very nature of the game seems to contradict the idea of a sequel, but nevertheless it is indeed very real.

Built on the bones of Overwatch the sequel launched at Blizzcon to a powerful trailer and incredible fanfare. Featuring an attack on Paris, France by the terrorist group Null Sector, a recently reactivated Overwatch leaps into action to defend the populace. Led by Winston, only Mei and Tracer seemed to have answered the call to aid. Battling the re-surging Omnic terrorists, they are joined at the last minute by a slew of heroes including Genji Himura, Mercy, Reinhardt and Brigitte. Working with newly reactivated robotic flier Echo, the team reunited and put down the Omnic threat, ready to face the encroaching forces.

Despite being a major story point that the entire Overwatch community has been waiting for years on, what does this trailer really do for it’s sequel? Game Director Jeff Kaplan used it, as well as the follow-up feature trailer to explain the main draw of Overwatch 2 in it’s fully integrated PvE mode. Absent from its predecessor, the sequel will feature a heavily story-focused campaign. This main mode, compromised of co-operative narrative driven missions, will see Overwatch heroes of past and future teaming up to combat the Null Sector. Kaplan continued onward from that point, discussing how they would, “uncover the motives behind the robotic armies’ attacks and come face-to-face with rising new threats around the globe,” indicating of potential content beyond the organization.


Incorporating RPG elements into gameplay progression, item pickups will be littered throughout both Story and Hero mode missions. These additions can slightly modify a particular hero’s playstyle, though the three on display were minimal to say the least. These included a HP generator, a corrosive grenade and a barrier shield similar to Winston’s. Sadly, these do not carry over between missions.

What does carry between games are rewards earned through Hero Mission content. These events, designed to be highly replayable, are separate from the main story mode. Performing well will net players experience they can use to level up individual heroes, unlocking customization and techniques that modify their standard abilities. In the gameplay trailer a Tracer develops a technique that chains her Pulse Bomb explosion across several enemies. While it hasn’t been confirmed yet, it’s likely that these modifiers will be exclusive to the game’s PvE portion and barred from PvP gameplay.

Speaking of, Kaplan demoed several new aspects to the core PvP gameplay of the Overwatch franchise that will emerge in the sequel. This included both a new Canadian hero in the mysterious Sojourn, as well as a map featuring Toronto, one of the country’s major urban centers (no shots of the CN Tower yet). The team also debuted a new standard game mode in ‘Push’, a mobile point control map. Both teams fight for control over a central Robot, “who really likes to Push!” in a tug of war style matchup. Whoever can push their barrier furthest into enemy territory wins. This mode will come as a standard map and will enter standard rotations.


What comes as more of a confusing point than a clarification one is Overwatch 2’s relationship with it’s predecessor. Despite the original’s not crossing the console gap (let alone the gambling gap), Overwatch 2 will carry progress from the original game into its sequel. Furthermore, people playing in either game’s PvP modes will be able to play with each other and will share queues together. Heroes and maps made available to either will be available for the other. “No one gets left behind,” cried Kaplan on stage to a mixture of confused applause, decreeing that everything except PvE content and some new customization options will be available to ANY owner of the franchise.

Here is where we reach the crux of the problem with Overwatch 2. Despite promises of charging full price for the game, despite calling it a sequel, despite painting this donkey like a horse, the game is very much little more than an over glorified expansion pack. While in an interview with Kotaku, Kaplan confessed that the team wants to, “Do what’s right by the players,” it’s hard to see what makes Overwatch 2 stand out from its previous counterpart. It’s hard to do right by the players in charging full price for what’s little more than an expansion pack or an addon to the main game. If everything is accessible from the new to the old, in heroes maps and events, then what is the point in upgrading to it?


Whereas Blizzard’s MMO titan, World of Warcraft, can realistically judge a full-priced expansion every two years it’s hard to see what sets Overwatch 2 into this category. While Warcraft can argue that it realistically generates enough new non-recurring content over two years to offset the cost, what we’ve seen at Blizzcon of Overwatch 2 says the opposite. Instead it seems the team is focusing more on repeatable content in the form of Hero missions, using it to set the pace for the Story missions much like Anthem did earlier this year. If so, then Overwatch 2 has far more to prove in itself than just whether it’s worth the cost of entry; we need to ask if it’s overall worth the time in comparison to the original’s clear focus on PvP.

That, sadly, will take time to find the answer to. The days are still apparently early in the sequel’s development cycle. With a promised media blackout in effect by Kaplan, there isn’t much we’ll be hearing about the new entry in the franchise for quite some time.

The post Overwatch 2 – A Sequel to Reactivation appeared first on MMOGames.com.

WoW Wednesday: How Shadowlands Fixes Leveling

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has been announced to wild and dramatic buzz throughout the MMORPG’s community, even prior to its finale patch for Battle for Azeroth. In previous Blizzcon coverage this week we discussed its premise and the main hooks into its story. However, a much greater discussion is to be had about the game systems; what will build up the vital aspects of gameplay for adventurers coming into a new expansion. Before we discuss the endgame and the particularly ‘newer’ bits of content, it is far time for me to give Blizzard-Activision some accolades.

While Shadowlands is still quite some ways off, with a promised 2020 release date despite very early work being displayed at Blizzcon, Blizzard and director Ion Hozzikostas seem to be making a step in the right direction. The new player experience has become a paramount discussion, particularly with issues and questions raised regarding the Draught of Ten Lands and the widespread bans that came with it. In an effort to correct and assist in it a number of large-scale changes are coming to all of Warcraft.

The first, and one of the more controversial, is the level squish. Previously, World of Warcraft has had two major stat squishes in an effort to reduce numbers. The first, at the start of Warlords of Draenor was quickly undone in roughly two patch, with the second coming at the end of Legion to combat player health pools reaching into the multi-millions. This level squish is not unlike that, though there’s no word if we’ll see a stat squish come alongside it for the new expansion. With Shadowlands players will cap out at level 60, with all current max-level players being squished down to level 50.


The reason for this, as Hozzikostas explained, is two-fold. The first, is that leveling is INCREDIBLY long. In working on a 15th anniversary review for this website, I’ve easily clocked over 30+ hours on new max-level characters. The second, which we’ll dive more into momentarily, is that there simply isn’t enough to create intrinsic reward systems. With how few and spread out both abilities and talents are you could go for nearly 15 levels with some classes before getting a new thing. Previously, the effort to combat it was making leveling flexible in a sense; players would start on Cataclysm’s Azeroth, graduate to a pair of expansions, and unlock more every 20 levels. However, players would STILL out-level expansion related content with this new system. With a major focus on end game, newer players would apparently become confused with the lack of dungeon-guided content to participate in.

Instead, all of this has been completely scrapped.

Now, new players to Azeroth will play through their first ten levels on a completely new zone. Exile’s Reach is a small island off the coast of Stormheim, and it’s there that your faction has sent an exploratory force. They have since gone missing, and you’ve been recruited to assist in discovering their whereabouts and safety. This zone will culminate in a flexible, 2 boss dungeon for up to 5 players where heroes will thwart the efforts of a dragon-worshipping ogre cult! From there, new players will be guided to Battle for Azeroth content to level from 10 to 50, before being introduced to Shadowlands. Reportedly, this squish will make leveling through Battle for Azeroth to 50 roughly 50-70% faster.

In line with this system, Blizzard wants to have Veteran players making new characters feel like they’re investing in more of, ‘a New Game+ system.’ Players who have already completed Exile’s Reach may choose to level in their original racial starting zones, and afterwards may talk to Chromie to level through ANY expansion content. The reasoning for it is to make the player experience more flexible overall, while allowing people to enjoy entire expansions worth of content without interrupting the story. Citing Mists of Pandaria as a prevalent example for this, players would reportedly complete the Jade Forest, half of their second zone, and suddenly be ready to dive into Warlords of Draenor content. Death Knights and Demon Hunters will now start at level 1 for any starting zone, leveling up to 10 by the time it’s completed. Allied Race characters, as is the current course, will start at level 10.


This, in no simple terms, is a brilliant fix.  In discussions I just had last week with a member of my guild, the notion of making, ‘every piece of past expansions relevant’ came up; that desire to explore ALL of Azeroth and have it matter. Right now, Azeroth feels cracked into splinters with its wealth of content, but shallow level banding and irrelevant storytelling in older zones. Between initiatives in Timewalking and now this new leveling system it quite holistically unites the whole world. It makes it a cohesive Roleplaying Game again.

Imagine your first MMORPG, or even your first RPG. That exploration of a world foreign to you despite its threats. Games without enemies, like Shadow of the Colossus, do exceedingly well in this by making every piece of its world’s content relevant. Games such as Dragon Age face issues where, while new exploration is exciting, the challenge quickly begins to fade when you blow past enemies. Melding those two philosophies together, allowing you to explore a self-contained continent WHILE it still being relative to how you progress your character, is the perfect solution players have been crying for since we first broke the level 100 barrier.

This is enriched with the Great Unpruning. Jokingly referring to himself as ‘Ion the Unpruner,’ Hozzikostas revealed to a joyful crowd that classes would be having abilities returned to it. Citing issues with individual specializations carrying more identity than the class, the team has begun working on breaking down barriers to equip classes with old abilities and more utility. Some abilities, such as the Druid’s Cyclone, will be removed from the Talent Trees and reintroduced as a baseline ability. Others like the sorely missed Shattering Throw for Warriors, are being unretired and brought back into the game. Classes like the Mage will have spells like Frostbolt as a standard, with specializations adding more abilities regarding that spell, instead of mass-stripping and exchanging spells wholesale.

The idea seems to be to return to a mindset more in line with Classic’s development mentality. Each class has a large assortment of baseline abilities, some relevant to their current rolls and some not. Arms Warriors, provided they have a shield, will be able to once again use Shield Block which is currently Protection restricted spell. Activating particular specializations will then add additional mechanics and abilities around what is already available instead of resorting and landscaping hotbars en masse. “Every priest can call upon the Light,” lead game designer Brian Holinka said on stage, “And they can harness the shadow… That shouldn’t change between specs.”


In doing this every class reportedly should get something new every level. While its not necessarily a long-term fix for Warcraft, particularly if we have a whack of expansions in the future, it solves the fundamental problem currently. Players are once more intrinsically rewarded as they level. End-game and high-level players will now have a far more adaptable and complex toolkit to experiment with. Even in the case of the Warrior, where both DPS specializations are essentially build-and-spends around damage windows, even just adding Shattering Throw opens up the field FAR wider. Is it wiser to use it as an additional Colossus Smash to make the most out of an early Avatar, or is better to spend it on soon-spawning adds?

The problem, however, comes in with Blizzard’s new penchant for ‘temporary’ abilities. With spells such as the Artifact power abilities and now our Essences for the Heart of Azeroth, they will disappear at the end of the expansion. These spells are irrelevant with new content. This trend will continue in Shadowlands with Covenant Powers, abilities your benefactors will impart to you in exchange for your allegiance. Invariably, much like Shaman Totems, players WILL get connected to these incredibly unique abilities and will miss them once they are gone. While Legion reintroduced several powers into Talent Trees, many are still compulsory and have the entire class built around them. Eventually we will return to the problem of ‘not enough reward,’ in leveling, especially if when the 9th expansion comes out, Shadowlands has to compete with Battle for Azeroth for the 10-60 bracket of leveling.

Ultimately, time will tell if these systems hold true. All in all, the level squish and new changes to dynamic leveling are a massive step forward. Exile’s Reach, if successful, may become a wonderful system for engaging and reaching out to new players. While focusing on getting to the endgame still seems to be the team’s main design direction, honing the first ten levels does remarkable dividends. Making what new players experience more in line with what they can look forward to in the endgame not only culls player confusion but has better chance to retain new adopters. After all, don’t you enjoy playing something if you know exactly what you’re getting into?

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Five Things We Want From Diablo IV

Over the weekend, Blizzard finally revealed the latest chapter of its Diablo series with the long-awaited Diablo IV. It was an announcement that was reportedly set for last year, but the company apparently changed their minds at the last minute, opting to speak about Diablo Immortal for mobile instead. This year, though, was all about the sequel.

After presenting a new cinematic trailer, introducing the powerful Lilith into the fold, Blizzard provided a sneak peek into the gameplay. Though it’s still a work in progress, it does look like a promising evolution from Diablo III and its Eternal Collection add-ons.

Even with everything that was revealed over the weekend, there are still a few questions left about the experience that the game will bring. With that, we’ve gathered a few queries that we wouldn’t mind getting answered, though it’ll likely be a bit before Blizzard provides answers. Still, there’s always room for more information to circle around next year, right?

Let’s get started with a good one.

What other classes could come to the world of Diablo IV?

So far, three classes have been revealed for Diablo IV. There’s the Sorceress, who utilizes magical abilities and can combine them together to take down enemies, including lightning, fire and more. There’s the Barbarian, who utilizes a number of weapons to smash enemies, as well as quick, brutal strength to make his attacks count. Finally the Druid, who can not only summon special attacks from the elements (different from the Sorceress), but also transform into powerful animals, such as a bear or a wolf.

These are great classes that show off some of Diablo IV’s diverse gameplay, but it makes us wonder what others Blizzard could have in store for the game. Obviously it’s not saying yet, but keep in mind that it added new classes to Diablo III as time went on, including the Necromancer and Crusader.

So what possibilities are there? A number, actually. Along with the possible return of the Necromancer, there’s also the Paladin, the Amazon and the Monk. And they don’t all have to be entirely action oriented, either. Someone like the Witch Doctor would probably be a greatly balanced character here.

More than likely, we won’t find out who else will join this party until sometime in 2020, as the game gets closer to completion. Blizzard did say it was a long way off, but the idea that the cast can really get “out there” with a number of key additions has us hungry for more.

Will Diablo IV ever shift away to an offline world?

Previous Diablo games usually provided the option to play with others offline, though the appeal of joining an online group is always there. But with Diablo IV, the developers are taking a different route. Though you still have the option to play on your own if you prefer, you’ll need to have a consistent online connection in order to take part in the game’s experience.

Whether this will remain permanent, no one’s for sure. But it sounds like that’s the mantra Blizzard is going for, so others can join in the experience at any time — if you prefer, that is.

During the BlizzCon panel that took place during the show, lead designer Angela Del Priore made it clear why this choice was made.

“We are not going to support an offline mode. But, as I said before, nothing in Diablo IV is going to require partying up. You can play solo and dungeons are private. Campaign quest areas will (also) remain private.”

So that about covers that. It won’t be an option unless Blizzard’s team changes its mind in the future. But at least the ability to play on your own will still be there, so the Diablo world will still be your oyster. Just make sure you have a strong enough connection to keep up with this world, yeah?

How much will the open-world design affect Diablo fans?

In the past, Diablo players usually had to follow a structure with acts in order to make progress within each game. However, the team felt that Diablo IV should come with the changes needed to become more effective. As a result, there’s more of an open-world structure.

The designers call this a “contiguous” open-world, as the five regions within the world will remain fully connected to one another. This time around, the players can explore them however they see fit, having to deal with everything from varying weather effects to exploring the “hundreds” of dungeons that are available within the game.

Players can take on the content any way they see fit, or they can also go through the story in a general manner, which will suit some Diablo fans. It’s nice to have options for those that will tackle it.

For open-world, could it be too much for Diablo fans to bear? The answer is no, as the game is designed to take advantage of it, rather than making it a drag-out affair like some games that call for a grind. There are still towns to visit, which double as social hubs, and world events will pop up, with you (and potentially other players) taking on viable threats that (almost) appear out of nowhere. There’s also PvP, for players who prefer good old-fashioned combat.

So Diablo IV will retain something old, but also something new — which should cover the bases for fans, newcomers and even MMO lovers alike. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how it all unfolds once the game is done with development.

Will the game feature any kind of crossplay support?

Blizzard surprisingly announced that Diablo IV isn’t just coming to the PC front. It’s also coming to consoles, with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 confirmed for the time being. That means console and laptop/desktop owners alike will be able to enjoy everything that the game has to offer.

There’s still a question regarding its support of cross-play. After all, more and more titles are doing it now, such as the just-released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, as well as other hits like Rocket League. Being able to play with others, regardless of platform, would be a real trip for players. Alas, Blizzard had to let them down lightly. At least, for the moment.

When asked about the possibility, lead lighting artist Sean Murphy explained during the recent BlizzCon panel, “We have nothing to announce with cross-play, but that is a topic we are interested in.”

So the team didn’t entirely brush it off the table, but there’s nothing set yet. More than likely, Blizzard is interested in just getting the game done first, then considering what it’ll do in terms of online support. At the very least, PC owners will be able to connect with one another; and subscribers to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network can do the same with their respective consoles as well.

It’s a big task. Considering that Diablo IV is put together with a massive open-world structure, creating an online universe that caters to all consoles and PC’s, connected together, is a lot to ask. The possibility is there, and the team will likely look into all options before it confirms the best way to go with it.

For now, it never hurts to keep a good, steady friend list of Diablo devotees on hand. Who knows, they’re probably still playing Eternal Collection as you read this.

How will players be able to skill up properly in Diablo IV?

Both skills and talents will play a huge part in the world of Diablo IV, and players can actually decide how these all come together as they gain experience.

First up, each class once again comes with six different skill types. As before with Diablo III, you can actually choose multiple skills of the same type, rather than having to divvy them up into groups based on different types. You can still level up individual skills however you see fit, making them more powerful or potent, depending on how effectively you hit enemies. It’s a pretty sweet way to go, with a number of possibilities depending on class and the abilities you want to rank up.

As for the talent trees for each individual class, they’re huge. With each tier that you unlock, you’re able to acquire one or more talents, diversifying your character’s abilities in a number of ways. For instance, with the Barbarian, you can increase his speed to make him more effective with quick attacks; or try out Concussion and boost damage on certain foes. Those are just two of the options available; and there are less limitations here, as you can choose how you rank up accordingly. No more having to start at the top and whittle away — the choices appear to be much better with Diablo IV.

There are also Legendary items that play a part as well, and though Blizzard didn’t break these down entirely just yet, they sound like they could mix things up even further, keeping leveling up much more interesting and not so much a “grind” to make progress.

It all sounds a bit elaborate, but once you choose a class and really open up what you can do with your character, it’ll make more sense. You’ll be able to build a true bad-ass that might be able to stand up against Lilith in the long run, depending on your choices, obviously.

Bonus Question: Is there a release date?

Now comes the million dollar question — when will players be able to enjoy Diablo IV for themselves? Well, not for some time.

Like the also-announced Overwatch 2, Blizzard didn’t have a specific release date for the newest chapter of the series. They noted that it’s still “currently in development,” though fans that went hands-on with the game were pleased by the progress being made on it so far. So, at the very least, the team is deep in development, indicating that it may be further along than they’re letting on.

The platforms that were confirmed indicates that it may not be too far off for this generation. PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC were all confirmed for Diablo IV, and not a word was said about the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Scarlett, both of which will make their way to market sometime in holiday 2020. So we could see the game release in 2020, though that’s not near final.

Regarding the potential of next-gen consoles, executive producer Allen Adham noted, “We don’t have anything specific to announce with regards to next-gen consoles right now, but you bet we have our eye on them.”

Diablo has taken the multi-console release before. Both Diablo III and Diablo III: Reaper of Souls made their way to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, before the experience eventually came to Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch with the Eternal Collection. So a possible repeat instance could happen here, with XB1 and PS4 getting ports of the game at first, but then Xbox Scarlett and PS5 getting a “definitive edition” down the road, with all their content included in one convenient package.

So, for the moment, fans are waiting. And they’ll likely continue to do so over the next few months, as development moves on with Diablo IV. But it has made progress; and its announced platforms indicate that it may not be too far off when it comes to release. We’ll just have to wait and see what Blizzard has in mind once the project gets close to completion. Hopefully, it won’t be BlizzCon 2020 when we find out its fate. Fingers crossed.

What questions do you have regarding the next chapter in the Diablo franchise? Let us know!

 

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Despite Apology, Blizzard’s Hearthstone Player Ban Will Stay

During the opening of Blizzcon 2019 company president J. Allen Brack gave a bit of an apology about acting in haste to the Hearthstone player ban and the caster ban as well saying, “We moved too quickly in our decision making, and then, to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you. When I think about what I’m most unhappy about, there’s really two things: The first one is that we didn’t live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves. And the second is that we failed in our purpose. And for that, I am sorry, and I accept accountability.”

What was clearly lacking from that apology was any announcement that anything was going to change. PCGamer later got the opportunity to sit down with Brack during Blizzcon and find out more, including the fact that Blizzard is not going to go back on the ban.

PC Gamer: I wanted to revisit the statement you made at the beginning of the opening ceremony yesterday. You said Blizzard is “committed to everyone’s right to express themselves in all kinds of ways and all kinds of places,” and you made a commitment to do better going forward and that your actions are going to matter more than words do. Are you going to be repealing the punishment against Blitzchung and the two Taiwanese casters involved in this incident?

Allen Brack, Blizzard president: We are not.

Why?

So, one of the things that we talked about in the commitment to expression about all kinds of ways and all kinds of places, is the fact that we’re huge believers in free speech, and we’re huge believers in free expression. We have a long history of that being part of the culture of the company for employees. That’s certainly part of the culture of the relationship that we have with the community. And so employees are free to post on their social media accounts. If you think about the people that we have that are esports athletes, our Grandmasters, or anyone who is participating in esports, they’re free to say and do whatever they want on their social channels. I feel like we have a far more open set of guidelines and policies than really any other traditional sport that takes a view around making sure that all of the people stay on message. And so, that’s how we think about free expression and how we’ve contextualized it.

We want the official broadcasts, which are a small percentage of the overall content that gets created, to be about the games. And we want those to be focused on the games. Again, it’s not about the content of Blitzchung’s message. It’s about the fact that it was not around the games. If we hadn’t taken action, if we hadn’t done something, you can imagine the trail that would be in our future around doing interviews. They would become times for people to make a statement about whatever they wanted to, on whatever issue. That’s just a path that we don’t want to go down. We really want the content of those official broadcasts to be focused on the games, and keep that focus.

 

With regards to the casters being reinstated, you’ve admitted that this situation was mishandled on Blizzard’s behalf. I’m wondering why that same sort of forgiveness isn’t being extended to the casters? Considering Blizzard admits it mishandled this situation, why haven’t you decided to be more graceful with them and their punishment?

We have been more graceful. The initial reaction was that we would not work with the casters anymore. In our revised statement, we came to the conclusion that it felt like the casters and Blitzchung, we wanted to align their penalty. So we’ve come out and said they have a six-month penalty.

 

He also goes on to say that the Weibo post that talked about defending the pride of China was written by NetEase and was not approved by Blizzard at all. They also talk about the casters and why they are still being punished. If you are a fan of Blizzard or you know someone who is I highly recommend you read the interview on PCGamer. It will quickly make you forget the damage control that is Diablo IV and Overwatch 2.

 

Source: PCGamer

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WoW Wednesday: Your Guide to Blizzcon 2019

The best weekend of the year now dawns upon us! Blizzcon 2019 has finally arrived and with it comes a smattering of panels, showings, demos our loot this year begins with a wide spread of content from World of Warcraft cosmetic armor to unique Overwatch skins. This week we’ll be giving you the best tips and directions to make the most out of your Warcraft experience at Blizzcon this year!

Like last year, virtual ticket holders already have a wide host of content prior to the launch of the convention on Friday, including content released last year. Starting on October 31st we’ll have the beginnings of the Overwatch World Cup to begin parsing through, lasting over 12 hours! This will be where the online preliminaries begin for the fabled e-sports tournament and will feature competitors from all about the world.

Blizzcon opens up live on Friday, November 1st, with the Opening Ceremony being streamed from all available stages at 2 PM EST! This will feature planned action from all of this year’s competitions as well as several previews of what’s to come that day on each stage. Immediately afterwards the major world tournaments will begin in Halls A, B, C, and the main Arena. Viewers can grab access to the continuation of the OWCs in Hall A, as well as the lower brackets for the Mythic Dungeon Invitational in Hall C. The Hearthstone Global Finals begin in Hall B, while the Starcraft 2 Global Finals begin with the Quarterfinal in the Arena. These events will continue throughout the weekend until the final brackets of the Overwatch World Cup on Sunday morning.

Some of the leaked “exclusive prints” from the Blizzard Website, featuring “Warcraft: Shadowlands.”

On the Mythic Stage in Hall D, where major announcements were hosted last year, are a set of secret panels. Featuring 4 panels over the course of the Friday, there’s enough for each of Blizzard’s main development games, with side-panels for Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone being hosted later in the day. With rumours of a potential new World of Warcraft expansion, featuring Bolvar Fordragon the Lich King, as well as the potential leaks of an Overwatch and Diablo sequel this will be the stage to watch all day Friday.

The first major Warcraft panel begins at 3:30 PM EDT. Quarter Century of Warcraft Audio hallmarks the anniversary of the titular game and brings the Sound Team to the stage to discuss developments throughout the series’ life cycle. Discussing not just sound effect development, but composition and scoring of tracks, the team will discuss this avidly and openly in the North Hall.

Starting up on the North Hall on the Epic Stage, players will get to enjoy a Heroes of the Storm update at 6:15 PM, one that is sorely needed after the fallout from the close of the Heroes e-sports scene this year. Blizzard Animation: The Art of Setting the Scene will follow at 7:15 PM, featuring members of the Story and Franchise Development team and how they created the Overwatch cutscenes that have earned the company critical acclaim. Hearthstone will have its own update at 8:15 PM after the Mythic Stage closes for the Cosplay Exhibition. Here, it’s been teased that the company will launch a new Expansion for the collectible card game, with advertisements across the internet pointing towards the date specifically.

Beginning Saturday at 12:30 pm, the 2019 Hearthstone Global Finals will take off in Hall B, beginning with the quarter finals decider’s matchups. The tournament will run throughout the day up until the finals at 6 PM on the stage. The World of Warcraft Arena World Championships will launch alongside it, beginning with their lower quarterfinals and ramping up to the Grand Final beginning at 9:45 PM.

The rest of the day is largely filled with a foray of very interesting developer driven panels largely centering around Diablo and Warcraft. At 1 PM begins the Voices of Azeroth: A Hero’s Journey, involving several voices behind the heroes of Azeroth. Joined by members of the developer team, they’ll discuss vital narrative moments over the years and how they were created.

Running simultaneously alongside the panel is the Watchpoint Season Preview for the 2020 Overwatch League, as well as the Artists at Work series for Diablo. This particular panel will focus about environment design, bringing the world of Sanctuary to life! An additional Art of Diablo panel will go on later during the day at 7:15 PM, featuring other members of the team.

At 2:15 PM Blizzard will begin their Update panel for World of Warcraft. Here is where, undoubtedly, we’ll see two certain things. With the announcement of a new expansion coming the day before attendees will more-than-likely be hearing details about Patch 8.3, ‘Visions of Ny’Alotha.’ Projections have 8.3 launching in early to mid-January of 2020, with a potential expansion launch perhaps a year and a half later.


In a surprising move, there are quite a multitude of Blizzard life panels throughout the weekend, featuring discussions about working on campus at Anaheim. Beginning at 6:15 PM, Artists at Work: World of Warcraft will run alongside the Warcraft 3: Reforged panel, discussing the process of art development from demonstrations and prototypes to a final finished product. The development team also takes the stage to discuss their personal stories during World of Warcraft: Developer’s Tales at 7:15 PM. New to the convention this year is CodeCraft: Exploring Blizzard Engineering. This panel, kicking off at 8:15 PM, features members of the company’s engineering team on how games and systems are coded for consumption.

On top of additional update panels and The Writers Room: Building the Worlds of Blizzard, the convention as always is set to go out with a bang. Beginning with some remarks at 9:45, every stage will come to life with the always titanic Closing Ceremonies. Featuring leagues of performers taking to the stage, this year the entertainment has been kept tightly under wraps. Even on their website, nothing has yet been announced to close out the company showcase.

Blizzard Entertainment opens its doors to the world in Anaheim this weekend, from November 1st to the 2nd.

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Blizzcon Protest Now Being Organized

On Friday, after 5 when most news writers, including MMOGames had packed up and gone home for the day Blizzard made a statement that backpeddled their heavy handed ban of professional Hearthstone player Blitzchung. Now a Blizzcon protest is being organized by the non-profit organization Fight for the Future and the Protest Blizzcon subreddit. Yes, there’s now a subreddit.

The Protest Blizzcon subreddit has a GoFundMe campaign running at the moment with the plan of getting hundreds of Hong Kong flags for protesters at Blizzcon. They’ve already raised $3,285 though they were only asking for $3,000. The campaign is still running so there is still time to donate if you’re interested.

“This is not going away,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, “Blizzard, and other companies who are engaging in censorship on behalf of an authoritarian government, are not going to get away with it. They have no idea what kind of Internet shitstorm they’ve unleashed. We’re going to make an example out of them to make sure that all companies know that throwing human rights and free expression under the bus to make some extra money will not be tolerated.”

Dayton Young, Product Director at Fight for the Future, added, “Gamers deserve to know which companies are willing to engage in censorship on behalf of authoritarian regimes and which companies will defend basic freedom of expression. Blizzard has engaged in blatant censorship and should immediately reverse its decision to ban Ng Wai Chung, restore his tournament winnings, and repair its relationships with the livestream casters. No gamers should be punished for expressing their views on politics and human rights. And no game company should ever ban or penalize players for advocating for their own political freedom. We call on all game developers and publishers to make a public commitment to support the rights of their customers, employees, and fans to freely express their beliefs in America, in Hong Kong, in China, and around the globe.”

In case you missed it, on Friday Blizzard made a statement saying that Blitzchung would be receiving his tournament prizes and that his ban, along with the ban on the two casters has been reduced to six months. They also said that Blizzard’s decision to punish them had nothing to do with their business in China. But, Blizzard fans and gamers were unconvinced by this statement, especially as a social media post from Blizzard on Weibo was translated and it vows to protect the national dignity of China was being shared on Reddit, Twitter, and other English focused social media sites.

 

It’s unclear right now how many people will be attending the Blizzcon Protest but we will continue to follow the news as it comes.

 

Source: Fight for the Future, Protest Blizzcon Subreddit

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BlizzCon 2019 Dates Announced; Here’s When You Can Get Tickets

After last year’s somewhat disappointing showcase, there’s no question that BlizzCon 2019 needs to come back strong. Blizzard Entertainment has already taken the first steps on doing so and has provided year’s official dates.

The company has announced that BlizzCon 2019 will take place on November 1 and 2. It will once again be held in California, taking place at the Anaheim Convention Center. However, for this year’s show, it’ll be expanding the space. This will accommodate the thousands of fans and attendees that will fill its halls. It didn’t say exactly how it would be expanding it, but more than likely it’ll use more of the convention center itself. It’s possible we may see some events in the surrounding hotel spaces as well.

Like the previous year’s show, BlizzCon will once again be home to an opening showcase, as well as panels, esports competitions and developers. On top of that, there should be a huge musical act to close the show, though they haven’t been confirmed just yet.

Hopefully this will be the year that the company finally confirms Diablo 4. It was expected last year, but Blizzard opted to hold the announcement at the last second, disappointing its many fans. Blizzard president J. Allen Brack did promise that the company would be “sharing some of our latest developments” at the show, indicating some new announcements could be made. Fingers crossed.

The first round of tickets are set to go on sale Saturday, May 4, with a second round coming just days later on Wednesday, May 8. They’ll be available in three tiers, including a special benefit dinner coinciding with the show. The range is expected to be around $229 to $750, depending on what you go for. You can see all the ticket packages here. No word yet if Virtual Ticket will be available, but it’ll likely be an option closer to the event.

Here’s hoping that this year’s BlizzCon lives up to the hype. It definitely deserves a comeback.

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Diablo Immortal: Mobile’s Demonic Destroyer

BlizzCon 2018 has hit the ground running this year, with its opening ceremony absolutely devastating onlookers with a slew of announcements across the board. Heading the convention was a slew of massive announcements for every single one of the major brands including Diablo. Heading the mainline stage Wyatt Cheng, the lead designer for the Diablo Series, unveiled the newest and most demonic edition of the franchise yet. Following the devastating conclusion of Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction and the corruption of the World Stone, Blizzard has now set the stage for Diablo Immortal. Entering the mobile marketplace for its first gaming release, Diablo Immortal is intended to be a mobile exclusive Action-RPG, covering the twenty-year gap between Lord of Destruction and Diablo 3.

The game will feature six hero classes at launch including: the Necromancer, Barbarian, Wizard, Monk, Crusader, and the newly established Demon Hunter order. Intended to possess the same MMO functionality found across the franchise, Diablo Immortal will also feature massive co-op gameplay throughout its dungeons, allowing up to six players to join up at any time. The game is being co-developed by Chinese internet titan NetEase, a company that is certainly no stranger to Blizzard’s products. In the past they’ve covered both the open beta distribution for Diablo 3, as well as development for Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm and handling the distribution for numerous other games including World of Warcraft’s relaunch in 2009 and several world sites for Hearthstone.

Picking up 5 years after Lord of Destruction, Immortal is intended to answer those questions left unanswered after the destruction of the World Stone. Following the scattering of the World Stone’s corrupted remnants, players will have 8 playable zones available at launch, with promises of additional content post-launch.

At the What’s Next panel for Diablo, the senior development team behind Immortal previewed several of the new zones; the twisted remains of the Bilefen, a newer jungle-grown marshland that has seen darkness take route with the shards of the World Stone. Players will also return to the Frozen Tundra, the homeland of the Barbarians with promises that the land has become even harsher with Bael’s corruption. Zoltun Kulle’s Library returns for Immortal from Diablo 3. This particular lair birthed deep in the heart of the desert like a “magical hoarder” as the panel described. They then demoed the persistent player world to be found in Immortal, displaying the shared-outdoor zones players will find; using famous Warcraft enemy Hogger as an analogy, they described how players may happen upon each other as they play, battling monsters together for greater loot and rewards than one could find playing solo otherwise.

Jumping off from that, Immortal will also feature the same style of instanced randomly-generated dungeon the Diablo series is known for, with distinctly greater challenges than one could find in the open world. Opening up with the Kikuras Rapids found deep in the heart of the Bilefen, the Rapids are home to some of the most vicious fetish-monsters of the zone. As players avoid having, “swords donated to them, pointy end first,” they’ll also be sailing down river in a similar manner to famous Hollywood film, Apocalypse Now, bound to a dingy raft that slowly begins to float players along to either great rewards, or potential doom over the edge of a waterfall. Changing tone entirely the panel then revealed the Tomb of Fahir, a silent desert ruin drawing more on the aesthetics the series is known for. This was quickly followed by the Forgotten Tower, an ancient sanctuary now overrun with cultists of every caliber undergoing dark rituals for their demonic lords. The panel then revealed Westmarch, Immortal’s capital city in its golden age of existence but didn’t demo any concept art or in-game work.

Continuing onward, Blizzard then demoed the launch classes which all appear to contain not only the main design concepts inherit to each class from its parent game, but hosts of new moves and abilities to make each feel remarkably distinct. Panelists then went on to talk about how future classes are being planned for post-launch, intending for Immortal to be live-updated in a similar manner to how Diablo 3 was up until the last few seasons, teasing both the Witch Doctor and Assassin classes while maintaining that the community will have the greatest say in which Classes meet release.

Control for Immortal is rather standard for how most mobile devices handle, featuring a virtual control stick in the bottom left corner of the play-screen. The user interface now also includes the various button abilities found traditionally on the controller. Movement and aiming finally come into harmony in Immortal, generating a second control stick after ability activation to determine target. Immortal will also feature an Intuitive Aiming mechanic, allowing the computer to generate relevant targets for ability usage. This will essentially allow users to point and click where necessary, while still maintaining control of their abilities. Immortal is intended to be more social-heavy than previous Battle.net games, integrated from day one with the social platform so players may engage across games.

In the Q+A period Blizzard would later confirm, much to the crowd’s displeasure, that Immortal would exclusively be developed for Android and iOS systems with no future plan for PC or console development. I, for one, am actually looking forward to an exclusively mobile game; after picking up Reaper of Souls for my Playstation 4 several years ago, I still haven’t gotten past Tristram simply for not having the time. I fully intend on picking up Diablo 3 for my Nintendo Switch for the promise of portability, as that’s where I can make the best use of my dungeon delving time effectively.

Players also inquired into Hardcore mode’s potential return to Immortal and was sadly disappointed. Citing issues with mobile connectivity, Blizzard currently does not seem to have plans on pursuing a traditional version of Hardcore but instead wants to carry those principles into other areas. Cheng briefly talked about a potential system reminiscent of Warcraft’s Mythic Dungeons.

Ultimately we’ll see more of Diablo Immortal hitting the BlizzCon stage later this weekend, but for now I am thoroughly impressed. All-in-all Immortal looks at first glance to be a refreshing take on the franchise on technology finally best-suited for it. While some players may be incredibly bitter about a mobile-exclusive release, with one questioner asking, “Is this some off-season April Fool’s Joke?” I for one look forward to Immortal. While I do think it could potentially succeed better on the Switch and PC, one cannot deny that Blizzard is reaching for a more viable and successful long term market. However with a slew of ARPGs already saturating the mobile marketplace, and the mass negative reaction from attendees at BlizzCon its clear that Blizzard will need to bank on more than just nostalgia to make Immortal perform well in the long-run.

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WoW Wednesday: Your Warcraft Guide to Blizzcon 2018

The best weekend of the year now dawns upon us! Blizzcon 2018 has finally arrived and with it comes a smattering of panels, showings, demos and reveals for the greatest games we’re expecting this year. For Virtual Ticket Holders, this year not only do we get exclusive content before the Convention starts, but we also have a demo available for World of Warcraft – Classic, featuring the Barrens for the Horde and Westfall for the Alliance. While we’re saving our impressions of the demo for next week, this week we’ll be giving you the best tips and directions to make the most out of your Warcraft experience at Blizzcon this year!

For those of us possessing a Virtual Ticket, there is already a smattering of content for us to enjoy! Several games of the 2018 Arena World Championships have already been played, up to the Upper Second Round. Those with a deep appreciation for Arenas may want to watch these prior to the finals, as this is where some of the fiercest competition lies between combatants. There are a number of exclusive pieces, including Faces of War, a behind the scenes video showing the process for creating the main cinematic for Battle for Azeroth, and The Vault, showing off some of Blizzard’s old merchandise and WoW Relics.

World of Warcraft – Classic is also now available for pre-download and will remain playable throughout Blizzcon for those wanting to step back into the past of Azeroth! For those attending Blizzcon in person, World of Warcraft – Classic will be available to demo throughout the facility. Demos will feature leveling between 15-19, and players can make any race/class combo from Classic they wish! While sessions of the demo will be time locked, progress will be saved for players so they can continue on their next login. As Battle.net integration will be included as of Day One, players can still engage with their friends across Battle.net, but Dungeons and Zoned Battlegrounds will not be accessible. Reportedly all of Classic will be developed during Patch 1.12, Drums of War, and will feature all content released to that point at launch.

Blizzcon opens up live on Friday, November 2nd, with the Opening Ceremony being streamed from all available stages at 2 PM EDT! This will feature planned action from all of this year’s competitions as well as several previews of what’s to come that day on each stage. The Arena World Championships then continue with their lower brackets in Hall C and will continue throughout the weekend.

The first major Warcraft panel begins at 5 PM EDT. Voices of War: Horde vs. Alliance is one of Battle for Azeroth’s mainline panels this year in North Hall, and features several of the mainline voice actors for World of Warcraft. This panel will specifically be focusing on the performance aspects and development of the actors as they worked throughout Battle for Azeroth and how they shaped the game around them.

Starting up at 6:30 PM in Hall D, World of Warcraft: What’s Next will begin featuring the next major pieces of content for its Battle for Azeroth expansion. With Patch 8.1, Tides of Vengeance on the horizon its far more likely that instead of content for the next major content patch we will probably see content being designed for Patch 8.2 and beyond. If I had to hazard an educated guess, attendees will see the panel will more than likely feature developments in the Azerite system and future Warfront integration.

Launching right afterward at 7:15 PM in the North Hall is Battle for Azeroth Cinematics: Expanding the Narrative. Featuring members of the Story and Franchise Development team, this panel will go behind the scenes of developing the story for World of Warcraft and expanding it in the world of Azeroth through its in-game cinematics.

Starting up on Saturday at 12:30 pm, the 2018 Mythic Dungeon Invitational will play out in Hall C. Featuring some of the greatest Mythic+ Teams in Azeroth, the Invitational will feature a race against time and each team to determine who is the best team in the World.

Shortly after at 1 PM begins Immersive Sounds of Azeroth in the North Hall. Featuring the Warcraft Sound Team, this panel will deep-dive into how music and sound shaped the player experience and storytelling in Drustvar. Following that, David Arkenstone and his Tavern Band will be playing a live performance of several pieces from the Battle for Azeroth score!

Opening up at 2:45 pm is Build A Panel: World Creation In WoW. Headed by members of the World Building and Level Design Teams, attendees will get to witness how the zones of Azeroth are put together throughout the entire design process. This panel will build a zone for its onlookers from starting concepts to its completion.

Beginning at 4:30 pm is the World of Warcraft – Classic panel, Restoring History. Here developers will recount their stories and struggles in redeveloping the world of Azeroth from the ground up for Classic.

Resuming again in Hall C, the final rounds of the Arena World Championship start up at 5:15 PM, and will last until the finals later that night.

Returning for another year, the always anticipated World of Warcraft Q&A begins at 6:30 PM in Hall D. Here members of the community will have the opportunity to ask the heads of development all their questions about the fabulous world of Azeroth.

Last and certainly not least is Artist at Work: Creating World of Warcraft Art at 7:15 PM in the North Hall. Joined by members of the artistic time, developers will showcase the creative process behind Battle for Azeroth’s visual design, ranging from the beginnings of concept art to model and world texturing, and even the final stages of the 3D art design process.

To close off the weekend, Blizzard has one of the largest closing ceremonies yet to be featured at the convention. Beginning at 8:30 PM, artists, and musicians from across the world will play on several of the E-Sports stages throughout the evening. This year Blizzcon features Train, Kristian Nairn of Game of Thrones fame and YouTube Violin Sensation Lindsey Stirling.

Blizzard Entertainment opens its doors to the world in Anaheim this weekend, from November 2nd to 3rd.

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Play of the Fortnight: Overwatch Hero 29 Incoming at BlizzCon 2018

BlizzCon 2018 is just around the corner, so it’s time for us to speculate on what Blizzard might be announcing this year. It’s pretty certain we’ll be seeing Overwatch hero 29 announced officially at BlizzCon. What could Blizzard have up its sleeves for Overwatch this year?

 

Why we think there will be a new hero announcement

Blizzard has a long-standing tradition of going big when it comes to BlizzCon. They’ve also confirmed two new heroes in the past two years. First, we saw the long-awaited conclusion to the Sombra ARG with her official announcement back at BlizzCon 2016. Last year, we saw Moira enter the roster.

They’ve also been pretty good about sticking to a new hero every three months. Wrecking Ball arrived in July this year, so we’re about due a new hero announcement and release.

 

The Route 66 Payload

Overwatch Hero 29 - Route 66 Payload

The payload on Route 66 has also mysteriously changed on the PTR. Specifically, the payload has been cracked open, and whatever is inside is gone. Blizzard is definitely hinting at something, though whether it’s a new hero or something else remains to be seen.

It would make sense for this to be heralding a new hero release. We saw the attacking spawn in Numbani cracked and splintered before Doomfist’s official release. Blizzard could certainly be giving us a hint at not only an impending release, but also who it could be. However, it’s possible that this is linked to an upcoming animated short.

Additionally, McCree features pretty strongly in the BlizzCon announcement images, and Route 66 is associated really strongly with him and his back story. Could we see a new McCree animated short?

 

A Deeper Look at the Payload

The payload contained something before it was cracked open. Now the front portion is missing, and we have blue, frosty mist trickling out the front, implying it’s a cooler unit of some sort. However, what’s particularly interesting is something that YouTuber Master Ian Gamer noticed. The top of the payload has a striking resemblance to the top of D.Va’s mech. Specifically, the part where we know her reactor is housed, and how her ultimate works.

Overwatch Hero 29 - D.Va's Mech

While none of this gives much away, these realizations do point towards the payload change being related to something other than the new hero. Unless, of course, the hero is in some way similar to D.Va.

 

Who could the new hero be?

There’s been plenty of speculation among the community. If we are getting a new hero at BlizzCon 2018, there are a few options. However, one big one that players are looking at is the Queen of Junkertown. First of all, we’ve been thinking she’d be coming for some time now. We mentioned her previously in our BlizzCon 2017 article, along with Liao, Hammond, and Brigitte. Both Hammond and Brigitte have arrived already.

Overwatch Hero 29 - Queen of Junkertown

The biggest hint that it could be the Queen is that we see her briefly in the announcement video for Wrecking Ball. Blizzard loves to dot little references to upcoming heroes in other videos, so her appearance here may not be just a coincidence. On top of that, lead designer Geoff Goodman asked at SDCC 2018 what players would like to see, and mentioned a female hero. She could possibly be a tank or a damage dealer, but with Wrecking Ball’s release it’d be safe to assume she’ll go on the Offense roster.

Overwatch Hero 29 - Liao

There’s also Liao, whom we know very little about. She shows up in First Strike, a graphic novel that ended up being cancelled. Apparently, it was cancelled as Blizzard decided to take the story in another direction. However, right in the front of the cover, we see Liao. We don’t know anything about her, except that she seems to be a part of the early Overwatch team along with Ana, Reinhardt, Reaper, Torbjorn, and Soldier-76.

 

Closing Thoughts

One thing is certain: we will be seeing hero 29 announced at BlizzCon 2018. However, no one is completely sure who it will be. Our bet is on the Queen of Junkertown, but there are plenty of other options being discussed in the community right now.

Either way, we only have to wait until next week. BlizzCon 2018 starts on November 2nd. You can find all the info here on their website, along with a map and complete schedule.

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