Disneyland may be literally just a street away, but on November 3 and 4, Anaheim in California was all about BlizzCon. The annual party of Blizzard, the makers of the video game phenomena with Warcraft, Diablo or Overwatch in the title. They receive fans from all over the world and explain their future plans. And contrary to expectations, there is quite a bit to say this year.
The first ‘under’ Microsoft
2023 was going to be a separate edition anyway. Not only was it the first after a virus-related three-year hiatus, it was also the first since Blizzard was acquired by Microsoft. An event that was mercifully briefly mentioned during the opening presentation and, above all, reassuring. Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s gaming division, came to confirm his love for Blizzard, but the players mainly remember that little seems to have changed for them.
Hearthstone ripples along quietly
The collectible card-combat game Hearthstone elicited surprisingly little public response this year. This game, which in 2019 still generated an annual turnover of 600 million dollars, seems to be slowly declining. That being said, the existing player base is still large enough to be the envy of most rivals in this genre. Blizzard understood this well and announced yet another expansion set: a western-inspired Showdown in the Badlands. The Catch-Up packs received just as much attention, with which they want to attract new and players who have dropped out along the way (back) to the game.
Overwatch also on cruise control
The 5-vs-5 hero shooter Overwatch is somewhere in the same, stagnant but far from sinking boat. We witnessed another thrilling world championship final, with an unlikely victory for the Finnish team over South Korea for bronze. But perhaps even more unlikely was Saudi Arabia beating China in the battle for gold. As for the game itself, we were already able to get started in Annaheim with Mauge, a new character of Samoan origin, and next year we will get two more with Venture and Space Ranger (code name). The original Hanimura map is restyled and renamed as Hanaoka and finally a new PvP mode follows: Clash, a kind of 5-point capture mode.
Diablo IV: Hate becomes fun
It was only with Diablo VI that this BlizzCon really got going. After all, the makers announced the first real expansion: Vessels of Hate. However, it remained with a teasing trailer and a few crumbs of info. We get a new zone (the jungle region from Diablo II), we find out ‘what happened next’ with Mephisto and the game would introduce a new character class that has never been featured in a Diablo game before. Less specific to the expansion, we especially remember the possibility of advancing to level 100 40% faster and a better balance between the toughness of the enemies and the loot they drop. Veterans are also looking forward to the Abbatoir of Zir seasonal event, a replayable challenge for advanced players. And we note December 12th, purely out of curiosity as to what the virtual blood-drenched Diablo IV will do with a Christmas theme.
World of Warcraft turns 40
Ultimately, it was the almost twenty-year-old World of Warcraft that would dominate this BlizzCon edition. It remains Blizzard’s biggest success. For a few years it looked like they were getting tired of it and with some ill will you could accuse the enormously popular World of Warcraft Classic of lack of inspiration and milking it to the limit. Not so. Or at least not anymore. After all: Blizzard announced that it has already mapped out the next 20 years of World of Warcraft. Chris Metzgen, the returned prodigal son, who was one of the founders of Warcraft, announced that the first of three new expansions will follow next year. That trilogy is called The Worldsoul Saga and would also form the final part of the entire World of Warcraft as we know it so far. What about the rest of those promised next 20 years? Well.
There is too much to tell about The Worldsoul Saga to put it here. So expect a separate article on this soon, but we can already give you this. The first chapter, which will be released sometime in the fall of 2024, is called The War Within and sends you to the subterranean Nerubian Empire to put things in order. Chapter 2 (or expansion 11 if you lost count) brings a return to the old world. Finally, The Last Titan lures players to the chilly Northrend and would reveal a conspiracy that turns the entire history of the World of Warcraft world upside down. Oh yes, and these three expansions would follow each other faster than the two years we are used to.
But BlizzCon was also…
…tens of thousands of players and fans who have known each other online for years and meet in person here for the first time or every year. BlizzCon is also good for the best cosplay west of Final Fantasy Fest. It’s meeting developers, trying out new expansions for the first time, cheering on esports teams, digesting horribly high-calorie food, … in short: it’s always a party. With perhaps one small downside this year. While in previous editions we were treated to full-fledged live performances by Metallica and Muze, we now had to settle for half an hour of the K-pop sensation Le Sserafim. But that’s probably just us, because the arena there in Anaheim went completely crazy.
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