After a four year gap and an acquisition by Microsoft, Blizzard returned to their usual convention center in Anaheim California for an in-person BlizzCon event. On the opening day of the two-day event this weekend, Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming, took the stage to welcome Blizzard and Blizzard games players to XBox. Even though it’s been about a year since I’ve last played World of Warcraft and I’m pretty out of touch with the current content, I was still curious to learn about the new expansion and, of course, any new information on Diablo 4.
BlizzCon Opening Day
Blizzard started off the con with a myriad of content teasers across their games: Overwatch 2, Diablo 4, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Warcraft Rumble. While I was really only interested in updates on Diablo 4 and World of Warcraft, I did my best to take notes on most everything discussed during this opening ceremony.
Aaron Keller, Overwatch 2’s Game Director, took the stage to show off a glimpse of upcoming content for the game, which had its one-year launch anniversary this October. Mauga, whose name means “Mountain” in Samoan and is by all accounts a very large man, was revealed to be the newest hero joining the game’s roster. He was first shown as a character in a story cinematic four years ago, and players will presumably become more familiar with his story. Mauga seems to be clearly inspired by the character of Maui from Disney’s Moana, down to the tattoos and even the voice. Other upcoming content for Overwatch 2 includes a new limited game mode, a PvP game mode, and a collaboration with a K-Pop group. Also coming are new events with themes inspired by Eldritch horror, witchcraft, Egyptian mythology, and… Star Trek? Yes, seriously, Aaron described one of the events as a mirror, mirror universe in which heroes become villains and villains become heroes. I think I’ve seen this idea somewhere before…
Next up was Rod Ferguson, Diablo 4 General Manager, to add Diablo news into the mix. Coming soon are several quality of life improvements such as faster leveling, increased item power, targets dummies added to Kyovashad, additional character slots, and more! Item power will now be tied more closely to the power level of the enemy that drops it, making it a bit easier to gauge the kind of equipment players should expect in comparison to their level. Leveling to 100 was specifically mentioned to be 40% faster. In more exciting news, though, were some upcoming new game modes and events. The new Boss Ladder event will be a boss rush of sorts where players will challenge one boss after the other to try their luck at increasingly better rewards. The Abbatoir of Zir will be an endgame challenge for the Season of Blood. Perhaps most exciting was the announcement of Diablo 4’s first expansion, Vessel of Hatred, which will continue from where the story left off at the end of the base game main story. Vessel of Hatred will be out in late 2024!
World of Warcraft
John Hight, World of Warcraft General Manager, briefly took the stage to tease WoW fans of the upcoming announcements and proclaimed their plans to “lay the foundation of WoW’s future.” After such bold claims, John left for some updates on Hearthstone and Warcraft Rumble. Hearthstone will be ten years old this December… No, I don’t feel old yet. Afterwards, World of Warcraft Executive Producer Holly Longdale shared some WoW Classic news. Cataclysm Classic will launch in the first half of 2024 to allow even more players to experience Deathwing’s tendency to set entire zones ablaze. New features to WoW Classic Hardmode and a Season of Discovery are upcoming as well. And with that, it was retail WoW’s turn.
Dragonflight’s final major content update, Guardians of the Dream, launches on November 8th with the final raid of the expansion: Amirdrassil. Amirdrassil is the newest World Tree, which is really cool but also news to an out-of-touch former WoW player such as myself. After Dragonflight’s updates, the legendary Chris Metzen made his first appearance after his departure from Blizzard in 2016. Metzen, now Executive Creative Director, joined Blizzard in 1993 and shaped the lore featured in the Warcraft RTS games and would eventually become the foundation for World of Warcraft’s story. Metzen is a personal hero of mine, as he is to many others, and I can’t help but smile every time he talks about Warcraft and demonstrates his passion. He seemed to be excited about the piece he would go on to reveal: The Worldsoul Saga.
The Worldsoul Saga is a trilogy of WoW expansions that aim to address ongoing plotlines and provide a conclusion to the story that has been built up in WoW for nearly twenty years. The plotlines in these expansions will seemingly lead into a confrontation with the major cosmic forces in Warcraft cosmology: Light, Void, and the Titans. Players will finally learn the specifics of the giant sword, Gorribal, plunged into Azeroth by Sargeras in WoW: Legion. Metzen also ran through a roadmap and highlighted story themes throughout the trilogy:
- World of Warcraft: The War Within – Descending into the heart of Azeroth, exploring long-forgotten kingdoms belonging to the Earthen and Nerubians. Earthen allied race.
- World of Warcraft: Midnight – Return to Quel’Thalas to protect the Sunwell from forces of the Void seeking to corrupt it to plunge the world into darkness. Reunification of various Elven peoples.
- World of Warcraft: The Last Titan – Return to Ulduar in Northrend to witness the return of the Titans to Azeroth. Players will uncover a “vast conspiracy” in the process
The first part of this trilogy, The War Within, is coming sometime in 2024. With promises of revisiting lore threads from throughout the game and a message about the “future of WoW” and feelings of newness, there seems to be many things to look forward to. Yet, even if it’s Chris Metzen trying to sell WoW, the previews just look like more of the same. It’s hard to inspire new, modern takes on a game that’s nearly twenty years old. While I may briefly return for these new expansions to check out the story themes revolving around Titans and universe cosmology, what WoW really needs is to be re-invented as a new MMO.
World of Warcraft Systems Deep Dive
On the second and final day of BlizzCon, Ion Hazzikostas, Game Director of World of Warcraft, went into further detail on the features and systems present in The War Within. The main new systems in The War Within seem to be Delves, Hero Talents, Warbands, and Dynamic Flight. Other improvements include updates to UI, the Great Vault, PvP loot, and cross-faction guilds.
Delves aim to take the lessons learned from scenarios, Island Exepditions, and Torghast to allow players to experience a short adventure either alone or in a small group. Much like Torghast, Delves will be endgame content, however, unlike Torghast, Delves will be optional and not tied to progression. Each Delve will be completely outdoors and non-instanced, meaning that players will be able to seamlessly start one without a Dungeon-esque loading screen. Delves will also change with each season of gameplay, including a different NPC to accompany players on their adventures. For example, Brann Bronzebeard will join players on their season one Delve adventures, and will have talents that can be customized by players to fit their needs.
The addition of Warbands is Blizzard’s newest answer to alt management in a game that has been progressively more alt-friendly due to streamlined questing and experience gain. Warbands can be cross-faction, and will seemingly have the ability to share most things. A Warband bank will allow your Warband characters to share one single bank, much like how a stash works in the Diablo games. Transmog collections, flight path, reputation, and achievements will also be shared for convenience. More interesting, though, is that Warband members can span different realms, which might suggest that Blizzard is doing well with realm separation in the long term. Way back in the day, Warcraft’s realms used to be individual physical server blades, and since WoW is built on twenty-year technology, realms have stayed separate. Adding members to a Warband also displays your group in a cool group campfire scene on the character select screen for some neat roleplay elements.
Hero Talents will allow players to experience a deeper class fantasy inspired by the Hero characters of the Warcraft RTS games. Players will be able to pick Hero Talents based on their main specialization and further specialize, granting access to a smaller talent tree to enhance existing talents and possibly add new ones. The Hunter Hero Talents are Sentinel, Pack Leader, and Dark Ranger, and the WoW lore nerd side of me got a bit excited at the prospect of becoming a Night Elf Sentinel.
Lastly is Dynamic Flight, the continuation of Dragonriding first introduced in Dragonflight. Dynamic Flight will allow all mounts (not just Dragons) to swoop and glide through the air, and will be available in all old world zones. I wasn’t a huge fan of Dragonriding as it felt awkward to me and sometimes you just want to fly and not think, you know? The good news for players like me is that Dynamic Flight can be enabled or disabled!
Diablo 4 Campfire Chat
I wasn’t able to watch Diablo 4’s section of the con, so everything I discuss here will be a summary of all the updates Wowhead has already covered. Mainly, I was looking forward to more information on the upcoming expansion, Vessel of Hatred, and curious on what the heck an “Abbatoir” even is. Hint: an Abbatoir is apparently used in slaughterhouses.
Vessel of Hatred will take players to Nahantu, described as a dense, lush forest, which is an area revisited from Diablo 2. The jungle was populated by many people in the past, but seems to be less hospital as the jungle is “slowly taking back the environment.” This reminds me of the forest in Diablo 4 where the player has visions of a gigantic serpent that leads to the Tree of Whispers, and how the forest itself seemed to be alive. I wonder if there are multiple of these trees, and we’ll see another one in Nahantu that will serve as a hub to farm Tree of Whispers caches. Kurast and Travincal will be other locations to explore, as they were in Diablo 2. The Diablo 4 team teased a new, never before seen class in Diablo on opening day, but they have yet to reveal it. Aside from mentioning that they took class fantasy of the new expansion into account, they didn’t elaborate on anything else.
The Abbatoir of Zir, aside from having an extremely metal name, is going to be an endgame event for Diablo 4’s second season, Season of Blood. It’s meant for level 100-plus characters, and will take players through an event to craft unique items and upgrades. This dungeon will have twenty different difficulty tiers, and will reward some unique equipment at its completion.
My Final Thoughts
This BlizzCon was strange. Perhaps part of it was my new perspective after spending so much time away from WoW and most Blizzard games (I occasionally play Diablo 4), but the general theme seemed to be one of “we’ve changed, please play our games.” As it stands, Blizzard has a weird relationship with its fans after the lawsuits came to light in 2021. Their response to the backlash was to make changes in their games seemingly more so than within their company. In that way they have made the players of their game the issue more so than themselves, It’s hard to know the extent of changes made at Blizzard, though, and how much will change now that they’re in the Microsoft umbrella instead of Activision, but the damage was done.
Most of the BlizzCon presenters made pointed efforts to thank the fanbase several times, and advertise the future of Blizzard games in a way that felt like a plea. Metzen, as much as I admire the man, was especially guilty of this. Another reason for the strangeness is that WoW is now a twenty year-old game. Twenty! In that time, it hasn’t done much in the way of changing or modernizing no matter the claims of WoW’s BlizzCon presenters. At every BlizzCon presenters praise themselves as they tell the audience about how they’ve listened to player feedback, but it always seems to be the same repeated script. It’s a cycle, one that I believe can only be fixed when Blizzard realizes WoW is in serious trouble and nobody is interested any longer in a decades-old game. Maybe the next WoW-like MMO won’t even come from Blizzard or Microsoft, maybe it’ll come from former employees or a studio heavily inspired by Blizzard’s work. I’m critical of WoW because I love it and I love its lore and world, and I think it still has great potential. The new trilogy of games sound promising from a lore perspective, and I look forward to seeing where the story goes even if I’ll just be looking on curiously from the outside.