Blizzard is all over the place right now. They may have cancelled a game 7 years in the making, but they have got just about everything else going for them right now. With this year’s Blizzcon having come to a close, it is difficult not to be in awe of the giant developer and publisher, which seems to have no end in sight for its creations, both old and new.
Going into its 10th anniversary, World of Warcraft celebrates its birthday on November 23rd and has recently seen an increase in players after reaching its lowest amount in 2013. Players are flocking to the game once again (despite the increased subscription fees) as a result of the violent intrusion that is about to take place in Azeroth and beyond, courtesy of one Garrosh Hellscream, previous Warchief of the Horde and fierce proclaimer of orc supremacy deluxe. After the beautiful transcendence that was Mists of Pandaria, the fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor, is finally being released tonight. And it is looking good.
Warlords of Draenor will push levelling up from 90 to 100 and infuse the game with a lot of new content, reshaped areas and brand new features such as garrisons. What is perhaps the most engrossing and compelling feature of Warlords, at least to lore-hungry players like yours truly, is the in-game introduction and presence of influential and prominent characters from the Warcraft universe that helped shape Azeroth as we know it. Drawing heavily on well established lore, Warlords will put players up against a range of charismatic legends from the orc homeworld of Draenor, their original timeline corresponding with the events of the initial Warcraft games. Which also happens to correspond with the theme and events of the upcoming Warcraft movie.
It seems as if Blizzard’s move into the movie industry has been rumoured forever, but 2013 finally saw some official announcements and substantial reveals about the movie set in the Warcraft universe. This year, Blizzcon offered some teaser material during an hour-long panel at Blizzcon, where some pretty convincing examples of promotional pictures, costumes and props were on offer. Last year it was revealed that the movie will take place during the events of Warcraft 1, and during this year’s panel, an introduction to the actors that will be playing high profile characters such as the Horde’s Durotan and the Alliance’s champion Llothar took place. The cast includes names such as Clancy Brown (THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!),Travis Fimmel and Paula Patton. The hype definitely got real as Rob Kazinsky, the actor of Orgrim Doomhammer’s, entered the stage, wielding the Horde leader’s legendary hammer.
My dark, red horde heart was definitely instilled with further hope for the movie as it became evident that even the cast itself is (at least partly) made up of fans of the universe. Kazinsky shared some of his enthusiasm for the Warcraft universe, revealing a dedicated enthusiasm (and obsession. Probably. Definitely.) that has taken the shape of over 500 days of playtime since he started out as a warrior in the Burning Crusade expansion.
Despite still lacking a substantial trailer, it undeniably looks as if the movie has the potential to be as impressively epic as only a World of Warcraft production could possibly be. It is clear that the Warcraft movie is siphoned through with passion and the discussions surrounding the movie has shown immense dedication to transform it into a vision that will stay true to the universe and the fans. Chriz Metzen himself said that standing in the set of Stormwind made his fanboy heart skip a beat as everything is apparently identical, down to every last detail – including the position of the mailbox outside of the auction house.
It will be another long year before we’ll get to meet Medivh, Gul’dan and Durotan but it definitely looks as if it will be worth the wait. Having read the novels covering the events of the first war, I can only imagine the scale of what we are about to see as it hits cinemas in 2016.
Blizzard also announced their first brand new franchise in years, presenting its new IP Overwatch with an action packed, charming and wonderful cinematic trailer.
Overwatch is an online multiplayer shooter with a concoction of charismatic heroes wielding a plethora of interesting abilities and beautiful weapons. What immediately feels unique and compelling about the game is its fun and cheerful tone, despite being a shooter.
Taking place in a not too far away future, the heroes of Overwatch were once a strike team that saved the world in the events of war and went on to create an agency for future heroes. About five years prior to when the game takes place, the institution and ideals began to fall apart. What happened after that will be revealed in the game but it is clear that the heroes from the past are back and ready to fight.
Metzen talked about how they set out to create a bright, colourful world that they are hoping that players will develop an emotional attachment to. Overwatch will play on current-day landmarks to give it context and depth. Each map is centered around objectives which can only be completed by team effort. Blizzard has also let loose of any restrictions when it comes to the creation of the heroes that will be available as the game hits the shelves. 12 playable characters have been revealed so far, with more in the making. A teleporting pixie-like girl with a British accent, a mechanic-savvy dwarf and a gorilla from the moon are but a few examples of some of the fun and fresh characters that will be playable.
Customization of looks will be available but our own Jen will probably be disappointed as there will not be any hats, a customization option in Team Fortress 2 that she reflected upon some time ago.
The game has no option for single player as Blizzard emphasis the possibilities of team play and combining abilities, working together for increased survivability and fun. With teams of 6 vs 6, Blizzard wants the individual player to mesh into the team as both playing a crucial part as well as complimenting it in the best way possible. Emphasis is placed on the playable characters, their abilities, flexibility and individual personalities, allowing for several different styles of gameplay depending on which hero the player chooses to play as.
The trailer definitely succeeds to establish the team-based game as another example of Blizzard’s ability to mould innovative concepts and humour together in order to create an entertaining experience. The trailer is an animated short that stands alone as a brilliant piece of film-making in itself (show it to your kids, your neighbour’s kids, all the kids there are) and definitely managed to set the tone for what type of game the final product will be.
It is still unknown if the game will come to consoles and whether or not it will be free to play. Only time will tell as Blizzard has been reluctant to reveal any details so far. Check out the hour and a half long panel from Blizzcon if you’re interested further; if anything, it’s worth it for seeing Chris Metzen almost losing his usual cool in lieu of his excitement for the franchise.
As if a new IP, expansion and movie were not enough, Blizzcon also focused on the final installment of StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void, Diablo III’s second season and upcoming battle arena game Heroes of the Storm. An expansion for the free-to-play card game Hearthstone was also announced as Goblins vs Gnomes will bring 120 new cards to the table. Expect a lot of unstable inventions and exploding bombs as the expansion comes out in December 2014.
It is clear that Blizzard is brimming with creativity and innovation, but it is also still deeply invested in the franchise that made the brand into the giant that it is today. Again the studio has proved how much love goes into their creations. Don’t believe me? Have a look at the hour long documentary World of Warcraft: Looking for Group, which was recently released. It is a rare and beautiful thing to see so many people still feeling so strongly for what has become a cornerstone in the entire gaming culture as we know it.
In short, Blizzard and its extensive team of creative minds are about to give us several more interesting expansions, a blockbuster movie and a brand new franchise.
Blizzard. All over the place.