BlizzCon Recap: winners and losers

The cover art for “World of Warcraft: Legion,” the sixth expansion, which was released on Aug. 30. (BagoGames via Flickr)

At the kickoff of Blizzard’s annual convention, BlizzCon, on Nov. 5, game developers informed fans about upcoming content and provided an opportunity for a deeper look into what is coming next for the company’s titles. Blizzard’s eternally-popular multiplayer online role-playing game “World of Warcraft” (2004) and well-received arena shooter “Overwatch” (2016) revealed plenty of exciting features in the pipeline.

“World of Warcraft” launched its sixth expansion, “Legion,” on Aug. 30, to much fanfare, pushing the concurrent player population to heights not seen since the “Cataclysm” expansion in 2010. Developers said that they wanted to focus on discussing their plan for “Legion” and fleshing it out even further with more content. A smaller Patch 7.15 is up next with some class balancing, and then it’s on to the next major patch, Patch 7.2. This one will add a new raid called Tomb of Sargeras, which features nine bosses along with a new four-boss dungeon, Cathedral of Eternal Night. In addition, there will be dozens of new bosses added to the Brawler’s guild, new quests and a new faction called Armies of Legionfall.

“Overwatch” developers announced the long-awaited addition to the hero roster, Sombra, with another animated short and gameplay trailer. A mobile, elusive sub-machine-gun-wielding hacker with disruptive skills, Sombra could shake up a meta-game that revolves around shields and barriers. “Overwatch” also plans to revamp the weekly Brawl mode and turn it into an Arcade mode featuring several different types of games such as a 1v1 duel mode and a 3v3 elimination match where players don’t respawn until the end of the round. A major change is also bringing an aspect of Competitive mode to Quickplay: the single-hero limit. The days of teams comprised of six Winstons or Meis in Quickplay is over; players will have to go to the Arcade for that kind of chaotic fun. Another major announcement is that Blizzard is creating an “Overwatch” League, an e-sport organization that will add structure and stability to the “Overwatch” pro scene, ensuring its longevity.

“Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft” (2014) received press attention for its upcoming criminal underworld-themed expansion, “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan,” along with some card reveals and gameplay. This expansion revolves around three factions vying for power: the Grimy Goons (Hunters, Paladins and Warriors), the Jade Lotus (Druids, Rogues and Shamans) and the Kabal (Mages, Priests and Warlocks). Some cards in the expansion will be tri-class cards, a new mechanic that allows these cards to work with multiple classes. They also seem to be doing more with the Discover mechanic that players heralded as an example of well-designed variance after it made its debut in last year’s adventure, “League of Explorers” (2015). “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” is expected for release later this year.

“Heroes of the Storm” (2015) players are getting two heroes from the “Warcraft” universe, Varian Wrynn and Ragnaros the Firelord, along with a whole bunch of quality-of-life improvements such as the ability to voice chat with teammates and swap their heroes with those of teammates before the start of the game. In an effort to get “Overwatch” players to test out “Heroes of the Storm,” Blizzard created a cross-promotional “Nexus Challenge” in which players must play 15 games of “Heroes of the Storm” with a friend in order to unlock goodies in “Overwatch,” such as the Oni Genji skin.

The additions to “StarCraft 2″ (2010) and “Diablo III” (2012) were unimpressive in comparison, but more content is better than no content, right? Blizzard is trying to incentivize “StarCraft” players to play more by giving them rewards such as cosmetic skins for their units if they play more games. The cooperative mode is getting two new maps, Miner Evacuation and Dead of Night, along with a new commander, the part-Zerg, part-Terran Alexi Stukov. While interest in the real-time strategy genre has been in decline for some time, the arena used for the StarCraft tournament at Blizzcon was packed and at one point the game was number one on with over 130,000 viewers.

“Diablo III” players walked away with a few minor additions and not much to get excited about other than a new Necromancer class and a temporary dungeon modeled after “Diablo” (1996) to celebrate the title’s 20th anniversary. Developers said players would have to purchase the Necromancer class when it is expected to release in fall 2017, but they did not specify the price. Many were hoping for a hint at a potential “Diablo IV.” Not this year, it seems.