In a month from now, I’ll be getting the snacks and PJ’s ready to watch Blizzcon from a distance.
Traditionally, Blizzard’s flagship ‘convention’ event has been where expansions have been announced, but not this time. We already know what’s coming with Legion’s ‘legendary’ reveal at Gamescom back in August taking many commentators by surprise. This column has discussed the reasons why there’s been not much news since that point, mostly due to the fact that it was clear that a lot of the announcements we saw in Germany probably only existed in Powerpoint presentation form. It will be three months since that hype when Blizzard developers take to the stage in Anaheim, California.
What can players expect when they do?
Most sensible people are keeping tight-lipped as to what might be expected from the game, choosing instead to highlight what they’d hope to see because simply, it’s easier and less dangerous than speculation. I can speak from bitter experience on the dangers of second guessing what’s coming: my failed love-affair with Garrisons is testament to what can transpire when you put too much hope in how a feature can change how the game is played. In the end, I wasn’t just disappointed, I was gutted. What I’d decided the feature would be ended up nothing like I was expecting, and that inevitably led to… well, we all know what happens when we hype something and it fails to meet our expectations. This won’t happen with Legion, because Blizzard have been quite clear that unless they can make it work, they’re not going to present it. Which means when we do get news, it should all be ready to implement shortly afterwards, right?
So, what do we know can be expected from the company next month?
Well, there are countless live blogs, and even a video from Blizzard themselves, that recount the presentation. Let’s remind you of some of the highlights.
The Pre-Expansion Event
This whole shebang is due to kick off at the Tomb of Sargeras, which is located on the new continent for the expansion, the Broken Isles. We’re promised eight zones, but they won’t concern us to begin with. Blizzard have already promised this pre-expansion showdown will ‘shock and surprise’ even the most hardened of players, but what does that actually mean? Normally when TV companies use the word ‘shocking’, it means the death of a well loved character, and there’s already speculation that the only way Paladins will be able to wield the Ashbringer is by prizing it from the cold, dead hands of it’s former owner – a Mr T. Fordring of Hearthglen. If that is truly the way forward? This invasion is likely to incur an awful lot of high-profile casualties. We’re promised the return of some long-lost fan favorites too. I’m hoping Blizzard’s not just planning to bring characters back so they can die before the opening credits roll. What we can expect from this event is the combination of previous invasion elements, which many long-term players have asked for consistently since Wrath of the Lich King. I’d bet on some kind of world combat, the chance to earn ‘unique’ items along the way, presumably culminating with a massive battle which gives players their first brush with Artifact Weapons (see below). If that’s the case, this will be the first time that players will get to experience a new zone before the expansion itself goes live. Previously those elements have been transplanted into existing areas (see Karazhan in the Burning Crusade), allowing players a chance to experience difficulty before the main event rolls in, but Blizzard’s decision to allow level 100 Darkmoon Faire content to go live before the expansion did last year would seem to indicate that overlap with the existing world will be the way forward. Certainly, it could make for interesting and exciting new content for players still grinding away in Hellfire Citadel and Tanaan Jungle.
Giving everyone a weapon that remains their best-in-slot throughout the expansion is not reinventing the wheel in MMO terms, but it is a significant departure for a company who have previously been determined to keep players on a conveyor belt of gearing. Many believe it is also a concession to the ‘homogenization’ of abilities that began with the removal of talent trees and has seen many specs reduced to shells of their former complexity, others being redesigned pretty much from scratch. Speaking as a Hunter, the variety that Marksmanship, Survival and Beast Mastery are being retooled with is indeed a step in the right direction, but if you peel back the surface changes, a lot of this could end up simply as cosmetic.The real proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the playing, and if I understand what I was told in Germany, players pick up the first part of their Artifact during the pre-expansion event. That presumably means that all of these new specs will need to be ready to test in order to go live before the expansion is completed. As I’ve seen nothing on the PTR as yet, one wonders what this means we’ll be seeing as playable, or even discussable, when Blizzcon hits. Of course, as you’re reading this the PTR servers could be going live, who knows, with a month to go it would make sense that we will see something shift on that front sooner rather than later. Needless to say, the changes to specs and classes are potentially cataclysmic. That means Blizzard will want feedback, and soon.
Demon Hunters Everywhere
It’s the class everybody wanted, and as Blizzard are in the mood to try and keep all of Azeroth happy, we now have Demon Hunters to look forward to. Of all the things we know about Legion, there’s at least some confirmation that these guys have a working starting zone, and that it’s being tested internally as I type. That’s also likely to be the live demo you get in Anaheim, I’d wager, because traditionally in such circumstances it has been a starting zone or class starting area that has been handed over to the public first. If we do get the pre-expansion event, I’d expect that to be available to play soon afterwards, but I’d argue there’s too much that could go wrong with everyone picking a class and race. Demon Hunters will keep the public happy and the issues minimal, methinks. After that? Well, Demon Hunter’s can’t heal, so presumably Blizzard are hoping the community self-polices its enthusiasm to roll them, that guilds and raiders will organize to adjust their rosters in response. This is a potential disaster area waiting to happen, especially in LFG when leveling. However, speaking as someone with no desire to even look at one? Maybe I’m the people Blizzard are hoping will step up and fill in the gap. Certainly, I’ve healed before, maybe if the new specs are attractive… but the fact remains, as a major selling point of the expansion? You’re more than likely to see these guys front and center in Anaheim. I’d expect a giant statue of one somewhere too, because that’s what Blizzard does.
Quality of Life
This one will be huge: transmogrification, changes to grouping, better organization of just about everything has been front and center for some time in Blizzard’s mentality, and I’d expect to see a lot of things talked about that can finally be realized. Part of me thinks that there might be some surprises here too – there are already hints in the current seasonal events of positive and constructive change, such as using currency to buy items with long term player benefits as well as the stock vanity pet and toybox items. I can see this being further expanded on at Blizzcon.
If Blizzard are sensible, they’ll have a playable PvP skirmish system up and ready for the convention. I’d not expect every class to be included, but possibly a selection of the most popular 2 v 2 or 3 v 3 combos, just so people can see how leveling works and get a feel for the changes. This is potentially one of the most significant shifts in Legion for those who play to slay, and not garnering feedback from the captive player base would be a major loss. This would also be a great way to give some variety against the Demon Hunters to boot.
There’s also one other important point to factor into this equation: World of Warcraft’s no longer the only game in town. Starcraft’s new expansion will release pretty much straight after Blizzcon ends, and there’s still no word on when the public will get their hands on the Overwatch Beta. We have both Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm to consider, and it’s not like we’re back in the last decade where all anyone talked about was Azeroth. The eSports prize money for every game’s World Championship (qualifiers for which are still ongoing) makes this event about more than simply Legion’s release. There’s an awful lot at stake here for Blizzard, quite apart from the future of their flagship title. In the end, the next four weeks will be crucial in terms of knowing what we can expect. That silence from the West Coast has to break eventually, and when it does? Trust me, I’m all over it. Not even the release of a certain movie at the end of this month is going to detract me from my task. Watch this space people, because it may be quiet now but I promise, it’s not going to be that way forever.Related: Blizzcon, Column, Event (Real Life), MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday