BlizzCon 2011 has wrapped up in Anaheim California and its safe to say that this year, unlike BlizzCon 2010, Blizzard had plenty to talk about. With a big announcement on the next World of Warcraft expansion, lots of talk about the next StarCraft 2 expansion and the finishing touches being put on Diablo 3 this BlizzCon certainly kept the Blizzard faithful very busy jumping from one panel to the next absorbing as much information as they could.
The big announcement for World of Warcraft player was the reveal of the next expansion pack, Mists of Pandaria. Those who follow World of Warcraft news will know that the title, Mists of Pandaria, was registered as a Blizzard trademark some month back. At the time the common theory was that this wasn't going to be the name of the next expansion, rather some spin of IP or mobile game. Well Blizzard blew that idea out the water within 30mins of BlizzCon 2011 starting with the announcement from Chris Metzen that it was in fact the name of the next expansion pack.
So, what will the Mists of Pandaria bring us?
New playable race - the Pandaran
New class - Monk
New explorable continent - Pandaria
Level cap increased to 90
New PVP battlegrounds and arenas
Completely revamped class talent system
While the Pandaran race has been part of Warcraft lore since they appeared in Warcraft 3 they have been sadly absent from World of Warcraft. We found out during BlizzCon that Blizzard had intended for the Pandaran to be the Alliance race in the Burning Crusade however changed their mind during development.
Now with a whole expansion to themselves the Pandaran will be the focal point of the increased tension between the Alliance and the Horde. When Pandaria is revealed after being hidden for 10,000 years, the existing factions see a land of rich resources and opportunity and being to escalate their hostilities as they seek to gain advantage. What the Pandaran will make of the Alliance and Horde pitching up to ravage their lands only Blizzard knows, however it certainly sets up for some interesting story lines.
Additionally, for the first time the Panderan will be a race available to both Alliance and Horde players. If we roll a new Panderan character we will start out neutral through the initial play zone until we reach level 10, then we will have to make a choice to join either faction.
Also for the first time Blizzard are introducing a new class as well as a new race. In previous expansions we either had a new race, like the Goblin or Worgen in Cataclysm, or a new class like the Death Knight in Wrath of the Lich King. The Monk class will offer a hybrid play style, with tanking/healing or physical dps being the roles the Monk class can fulfil. From what we were able to glean from the panels it looks like the Monk will be a very active class to play, as unlike all other classes it will not have auto attacks. Very much based in eastern mythology the Monk will use various kung-fu style moves to carry out attacks or provide healing to his group.
In addition to the new race and class we will also have the opportunity to explore the Pandaran homeland of Pandaria. It will offer five new zones which will provide all the content we need to level from 85 to the new cap of 90 and Blizzard have stated that flying mounts will not work in Pandaria until we reach the level cap of 90. This is being done to ensure we get the most out of the levelling experience and returns us to the philosophy Blizzard had in the Burning Crusade, where only ground mounts were available until level cap. From the videos shown during BlizzCon it is clear that Pandaria is being inspired by the design of eastern cultures, and from what we saw it looks amazing.
Mist of Pandaria will bring many other features to Warcraft, such as the Dungeon Challenges, which are a new mode that will allow us to run through dungeons as quickly as we can with our final time awarding us a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal. Different rewards will be offered, though it seems that it will be mostly cosmetic loot for use with the new Transmogrification system being introduced in patch 4.3 than gear with stats on it.
It will also introduce a new mini-game, Pet Battles. Non-combat pets have been in Warcraft since the beginning, with hundreds of pets now available to collect. Until now they've just been a vanity item, something for the collectors amongst us. Now Blizzard will give us the opportunity to train and battle our pets against other players. While it sounds very similar to some other game that rhymes with Kokomon I'm sure it will find its home in Warcraft.
The next expansion will also bring a complete revamp of the existing talent system. Blizzard tried this in Cataclysm, cutting out a lot of superfluous talents and while this has worked to a certain extent Blizzard themselves admitted that it didn't quite hit the mark. In Mists we'll have a radical change to the way in which talents have worked since Warcraft started. Some of the skills available through talents will now be given to us as default class abilities, and some through the sub class we choose (such as Protection Warrior or Marksman Hunter). The remaining choices will be limited to 6 choices at certain levels. Each of these will be a real choice, with Blizzard trying to get us to think about the way we play our character.
As with all the previous expansion announcements we don't expect all the features to make it into the beta however there is certainly more than enough being offered in Mists of Pandaria to make us excited.
As we focused heavly on the Warcraft panels we haven't yet had a chance to watch the StarCraft 2 and Diablo 3 panels. From the initial introduction we did get a chance to watch a StartCraft 2 in game teaser regarding the upcoming expansion Heart of the Swarm.
The expansion will focus on the Zerg race and the continuing story of Sarah Kerrigan, now that Jim Raynor has de-zerged her and the Queen of Blades is no more. BlizzCon also gave us a sneak peak at Blizzard DOTA, the long awaited Blizzard version of the classic Defense of the Ancients mod.
On the Diablo 3 front, the biggest news and what everyone is waiting on wasn't forthcoming from Blizzard; that being the release date. As we all know now, Diablo 3 has been pushed back from 2011 to an early 2012 release. We have been lucky enough to play some of the beta and it's a very polished game, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that we won't have to wait too long before the release date is announced. [Here is a link to our Beta (p)review]
What we did get from Blizzard though was a glimpse at an amazing cinematic from Diablo 3. Blizzard is renowned for the quality of their game cinematics and the Black Soulstone doesn't disappoint. We really don't know why Blizzard don't just bite the bullet and make a full length feature, as they obviously have a group of amazingly talented cinematic artists.
Finally, and returning somewhat to Warcraft, Blizzard announced the creation of a new annual pass scheme. If we sign up to commit to 12 months of Warcraft subscriptions (payable in any of the current instalment schemes) then Blizzard will give us Diablo 3 for free when it launches. This will be the digital version of course, so anyone who wants the collector's edition will still have to fork out to buy that. In addition, Annual Pass members will receive a free in-game flying mount for Warcraft, Tyrael's Charger, as well as a guaranteed spot in the beta test phase for the Mists of Pandaria.
So, 2012 is looking to be a big, big year for Blizzard. With the definite release of Diablo 3 (unless something goes very, very wrong) and the possible release of StartCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm... and perhaps even the Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard could be attempting to do something it's never done before by releasing 3 updates to its core titles in one year.