Monday, October 24, 2011

Blizzcon 2011: Demons and Costumes and (Panda) Bears, Oh, my!

So another annual convention from the developers of World of Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft is in the books, and there were a few highlights of interest to those of us who couldn't make the trek to the convention. There was the ever-popular costume contest, the announcement of the next WoW expansion, and a deal for people willing to sign up for a one-year "tour" for the popular MMORPG, that is seeing a decline in subscription numbers. Personally, I was excited by this year's announcements, and I'd like to talk a bit about them and address my feelings on the controversial elements, specifically about the next World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria. But before we get into any of that, let's take a look at the convention as a whole.

Outside of the WoW-Universe, there were a couple of major announcements with the debut of the trailer for Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm and the release of Blizzard DOTA. The Starcraft trailer gives us a bit of a teaser for next year's expansion, showing that even though Sarah Kerrigan has been rescued and looks human again, all is not well with the former Queen of Blades. We get a preview of a bunch of new units and a brief look at the continuation of the story from Wings of Liberty, with a gorgeous trailer rendered using in-game technology. On the DOTA front, it is exciting to see the original Action/RPG/Realtime Strategy mod Defense of the Ancients get an officially supported release, with many of Blizzard's greatest characters as champions. The original DOTA spawned a subgenre of games including League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, and it'll be great to see the original game return with updated graphics and gameplay, and with Blizzard's official blessing and support.

This year's costume contest continues the tradition of moving away from "sexiest costume wins" and rewarding amazing craftsmanship. The top three this year included a great-looking Deathwing in human form, a decent representation of a WoW Paladin with Ashbringer, and the grand prize winner, one of the best costumes I've ever seen outside of a Hollywood movie. The costume, a note-perfect representation of a Starcraft Adjutant android was worn by Avery Faith of Los Angeles, CA. The combination of technical excellence in the fabrication of the costume pieces with the simultaneously creepy and beautiful aesthetic makes the piece something that really needs to be seen to be believed. (Which is why I picture it below.)

There wasn't a lot more that could be said about Diablo 3, aside from a new teaser trailer, since we've already seen a glut of preview videos and the news that it won't come out until 2012 broke before the convention. However, there was one thing they could do to make Diablo 3 news my personal favorite bit of the con. They made it free. Of course, there are strings attached to the deal. With the imminent release of Bioware's Star Wars MMORPG and some frustration with current raiding content, World of Warcraft is losing subscribers. The solution? Offer a free copy of Diablo 3 to anyone willing to commit to a 1-year subscription to WoW. The offer also comes with an automatic beta invite for the next WoW expansion and an exclusive in-game mount. For me, it was a no-brainer, since I hadn't planned on canceling my subscription this year anyway, and I was a guaranteed sale for Diablo 3, so reducing that game to my favorite price was a bonus.

Then we have the next WoW expansion, raising the level cap to 90, introducing a new zone, a new playable race and a new base class. Mists of Pandaria will be centered on the forgotten home of the reclusive masters of brewing strong spirits and practicing asian-style martial arts, the Pandaren. The race will be available to be played by either Horde or Alliance, and will have a strong connection to the new base class, the Monk. The developers are changing up the formula a bit, focusing on the conflict between Alliance and Horde instead of a single "last boss" like the last three expansions. The Pandaren will be drawn into the conflict, creating a brutal civil war in a land that once knew only peace and meditation, with the "main villain" as war itself. The announcement of a battle minigame system for non-combat pets, along with the "cutesy" look for the Pandaren has the neckbeards of the internet lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks, declaring WoW forever ruined.

...Really? We have talking walrus-men, cow-men, bird-men, fish-men, but pandas are somehow crossing the line? I get that none of those races has be the central character for an entire expansion, but people have been begging for Pandaren since the beginning of World of Warcraft. The accusations that the next expansion is "Kung-Fu Panda and Pokemon," and therefore is designed with small children in mind insults the intelligence of the average gamer. Pandaren have been present in the Warcraft lore for sixteen years, long before there was a Kung-Fu Panda, and gamers were outraged that they weren't a new race way back when The Burning Crusade was first released. I'm completely willing to check out the next expansion (and with my guaranteed beta access, I certainly will) before I declare it to be childish and stupid. If the game becomes something I no longer want to play, I'll stop. I don't see the point in being insulting and jumping to conclusions on the basis of a few videos and some sketchy details, however.
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Jay said...


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