Today at Gamescom Blizzard held a press conference in which they spoke about three of their biggest titles: Diablo III, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and World of Warcraft. Major details about each of these titles were discussed, with more information about gameplay for each.
The first game covered was Diablo III. A new difficulty level titled ‘Inferno’ was introduced. This new difficulty will pit players against monsters that are a minimum of 1 level higher than them. In addition, monsters will get a boost to health, damage, resistances, and aggression, as well as more powers—some being unique to Inferno. Finally, the difficulty will also introduce exclusive loot that cannot be obtained outside of this mode. The Inferno difficulty is aimed at players who have reached the level cap of 60 and are still looking for a challenge.
The differences in Inferno mode also apply to other difficulties: The higher the difficulty, the bigger the boost to the monsters. Additionally, there will be a set of items unique to each difficulty mode with their own armor styles.
During the Q&A, the Diablo III beta was stated to be ready about mid-September. This makes sense, as Blizzard has already promised 1,000 beta keys to BlizzCon attendees (randomly selected). A final release date for the retail version of the game was not given. Additionally, it was stated that no items will be excluded from going on the auction house.
Lead designer Josh Mosqueira also expressed a big interest in bringing the Diablo franchise to consoles, saying they are hiring a team to help do exactly that.
The second game covered was StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, the second release in the planned trilogy of games. Immediately Kerrigan was announced as playable with the game set to follow her attempts at regaining control of the Swarm, as well as her desire to exact revenge on Arcturus Mengsk. It was stated that she will be much more powerful than Jim Raynor, and will be playable for nearly the entire game. Kerrigan’s powers and abilities will increase in scale, strength, and number throughout the single-player campaign. Blizzard wants her to feel like a powerful force on the battlefield.
A new feature called Swarm Adapts will also be in the game, allowing players to collect new species and evolve them through 3 upgrades. This will create sub-species of Zerg, all with their own art and models. Overall, there will be about 20 missions with roughly the same ratio of in-game to pre-rendered cinematics as Wings of Liberty. DOTA is slated to either ship with or be released soon after Heart of the Swarm, and Battle.net will be receiving an upgrade with the specifics for both to be detailed at BlizzCon in October.
World of Warcraft was covered last, with patch 4.3 slated to have a Deathwing raid. Blizzard has stated this will be a high-level raid against “the most epic enemy” seen in the game, and will include several phases in the fight, such as one instance where players fly through the sky attempting to kill him.
The Dark Moon event is to be restructured with new activities, including a new Whack-a-mole-style game.
In addition, three major feature additions were announced: Transmogrification, Void Storage, and Raid Finder. Transmogrification will allow players to combine the art of one item with the stats of another, allowing end-game players to create an original style, rather than be forced into the look of the current-tier raiding gear. This process is restricted to same-class items, and legendary items will always have unique art. Void Storage is a fee-based storage that will hold onto your items for long periods of time to clear up space in your bank. The Raid Finder will be retooled to allow for match-making, similar to the Dungeon Finder. It will work with up to 25-man raids, and it was stated in the Q&A that it will indeed be cross-server in an effort to bring the quickest possible experience.
Finally, when asked about Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard said they cannot comment on rumor or speculation, but they are definitely working on an expansion.
Analysis: This is a huge amount of news and is rather surprising, given BlizzCon is only 2 months away. It’s good to see that deep consideration is being given to fix the issues Diablo II had in Diablo III. End-game progression was rather boring, consisting of just killing the same things over and over without much challenge. Inferno mode will provide a means for a challenge once the level cap has been reached. Undoubtedly, Blizzard is counting on this to keep people playing the game longer as well.
The announcement of the beta being ready around mid-September is not surprising. It is extremely likely that a number of beta keys will be given to BlizzCon 2011 attendees, with 2010 attendees already in the pool for 1,000 keys. It will be interesting, however, if Diablo III ends up making its way to consoles. It should be noted that they stated they were interested in bringing the “Diablo experience” to consoles, which could indicate past Diablo games rather than Diablo III. It remains to be seen whether this will appear on the Xbox 360, Wii, or PlayStation 3.
As much as it burns me that Heart of the Swarm is an entire game rather than an expansion, I am excited for the storyline. Much was left untouched about Kerrigan at the end of Brood War, and seeing her side of the story is a welcome experience. The new sub-species for Zerg also sounds interesting, although limited; 3 upgrades does not sound like a whole variety of customization, but StarCraft is an RTS so a deeper level of depth may be unnecessary. The announcement of DOTA is exciting, although it seems to now be in direct competition with Dota 2 and League of Legends.
The most exciting feature from the World of Warcraft announcements is by far the Raid Finder. For those of you not familiar with the Raid Finder’s history: The Raid Finder was first introduced in Burning Crusade. It only listed you in a server-specific browser, which others could view and then send you a party invitation from. Unfortunately, this feature was nearly invisible due to it only being accessible via the command /lfr. There was no button on the UI for this feature and if you didn’t already know it was there, chances were that you never would. This remained like this for 2 whole expansions until recently in Cataclysm, when the keyring button was removed and Raid Finder was added to the UI. But rather than improve the Raid Finder at this time, Blizzard made incredibly few changes to it.
There have been many people pleading that Blizzard make the Raid Finder work like the Dungeon Finder, and it looks like they have finally listened. The Dungeon Finder puts you in a queue and looks for party members across all servers. This is completely automated, so you simply have to wait until it’s found a party for you. In the meantime, you are free to do whatever you please. Finding a group to do a Raid with is nearly impossible outside of guilds. If you’re not in a raiding guild, chances are you won’t be doing current raids, which makes it hard to get good enough gear to join the better raiding guilds. Hopefully, the Raid Finder improvements will fix this and make raiding accessible to all players.
Transmogrification is also an exciting feature: For far too long, players in end-game content have been locked into wearing the current-tier equipment, meaning if you’re properly geared, you look exactly like every other player of your class at that level. Allowing the use of art from lower level items means you can mix and match your outfit as much as you want, and there are some really cool-looking equipment sets at lower levels.
Void Storage is helpful but somewhat unnecessary. Most players that have issues with storage end up making their own guild and using the guild bank for storage. I suppose Void Storage is a better way of doing this, but I wonder how many of those players will actually switch to it.
Finally, Mists of Pandaria is likely the name of the next expansion. Blizzard will not confirm or deny until BlizzCon, when the new expansion will likely be announced. Either way, it will be interesting to see what they plan to do with the Pandaren given they’re such a joke in the community.