Once again, RPGamer headed out to Anaheim in Southern California to check out BlizzCon 2010 and to see what Blizzard has been up to over the past year. This year, RPGamer sent two reporters to cover the show: me, Emanuel Merino (Currents Columnist and frequent guest on the RPGCast) and Nancy Tseng, a guest contributor for trade shows in Southern California. You may remember her name on many of the RPGamer E3 2010 impressions. Having an extra pair of eyes and ears at the show made all the difference this year - I didn't feel overly constrained for time like last year. This meant that I could spend more time checking out the panels I really wanted to go to, and most importantly, it meant that we both had more time to game.
In terms of news and big reveals, this year's BlizzCon was an off year. StarCraft II had just come out and World of WarCraft: Cataclysm was a month away from release. The only big news that people were expecting from the show was the reveal of Diablo III's fifth and final class. The fact that this was an off year was made all the more evident by Chris Metzen, Blizzard's Vice President of Creative Development, who spent a good 20 minutes during the opening ceremony talking about what "GEEK IS..." rather than about new developments. At least our patience during the geek presentation was rewarded by the unveiling of Diablo III's Demon Hunter class. At this point, most of the Diablo community were expecting a dedicated ranged class, so the only real surprise was the dark, cool, bounty hunter-vibe the class took on. For me, the biggest surprise at the show was StarCraft II. I thought that I was going to completely ignore SCII at the show, seeing as how Wings of Liberty had been out for months and Blizzard had previously announced that Heart of the Swarm, the next expansion, would not be making an appearance at BlizzCon 2010.
StarCraft II was briefly mentioned in passing during the opening ceremony where Blizzard showed off four custom maps that it would be releasing for free sometime in the future. I didn't really make much of an effort to head over to the StarCraft II area and check them out until I sat through a SCII mods panel. It was there that I realized just how much work and new content Blizzard had put into developing these four, fun, new mods. Since there is no better place than this article to talk about StarCraft II mods, Nancy and I will briefly share our thoughts on each.
Left 2 Die:
This homage to Valve's zombie survival shooter Left 4 Dead is a cooperative take on the StarCraft II single-player mission "Outbreak." Here, you and an ally have to defend your base from hordes of zombie Terrans at night. The zombies hate sunlight, so the daytime is your only chance to venture out of your base to destroy infected Terran structures, the source of the zombie hordes. As you destroy infected structures, your team earns Biomass, which allows you unlock new technologies. There are even special infected Zerg in this mod that behave just like their Valve counterparts. I particularly like the gnarled-looking Stank. You can click on the third picture above this paragraph to get a closer look at each of the special infected.
I didn't personally spend much time with this mod at the show. As soon as I sat down with it at BlizzCon, it clicked with me and I understood the game and how much fun this would be in co-op. I figured that I loved the Outbreak mission when I played in the story and I am excited to play it with others, but the other mods were so unique and different from what I'm used to in a StarCraft game, I'll spend my limited time playing those instead. Besides, the noisy atmosphere didn't lend itself well to me and Nancy coordinating our forces and upgrades properly. So once we were overrun, we moved on. Still, it's a great mod and it nicely fills the zombie quota for StarCraft II.
Nancy: I didn't get to play a lot of this game, but it seems like it would be pretty engaging since you have to survive with your friend against a common enemy. While playing with Emanuel, we weren't talking very much and coming up with team strategies, so we were overrun pretty quickly. I look forward to trying it again soon.
It's Protoss meets Iron Chef in this cooking battle mod. You and up to 8 other players compete against others under a time limit to collect all the ingredients needed to complete StarCraft-themed dishes. In each round you are presented with a menu of dishes each worth a certain number of points upon completion. The amount of points rewarded for each dish depends on the difficulty of finding and obtaining all the ingredients. For example, I usually had to fight more enemies for recipes that rewarded more points. The real fun starts when you start sabotaging your opponent by laying various traps around the map. Of course, I also had plenty of luck just outright attacking my fellow Zealot chefs. Overall, it's a fun little mod that I could easily imagine mixing into my StarCraft II rotation as a palate cleanser.
Nancy: This was the first of the four games I got to experience at BlizzCon because the line wasn't as long as the others. Overall, this game was pretty fun against other people, but compared to the other mini games Blizzard created, it's not as addicting. However, it's a really quick and satisfying mini game that would be great for killing some time.
This mod is a mix between Bejeweled and a wave defense game. On the right hand side of the screen, you are playing a regular Bejeweled clone. On the left hand side, you are sending out troops to go destroy your opponent's base. Every time you match 3 jewels, you earn energy to buy specialized units and even spells with a variety of effects to attack your enemy or to defend your base. This game was definitely the most addicting of the bunch. It gets quite tense as you try to match jewels as fast as you can while managing your army. It may be tempting to spam out units as quickly as you can afford them, but it's important to counter your enemy's units and know when to set off spells. Thankfully, the game is 2v2 and your friend can always pick up some of your slack. I can easily see this being a fan favorite.
Nancy: This game is by far the most addicting out of all the mini games Blizzard created for StarCraft II. The match I played at BlizzCon was heated, as both teams went back and forth all the way to the end of the match. Emanuel and I barely won at the end, but since we saved up all of our points, we could unleash one massive counter attack that destroyed the enemy's remaining towers and base. It was an all-or-nothing strategy that almost cost us the game. I can't wait to play more of this map soon.
Blizzard's take on the popular WarCraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients, is easily my favorite of the 4 mods. As far as gameplay goes, it's the same tried and true DOTA that people have been playing for years. In case you aren't familiar with how DOTA works, it is a team-based game where two armies are locked in perpetual combat, and it's up to you and your allies to tip the balance in your favor by destroying units and defensive towers. The real fun of the game comes from using your hero's unique abilities on the battlefield. As you kill enemies, you earn experience that lets you unlock and upgrade abilities. You can further customize your hero by buying items with the gold you earn on the battlefield. It's a really fun and RPG-like take on the strategy and tower defense genre.
What really makes the mod shine is how much polish and personality it has. This is essentially Blizzard's version of the Super Smash Bros. series. All of the hero units that you can choose from were taken from Blizzard's other games, namely the WarCraft and StarCraft, and from what I understand, Diablo heroes will be in the mod before it launches. Blizzard created a lot of great new art assets to bring heroes like the Orc Blademaster and Grunty, the Murloc Marine, to life in StarCraft II. Even the Chessboard map that Blizzard DOTA takes place on is brand new and is dripping with personality.
The 5v5 matches were even more tense and heated than the Starjeweled match we played earlier. You could hear people groan when they died or cheer after a particularly successful push. This was the only SCII mod that I had so much fun playing that I had to go back to play it again. Sure it may just be standard DOTA, but it's a fun, well balanced DOTA with a lot of charm, polish, and a big community of players who are goning be ready to play it any time. Besides, now you can finally settle that argument in your head over who would win in a fight, Kerrigan or Sylvanas.
Nancy: This was probably my favorite of the four mini games because you can choose from a variety of different heroes that have different specs and abilities. I chose to play as Kerrigan and a Murloc marine. Kerrigan had low health but had really good and fast attacks. She looked really cool when I was playing her and her powerful psychic attacks gave me the edge I needed. I had difficulty playing the Murloc because he had more support abilities than attacks, and I ended up dying a lot in big fights. Overall, I really liked how I had to use a lot of strategy and team work to defeat the enemy. It's lots of fun.
The best part about these four mods is that they will be unlocked when they are publicly released. That means that mod making community will be able to pull everything out of these mods and create anything they want in their custom maps with the new assets that Blizzard created making these four. I'm excited to see what these four mods will spawn in the future.
My Final Thoughts on BlizzCon:
As fun as those SCII Mods were, the real highlight of the show was sitting down with Diablo III, its new systems and the new Demon Hunter class. So be sure to read our impression for more thoughts on that. The rest of the show was filled with great panels and good people. I particularly enjoyed the two Diablo III gameplay panels and the StarCraft II exhibition match between Fruitdealer and ShadowBoxer. It seemed like that exhibition match was more packed than the opening ceremony.
As far as swag went, the main item in the BlizzCon goody bag at this years show was a nice Deathwing statue that is currently sitting on my coffee table. I also picked up the latest WoW book, The Shattering (which serves as a prequel to Cataclym), in addition to the The Diablo Archive, and a Murloc plush doll when I subscribed to the Official WoW magazine. I also won a pair of Murloc action figures at a DC Unlimited contest. The swag at this year's show was much better for me than last year's, and even better than the previous two E3s that I attended. If I had to pick a favorite piece of swag, it would be the Deathling statue. I'm glad that everybody who attended BlizzCon got to walk away with one of these miniature world destroyers. I didn't walk away with a lot of swag, but what I did get were all very high quality items. You can see a few pictures of the swag above and in the picture galleries linked below.
Overall, it was a really fun show. It was great to mingle with other Blizzard fans, getting to play Diablo III again, and finally learning what all the fuss about DOTA was. If anything, this show further solidified me as a lifelong Blizzard fan, which is pretty impressive if you remember that 2 years ago, I barely knew whom Blizzard was.
Nancy's Final Thoughts: I had a lot of fun at my first BlizzCon. There was a lot of down time while waiting to play games and waiting for panels to happen, but I was able to easily pick up and play each Blizzard game available. Prior to the show, I hadn't really played any of Blizzard's games before, so it was comforting to see how easily I understood and picked up each game. After BlizzCon, I ended up buying all of their games and now I am playing through StarCraft I and WoW, and I will soon move on to play StarCraft II and Diablo II as I wait for Diablo III.
To get a better feel for the show from our point of view, be sure to check out the image gallery that we compiled below.