Both for work and personal curiosity, I watched the BlizzCon streams this past weekend. It was strange for me, personally, since I had distanced myself emotionally and mentally from Blizzard’s products, especially in light of the #BoycottBlizzard movement. But when you cover online gaming news, you go to where the news is no matter where your head space be at.
So how was it overall? Blizzard really needed a home run with this convention after the past month’s fiasco, Battle for Azeroth’s dissatisfaction, and last year’s dull convention showing. I think it got at least a solid double if not a triple, but the studio was missing that stand-on-your-feet-and-cheer moment that could have helped to really pave over the bumps of late.
Let’s start with The Apology. I honestly didn’t think Blizzard was even going to mention the whole Hong Kong thing, because Blizzard does not do humility well, but to my surprise it did just that. With protesters outside yelling for freedom and Hong Kong liberation, J. Alan Brack took to the stage and gave an apology for how he and the studio reacted last month. People have disagreed with me on Twitter about this, but I think that it was a… decent apology. Probably not sincere, probably extracted through gritted teeth. But at the very least, it was an indication that Blizzard took a serious hit over this and couldn’t afford to be so arrogant in the face of fan pushback. It will influence the decisions that the studio makes along these lines in the future.
Brack is a jerk, yes, and he and the company should have completely rescinded the punishments as a sign of good faith. That would have generated a lot of goodwill and effectively doused this issue. As it stands, people will read into the apology whatever they want because it doesn’t go far enough.
Your mileage may vary, but for me, this satisfies what I wanted to see: A somewhat contrite Blizzard that has taken a big step back from squashing opinions and free speech. It’s enough for me to end my personal boycott, although I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to World of Warcraft any time soon.
Moving on to the games:
World of Warcraft: Classic got about no real news, and no mention of a Burning Crusade/progression server. Live was all about Shadowlands, the much-rumored expansion that will delve into the afterlife zones. Maybe it’s just me, but the announcement was downright subdued compared to Battle for Azeroth’s initial reveal two years ago. No jaw-dropping cinematics or shocking feature reveals. Certainly no housing.
The level squish is of some concern. I’ve talked about this in the past, so suffice to say that my fear is that this is the easier fix than actually making levels 90-120 relevant. I’m just tired of leveling up and having no permanent benefit to show for it. If this changes it, then it has my leery support.
But… one of WoW’s greatest strengths over the past couple of expansions has been its zone designs and smaller stories, and I see hints that Shadowlands will be no different in this regard. I see places I genuinely want to visit and explore. I want to hear more about players will be given more in terms of character choice and growth. And I hope that Blizz has learned from the missteps of BfA while taking the best of that expansion and Legion going forward.
I’m also seeing Blizzard trying to iterate on what’s worked in the past and prune out what hasn’t. More character options, new skills, better options, more support for alts… yeah, this is good stuff. I’m more on board with the level squish now that we’ll have the option to start a new character and simply go through a single expansion to get from 1 to 50 and then jump into Shadowlands. That’s a great way to encourage alts and give us more ways to level.
Overwatch 2: Short of this sequel/expansion becoming a full-fledged MMO, there wasn’t much chance of this drawing my interest. It’s a colorful, personality-laden world… but it’s just not my style of gameplay. PvE story missions are a step in that direction, but it has a ways to go to being the kind of game I’d want to inhabit, not queue up for.
Diablo IV: My impression upon watching the announcement and the subsequent panel is that Blizzard wasn’t quite ready to show this game off. It really looks like it was rushed to get some sort of demo done for BlizzCon, but I would bet my wooden nickels that originally Blizz wasn’t going to reveal this until 2020. It’s bloody, it’s gritty, it’s less colorful than D3. I don’t know. It’s hard to get excited with this and without knowing more about it. We’re definitely a long way away from seeing this released — 2021 or 2022 at the very least.