BlizzCon 2016: Panel wrap-ups

A breakdown of the forward-focused highlights that came out of the BlizzCon 2016 panels for Hearthstone, StarCraft II, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft: Legion.

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BlizzCon 2016: Panel wrap-ups

I watched a lot of BlizzCon 2016 videos over the weekend. Like, a lot. You can check out the wrap-up from the opening ceremony that touches on a bunch of topics across Blizzard titles , and then you can read on for a more focused breakdown on specific titles. I chose to focus on panels that had a forward focus for Blizzard games, and avoided the retrospective stuff, but that self-imposed criteria meant I was unable to find an appropriate panel for Heroes of the Storm. Sorry, HotS fans.

For everyone else, whether you’re a fan of Hearthstone, StarCraft II, Overwatch, or World of Warcraft, read on for a breakdown of the bigger points to come out of the panels focused on tomorrow’s content that came out of the BlizzCon 2016 premium panels.

Hearthstone – What’s Next panel
The Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion for Hearthstone is scheduled to hit in the new year, with a whopping 132 new cards added to the game. Watch out meta.  It’s set in a post-cataclysm Gadgetzan and apparently you’ll always be playing at night to keep things feeling suitably nefarious. The expansion will introduce three factions, all of which have three class groups. The Grimy Goons are comprised of Hunters, Warriors and Paladins. The Jade Lotus is made up of Rogues, Shamans and Druids. Finally, there’s The Kabal who break down into Priests, Mages and Warlocks.

This expansion will also see the introduction of tri-class cards, which also has some pretty big implications for the meta. One such tri-class card is a rare Grimy Coons card, the Grimestreet Informant, which is able to discover a Hunter, Paladin or Warrior card, with a 2 mana cost to play it, and 1 attack and health. Tri-class cards seem to be aimed at higher-level players seeking to break expectations of what might be in their deck, as they can potentially have cards from unexpected classes. Each crime family has three of these cards, with one per family designated to being an “awesome boss”.

There are also playable cards that will let players create a custom spell. Players choose from 1/5/10 mana-cost options when crafting a spell for less, greater or superior spell results. From here, there’s a two phases of power selection from three options per choice.

StarCraft II: Foundation for the Future panel
The core StarCraft storyline might be done and dusted now that Legacy of the Void is out in the wild, but the supplementary story continues with Nova Covert Ops. Nova’s story is told after the events of Legacy of the Void, and the digital comics that link to Mission Pack 3 will be readable within the StarCraft II game. In 2017, expect to see UI updates making their way into the game, with refinements to existing features to help make things clearer for new users, as well as all-new UI additions.

There’s a Warchests feature that offers a large bundle that players can buy. Purchasing a Warchest will immediately reward with cosmetic items such as skins and emotes, but then as the Warchest season (reportedly separate to ladder seasons) progresses, purchasing players can collect additional rewards. The proceeds will reportedly go towards global eSports initiatives.

According to Allen Dilling, assistant art director, Blizzard is hoping to raise the bar, visually, with future StarCraft II content drops. The co-op packs have three missions per pack, so expect more details in these missions, alongside different locales, highlighted by more confident camera work, scripted moments and improved lighting. For fans of modding, Dilling confirmed that all source art and assets would be available to the mod community, too. Speaking of mods, an upcoming StarCraft II Rock the Cabinet contest will be focused on co-op missions, so keep an eye out for that.

Expect to see new co-op commanders and maps in 2017. The next commander to hit co-op is Alexei Stukov, the infested Terran commander that fans might remember from way back in Brood War. Terran and Zerg races have been incorporated into Stukov’s gameplay systems (who uses leader abilities and isn’t an on-the-field commander), with an overall infested zombie-like theme. An infested bunker that was shown at BlizzCon many moons ago but never made it to the game, will be one of Stukov’s units, as well as a twisted siege tank that has tentacles and eats civilians then shoots them out as ammo. The new map being talked about at BlizzCon is called Minor Evacuation, and tasks players with clearing out and defending randomly activated shuttles.

Left to Die, a popular arcade map, is coming to co-op, too. It’s being switched up a bit, thus the name change to Dead of Night, but it still has the same day/night cycle, with infested invasions when the sun goes down. Look out for that in early 2017. Co-op fans should also keep an eye out for a new leaderboard feature scheduled to hit halfway through next year.

Overwatch – What’s New panel
It should come as no surprise that the top requests from the Overwatch player base are new heroes, new maps, and new game modes. Overwatch’s 23rd hero, Sombra, was already unveiled during the opening ceremony, so head over to this article to read more about her general abilities and see the two character trailers. For those who love Overwatch’s backstory, Sombra was born 30 years ago during the La Medianoche event (Omnic Crisis) where the robot population rebelled against humanity.

She’s an orphan who was raised by the Los Muertos organisation. When Sombra sniffed out a government conspiracy that, in turn, took an interest in her, she went into hiding and upgraded her body to become a powerful computer capable of hacking into a variety of devices. She’s armed with a machine pistol, as well as the manually activated Hack, Thermoptic Camo (proper invisibility) and Translocator (limited-window teleportation) abilities. Sombra has a passive Opportunist perk that lets her see nearby half-health enemies through walls, and her ultimate is an EMP that disables a bunch of player abilities and gadgets in a specific radius.

Arcade mode is coming to the ‘Play’ menu, with the Brawl formerly known as ‘Arcade’ changed to ‘Total Mayhem’. Arcade mode includes 1v1, 3v3 and 6v6 Brawls, with the promise that players can earn up to three loot boxes per week (in that specific mode). The 1v1 Mystery Duel mode randomly selects a hero that both players must use, and the first player to hit five wins is the victor. The 3v3 Elimination mode is the first to three wins, and has a single-death-per-round logic like Counter-Strike. You’re free to pick your team composition, but there’s no changing characters mid-round. Finally, the 6v6 No Limits mode has implications for Quickplay because this will soon be the only mode where teams can choose as many instances of the same character as they like.

Yes, this means that Quickplay will soon only allow one particular hero choice per side. There’s also an ‘All Brawls’ mode that’s set to include popular older brawls, all of which are rated on popularity so you know your expected wait time when you click on one. One mode with the working title ‘Charge’ locks players to choices of just Lúcios and Reinhardts. Another, called This is Ilios, locks players to fighting around the infamous well point on Ilios, and teams can only choose between Roadhogs and Lúcios. Given the 300 reference in the mode name, you can expect the overwhelming majority of deaths will be due to broken necks at the bottom of the well.

Keep an eye out for the new Oasis map for Control mode, which marks the first Overwatch map to include jump pads around the centre point. You can reportedly combine hero abilities with the jump pad for some interesting results. It’ll be on the public test region in December, and it’s slated for release early next year.

World of Warcraft: Legion – What’s Next panel
Game director Ion Hazzikostas was on hand to talk in-depth about everything that’s on the horizon for World of Warcraft. No new announcement of a major expansion, unfortunately, but Hazzikostas did confirm that Blizzard is working on the next one. For those disappointed in the lack of ‘bigger’ news, at the end of the panel Hazzikostas teased that the next expansion (or possibly one beyond it) will take players beyond Azeroth to the planet Argus.

Blizzard has updated its patch philosophy to now reflect large content drops, minor patches, and even the possibility of mid-sized updates. The idea is to spread content out so that there’s a steady stream of new stuff for fans to play. Patch 7.1.5 is one of the ‘small’ ones that’s set to include system updates, new rewards, as well as evergreen content. Players will be able to revisit Mists of Pandaria dungeons in this patch thanks to the Timewalking events, which includes all six original dungeons.

The Brawler’s Guild is also making a comeback in this patch, with dozens of new bosses. While still predominantly a solo experience, Blizzard is introducing the option for random raid bosses to occasionally spawn, which allows players waiting to brawl to be pulled into the fight immediately and share in the subsequent loot drop. This patch will also see the introduction of micro-holidays with events that’ll have meaning to WoW fans: Ahn’Qiraj Remembrance Day, Volunteer Guard Day (where you get to temporarily play as a Horde or Alliance guard), and Hatching of the Hippogryphs. There are also some class changes, such as the return of abilities that were once removed. WoW fans, you should be able to check out patch 7.1.5 on the public test realm now.

Patch 7.2 is set to include a bunch of content, including a new dungeon called Cathedral of Eternal Night, which is connected to the new raid: Tomb of Sargeras. Players will have some agency in building base items (Nether Disruptor, Command Centre, Mage Tower) before planning their assault, and these constructions unlock new quests and loot. Flying is also set to be part of 7.2. Players must first complete Part Two of the Broken Isles Pathfinder quest before unlocking flying mounts for all characters in their account. There’s a custom mount for every class, too.

PvP Brawls, slated as week-long events, will also be introduced in 7.2, which are inspired by Brawls in Overwatch and Hearthstone. There are some updates to artifacts in 7.2, too, both in terms of mechanics and content, as well as changes to the dungeon difficulty levels across the board.

That’s it for the BlizzCon 2016 forward-focused panel wrap-ups. If you want to know more about a specific panel, let me know in the comments section below, and I’ll do my best in interpreting my notes to answer any specifics.

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