As expected the lines to pick up the ever popular goodie bags and convention badges was just as long as last year. The only difference is that this year marked an increase in attendance. Despite internal website problems with the Blizzard shop, President Mike Morhaime stated that the convention sold out of its 15,000 tickets in only 15 minutes, making it the highest attended Blizzcon since its conception in 2005. Attendees this year were pleased to learn during the opening ceremonies that this year they would have the opportunity to demo Diablo 3 and its newly announced class, the wizard.
The stunning visuals of Diablo 3 are enough to attract even the most graphically elitist of next-gen console gamers. Highlighted during D3 gameplay discussions were the visceral deaths of a wide variety of mobs in the game. Players will be pleased to discover that their characters actions will directly impact the manner of their opponent’s demise. The wizard, described by the developers as a “light show”, showed off a variety of classic Sorceress abilities updated for D3. Abilities which now can be augmented and changed via a new rune system, allowing players customization of their fighting skills. Players had the chance to adventure either alone or with other attendees into a multi-level physics enhanced dungeon where you could control either a barbarian, witch doctor, or wizard and slash and cast their way to victory over a skeletoneseque final boss. Many of the frustrating and otherwise annoying minor details of Diablo 2 have either been done away with or redesigned. Gone is the act of continuously chugging potions to keep your health and mana up during battle. Instead, health globes from fallen opponents keeps you standing, and taking a break from slinging fireballs for a few seconds causes your mana to regenerate at a rapid pace. Also gone is the crazy tetris-like game of managing your inventory space, a more conventional slotted inventory takes its place. Picking up gold no longer requires clicking, as merely passing by is enough to grab onto it and pack it away. The favorite addition of many is advancement in audio lore. Once in your inventory, a lore item will give you the option of starting an audio only dialogue, which does not require a break in gameplay. The dialogue track will play over your monster slaying allowing you to experience the lore and plot without putting a pause on your progression. The big question revolving around Diablo 3 (other than the possibility of a cow level) is whether its classic gameplay style of “Point, Click, Die, and Loot” is enough to satisfy today’s gamer. Judging by the long lines and the smiling faces at the exit of the demo stations, it’s safe to say things are looking good.
It’s been over ten years since the first Starcraft was released, and perhaps no game has ever had such an eagerly anticipated sequel. Starcraft 2 appeared again at Blizzcon, this time with two surprises. First, all attendees at Blizzcon received a code for the Starcraft 2 beta test, which should begin soon. Also, the world’s first ever Starcraft 2 tournament! Even for those who didn’t possess the skills to win such an event, the news that the game was already in such a playable state was enough for cries of celebration throughout the convention. The greatest diversion from the original Starcraft seems to be the dynamic storylines of the single player campaign. Now the actions the player can alter the direction of the storyline and influence what future battles will take place. Single player replay ability may just be the most improved aspect of Starcraft 2. Gamers from all across the globe anxiously await the sure to be record setting release of this franchise giant.
Not to be overlooked, the multimillion subscribers of World of Warcraft will soon have in their hands the latest expansion to the world of Azeroth. Wrath of the Lich King is in its final beta stages and was on hand making an appearance. Players will have the opportunity to experience a new continent, progress their characters up to level 80, and play the newest class, the Deathknight. Smooth and polished were the words of the day here, as the game looked ready to go by all accounts. Wrath of the Lich King will hit the shelves of a gaming store near you Mid-November.
Much improved this year were the tournaments. World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Warcraft 3 all offered cash prizes for being the best gamers in each discipline. Two different tournament stages were set up this year, one for World of Warcraft, and one for the real time strategy games, allowing for larger audiences and more viewable matches. Greatly improved this year was the WoW tournament. The “shoutcaster” announcers were knowledgeable and able to convey key information quickly and clearly both during and in between games. Also, the emphasis this year was placed on 3v3 matches rather than 5v5, allowing the audience to keep up better with the action and have a more enjoyable viewing experience. If Blizzard’s hope is to make WoW a true “E-Sport” and continue into the future, they would be wise to continue to keep the viewer in mind. Favoring 3v3s is a positive step in this direction. Overall the tournaments were well produced and were a key part of the Blizzcon fun.
On the floor of the convention center were a number of attractions, including various vendors, a retro-games arcade featuring Blizzard games from the past, a silent art auction, various photo opportunities, and more. By far the longest lines could be found at the J!nx booth and two authorized Blizzard stores. Attendees were daunted by long lines at these locations and reports of over a 3 hour wait to get to the Blizzard store were not uncommon as the convention went on. Figuring out a different queuing method for the store should be a primary concern for Blizzard in future conventions. There is a line between an acceptably long wait and a ridiculous one. Sitting in line for 3 hours to buy a t-shirt isn’t a pleasant experience.
The closing ceremonies of Blizzcon saw the return of both Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftain, a metal band composed of Blizzard employees, and Video Games Live, an orchestra utilizing sight and sound to make video game music into a theatrical experience. The crowd for the concert was very enthusiastic, and to quote Video Games Live Host and Co-CEO, Tommy Tallarico, “Where else could a metal band open for an orchestra?” Elite Tauren Chieftain rocked the crowd and warmed them up. For the first time, Video Games Live performed music from Diablo 3 to the largest video game concert audience in history, including those in attendance and the thousands watching live on DirecTV. The concert was the perfect way to cap off the night, as following the concert the attendees poured out of the convention center, each shouting their favorite battle cry from the Blizzard games.
The first Blizzcon was held in 2005, and with it brought the announcement of the first World of Warcraft expansion, The Burning Crusade. Two years passed before the second Blizzcon, which announced the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. One year later and attendees were speculating about what the big announcement would be for Blizzcon 2008. The opening ceremonies came and went and with the only new announcement being a single playable class for Diablo 3, many attendees were left feeling let down by the lack of new information. It seems that Blizzard is aiming to make Blizzcon a yearly event, regardless of whether it has announcement worthy information or not. When compiling a list of differences between this year’s Blizzcon and last, the list begins and ends with Diablo 3. Beyond that, the convention was nearly indistinguishable from 2007. Much of it was the same vendors, same booths, and the same place. The concert at the end was nearly identical as well. The music of Diablo 3 was the only difference I could pick out. If you used a frying pan and knocked someone unconscious for a year last Blizzcon and now revived them while holding your hand up blocking the Diablo 3 sign, it probably would take them quite some time to realize it was a different convention. There was just not enough new material. When describing the convention the next day over the phone to someone who had attended last year, the first question they asked was, “What did I miss?” After I said that Diablo 3 now has a caster class (shocking I know), and that the game was demoable, I had to struggle to come up with anything else. 2007? 2008? What a difference a year doesn’t make I guess.
Having a yearly convention isn’t a bad idea, but there has to be more variety. I wouldn’t be surprised if attendees of previous Blizzcon’s get bored seeing the same old thing and decide to stay home next time. Getting fed rehashed information and fully predictable announcements such as a caster class for their new game is simply not enough. To keep the fans returning and clamoring for the exclusive tickets, Blizzard needs to understand that what the public desires, more than the highly coveted goodie bags and beta keys, is new information on their favorite blizzard products.