BlizzCon: Diving Into the Hordes Part I

| Games

First things first: Blizzard Entertainment passed up having a presence at E3 this year and some people wondered why.

I was one of them.

Upon arriving at BlizzCon this year, I began to see the logic behind this.

This is their dog and pony show, the thing that only a company that has both developed and published a library of beloved titles and more than five million World of Warcraft subscribers (and essentially discovered a way to print money from this) could do and even if they never officially stuck their heads in the door at E3, you could see why.

Approaching the Anaheim Convention Center on Friday, the vanguard of over 26,000 attendees had camped out. The line, headed by John Trainor of Phildelphia, who hadn't slept since 7 AM on Wednesday morning and had arrived at 12:30 the night before, bounced about eagerly, complete with costumes, World of Warcraft Alliance and horde tattoos, and free t-shirts being thrown out at random. 

Over the next few days, things became interesting. Where Rachel Hoyer handled the World of Warcraft elements and got her hands on the new Cataclysm content, I approached StarCraft II carefully, grabbing a demo machine in the press room whenever I could and began trying out both the Campaign and Skirmish modes.

Blizzcon attendees lined up well ahead of the event.

They've gone for a somewhat radical departure with the sequel and the Campaign mode feels more open-ended, the player being able to choose from a variety of missions at any given point as well as earning new vehicles, units and upgrades. The conventional linear plotline has been removed and the player can now wander about the ship, talk with characters and get their take on things before dropping into the mission of their choice.

There's nothing cheap or rushed about StarCraft II, even in its beta stages and what's presented before you is more than a sequel, but an entirely redesigned title in and of itself. Graphics glow beautifully, the frame rate is terrific, the controls are easy to adapt to and near-photorealistic renderings of the characters put aside any doubts as to the time and development work that have gone into the game.

As for the challenge... it's still there. Like WarCraft III and the original StarCraft, players will have to focus on getting their units built as quickly as possible, then focus on taking nearby resource areas before their opponents can charge in. The rush against your opponents continues and the joy of online gaming remains while the title delivers a full plot in single player mode.

Where Diablo III is concerned, a great title just got better. The new Monk class proves incredibly fun to play with, the graphics and lighting have improved and it became almost completely addicting to charge through the desert while performing combos only to leave small and medium-sized groups of monsters in pieces as you grabbed the treasure you left behind. 

Once again, the movement system in Diablo III focuses on the mouse and players can consistently hold the left mouse button down and point the character to where they need to be while using their other hand to hit keys as necessary. Movement can be taken care of with one hand and it's easy enough to run over several scattered groups of gold to collect them, as was seen in the prequel.

The cast from The Guild spoke at a special panel.

They're working on balance with the Monk and I think they're close to where they want to be. Perhaps best described as a "fragile tank," the character may not be able to get into the thick of it with a large group of monsters, but can quickly dart in and out, inflicting damage, activating combos and stunning a potentially overwhelming nearby force with a Holy Visage spell before escaping, activating a healing potion and attacking again. 

For years, Battle.net has been great, but I think there's always been some level of intimidation that's accompanied it. You were great at multiplayer gameplay or you weren't and for casual players of titles like Warcraft III, hopping on 2x2 or 4x4 games seemed to be the equivalent of covering yourself in delicious meat sauce, hanging several prime rib steaks off your shoulders, then standing near a forest known to be filled with wolves and banging a metal spoon against a pan and screaming "Come and get it!!!" 

There were balance issues and you either sank, swam or got pummeled by someone who had played way too much and was happy to wipe the floor with you.

This may change, as developers commented that the new Battle.net, which will run off 100 percent new hardware, will not only focus on keeping players' connections active, but offer additional play ladders, achievements, avatars, decals and AI-based units for players to fight against on a cooperative basis. This may not keep you from having an initial few rough matches to start out with, but there's an effort being made to keep you coming back and this will be worth looking into (an appreciated element, especially since Blizzard took LAN multiplayer support out of its upcoming titles and will be requiring users to log into Battle.net as they open the game).

Ozzy Osbourne rocked the gaming convention.

When a convention enters its last hours, you feel it. People will have to pack up, catch flights and head back to the reality they came from. Not the prettiest thing in the world and where some conventions would push you to enter one final game tournament, attend one last panel or go grab a final meal with your friends, Blizzard hurled out Ozzy Osbourne for its final few hours, a man who proved that 40-plus years of performing and touring has barely slowed him down, if at all. And through a 45 minute set before thousands of fans and a speaker system that left your ears gently ringing for the next 30 hours even if you were off to the side a bit, the man seemed to be nothing short of an autistic vampire jackrabbit, constantly jumping up and down only to take breaks to soak himself with a bucket of water before half-drowning onlookers with a firehose filled with foam, water or both. Beyond the antics, he tore through classics such as "Alesiter Crowley," "I Don't Know" and "Crazy Train" as effectively as ever while new material such as "Never Gonna Stop" brought out the lighters and demands for an encore.

They've got their dog and pony show figured out in Anaheim and if this year's event was any indication as to what to expect for the future, I can't wait to go back.

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