Everything important revealed during Blizzcon 2021

This year’s Blizzcon was much more reserved than the last one, with far fewer bombshell announcements or earthshattering reveals. Instead, this year’s event focused on works in progress, updating fans on the status of the big games announced in 2019 rather than promising anything new (Cynics might say this is because Blizzard didn’t have a huge controversy to distract from this time). The global Covid-19 pandemic prevented Blizzard from holding a traditional in-person event, so the company decided an online-only event would be better than nothing at all.

The show kicked off with president J. Allen Brack talking about Blizzard’s 30-year history, as the company was founded in February 1991 as “Silicon and Synapse.” To celebrate the company’s history, Blizzard teamed up with retro specialists Digital Eclipse to put out the Blizzard Arcade Collection. This package includes three early Blizzard titles from the Super Nintendo era; The Lost Vikings, Blackthorne, and Rock’n’Roll Racing. This collection became available for purchase during the keynote and is now available on all current console and PC platforms.

Brack described some of the challenges Blizzard employees have faced during the pandemic and went on to point out how games have helped people stay connected in spite of the distance between them. The keynote then switched over to other high-level Blizzard employees to give updates on the company’s various franchises.

World of Warcraft

John Hight, the executive producer for World of Warcraft announced a new update for the Shadowlands expansion called “Chains of Domination.Shadowlands has been received by the WoW player base much more favorably than its predecessor, Battle for Azeroth. A cinematic followed in which the Horde leader Sylvanas threatens Alliance leader Anduin, attempting to convince him to join Denathrius. Shortly thereafter Anduin seeks an audience with the angelic Archon, but she realizes too late he’s being controlled by Denathrius, and he kills her to retrieve a key. As this token is presented, it looks as though Sylvanas might be having second thoughts about her alliance with the Jailor.

In addition to the expansion announcement, Hight revealed a pair of cosmetic pets will soon be available, with all proceeds from their sale going to Doctors Without Borders. Bananas the chimp and Daisy the Sloth will be available to all WoW players if certain donation thresholds are met.

For World of Warcraft Classic the lead producer Holly Longdale revealed the game will soon update to include WoW’s first expansion, Burning Crusade. This expansion allowed players to travel through the Dark Portal into the outlands of Draenor and added many new features to the game. Both factions got new allies in the form of Blood Elves and Draenei, the Paladin and Shaman classes were no longer faction specific, and many iconic raid bosses such as Lady Vashj, Kaelthas Sunstrider, and Illidan Stormrage challenged the heroes of Azeroth.

Burning Crusade also raised the level cap and added flying mounts, one of the most liberating abilities in any game ever. Longdale said that the team had made some tweaks to make Burning Crusade feel better and more modern than it was upon the original release. WoW Classic players will have a tough decision to make, with the option to stay in Classic (Vanilla WoW) permanently or go to Outland and beyond once the portal opens later this year.

HearthStone

Game Director Ben Lee had quite a bit to go over, as HearthStone has made some major changes over the last year. Blizzard seems to view HearthStone as a platform, not necessarily a single game anymore but a place to experiment with all sorts of different genres. The most major announcement to come from Blizzcon was the new expansion, Forged in the Barrens. This expansion looks all the way back to one of World of Warcraft’s most iconic areas, the point at which all Horde races meet up and begin interacting with one another. The developers seem to have had some fun designing cards based on this area, with one card shown referencing an obscure quest that baffled players for years.

Forged in the Barrens brings a new keyword and a few new mechanics to HearthStone. The new ability Frenzy is sort of a cross between Spellburst and the Enrage ability found mostly on Warrior cards. To trigger a Frenzy, the minion on board must take damage but has to survive it. The Frenzy ability can only activate once, so it seems like it’ll work best on minions with the Rush ability or for classes that have an easier time dealing damage to their own minions, such as Mage and Warrior.

The other mechanical changes both have to do with Spell cards. A new type of spell was shown called a Ranked spell, which grows in power as the game progresses. Whatever effect the spell has at rank 1, it will improve once the player reaches five mana crystals, and again when they reach 10 crystals.

Once Forged in the Barrens releases, every spell will now belong to one of seven spell schools: Arcane, Fel, Fire, Frost, Holy, Nature, and Shadow. This allows developers to make cards that take advantage of synergies with a particular school and lessens the impact generic spell damage can have on the game. To this end, the Shaman class will no longer have access to a Spell Damage totem, and it will be replaced by one that buffs the attack of another minion at the end of the turn.

While the expansion was the biggest reveal, it’s far from the biggest change coming to HearthStone this year. Blizzard announced earlier this year that the Standard and Classic sets will rotate out of the game at the same time Forged in the Barrens releases. Instead, all players will have free access to what the developers are calling the “Core set,” which includes 29 new cards and 206 classics from the past. A few of the new cards were shown, updating some of the classic dragons to be more relevant to the current metagame. Ysera will now give her controller all five dream cards when she hits the table, Malygos will fill your hand with spells, and Deathwing will no longer necessarily dump your whole hand when he destroys the board.

A few other announcements regarding HearthStone were made. Players who wish to revisit HearthStone’s early days will get their chance when HearthStone Classic becomes available. This throwback version of HearthStone removes all expansions from the game and resets cards back to their original wording and power level. What’s more, a new game mode called HearthStone Mercenaries was teased. Very little of this new mode was shown, but it appears to take inspiration from Mega Crit’s Slay the Spire. Multiple tracks were shown with various colored gems that seemed to indicate difficulty level, and it looks like players will take on randomly generated challenges and upgrade their deck as they attempt to progress further along these tracks.

No date was announced for Forged in the Barrens, but it’s safe to assume the expansion will come out in mid-to-late March. Lee stated that Alliance players will receive their own expansion later in the year, and a graphic teaser seems to imply the two factions will clash in battle when the third expansion releases sometime around November. Finally, everyone who logs into HearthStone will be able to claim a free card back celebrating Blizzard’s 30th anniversary, as well as a special card from the upcoming set. I think we can all be thankful HearthStone doesn’t have anything resembling Barrens chat.

Diablo

Luis Barriga took over at this point, and the biggest announcement here was the reveal of the new Rogue class for Diablo IV. Diablo hasn’t had a Rogue since the very first game, and it appears the new class takes inspiration from several sources. Skills shown for this new character hearkened back to the original Diablo’s Rogue, Diablo II’s Amazon, and Diablo III’s Demon Hunter. The Rogue will be a speedy, agile attacker with skill trees focused on traps, marksmanship, and brutal melee attacks. Several abilities were shown off, including throwing out a bundle of Caltrops, firing arrows into the air and releasing a Volley, and slashing through an enemy using Eviscerate. The video below was the rogue’s introduction, but you may not wish to view it if you’re sensitive about damage to ears.

The worst-kept secret Blizzard had was finally confirmed after the Rogue’s reveal, as Diablo II Resurrected will be coming out later this year. This remake of the fan-favorite Diablo II has been rebuilt from the ground up, replacing the original’s sprites with 3D models. Resurrected will include all content including the Lord of Destruction expansion, and the gameplay shown was much more fluid than the original.

What’s more, the game will have PC and console cross saves, so you’ll be able to pick up where you left off if you’d like to swap between your computer and your Switch. Blizzard teamed with developer Vicarious Visions for this project, known most recently for the excellent remakes of Tony Hawk 1 and 2. This gives us hope it won’t turn out like the much-maligned Warcraft III Reforged. Players hoping to try out the remaster can sign up now for a chance to test it when the game goes into alpha.

Finally, Out-of-season April fool’s joke Diablo Immortal is getting closer to launch, though Blizzard wisely didn’t spend much time discussing the mobile version of Diablo. The only mentions in the keynote were that the game would be set in the timeline midway between Diablo II and Diablo III and that it would have a brand-new story.

Overwatch

The biggest news here was the lack of news. The only mention of Overwatch in the keynote address was a passing mention that the Overwatch League will begin its fourth season this Spring. While we already knew the game would be delayed from the original projected release due to an Activision shareholder meeting, there was no word of Overwatch 2 in the keynote at all, pretty much confirming the game will not be releasing this year. Disappointingly, no new heroes or other content were announced for Overwatch, so current players will likely have a long time to wait before they have anything new to play around with.

That wasn’t all we learned, however. Immediately following the keynote, a deep dive into Overwatch 2 with the development team shared quite a bit about what we can expect whenever the game does finally release. Two new maps made their debut, set in Rome and New York City. The new hero Sojourn looks as though she’s nearly ready to deploy, and her Railgun weapon looks like a fun addition to the game. We also saw a lot more gameplay from Overwatch 2, and the developers promised to be more proactive in communicating with their players going forward.

Director Jeff Kaplan said that his team has been reexamining the fundamentals of Overwatch to see what they can do to make the game more fun. This includes such drastic changes as reclassifying tanks as “brawlers,” and thinking about removing the 2 Capture Point game mode. They’re also experimenting with passive abilities which are applied to entire classes, giving Tanks resistance to being knocked back, speeding up Damage characters, and letting Supports begin to automatically heal if they haven’t taken damage for a while.

Overwatch 2 will feature something called “Hero Missions” which are intended to be replayable and can help players level up their heroes. These missions can modify the old maps, for example sending the payload on a different route or opening up areas that couldn’t be explored before. The team has also been working on some pretty impressive weather effects, a sandstorm and a driving blizzard were shown off. Sniper characters Hanzo and Widowmaker have extra utility in these situations since their abilities can help friendly players see through the haze.

Perhaps the biggest change from Overwatch, each character in the Player vs. Environment campaign mode will introduce an extensive talent system, similar to those found in Diablo or Borderlands. Each character will have access to three talent trees, each of which provides a distinct specialization and may lead to a vastly different playstyle.  These talents can change and mutate characters in a multitude of interesting ways. As an example, Kaplan said the team had tried letting Junkrat dual-wield his Grenade Launchers, and some other effects like letting Mercy resurrect allies from a distance and allowing Reinhardt to pin more than one enemy at a time were also shown.

Many new enemy types were shown off, and it looks like players will have to pay more attention to defeat the forces of Talon and Null Sector. Elite enemies will have special abilities, with some robotic foes able to crawl towards players and explode after taking damage. Other special enemies might be able to grab hold of one player to take them out of combat, or attack from unusual angles. The PVE game looks a lot like Overwatch crossed with Left 4 Dead, and it’ll definitely be worth keeping an eye on as we get closer to 2022.

Fan Youtube channel Your Overwatch pointed out a few things which weren’t announced but still might make it into the game. One screenshot showing off Junkrat’s talent tree indicated that the player was in a clan or guild, something Overwatch players have been asking for since 2016. Additionally, the host pointed out that there were never more than five players on screen at a time, and that he only ever saw one Tank class character.

If Overwatch 2 changes PVP to 5v5, it would be a major departure from the current 6v6 games Overwatch players are used to. It’s definitely a possibility though, especially since players seem to dislike playing Tanks far more than the other two roles. Switching the game up like this might mean Tanks could be superpowered since they’d be combining the stats of two heavy-duty fighters into a single character.

Starcraft and Heroes of the Storm

Nothing was announced for either of these two franchises.

You can watch the opening ceremony here, but you’ll need to sign into Youtube due to the graphic content shown in the Diablo IV trailer.