World of Warcraft fans have every reason to look forward to this year’s BlizzCon event. Last year, despite many WoW tournaments and activities such as the dance and costume competitions and a playable version of Wrath of the Lich King, there was a lack of any substantial announcement.

    There were numerous developer panels and plenty of information to be had about WoW’s latest expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, which was close to launch by then, but no real shockers. However, this year WoW players have high hopes, very high hopes in fact, that something particularly juicy will come out of BlizzCon for them this time. Persistent rumours of a new expansion announcement have been around since the discovery of the trade mark application for the name Cataclysm recently. However, will this be a new WoW expansion, or something to do with Starcraft? Perhaps it’s one of the top-secret new games Blizzard are working on. The WoW community has has a little while to think about this, and everyone is now pretty sure it’s going to be the new expansion name, but what could ‘Cataclysm’ refer to? Fans have their suspicions about that too…

    If their theory is true, World of Warcraft is in for one hell of a treat, content-wise. Eagle-eyed players spotted a map in one of the game’s dungeons, showing the shattered continent of Kalimdor, indicating what sort of disaster we might see. With phasing technology, which was used extensively in WotLK, Blizzard could quite feasibly make ‘another’ Kalimdor for players who have adventured through the disaster, leaving the original content intact for low level characters.

    But it’s not all about WoW, with BlizzCon 2009 hoping to be a hit for Diablo franchise fans too. There has been a “Diablo drought” since the last BlizzCon in October 2008, and many anticipate, at the very least, a new class to be revealed. We got a pretty detailed picture of the game so far, despite fans’ complaints, and since the team has had quite time to develop it even further we might even see the second unannounced class as well as new environments and new monsters dying in spectacularly bloody scenes.

    Before last year, Blizzard fans who only were interested in the Diablo franchise were left disappointed at every Blizzard event. The conventions mainly consist of World of WarCraft players anyway, but with the Diablo III announcement at Blizzard’s World Wide Invitational in Paris last June, fans of all three Blizzard titles became an army 20,000 strong, with tickets selling out in eight minutes. Saying eight minutes is actually not quite accurate since the queues to buy a ticket both filled up in 15 seconds flat, and anyone aiming to buy a ticket one minute after lines opened was turned away.

    From what we know, we are expecting Blizzard to release Diablo III in the second half of 2010, or the first half of 2011. We know this because Diablo III’s lead developer, Jay Wilson was asked if the expansions for StarCraft II would come out before Diablo III. He said it would come out before the first expansion, which will in turn be released around a year after StarCraft II itself. Knowing Blizzard, however, we know it’s more than likely that expansion could be delayed a bit.

    One thing that speaks for an earlier release of Diablo III is that Wilson also told us Diablo III was unveiled much later in its development cycle. StarCraft II developers we have spoken to mentioned they felt it was a bit early to announce the game in 2007, and it’s likely the reason Diablo III was announced later on. There will be, no doubt, more information at BlizzCon, and we’ll see just how much progress the team has made in a little less than a year.
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    Let’s come back to WoW for a minute though.  What could bring a new breath of life to WoW more than a couple of new races? During the test phase of the latest content patch, a couple of  interesting items were found in the data for the test client. Hallow’s End masks, showing a male and female version of Goblins and Worgen, had fans convinced that Blizzard would be revealing these species as new playable races at BlizzCon. Until now, these in-game masks only depict playable races, however, shortly after this discovery Blizzard updated the client again and a whole variety of new masks from various creatures in the game were added. Was this a cover-up, a prank by Blizzard or just an unfortunate coincidence? The jury is still out on that one, but we’ll see.

    Despite the threat of a global disaster hitting Azeroth, it’s likely players will be visiting the Maelstrom and taking on Azshara, which will probably involve the Undermine, home of the Goblins, further backing up the new race rumour. The Greymane Wall is another obstacle in the game that has niggled at players since the launch of WoW almost five years ago. Located next to the Worgen-infested Shadowfang Keep, I personally feel that the nation of Gilneas, which lies beyond the wall, is possibly an ideal location for the start of the rumoured Worgen race, the level 10-20 area and race capital.

    With every WoW expansion comes a level cap rise, and so far we’ve seen it go from level 60 to 70 with The Burning Crusade, and from 70 to 80 with Wrath of the Lich King, yet word has it that the cap might only be moved up to 85 this time around. If so, it will be interesting to see how the expansion will fit into only five levels.

    With all that said, the fact is no one knows anything for certain about the possible WoW expansion, so until Friday we’ll all still be guessing.

    The Warcraft film, which was first announced two years ago at BlizzCon 2007, has remained a thing of fantasy since its unveiling. No information has been shared with fans on the project, which was originally meant to be released this year, until the recent announcement that Spider-man director Sam Raimi would be taking it on. A new estimated release date of 2011 or 2012, depending on whether you listen to Warner Bros or Legendary Pictures, has been given and Raimi will begin work on the title next year after completing Spider-man 4. With all this activity over the last few weeks, it’s hoped that there will be at least some news about the film, well, it would be about time.

    As well as all the developer panels, which will likely give away a few nuggets of new information, fans can expect the usual fun events such as the dance and costume competitions, and the movie and fan art competitions which seem to get better each year. The hugely popular attraction at last year’s BlizzCon was the appearance of cast members from The Guild on stage and autograph signing sessions afterwards, which will be repeated this year, along with signings from various fiction writers. Blizzard’s in-house band normally bang out a few tracks such as “I Am Murloc” and “Rogues Do It From Behind”, and the top notch Video Games Live performances at last year’s event and the WWI are always favourites with fans. But all that pales into insignificance when you consider that none other than Ozzy Osbourne will be closing BlizzCon this year with a performance on stage. Will he perform solo or team up with Lvl 80 ETC we wonder.
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    And StarCraft II doesn’t hold many more secrets anymore, after yesterday’s extensive coverage.  We have seen lots of multiplayer gameplay since the spring/summer of 2007, with some units leaving room for others, and one major graphics update for all units in the game. Single player was unveiled a few weeks ago, which we have looked over thoroughly, and talked a lot with the developers about.

    Both multiplayer and singleplayer seem polished and complete, and the only two things left for StarCraft II is Battle.net and the beta. The beta is likely the thing fans look forward to the most. We anticipate the start to coincide with BlizzCon, opening during or shortly after the event as the “summer” start schedule is running out.

    Blizzard has said that while the beta is closed, there will be no embargos on testers, so we will likely see the net explode with gameplay videos of space battles when the beta starts. Even if you don’t have a key, there will be plenty of material to enjoy with extensive coverage on our StarCraft channel.

    Blizzard usually gives out beta keys at these events, and the 20,000 keys are likely to be for StarCraft II, since Diablo III is nowhere near beta.

    Battle.net will be one of the things we’re most looking forward to seeing.  It’s an interesting concept for fans of Blizzard games. Dustin Browder, Chris Sigaty and Rob Pardo have all declined to give out details, but even from the few things they have said the system sounds intriguing. The network will not just be about StarCraft II, but also Diablo III, World of Warcraft and all new games Blizzard are releasing. We will see cross-game chatting, voice chat, automated replays and gameplay recordings, stats in all shapes and forms, cross-game Achievements, social networking features and more.

    World of Warcraft has already started the integration with accounts moving over to Battle.net, but it’s still a bit buggy and players report having problems logging on after merging accounts.

    The sole reason for delaying StarCraft II to 2010 is Battle.net, so we can expect Blizzard to put plenty of effort into the new network.

    “The next generation gaming network,” is what Rob Pardo said, and that’s likely what it will be.

    Paul Younger
    Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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