Blizzcon 2011: My God—It's Full of Awesome

Blizzard's Blizzcon has wrapped up, and we've gathered up the best of the goodies to discuss them with you. There were major unveils for all three Blizzard 'verse's (and a new game announced)—whether you're a WoW player, Starcraft fan, or anxious for Diablo III, there's updates and goodies to review.

New Warcraft Expansion: Mists of Pandaria

The Pandaran race began life as an April Fool's joke; Blizzard originally unveiled them as a 5th playable race for Warcraft III. The positive response from fans was tremendous—so much so that Chris Metzen, Warcraft's Lore Keeper, began to write them into the universe. Over the last nine years, Pandaran have occupied a fringe position in the Warcraft universe—they were added as neutral heroes in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, and mentioned occasionally in World of Warcraft.

After nearly a decade of in-jokes and rumors, the Pandaran are taking center stage. The new continent, Pandaria, has remained shrouded in fog since the great sundering tore the original continent of Kalimdor into pieces. The Pandaran are a neutral race—the first in the game—and they also offer a new Monk class. The new artwork is strikingly different from anything we've seen in WoW before, and early reports from websites who took the class for a short test drive at Blizzcon are positive. Mists of Pandaria raises WoW's level cap to 90, introduces new 'Challenge Mode' dungeons, and given the reputation of the Pandaran people, virtually *must* introduce a new tradeskill:  Brewing. More information is available on Blizzard's website.

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

Blizzard unveiled a new teaser trailer for HotS, made entirely with the game's engine. It sheds some light on the game's story and what comes next for Sarah Kerrigan after the end of Wings of Liberty. Anyone afraid that Kerrigan's (somewhat) restored humanity would turn her into a law-abiding girl scout has nothing to worry about. The onetime Queen of Blades is plainly nursing a hatred for Arcturus Mengsk that no one, including Jim Raynor, is going to turn aside. Other storyline details include Kerrigan's struggle to regain control of the Swarm in her human form, and a showdown with the forces of the Terran Dominion including Nova, the Ghost from Wings of Liberty.

Heart of the Swarm will significantly change SC2's multiplayer mechanics; Kotaku has more details on that. Blizzard hasn't unveiled a release date for HotS, but current hints point towards a possible April, 2012 date.

New Diablo III Trailer, Free Diablo III Game

Blizzard also unveiled a new Diablo III trailer in which Deckard Cain's niece, Leah, struggles to understand the portents of prophecy and comes face to face with Azmodan, the Lord of Sin. The other major Diablo III announcement is that the game will be free to anyone who commits to buying a year's worth of WoW. Note that you aren't required to pay up front—it's essentially an agreement to pay 12 installments of $14.99. Benefits include:

  • Free Diablo III (obviously).
  • The flying mount Tyrael's Charger (available in Patch 4.3)
  • Guaranteed access to a beta test slot for the next woW expansion, Mists of Pandaria.

Note that only players who had a World of Warcraft license "in good standing" as of October 18, 2011 are eligible for the offer. Note that "in good standing" does not mean you have to currently have an active WoW subscription. The FAQ states: "You will be eligible to receive a free copy of Diablo III and the other benefits of this promotion if you meet the qualification criteria and once you reactivate your existing World of Warcraft account and agree to a 12-month subscription commitment."

There's a further benefit for those who purchase the Diablo III Collector's Edition. The FAQ states: "If you decide to purchase the Diablo III Collector's Edition when it's available, and then choose to add your Collector's Edition license key to the account associated with your existing World of Warcraft Annual Pass promotion, you will receive all of the benefits associated with the Collector's Edition, plus receive four months of World of Warcraft game time which is eligible towards your 12-month subscription commitment."

In other words: Buy the Collector's Edition, and we give you a $60 credit towards the purchase. That would bring the price tag on even an astronomically expensive CE down to $25-$30. It's also possible to combine the Annual Pass offer with Blizzard's standing option to buy game time in advance at a discounted rate. The $14.99 rate comes out to $179.88 a year—paying for the entire year in advance would be $155.88 (a savings of ~14 percent).

Blizzard DotA:

Finally, there's Blizzard Dota (Defense of the Ancients). Dota, for those of you who don't know it, was originally a Warcraft III mod based on the Starcraft map Aeon of Strife that became enormously popular and eventually gave rise to an entirely separate games like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth.  Blizzard is developing a free Dota mod for Starcraft II:  Heart of the Swarm. Note that this is entirely unrelated to Valve's ongoing project, Dota 2.

That's the big news from Blizzcon. What're you looking forward to the most?