Blizzard and I have a strange relationship. I was about the biggest fanboy you could be when it came to their early years in the 1990’s. I remember playing Warcraft: Orcs & Humans and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness back when you still had to run them through DOS. The games were easy to learn but more difficult to master. The original Diablo was also a staple back then, but it wasn’t until Starcraft was installed on my machine that I became a fan for life. Hailed as one of if not the best RTS game of all time, Starcraft was truly a perfect storm. Competitors such as Command & Conquer held their own, but Starcraft set the bar for all RTS games to come. I fell in love with the game, eschewing nearly all other games I was playing to devote my life to it. I beat the campaigns, I beat the expansion, I played regularly on Battle.net, though I never got involved in the ladder. I used the map editor to create new maps, attempted to create a Starcraft RPG within it, and even had a webpage dedicated to it, that won an award back in the days when GeoCities were a thing. Clearly, I was obsessed.
That obsession came back when Diablo II released in 2000. I was in my senior year of high school, and thankfully was at a point where I could pretty much ignore school so my grades didn’t suffer, despite the fact that I was constantly playing it. I lamented when the computer I was using fried and I was unable to play the game after the Lord of Destruction expansion hit. I was able to play it periodically at friend’s houses, but I lost out on part of the game’s evolution for the most part.
When Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos hit stores a couple of years later, I was still computer-less, though I had a good friend who would allow me to play it when I was visiting. Eventually, I had a new computer and I purchased the Battle Chest for the game, that was packed with The Frozen Throne expansion, and ended up playing through both, along with playing the game itself and multiple mods created by the community. Never DotA though, and for that I am sad. Nevertheless, my obsession with Blizzard’s fantastic games continued.
Upon hearing of the upcoming MMO World of Warcraft, I was very excited and wanted to be one of the first to play it. At the time though, I was unemployed and was unable to afford a copy of the game let alone a subscription fee. There were also stories of huge queues and Blizzard pulling the game from store shelves, so I made a decision to stick with the original Everquest, which I had been playing off and on for years (though never very seriously).
A couple of years later, I had basically forgotten about Blizzard altogether. I was busy playing single player games, shooters like Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat, Call of Duty, or whatever was in my Playstation 2 library. Sure, WoW was a success and hard to ignore, but I wasn’t at that point of being obsessed with MMOs like I would be in the future. Eventually my Dad (who had introduced me to EQ) was telling me that he had picked up Everquest 2, and I followed suit. I convinced my roommate at the time to join us, and soon I had a mixture of friends and family that were all playing the game together. It could have just as easily been WoW, because honestly they are very similar games when it comes down to it, but we had found our home in Norrath and my obsession with MMOs had nothing to do with Blizzard. It even came to a point that from what I had read, what I had seen and what I had talked about with friends, that WoW felt like the inferior game in many ways, despite being vastly more popular with most of the world. We felt like we had made the right choice regardless, and since Blizzard hadn’t done anything with any of their IPs outside of WoW for years, I basically wrote them off altogether.
From circa 2003 to circa 2010, I didn’t play any Blizzard games. There were times I would dabble with Starcraft or Diablo II, but I didn’t feel the love for the company that I once had. It was a sad state of affairs, but it was what it was. It wasn’t until I had a falling out with the MMO genre altogether that I opened up the possibility of playing and enjoying World of Warcraft. I had spent very little time in these virtual worlds for a couple of years and had a new job where my direct co-worker wouldn’t stop yammering about the game. I finally succumbed to his pandering and bought the Battle Chest that included Vanilla and The Burning Crusade. I also picked up Wrath of Lich King shortly thereafter.
I was pleasantly surprised how much I could enjoy the game I had spent so much time trashing. So much time arguing over with friends who loved it and I was still wondering why. None of them would even give my games of choice the time of day because they felt like they already had so much invested in WoW. I don’t blame them, looking back. They were right. I was wrong. However, it seems that somewhere along the line Blizzard put all of their eggs in one basket, and forgot about people like me. People who helped them become the behemoth. Who paid their way towards making WoW which would then in turn make them the king of the gaming world.
Sure, I played WoW for about six months and enjoyed myself well enough, but the time investment I had put into Everquest 2 continuously pulled me back to that game instead. Had I started with WoW, I probably would be like most of you who are reading this post. WoW would be my game, and I’d either play it steadily or leave for a couple of months only to return when the next expansion hit. Either way, I had that relationship with EQ2, so it was easy to leave WoW to go back to that game. WoW never hooked me the way other Blizzard games did, and I don’t think it ever will.
It wasn’t until 2013-14 that I really got back into Blizzard games, and this wasn’t due to World of Warcraft. I managed to get into the Beta for Hearthstone and was rather impressed with it, and played it for quite a while. I purchased Diablo III and its expansion, and as it sits now that is currently my favorite Blizzard game, though Starcraft II has been fun as well (though no where near as addictive as its predecessor was for me). I also picked WoW up again, pre-Warlords of Draenor, but only played for a month and wasn’t hooked this time either.
Hearthstone was unique in that it was a free to play title, which Blizzard hadn’t released before. I loved the fact that it was a CCG because of my history with Magic: The Gathering, and though it was simple and still based on Warcraft lore, I was hooked for a time. I played through beta into full release, earned enough gold to buy all of the Naxxramas adventures and even continued playing after Goblins and Gnomes released. It was around this time though that I started to feel disenchanted with the game. The random effects began to get to ridiculous levels where it felt like you had very little control over what happened in a given match, and if I wanted to play a dice game I’d just go play craps. Still, it has become a steady revenue stream for Blizz, and they’ve added more solo adventures and are teasing a new set of cards coming out sometime soon in The Grand Tournament. Good on them, but it’s no longer a game that gets my regular attention.
Diablo III launched and had its issues (namely the Auction House) and I avoided playing it until after they fixed the problem with the patch 2.0. Shortly thereafter Reaper of Souls released, and along with it one of the best ideas the company had in a while: Adventure Mode. The level of replayability and the fact that patches are still released fairly regularly leads me to believe that Blizzard learned their lesson from the past. Diablo II didn’t have much added to it after LoD. Diablo III looks to have new content added regularly, and that’s good for the franchise overall. Even now, patch 2.3 is in testing and they’re adding a whole new zone, a powerful artifact, and changes to Adventure Mode.
Starcraft II was different from its predecessor in that it released only one single player campaign at a time, but has made changes through Battle.net to the multiplayer portion of the game. Mods are better supported through the Arcade as well. The third campaign Legacy of the Void, centering around the Protoss is in development now and the game has definitely lived a long life, sitting at the five year old mark already.
Clearly, Blizzard is starting to remember those of us who weren’t that taken with WoW but still love their other offerings. They’ve also started to branch out a bit by adding new IPs, such as Heroes of the Storm. Granted, this game still draws from their other IPs so it’s not entirely new, but it is their first foray into the MOBA scene and seems to be doing fairly well, though it’s not as popular as the kings of the genre League of Legends and DOTA 2. Personally this game appealed to me because I figured Blizzard would make a great MOBA, but it fell short of my expectations and I haven’t touched it since it was in Beta. Still, it’s good to see the company do something else besides make content for their MMO.
Lastly, a completely new IP called Overwatch has been in development for some time now. It’s actually showing up in the Battle.net launcher now too, though I haven’t heard of anyone getting any in-game time just yet. It’s a team-based lobby shooter, and though this isn’t a new genre in itself it’s something Blizzard have yet to do and it looks good. Hype got the best of me with HotS though, so I’m not super excited but I will try it when I get a chance. Perhaps it will exceed my expectations if I keep them low. Video of the game does look fantastic though.
Most people are in the middle of writing (or have written) posts about their predictions for the next WoW expansion which will be announced later today. The other big news is that WoW is down to 5.6 million subscribers, a low not seen since 2005 or so, yet still the biggest amount of subscribers in any western MMO at this point, with FFXIV coming in a close second. I really wanted to make some commentary but as you can see, my history with WoW is limited, though my history with the company might exceed some of yours. I’m thankful that they have done well and can potentially make more games that I’m interested in sometime in the future. But I have nothing overly positive to say about their MMO and I don’t suspect that will ever change. I’m in agreement with some members of the blogosphere that WoW is slowly being sunset and focus within the company is shifting to other projects. Honestly, I think diversification is good not only for Blizzard but for gamers like me as well.
WoW is dead. Long live Blizzard.