Blizzard fans can hardly be disappointed with the raft of games in the works from the company in 2015. Following last year’s launch of Hearthstone and World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, this year is shaping up to potentially be one of the largest launch years in the company’s history with Heroes of the Storm, StarCraft: Legacy of the Void, and Overwatch all looking like possible 2015 releases. And with Blizzard’s PC focus, any year that’s big for Blizzard is likely big for PC gaming.
That assumes, however, that these games actually launch in 2015. Blizzard is notorious for keeping its launch dates secret until shortly before release. While we don’t know the official launch dates for any of these titles, Blizzard has stated that all three of these games will be entering beta testing this year. So update your Battle.net beta opt-ins, and get ready as we take a look at Blizzard’s 2015 beta lineup.
Heroes of the Storm – Closed beta opens January 13
It’s only natural that Blizzard would finally release its own entry into the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre, given that the genre was born from custom maps created for Blizzard’s StarCraft and Warcraft III. Since that time, other companies have used the genre to enormous commercial and critical success with games such as League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, and Dota 2. It’s therefore high time that Blizzard got in on what started on its platforms.
It’s also fitting that Heroes of the Storm started out as a Blizzard map mod for StarCraft II, but was later spun-off into a standalone title. Blizzard’s take on the genre, which focuses on quick games, fast action, and fulfilling map objectives, is a departure from the traditional MOBA in eschewing items, gold, and independent experience point progression. For customization, Blizzard has introduced simple talent trees to replace item builds. Teams will also share experience points and levels, preventing individual players from either advancing ahead of their team or falling too far behind. Also unlike other MOBAs, Heroes of the Storm showcases multiple different maps, each with its own central objective that provides a powerful advantage to the team that completes it. The early “laning phase” of traditional MOBAs all but disappears in Heroes of the Storm, and smaller map sizes encourage early team fights and frequent engagements.
Because of these differences, Blizzard refers to Heroes of the Storm as a “Hero Brawler” rather than a MOBA. Nonetheless, it’s clear that it will be operating in the space dominated by League of Legends and Dota 2. While the “casual game” moniker is likely to be thrown by many naysayers, and it’s clear that Blizzard’s design choices reflect a focus on accessibility and ease of play, the same was also said about Hearthstone. Despite its casual focus, Hearthstone has already grown into successful competitive e-sport and one of the most watched games on Twitch.tv. Whether Heroes of the Storm can do the same, given the stiff competition, remains to be seen, but professional gaming teams like Evil Geniuses and Cloud 9 have already established professional rosters for the game. Heroes of the Storm has been available in a limited release in a “technical alpha” since March 2014, giving a select number of players a significant amount of time with the game already.
Like other MOBAs, Heroes of the Storm will be free to play, but permanently acquiring heroes will either require spending in-game gold or real money. Free users will be able to access a limited selection of heroes that rotates each week, on top of those they purchase by earning in-game gold. Many skins for characters and mounts will only be available using real money.
The closed beta for Heroes of the Storm begins January 13, likely to be followed by an open beta down the road. If Dota 2 is any example, the beta phases of MOBA games can carry on for some time. However, Blizzard has stated that no more data wipes are currently planned, so any purchases or progress you make will likely remain through official launch.
We’ll have more initial impressions from the Heroes of the Storm in the coming weeks.
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void – Beta slated for early 2015
Legacy of the Void will form the third installment of Blizzard’s flagship real-time strategy game StarCraft II. Following the Terran-focused Wings of Liberty and the Zerg-focused Heart of the Swarm, Legacy of the Void will focus on the Protoss race as they make their last stand against an invasion lead by an ancient evil.
Blizzard has announced that Legacy of the Void will be a stand-alone expansion and will not require StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty to play. Along with the new single-player campaign, Legacy of the Void will introduce new cooperative gameplay modes, such as Allied Commanders, in which two players each select a commander and work together to complete campaign-style objectives. These commanders can be levelled-up individually to gain access to new units and abilities. Also new is the multiplayer Archon Mode, in which two players control a single race against other opponents, allowing, for example, one player to focus on combat and the other on managing resources and buildings.
Legacy of the Void will also introduce a number of substantial changes to the core gameplay of StarCraft II, especially in competitive multiplayer. Most of the changes, which are still to be tested and are not set in stone, focus on increasing the speed and action in games. One example is a decrease in the available resources at each base, forcing players to take expansions more aggressively. There are also significant changes to the existing units, as well the addition of a number of new units. Click here for more information about proposed multiplayer changes.
Blizzard undoubtedly hopes that Legacy of the Void can reinvigorate StarCraft II both amongst casual players and among the professional scene. Legacy of the Void is set to enter beta in early in 2015, with a likely release later this year, or possibly in 2016.
Overwatch – Beta to be announced, possibly may 2015
Overwatch, a first-person shooter, will be Blizzard’s first new franchise in over seventeen years. Yes, you read that correctly. That fact is a likely a testament to the power of Blizzard’s trio of flagship series (Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo), but it may also be seen as a reticence within the fabled company to venture beyond its past successes. While recent projects like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm represent new territory in gameplay for Blizzard, neither has introduced a fully new world, plot and set of characters.
Overwatch, which will also mark Blizzard’s first foray into the first person-shooter genre, stands to change that. The game, which will be multiplayer-only and lacks a single player campaign, features competitive six-on-six battles between a number of new characters, each with their own skills and abilities and gameplay style. Each character also fulfils a role, such as offence, defence, tank and support. The teams will work together to attempt to complete map objectives.
While the story is currently unclear, it appears that “Overwatch” refers to a group of heroes that was formed to combat a global crisis in the near future. Years later the team has disbanded, but new threats and villains call them back into action.
It’s currently unknown whether the game will be free to play or whether it will be available for purchase. Blizzard has stated that new heroes will likely be released as time goes on, and there will likely be new skins available for each hero. How new skins, or even heroes, will be acquired is not clear.
The beta for Overwatch is likely to come in the first half of this year, with one rumour suggesting a beta in May 2015 and a full release in October.
That wraps up our quick look at Blizzard’s upcoming beta releases. You can opt-in for the beta tests for all three titles through your profile on Battle.net.