Even though we're expecting the new expansion pack called Heart of the Swarm in the coming months, StarCraft II seemed to be relegated to third place at this year's BlizzCon. Nevertheless, a fair amount of information about the new expansion and some new features for the Battle.net service were announced throughout several panels.
The Zerg swarm has the most focus, but the Terrans and Protoss will be getting some content, just as the Zerg and Protoss did in Wings of Liberty. In this expansion, we'll follow Kerrigan, the former Queen of Blades, as she tries to retake control of the Zerg. In addition, she is attempting to hunt down and capture Mengsk, who she sees as her archenemy. Throughout this new campaign, we will meet several new Zerg characters, some of which are allied with Kerrigan and others that are fighting against her.
As players of StarCraft II are aware, the campaign is only a very small part of the StarCraft experience. In many ways, the multiplayer game is actually much larger, especially with the new features and enhancements shipping with Heart of the Swarm. First among those is the announcement of two new units for each race, as well as a massive enhancement for one unit each and smaller enhancements for many other units.
The other major enhancement to the multiplayer experience is the addition/completion (depending on how you look at it) of the game marketplace - now called the Blizzard Arcade. The intent of the Blizzard Arcade is to make it easier for players to play quality games and provide a foundation for game creators to offer their games - for free now, and for purchase later - to the world. Blizzard Arcade will work no matter what version of StarCraft II you own - Heart of the Swarm, Wings of Liberty, or even the Starter Edition (in a limited form).
Blizzard's contribution to the Arcade is Blizzard DOTA. DOTA originally stood for "Defense of the Ancients," however, the genre has grown to much more. For those who don't know, DOTA is a huge strategy game genre that is built around fighting lanes, where battle takes place, and some sort of base that the opponent has to capture or destroy. Blizzard DOTA will call upon Heroes (and Villains) from their three game universes - StarCraft, Warcraft, and Diablo - to provide hero units for play. Each hero has a specific role - Tank, DPS, Support, or Siege - and one or more signature abilities. Gameplay should be easy to learn as well, with an intuitive battle system, simplified stats - health, damage, and mastery, and fewer items, as well as map bonuses that produce units to join your forces.
In order to enable game creators to develop games for the Arcade, Blizzard has enhanced its Mod Tools and Art Tools. The Scenario Editor will allow creators to modify basically everything on the screen and has an associated Trigger Debugger, UI Editor, and Cutscene Editor that can help to make extremely powerful and unique games using intuitive tools. For Art assets, Blizzard now has an exporter for Autodesk 3ds Max that allows developers to create their own assets and then bring them into the game. These tools come with much more documentation and example files to get you up and running fast.
The final portion of BlizzCon announcements were centered around various types of publishing. For those fans of Blizzard games' novels and comics, the good news is more are coming. Not only does Blizzard intend to finish the current Warcraft Universe online short stories series on the Leaders of Azeroth, there are several graphic novels in the pipeline as well as another free series that will lead us into Mists of Pandaria. For the Diablo Universe, a new illustrated lore book the Book of Cane is coming out and - if it does well and the fans want it - they will do the same type of book for the Warcraft and StarCraft Universes. Finally, there is a StarCraft Expanded Universe blog coming soon that will contain free stories from the perspective of a Terran scientist - with focus on Zerg stories due to Heart of the Swarm coming soon.
I'm really excited by what is coming from Blizzard over the next year and can't wait to enjoy the new content from each game universe. What part of the new information released excites you the most? Did you watch BlizzCon 2011 via a Virtual Ticket or attend in person? If so, what did you think about the event? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.