In a normal year, Blizzard’s annual fan convention would have involved tens of thousands of cosplayers, esports pros, players and developers meeting and mingling in Anaheim, California. But, thanks to Covid, the video game developer was forced to postpone 2020’s convention and instead celebrate its 30th year with a virtual convention last weekend.
Given this significant anniversary, it makes sense that many of the announcements were targeted at nostalgic fans. Three of Blizzard’s older titles (Lost Vikings, Rock & Roll Racing and Blackthorne) have been bundled together in the Blizzard Arcade Collection. World of Warcraft Classic, which takes players back to the venerable MMO’s earliest days, will get a recreation of its first expansion, Burning Crusade. And 2000’s beloved dungeon crawler Diablo II will be getting an HD remaster, releasing this year on to consoles, PC and Nintendo Switch as Diablo II Resurrected.
The hack-and-slash role-playing game was a major hit on release in 2000. But it also found a community who gave the game incredible longevity, enabled by years of continued patches and support from Blizzard. “There’s a lot of love in our heart for Diablo II,” Blizzard president J Allen Brack told the Guardian. “[Resurrected] is primarily for people who have played Diablo II and have [that same] deep love for it.”
Senior vice president and product development lead Allen Adham said Resurrected will be an opportunity for players to get back to the basics and see how they hold up more than 20 years later. “Diablo is characterised by beautiful, simple, visceral moment-to-moment combat, and in today’s big, bombastic games with beautiful art and audio and tech, sometimes that can be lost to time. But then you go back and you play something as simple as Diablo II and you realise how satisfying that is.”
Though it might be targeted at those who are already fans, it’s 21 years since the game’s first release. (The company was originally discussing a remaster for the game’s 20th anniversary, but decided it wouldn’t be ready in time.) “There’s going to be a whole generation of people who have never played it. This is an opportunity for them,” said Adham, noting that this will be the first time the game will be available anywhere other than on PC, potentially bringing it to a wider and younger audience.
Along with the Diablo II Resurrected announcement there were updates on the progress of forthcoming mobile MMO Diablo Immortal, and another trailer for Diablo 4, which Blizzard has confirmed won’t be releasing this year. No entirely new games were shown, but that doesn’t mean that none are in development, said Adham.
“Given it’s our 30-year anniversary, there’s a certain amount of nostalgic reflection and that immediately turns to thinking about what the next 30 years might hold,” he said. “Our pipeline of new game development is as rich today as it’s ever been, so when we think about the next 10 or 20 or 30 years, for us it’s more great games, more teams, new genres.”
“Warcraft,” said Brack, “has got three real-time strategy games, it’s got a giant MMO, and it’s got a turn-based strategy card game in Hearthstone … and we can imagine other games that could exist within [that universe]. And that’s true of every single [series] that we have. We think about Overwatch today and we understand it as a competitive shooter … but there are many games that we could imagine within the Overwatch universe as well.”
Blizzard is continuing efforts to make players feel welcome within these games. Brack said that the company was continuing work on “machine learning systems … that are able to flag conversations that we think are heading in a toxic direction”; other measures may reduce abuse in online settings. He also drew attention to accessibility as a concern “that we really want to continue to lean into”, giving colour-blind modes and menu navigation as examples.
Although BlizzCon’s announcements focused on the older games that have established Blizzard as one of gaming’s giants, the people at the head of the company are thinking about what comes next. “I’m a huge believer in the positive power of video games,” said Brack. “[We wanted to] just bring some of that spirit into this event.”