Blizzard Entertainment greeted an electrified crowd on Friday morning to welcome Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo fans to Anaheim. The event, which as in years past takes place a stone's throw from Disneyland, has hundreds of characters of its own--some in costume, some not so much. But before the festivities begin, the opening ceremony must commence. And unlike at last year's BlizzCon opening ceremonies, Blizzard had several announcements of substance.
First and foremost, Blizzard creative director Chris Metzen confirmed the name of World of Warcraft's next expansion: Mists of Pandaria. Featuring a vaguely Asian theme, the expansion pack is set on the new continent of Pandaria, introducing the Pandaren as well as the monk player class. The expansion pack, which was not dated, will also increase the player level cap to 90. Metzen also confirmed that there will be no other race introduced with this expansion.
To preface the game's reveal, Metzen said that as opposed to previous expansions, where the Alliance and Horde needed to come together to face threats such as the Lich King or Deathwing, this expansion will focus on the conflict between the two factions.
"To give you a sense of what the next couple of years are going to do for WOW, at this time, the true villain is going to be war itself," he said. "Red and blue are about to get it on with a level of ferocity that hasn't been seen since Warcraft II. War is coming, and it's not going to be pretty, unless of course you're playing a blood elf. … This next expansion set is set in a place that has been lost to time for close to 10,000 years. It is a land of balance, and harmony and hope, that is, until we arrive, with all of our hate, violence, and factional conflict."
World of Warcraft's next expansion wasn't the only announcement to come during the opening ceremony, as Diablo III also received its due in the form of a collector's-edition package. The special-edition box will include in-game items for Diablo III, WOW, and Starcraft II. Other perks include an exclusive art book and a 4GB USB drive in the shape of a Soulstone. The USB drive is mounted in a holder in the shape of Diablo's skull, and it comes preloaded with Diablo II.
Blizzard also had a surprise for WOW players, announcing the WOW Annual Pass. Those who sign up for a 12-month subscription through the company's website (as of today), will be granted a free digital edition of Diablo III. The WOW Annual Pass also grants players a guaranteed slot in the aforementioned new World of Warcraft expansion when it goes live, as well as a Tyrael's Charger in-game mount.
According to Metzen, the Diablo III team has been voraciously gathering data from the game's beta-testing phase, and the game itself is "in the home stretch." However, he reiterated that the game will be done when it's done.
Beyond the headline announcements, Blizzard also offered a few bits on the year, and this year's show in particular. Notably, BlizzCon 2011 counts 26,000 people in attendance, with showgoers hailing from all 50 states as well as 48 different countries.
[CORRECTION]: This story originally reported Blizzard was still aiming for a 2011 release date for Diablo III. The company officially bumped the game's launch window to early 2012 last month.