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Blizzplanet Review: StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

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The StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm single-player campaign has shattered all my wild expectations. Even all my predictions based on the “Vengeance” Trailer were utterly wrong.

Wings of Liberty had a great story, but Heart of the Swarm is simply awesome. That on itself is a feat, considering it is the Zerg episode in the StarCraft II trilogy, and zerg do not talk, right?

Kerrigan the Queen of Blades has several supporting characters that assist her throughout her campaign to dispense vengeance upon Emperor Arcturus Mengsk. These zerg are Zagara the broodmother, Dehaka, Izsha, Abathur (Evolution Pit), and another servant I wouldn’t want to spoil.

In Wings of Liberty, Jim Raynor had the Cantina, the Bridge, Engineering and the Lab to move around aboard the Hyperion in terms of UI Navigation for the player. I remember the developers arguing about how to approach this, and it hadn’t been set in stone yet back then. Zerg do not socialize nor drink alcohol, the Engineering and Lab’s purpose is basically one and the same for the Zerg.

The StarCraft II Team narrowed it down to the most important aspects of the Zerg: what qualifies as a Bridge, the Evolution Pit, and Kerrigan’s Talent tree.

The Bridge

The bridge is the mouth of a zerg Leviathan — a massive space-traveling whale (reminds me of the Brood’s Acanti — X-Men). As players progress through the story, more support characters appear at the bridge and players can interact with them. It’s very entertaining to click these characters to access an in-game cutscene between Kerrigan and the support character. Lot of lore to learn from them in each mission.

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The Evolution Pit

After each mission, players usually see a new cutscene at the Evolution Pit between Kerrigan and Abathur. He was created by the Overmind from the genetic pool of different species to oversee the evolution of the zerg into perfect weapons of strength and essence.

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Players should go here to upgrade units like the Zergling, Hydralisk, Roach, Baneling, Ultralisk, Mutalisk and the Swarm Host — as each unit becomes available.

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Upgrade points can be acquired by completing the bonus objectives of each mission. These unlock new evolution missions which allow you to test two different strands of each unit in combat. At the end of these evolution missions, the player is given the option to choose which of the two strands to keep for future missions. Choose wisely. The choice is permanent.

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Kerrigan’s Talent Tree

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm borrows — to some degree — from the Warcraft III Hero system and the World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria talent tree system. I gotta admit it makes sense. Kerrigan is the Heart of the Swarm. She takes center stage in this zerg-centered episode in the trilogy.

Kerrigan is playable in most of the Heart of the Swarm single-player missions. In addition, there are certain missions where support characters become playable heroes when Kerrigan isn’t available. Each support character hero with its own unique abilities.

Players get access to the Kerrigan Talent Tree tab through the zerg Leviathan bridge UI — which is located at the bottom of the screen. Initially, players may choose one out of two talent options, but eventually a new column is added — giving players the ability to choose one out of three options per row.

In each mission, Kerrigan earns experience points, but completing bonus objectives adds a large chunk of experience. Not easy to complete these bonus objectives, but for those who are daring and have lots of time to invest, go for it. Kerrigan can grow up to level 70.

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Some of the talents add a new attack icon to the Kerrigan unit, while other talent options function as a passive adding special traits to Kerrigan (like spawning two Banelings when Kerrigan is hit) or special traits to zerg units or even to zerg structures.

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Personally, I like Kinetic Blast, which one-shots any enemy unit except for Battlecruisers (but those get around 70% damage though). Mend heals Kerrigan for 150 life and friendly biological units nearby get healed for 50 life, plus another 25 life regenerated over 15 sec. My favorite though is accessible near the final missions and helps so much … Apocalypse. With this AOE ability Kerrigan can wipe anything within a large radius including buildings.

That’s like having your own silo and nuke in the palm of your hands. The catch is it has a 3 sec casting time, and Kerrigan is under heavy attack during this cast time in some situations. Apocalypse Deals 300 damage to enemy units and 700 damage to enemy structures in a large area. It has a 300 sec cooldown and costs 100 energy. I wouldn’t be too worried about spending energy. In Heart of the Swarm, Kerrigan has only 100 energy, but the energy regeneration is very fast allowing you to cast different abilities within 2-5 seconds. There are certain situations where you can simply send Kerrigan to wipe a group or raid a base all by her own with some patience (cooldowns), and micro skills.

The Kerrigan Talent Tree feature is more simple and straightforward than the Mists of Pandaria talent tree. You can view the stats of each talent and when you are ready to choose one, simply click that talent and hit the [back] button. No need to click buttons to confirm you want that talent and there is no such thing as respec limitations. Simply choose another option.

All your talent choices will be active once you start your next mission. Whoever designed this Talent Tree, did an amazing job. I might actually try other talents when I run the entire single-player campaign to hunt for achievements.

Archives

In Wings of Liberty, the Archives is accessed by clicking the computer console in the back of the bridge room. The Archive UI is kinda too crammed in and compact for my taste. It looks great, make no mistake, but in terms of flexibility and comodity the missions list is too small and narrow forcing you to scroll down a lot to find your desired mission or cinematic.

In Heart of the Swarm, the Archive can be found at the bottom of the Leviathan bridge alongside other navigation UI options. Now when you click the Archive and the page opens up — wow! Blizzard uses a large chunk of the page height to display all the missions and cinematics. Much better: the right pane is wider and gives you an image preview of what the mission or cinematic contains. It helps you understand and/or remember what that mission was about. I can’t say the same for the Wings of Liberty’s Archive where I sometimes wondered where to find a specific mission or cinematic because the title didn’t help much.

Just a sign that the StarCraft II Team nailed every possible setback in the prior system, and polished the Heart of the Swarm UI thoroughly thinking about the player.

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Creative Team – Heart of the Swarm Storyline

I am speechless. Brian Kindregan, Chris Metzen and anyone else involved in the storyline — you guys blew away all my expectations, conspiracy theories and predictions. To set the record straight, my “Vengeance” trailer predictions were completely smashed into oblivion. Utterly wrong in all predictions.

As revealed in the final pages of StarCraft II: Flashpoint, Kerrigan is taken to a secret lab within the Umojan Protectorate. The StarCraft II: Kerrigan – Hope and Vengeance # 0 Free Comics launched a week before the expansion release date revealed a scene between Kerrigan and Valerian Mengsk in said lab.

Heart of the Swarm starts where the comics left off. Kerrigan is undergoing her last tests. Jim Raynor enters the lab and asks Kerrigan to forget her path of vengeance, and to not give up on their relationship. Shortly after, Terran Dominion battlecruisers show up on the sky and deploy pods which penetrate the hull to infiltrate the lab. What happens next is for you to find out.

I don’t think I wish to spoil the storyline here. At least not yet. Kerrigan has a powerful reason to seek out the rampant zerg broods and to get them back under her control. One of her two motivations is to fulfill her vengeance against Emperor Arcturus Mengsk.

I was pleased to see Zeratul, though briefly, with Kerrigan. I don’t think this is a spoiler because we have seen Zeratul and Kerrigan in the Vengeance Trailer. Zeratul doesn’t even defend himself when Kerrigan (human form) assaults him. As seen in our Protoss Campaign transcript, Tassadar showed Zeratul a vision of the future the Overmind foresaw. In this future, Kerrigan had been slain at planet Char. The hybrids and their master had set the universe ablaze, and only one distant world remained as the last bastion of what remained of the Protoss civilization. In those desperate final moments, Zeratul, Hierarch Artanis and High Executor Selendris fought to the bitter end. The Fallen One revealed only one could have stopped his plans: Kerrigan. In their arrogance, the Protoss thought her to be the real threat.

It is no surprise that Zeratul would want to swallow his pride and to seek Kerrigan. As with Wings of Liberty, Zeratul appeared briefly in Heart of the Swarm. His wish: to show Kerrigan her next path. A path she most focus on in order to fulfill her role in altering the Overmind’s prophecy.

At first, Kerrigan is reluctant in chasing this path suggested by Zeratul. She doesn’t believe in the prophecy and she doesn’t wish to be a toy in its schemes. Zeratul is very convincing anyhow. Chasing down the path laid by Zeratul will allow her to fulfill her vengeance against Emperor Arcturus Mengsk. That’s enough for Kerrigan. Thus, she embarks into deep space to seek what Zeratul suggested. A planet many fans have no doubt wished to one day visit, or at least to learn more lore of.

Somewhere in their minds, Fans are going to scream like 5-age girls in excitement when this mission pops in their Heart of the Swarm single-player campaign.

I did never ever expect to see any of this lore happening. Blizzard Entertainment surprised me, and the reason Kerrigan must go there meshed so very well with the prophecy and how she might be able to beat the Hybrids’ master. I loved this twist.

There are two aspects of the lore in Heart of the Swarm I want to briefly mention without blowing Spoilers directly. Those who read StarCraft II: Flashpoint, concerning Narud and the Moebius Factor, that’s going to be wrapped up in Heart of the Swarm. I’m not going to say anything further. That’s for you to find out and unravel.

Another non-spoiler sort of spoilerish thing I want to share — did that make sense? — is another continuity nod. This one hails from a secret mission only found in the StarCraft 64 (Nintendo). Yup! It is canon, fanboys. You will see … you will see. Bet some fans are gonna do some homework to find out.

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Voice Over

I really have to thank Chris Metzen a million more times for bringing back Robert Clotworthy to voice Jim Raynor. This iconic character represents the potential hero within all of us. No matter how hard life is, and how injustice crushes us to a pulp. One draws strength from anything that’s important to us. We stand up, clear the dust, and We fight for our dreams — and dispense indiscriminate justice.

Robert Clotworthy is the heart of Jim Raynor. His voice. Robert isn’t replaceable. Robert is the soul of Jim Raynor, and the soul of all the millions of fans who love StarCraft. Thank you, Chris for listening to the fans.

Jim Raynor doesn’t have a lot of screen time in Heart of the Swarm, considering this is the Zerg campaign and Kerrigan is the main character and the driving force of this second episode. Yet, I feel Robert’s voice drew out the right tinges to set Kerrigan’s humanity and essence afloat. There’s care and love in his tone. Just because he sounds soft, doesn’t mean he isn’t the usual Jim Raynor. We get to see his dark humor and sarcasm the way only Robert can do it.

Real people out there have real-life difficulties and regrets in their lives. Those in the military — far away from home. Far away from family. Those who are unemployed like me. Those who have disabilities. Those who are socially or politically oppressed (name your applicable country here). I can mention many others who fit the bill. I fall into the unemployed and disabled categories (without the benefits of one at the moment). Add to that homeless. It’s been nigh two years.

It’s been a very mean and hard year and a half. Other person would be deeply frustrated and depressed. I gotta admit I have tasted some of that. Yet, gaming and daily updating a fansite keeps my mind soothed, and busy.

I live and experience sci-fi and fantasy worlds with characters that breath and shine hope and feelings that I have felt before, and feelings I have never experienced before, but my heart feels theirs as my own. I assimilate and evolve through living these experiences and emotions that story writers share with readers.

I played through Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm, and got deeply inspired by the iconic Jim Raynor character. He taught me that no matter how problems rain and pour down on you like acid, your heart and soul shall not be broken by nothing nor by anyone. That you shall always have hope that one day things will be better. You don’t need to be a religious person to learn that from Jim Raynor — from Robert Clotworthy — the soul of Jim Raynor. You are both a true hero. In our hearts. The players’ hearts. A hero to the real-life human beings behind the screen. Behind the keyboards. You teach us how to fight. A fight worth fighting for.

Back to the Voice Over topic, the entire expansion was mostly Tricia Helfer (Sarah Kerrigan). I will always have to bring it up, I can’t help it. I regret not hearing Glynnis Talken in her role as Kerrigan.I grew fond of Glynnis as much as I did Robert. Yet, I can’t deny Tricia Helfer has done an amazing job voicing Kerrigan, giving her certain tinges to the character that sound attractive and compelling.

There are scenes that demand that she is sweet and girly. Sometimes she has to cry and regret her actions or the fate of others she cares for. She got to be even manlier than Xena the Warrior Princess when she goes rage-mode during a fight. Tricia dominates all those shades of the emotional spectrum. I dig her.

Emperor Arcturus Mengsk (James Harper), Valerian Mengsk (Josh Keaton), Matt Horner (Brian Bloom) and Zeratul (Fred Tatasciore) do not appear often in Heart of the Swarm, but I admire their voices and personalities. I wouldn’t want any other actor replacing them ever. Hopefully, we see them in StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void more often.

The voices of the zerg support characters that accompany Kerrigan in the Leviathan bio-vessel and those in other zerg planets impressed me. Each has their unique personality and manner of speech. It’s not easy to talk like an alien zerg, or heck — it’s not easy to read a script that while it’s in english, the grammar is so messed up — bordering into non-sense, it would be hard to read and catch it on the first go. I imagine it took them hours of recording time and several attempts to get it right. Especially, Abathur and Dehaka who are the hardest ones, but Zagara and Izsha sound lovely, too. My respects. Great voices. Kudos to the VO Team.

Cinematics

Senior VP Art & Cinematic Development Nick Carpenter and his Team nailed Heart to the Swarm’s soul with these cinematics. There are sad moments. There are intense adrenaline-driven battles. There are romantic/nostalgic scenes between Jim Raynor and Kerrigan. Moments of blind rage suddenly shifting into regret and then into mercy. Those moments are captured in the cinematics and in-game cutscenes and transmitted into the fans’ brain and down their spine with a thrill. The Cinematics Team and the Voice Over Team captured all the real-life emotion spectrums of what is to be a human being.

The story and the visual animation and facial gestures boost the overall experience fans demand and expect from Blizzard Entertainment and its Cinematic Team. Though we always take it for granted, the Cinematic Team always surprise us with the “ohhhhh!!!’s”, “OMG!!!’s””, “Holy @#%!!!’s”, and “Wowww!!!’s”.

There are three Cinematics where Kerrigan uses her telekinetic and psionic powers to render her opponents into smithereens: The cinematic showing a mega-beat up Kerrigan gives Zeratul, the “Shifting Perspectives” cinematic, and the final cinematic are simply mind-blowing. Those three definitely need a BAFTA Award nomination. I really wish I could describe them in detail, but I’d be spoiling critical elements of the story.

The “Get it Together” Cinematic, where Jim and Kerrigan kiss. It’s such a powerful and special scene. The Terran Dominion Battlecruisers launch pods to infiltrate and raid the Umojan Protectorate lab in search of Kerrigan. She’s found, Jim Raynor comes to the rescue, but it turns out she took care of the invaders all by herself. This is not a damsel in distress. She takes care of business. In her anger, she mouths out she’s bringing payback to Emperor Mengsk, but Raynor comes from behind and grabs her by the arm pulling her and forcing her to turn around 180 degrees to face him. She looks into his eyes. Her rage is soothed, and she melts into his eyes. Raynor asks her to get it together. She softens up. That scene was kinda cute and sexy.

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Jim Raynor wants to escort her to the dropship, and opens up the gate like a gentleman to let her exit the room. This is a very human Kerrigan. One who is deeply in love. They kiss. I felt a thrill through my spine. One who acknowledges and respects all the sacrifices Jim Raynor went through to rescue her and to bring her back. There is humor and sexual innuendo to boot. That cinematic is definitely among my favorite ones in Heart of the Swarm.

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One cinematic that made me angered was the “Conscience” Cinematic, but that had nothing to do with the quality of the cinematics. The outcome of what happens at Planet Char is what bothers me. Such a waste. Yet, there is a shift of three mood-states happening within seconds apart that really touches the player’s heart to the core. First anger for what happens. Then, Kerrigan’s face turns from one of rage to one of regret. She looks fragile and human as she closes her eyes and her brows frown after what she did — displaying regret. Then a glow on her face shows her determination. One only realizes what just happened after hearing the radio transmission. Something one might never have imagined the Queen of Blades feeling ever again: Mercy. One can quickly feel portrayed in that scene. That reflects our daily life. That was a powerful scene. I loved it.

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To wrap up, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is an awesome gameplay experience with new and exciting lore to match. If you haven’t upgraded to the StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm (Standard Edition) yet, I encourage you to do so. The Collector’s Edition is still available while supplies last– by the way, and both are elegible for FREE Super Saver Shipping.

Blizzplanet Review – World of Warcraft: Dawn of the Aspects (Part 1)

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world-of-warcraft-dawn-of-the-aspects-part-1-coverThe first thing to note about World of Warcraft: Dawn of the Aspects is its format. All Blizzard Entertainment novels to date have been printed as Mass Market Paperback (pre-2008), or Hardcover. They are also sold as eBooks, and rarely but we also see them as audio books.

Dawn of the Aspects, however, is presented to Blizzard fans as a 5-part digital book. The very first eBook spun from Blizzard Entertainment was Diablo: Demonsbane by Robert B. Marks (currently reprinted in the pages of Diablo Archive). Demonsbane originally saw low sales in 1999. The eBook market wasn’t that big then until Amazon launched Kindle, and later tablets boomed with the Apple iPad and other brands.

Most recently we have seen Blizzard VP of Creative Design Chris Metzen and Flint Dille delve into the tablet market with IDW Publishing’s Transformers: Autocracy, which originally shipped as a 12-part digital comics. I am a Metzen fanboy … of course, I read all 12-issues. A year after, the 12-part digital comics was printed as a hardcover. Will this be the case with Dawn of the Aspects? We’ll have to find out a year from now.

Their digital comics was so successful, they have teamed up to launch another 12-part Transformers: Monstrosity #1 (March 1, 2013).

Is going digital-only a smart strategy for Blizzard Entertainment to introduce Dawn of the Aspects and new stories?

The answer is complex to ponder and to analyze. I’ll go with the guts version. The lore fans out there love to read stories based on Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo. However, we don’t always have the time to read through 318 pages when we have real life matters, daily quests, valor points to earn, and raid schedules to fulfill.

So now we have Blizzard introducing yet another publishing format to how they present stories to the fans: A 5-part eBook. The tablet market is there, and lore fans most likely have a tablet, and those who don’t can still read this digital book on their internet browser. It takes less than 2 hours to read.

I just finished reading World of Warcraft: Dawn of the Aspects (Part 1). As I read the last page, I was left with this craving sensation that I have already experienced when reading a Marvel Comic Book. And what an amazing cliffhanger to end this first part of the story. I can’t wait for the second part to be available.

General Story

In a desperate bid to defeat Deathwing at the Maelstrom, the dragon aspects lost their powers. With the primordial guardians of Azeroth neutralized, it’s now the Age of Mortals. The future of Azeroth now lies on mortal hands.

What happened with the dragon aspects after the Fall of Deathwing, and why they aren’t present in Mists of Pandaria?

Richard A. Knaak addresses this enigma in World of Warcraft: Dawn of the Aspects (Part 1 of 5).

The blue dragonflight has disbanded and gone their separate ways to live as individuals.

The shrines of the Wyrmrest Temple have no purpose now. The dragonflights are in disarray. However, it’s the one last meeting place the dragon aspects choose to talk about the present affairs.

Chromie reports the timeways are in flux after the use of the Dragon Soul. Nozdormu interjects: “The timeways are no longer our concern! They are beyond my ability to control. From here on, the younger races and the younger races alone will deal with both them and whatever paths to the future they lead to.”

Merithra reports the nightmare stirs in the Rift of Aln (as seen in World of Warcraft: Stormrage.) Ysera says it’s a task only the druids may take care of.

Something this story clearly marks in our minds is that the Wyrmrest Accord is no more.

Nozdormu, Ysera and Alexstrasza don’t even acknowledge their former Aspect title. They are just like any other dragon. See no need to continue the accord.

Richard A. Knaak briefly mentions some events from Christie Golden’s novel World of Warcraft: Jaina. The theft of the Focusing Iris.

Khagdar has asked Kalec to join the Kirin Tor.

After the summit at the Wyrmrest Temple, the dragons convene to meet one more time a month from now to officially disassemble the Wyrmrest Accord.

Moments after the meeting, Kalec senses something, and begins digging beneath Galakrond’s skeleton. An octagonal-shaped magical relic triggers Kalec to see through Malygos’ eyes in a distant era before the Titans blessed the Dragon Aspects.

A time when they were mere proto-dragons roaming the skies, hunting food in the northern lands now known as Northrend.

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This first part of five, offers a pretty good tease of what one might expect throughout the story.

The author shifts often to the far past, and then back to the present as Kalec awakens from his visions.

Kalec witnesses the moment Malygos and Neltharion became blood brothers.

There is another continuity nod from the Tokyopop manga titled “Warcraft Legends”. Kalec finds the spirit of Buniq (a female Taunka). She was Akiak’s mate in Taunka’le Village. She had come to Galakrond’s Rest in the manga where she met her demise.

There is much more that will itch Warcraft lore fans’ curiosity and thirst for more. Undead proto-dragons that far back in the past of Azeroth?

The octagonal-shaped relic turned out to be part of another bigger object that resembled a human-like hand. Red Herring alert!!!

It’s not mentioned in this part what the hand belonged to, but lore fans might remember that early humans — the Azotha, had a legend of Tyr (WowWiki), who sacrificed his hand fighting against a great evil. Tyr replaced the lost hand with … a Silver Hand … as in the figure commemorated by the Order of the Silver Hand.

In Wrath of the Lich King, one of the quests sends you to each of the temples high in the peaks. It’s revealed that Tyr was one of the Watchers of Ulduar, along with Freya, Thorim, Mimiron and Hodir.

On June 2010, during the Ask the Devs # 1 Q&A, a fan asked: “Building off that- whatever happened to Tyr?”. Bornakk responded: “The watcher Tyr was not in Ulduar when adventurers finally freed the titan city from Yogg-Saron’s influence. If anyone knows where Tyr is now, he or she isn’t speaking up.”

It’s wild speculation at this time, but this novel might be the way Blizzard Entertainment reveals more info about this obscure character responsible for the guidance and protection of the early Azotha (Human tribe).

Going this far back in time, there is a pretty chance we might get to hear about the Titans, Yogg-Saron and the Watchers of Ulduar, the Nerubians and the Curse of Flesh? Only time will tell. Each part of this novel will be released in a monthly basis. So stay tuned for the next installment.

If I were you, I’d keep a close eye to this 5-part series. Read World of Warcraft: Dawn of the Aspects: Part I now. When ordering, choose the Kindle Cloud Reader to read over Firefox or other internet browser. Or download the Free Reading Apps for iPad/iPod/iPhone, BlackBerry, Mac, and Android.

Note: Recently, I asked Micky Neilson whether this story involves more details of the Titans, Yogg-Saron and Tyr. His response here. Was that a yes?!

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Spoilers over at the Scrolls of Lore forums.

Characters

Kalecgos
Alexstrasza
Ysera
Nozdormu
Neltharion
Coros
Chronormu (Chromie)
Afrasastrasz (commander of Wyrmrest’s defenses)
Merithra (Ysera’s daughter)
Jaracgos
Buniq (Taunka)
Magnataur
Tarys (Malygos hunting companion)
Jaina Proudmoore

Blizzplanet Review – Diablo III: Heroes Rise, Darkness Falls

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The Diablo III: Heroes Rise, Darkness Falls is a digital-only eBook — a rare format Blizzard Entertainment is currently pushing for the first time since year 2000. The first ever eBook from Blizzard was Diablo: Demonsbane by Robert B. Marks (Garwulf’s Corner). It was a time when the eBook format had just been born recently, and there wasn’t a big audience as nowadays with the boom of Kindle devices, iPad, Marvel Digital, and Comixology.

It reminds me a lot to how Chris Metzen and Flint Dille introduced Transformers: Autocracy to the fans of that universe. I was swayed into the 12-issue digital-only comic book not only because it was written by Chris who I am a loyal fanboy of, but through him I was able to re-experience one of my favorite childhood characters and sci-fi universes of the 80s when I was a teen.

A year after Transformers: Autocracy went live in the digital waves, IDW announced the Transformers: Autocracy (Hardcover).

It’s unknown if Blizzard Entertainment will go that route a year from now with Diablo III: Heroes Rise, Darkness Falls.

In the meantime, even if you don’t own a Kindle device you can still read this digital book straight from your internet browser via the Kindle Cloud. All you need is the Adobe Acrobat plug-in installed. Chances are you already have it installed. However, it’s a good idea to update it.

After you order the digital book, go to this URL: https://read.amazon.com to read it from your Firefox or Internet Explorer browser. You will see the eBook there. Or follow this instructions (view images).

The Diablo III: Heroes Rise, Darkness Falls contains fives stories previously seen in the official Diablo III website under the Game Guide page:

  • Hatred and Discipline (by Micky Neilson – Blizzard Publishing Lead)
  • Wayfarer (Cameron Dayton – Transmedia Consultant, Story Developer & Writer)
  • Unyielding (by Matt Burns – Blizzard Associate Publishing Developer)
  • Doubtwalker (by Matt Burns – Blizzard Associate Publishing Developer)
  • Firefly (by Michael Chu – Diablo III Quest Designer)

In the digital book, there are Black & White illustrations by John Polidora (Senior Illustrator/Concept Artist/Visual Development Artist at Blizzard Entertainment) placed at the first page of each story. The class sigil illustration is placed at the end of each story, too.

You will ask yourself: “Well, why would I pay $7.99 for something I can read straight from the Diablo III Website?”

You can set the Kindle Cloud to download what you purchased and to set an offline mode. In addition, there are two stories in this digital book never seen before, which expand the Diablo universe.

These two stories are:

  • Theatre Macabre: The Dark Exile
  • The Hunger

Theatre Macabre: The Dark Exile

Theatre Macabre: The Dark Exile is written by James Waugh (New York Times Best Selling Co-Author of World of Warcraft: Curse of the Worgen). The story hasn’t been read before in the official Diablo III website.

After reading this story, I was amazed at the lengthy dialogues between the characters. So much dialogue.

At first, I couldn’t wrap my mind around a theater theme and playwrights within the World of Sanctuary. Reminded me of Shakespeare and Dante’s Inferno for a sec. I was skeptic. Mea Culpa.

That didn’t last long though. The more I read, the more I wanted to keep going forward.

Behind all the theater stuff lies a story of the Dark Exile from a perspective we haven’t seen before. It was a mechanism to tell a grand story which reveals things not completely answered in Diablo II and Diablo II: Lord of Destruction.

Duriel and Andariel’s reasons to be in Sanctuary for example.

The story might also reveal who the Priests of Zakarum served, and what led to their corruption. Should be a must-read.

The Hunger

The Hunger is written by Erik Sabol (2009 Blizzard Global Writing Contest runner-up). It’s a new story we haven’t read in the official Diablo III website.

I have a mix of thoughts after reading this story. It’s about a woman who pays a wagon rider pretty well to take her cargo through the desert of Aranoch. I have to criticize we don’t know who the woman is nor her background or affiliation.

Each dialogue is short, and focuses more on fast-paced action. The story intrigued me. Out of the blue, the story ends – and I was left with this hunger to read more and figure out what really really happened in the story or what the point or goal was.

It’s a scary story, and definitely Rated M with gore and creepiness. For some reason, I was left with the feeling that we might see more about Rigley in the Diablo III expansion or elsewhere. Felt like a cliffhanger. Time will tell.

Final Thoughts

I’m game for more Diablo III themed stories. I got into reading Blizzard stories outside their video games after my very first IRC Chat interview with Richard A. Knaak back in 2003. It was a funny interview because I was asking him questions about Warcraft: Day of the Dragon (2001) without having read the book. Shortly after the interview I read the book. I couldn’t but start collecting all the books based on each Blizzard video game available at the time, and to religiously purchase every new publication from the pen of Blizzard Creative Team writers or the mainstream freelance writers whether they were books, manga, comic books or digital versions. Be it Warcraft, StarCraft or Diablo themed.

Reading the stories expands so much your knowledge of the video game, and gives a special depth to your gameplay experience. Ever since the Burning Crusade expansion, Blizzard Entertainment added another edge to storytelling with the help of Christie Golden.

Blizzard synchronizes these books and the in-game quests in ways that compliment and enhance your overall experience. In World of Warcraft: Rise of the Horde you would read about the Ata’mai Crystals, Velen and the Draenei, Oshu’gun in Nagrand — and you’d play the video game and go like — “Wow, I’m playing a quest about what I read in Christie’s novel!” — “Holy! I know this place, or that character!”

Every single novel and game expansion have been woven to tie-in, thereafter. I love that.

Now we have the first digital book ever since Diablo: Demonsbane, in an era where digital books are so mainstream. The question is … will Blizzard Creative Team be bold enough to bring these story elements into Diablo III or its upcoming expansion?

How do you translate these short anthology stories into in-game content? Especially, when Diablo III has been around a long time now.

I think Blizzard should consider adding new quests to Diablo III via patches. The venue is there. Every time I roam the lands of Sanctuary is a different experience. You’ll find random optional quests. For example, The Matriarch’s Bones or the Jar of Souls Event. These are random.

New Journals dropping from monsters or libraries hinting at events happened in Diablo III: Heroes Rise, Darkness Falls. Something reminiscent of the Ashbringer stories found throughout the world long before there was an actual Ashbringer in-game, serving as a hint of things to come in the Diablo III expansion.

That’s what I’d like to see in this new wave of digital book tie-ins.

Blizzplanet Review – SteelSeries World of Warcraft MMO Wireless Gaming Mouse

steelseries-world-of-warcraft-mmo-wireless-gaming-mouse-1

SteelSeries has launched a new World of Warcraft-themed mouse based on World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. The SteelSeries World of Warcraft Wireless MMO Gaming Mouse has addressed two problems faced by many wireless mice out there: Latency and battery life.

This new mouse features a 2.4GHz wireless technology to increase performance. Plug the micro-USB into one of your ports to recharge your wireless mouse. No need to wait for a recharge anymore before using the wireless mouse, allowing for continuous and uninterrupted gameplay.

The software informs the user how much battery life is available, allows the change of CPI settings, polling rate and macros.

The performance is solid, the integration with WoW is the best you’re going to find, the quality of the mouse is superb and I’ve had great luck with SteelSeries mice. It’s also the best damn wireless mouse I have ever used.

  • Extended battery life, with wired option for emergency charging while gaming
  • 16 Hour Battery Life
  • Charging dock that showcases the mouse
  • Onboard memory for pre-pairing mouse & receiver
  • Illuminated laser etched logo
  • Pro grade 8200 CPI Laser Sensor, 150 IPS, 30 G acceleration

The World of Warcraft Wireless MMO Gaming Mouse by SteelSeries and Blizzard Entertainment features advanced 2.4GHz wireless technology, a beautifully crafted charging stand and the ability to go both wired or wireless for endless adventures. With a comfortable, ergonomic design, and unmatched software functionality, this mouse is a must-have weapon for all MMO players.

Built for players of all types–be they casual fan or dedicated raider, rookie or guild leader–the World of Warcraft Wireless MMO Gaming Mouse is designed to enhance your game play. Sophisticated software functionality lets you easily customize the mouse to suit your individual play style.

An Epic Pedestal for a Superior Weapon

The charging station is an epic pedestal that illuminates with the same brilliant blue that is features on the mouse. Emblazoned with illuminated runes, the charging base is also the wireless receiver and the home for your mouse when not in use to proudly display your mouse.

Wireless or Wired–Your Choice

Whether you prefer wired mice or simply ran low on battery life at a crucial moment, the mouse is capable of being connected via USB cable to continue gaming while simultaneously charging.

11 Programmable Buttons

Tested by World of Warcraft gamers and co-designed with Blizzard Entertainment, the new Wireless MMO Gaming Mouse has 11 programmable buttons, ergonomically positioned for comfortable gameplay.

The intuitive drag-and-drop interface of the SteelSeries software empowers users to program all 11 buttons with more than 130 preset game commands, and create custom macros and/or use the in-game macro scripting language.

Charge Your Battery While You Play

The SteelSeries World of Warcraft Wireless Mouse achieves an incredible 16 hours of intensive gameplay and even more during casual gaming. What’s more is that even if you should game beyond the life of the battery, simply plug the USB cable into the mouse and keep playing in wired mode while you charge the mouse.

Configure Your Settings in the Game

Plug in your mouse. Start your game. Configure all of your mouse settings from illumination to macros to button assignments directly from the World of Warcraft interface.

Illumination and Pulse

The World of Warcraft Wireless MMO Gaming Mouse offers illumination on both the mouse and charging stand featuring 4 levels of pulsation including Low, Medium, High and Off. So there’s sure to be a combination to suit every mood and occasion.

Whats in the Box?

Steelseries World of Warcraft Wireless MMO Gaming Mouse, charging station pedestal, and USB cable.

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Blizzplanet Review – StarCraft II: Flashpoint

During my visit to the New York Comic Con 2012, Simon & Schuster representatives hooked me up with a copy of StarCraft II: Flashpoint by New York Times Best Selling author Christie Golden.

I finished reading the book, and it’s very hard to contain myself, and not spoil things. I’ll do my best not to reveal the entirety of the plot, but at least enlighten you with an attempt to spark in you the interest to read this book.

StarCraft II: Flashpoint literally bridges the gap between StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm.

I’m almost convinced the expansion will start off with Sarah Kerrigan leaving the Umojan Protectorate to start her search for the Zerg.

The Umojan Protectorate is a non-Terran Dominion territory that many fans have probably wanted Blizzard to put into the spotlight in-game as it has in the Tokyopop StarCraft: Frontline manga. One can only hope.

Chapter One

The first chapter introduces readers quickly into the exact moment two seconds after Jim Raynor shot his handgun at Tychus Findlay.

The novel gets to portray what the game nor the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty final cinematic could.

What was going on through Jim Raynor’s thoughts right after shooting his best friend. His reaction to seeing Sarah’s face as he carried her body outside the cave, as he looked into the horizon of Char’s surface.

Chapter Two

Valerian Mengsk meditates aboard the Bucephalus battlecruiser, orbiting planet Char. Ignorant of what’s happening down there. Whether Jim survived, whether the Xel’Naga artifact worked, or if Sarah had been reverted into human form or not, or if she survived the transformation.

I was glad to read Valerian remembering R.M Dahl and Professor Jacob Jefferson Ramsey (main characters of StarCraft: The Dark Templar trilogy).

I was surprised to read the idea the Xel’Naga artifact could change the Queen of Blades back to human form was actually an idea proposed behind-the-scenes by Jacob Ramsey. This piece of information was never mentioned in-game in Wings of Liberty.

However, it makes sense. Single-player lore fans no doubt wondered at some point how Valerian knew so much about the Xel’Naga artifact and what it could do to Kerrigan.

This is the perfect reasoning. Jacob Ramsey is not only the best archeologist in terms of ancient Protoss and Xel’Naga ruins and objects, but as read in StarCraft: The Dark Templar trilogy, his brain hosted the mind of a Protoss Preserver named Zamara; and learned her knowledge and that of countless Protoss’ memories throughout history.

Personally, I would have liked to see Jacob in-game in Wings of Liberty to provide the background and purpose of the Xel’Naga artifact. Nevertheless, StarCraft: Flashpoint does a great job filling readers in on what transpired behind-the-scenes in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty’s plot.

As Brian Kindreagan recently said: “We will always struggle with the fact that we get only a few lines of dialogue in this fast-paced, dynamic game to explain concepts that could fill 50 pages in a novel (such as the Overmind’s backstory, or the earlier discussion of free will). We’ll never be able to explain things in as much detail as I’d like, and will instead have to rely on the player to consider what we’ve shown and to interpret it. Narrative games are not films, and they are not novels.”

Not all stories mesh well in-game as it can in a novel. The novels have more room to flesh out things. Nobody wants to sit tight listening or watching cutscenes for 5 minutes. Gameplay comes first and foremost.

Chapter Three

Raynor’s dropship lands within the Bucephalus battlecruiser, Valerian’s flagship, to offer medical treatment to Sarah Kerrigan. Things get a little jumpy as Raynor doesn’t trust Valerian, and Valerian very well knows what Raynor is capable of for her safety.

However, what readers will find in chapter three is pure gold. You have never seen Prince Valerian Mengsk like this before. His true intentions throughout previous novels and throughout StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is revealed. Is he as treacherous as his father? Or is he a different person?

General Thoughts

I was hoping to see a sliver of the Queen of Blades somewhere in Sarah, but the author is blunt and straight to the liver. This is no longer the Queen of Blades. We truly face Sarah Kerrigan’s humanity — mind and soul.

I realize not everyone who plays StarCraft II, plays World of Warcraft or have read Christie Golden’s novels based on Warcraft. Many do. I have read all the Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo novels. Call me a lore buff.

I can tell you upfront. I love the twists, humor and the plot creativity of Christie Golden in StarCraft: Flashpoint. It feels much different than her work in the Warcraft universe, but she brings with her several years of experience writing Star Trek novels, and she got a deep and mature knowledge of the StarCraft universe, its characters, lingo and the locations throughout the Koprulu Sector.

I really hate to read novels that look more like poetry in motion than a novel — you know, describing something simple in so many fancy and sweetened words that it takes three pages to say it. That style doesn’t mesh well with sci-fi. Christie is fluid, and constantly pumping action from page to page. The story moves forward at a good pace.

Christie Golden added several continuity nods throughout StarCraft: Flashpoint. Some of these nods come in the shape of adult language or lingo often seen around Keith R.A. DeCandido stories such as StarCraft: Ghost–Nova, StarCraft: Ghost–Academy and StarCraft: Ghost–Spectres.

There are several flashbacks in this novel from the point of view of Jim Raynor — visiting the memories of the moment Sarah requested an evac, but Mengsk belayed the order and abandoned her to the Zerg. Lots of these flashbacks are based on factual continuity as sort of behind-the-scene stories players never got to see in the original StarCraft single-player missions.

Sarah at some point recalls when she first met Jim Raynor and Michael Liberty in Antiga Prime. The dialogue from the original StarCraft game is used word by word, which is a very nice touch. That scene where Jim and Sarah meet for the first time is very iconic when he realizes she is a telepath after she calls him a pig.

There are other flashbacks to year 2500, where the reader gets really close to Jim Raynor’s mind and heart witnessing the little things that made him truly love this woman.

I also liked to see some of the Hyperion characters found in-game make more than just cameos: Dr. Egon Stetmann and Chief Engineer Rory Swann.

The in-game cutscene showing the Cantina fight between Jim and Tychus is referenced. Some in-game funny moments such as Matt Horner’s embarrassment with his Deadman’s Port wife — this is the pirate space junkyard planet players are acquainted with.

The novel displays the accurate dialogues between Raynor and Valerian as seen in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty through flashback.

In another scene, Valerian is at the Hyperion cantina and he’s wondering about the jukebox wrapped above on the ceiling, and smirks at listening to the song “Suspicious Minds”.

I really love to read consistency, continuity, and nods to previous games and StarCraft novels. Christie Golden doesn’t ignore those small details. That’s something fans of the game will truly appreciate.

We even get to have a name for the engineering assistant folks standing around at the Cantina in-game including Bartender Cooper. The bartender’s name is mentioned in-game by one of the guys sitting by the tables in the Cantina when players click on him several times: “Man, old Cooper sure makes a mean Mai Tai.”

StarCraft: Flashpoint also reveals the first time Raynor met Matt Horner before Mengsk’s betrayal on Sarah.

There is also a nod to Chris Metzen’s story (Homecoming) in StarCraft: Frontline. Jim Raynor’s son and former wife are mentioned a few times.

There is one Raynor’s Raiders traitor who might not return as part of the Hyperion’s crew in StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, but I got a feeling we might see him at some point.

Christie Golden’s writing is non-stop action, with spiraling emotions, plenty of humor, and readers will find the many unpredictable turns very exquisite and satisfying.

Cherry on top — we learn more about Narud and the Moebius Foundation.

Get your hands on StarCraft II: Flashpoint to find out. It’s worthwhile.

I recommend reading it on a Saturday morning. Once you start reading, you will hardly have a chance to play or do domestic chores. You won’t be able to stop reading till the end with all the action and suspense.

I can hardly wait to play through the StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm single-player.

StarCraft II: Flashpoint goes on sale on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012. If you haven’t yet, pre-order StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. However, make sure to order it separately so both items ship individually.

Characters

Jim Raynor
Sarah Kerrigan
Tychus Findlay
Cam Fraser – Raynor’s Raiders marine
Matt Horner – captain of the Hyperion battlecruiser
Lisle – stayed behind to protect the Xel’Naga artifact.
Haynes – stayed behind to protect the Xel’Naga artifact.
Lily Preston – medic
Pilot Wil Merrick – Dropship Fanfare pilot
Rolfsen
Prince Valerian Mengsk
Everett Vaughn – captain of the Bucephalus battlecruiser
Emil Narud – scientist / leader of the Moebius Foundation
Emperor Arcturus Mengsk
Marcus Cade – Hyperion navigator
Dr. Frederick – Bucephalus doctor
Egon Stetmann – Hyperion lab scientist
Rory Swann – Hyperion Chief Engineer
Annabelle Thatcher – Hyperion engineering assistant
Earl – Hyperion engineering assistant
Milo Kachinsky
Bartender Cooper – Hyperion Cantina
Mira Han – Matt Horner’s wife at Deadman’s Port
Captain Roger Merriman – Herakles battleship
Scutter O’Banon – former leader of Deadman’ Rock
Ethan Stewart (mentioned) – former leader of Deadman’s Port, later Kerrigan’s zerg-infested consort in StarCraft: The Dark Templar trilogy
Phillip Randall (mentioned) – Scutter O’Bannon’s butler and assassin
Lieutenant Travis Rawlins – Bucephalus battlecruiser’s navigator
Scarlip – Deadman’s port thug
Yeats – Deadman’s Port doctor
Becker – Deadman’s Port doctor

Captain Sharyn Moore (flashback) – Captain of the Cormorant (old merchantman vessel) that transported Jim and Sarah to Orna III. Matt Horner’s former captain and ship.

Boots (mentioned) – Sarah’s pet for three weeks.

Dr. Orville Harris – chief scientist at the science facility of Orna III
Gary Crane – one of Mira Han subordinates at Deadman’s Port.
Liddy (flashback) – Jim Raynor’s former wife. Died of cancer. (StarCraft: Frontline Vol. 4 — Homecoming by Chris Metzen).

Dr. Phan – Ornan III
Dr. Elizabeth Martin – Ornan III
Dr. Chantal de Vries – one of the many doctors in the Space Station Prometheus who toured Dr. Stetmann.
Nancy Wyndham – doctor at the Space Station Prometheus
Joseph Reynolds – doctor at the Space Station Prometheus
Adrian Scott – doctor at the Space Station Prometheus
Elias Thompson – chief engineer of the Bucephalus.
Vrain, Osgood, Warren, Tseng and Mitchell – Narud security guards at Space Station Prometheus
Varley – White Star navigator
Maddie Wilson

Locations

Planet Char
Hyperion battlecruiser
Fanfare dropship
Bucephalus gorgon-class battlecruiser
Moebius Foundation
White Star – Emperor Arcturus Mengsk’s flagship battlecruiser
Deadman’s Port

G-2275 (mentioned) – gas giant, technological hub of the Confederacy. Raynor and Sarah were at its moon after the victory at Antiga Prime. They retrieved the plans to create upgraded Goliaths.

Orna III – science facility doing covert experiments on their citizens such as gene-splicing, brain modification, telepathic experimentation, disease testing.

Paradise – Deadman’s Rock town
Shilo (mentioned) – Jim Raynor’s homeworld
Kirkegaard Belt (known as Kick-You-Good Belt)
Space Station Prometheus – Moebius Foundation secret lab located within the Kirkegaard Belt
Umojan Protectorate

Valerian brought 25 battlecruisers to planet Char. Only fourteen survived the Zerg. Some of the battlecruiser names: Aenas, Amphitrite, Metis, Eos, Patroclus, and Meleager, Antigone, and Herakles.

Battlecruiser type mentioned: Minotaur-class and Behemoth-class.

References

Blizzplanet Review – World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria

Pearl of Pandaria review

Blizzard Entertainment sent a copy of World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria for review. I just opened the box, and got thrilled with the format of this DC Comics graphic novel product.

Product Cover

I haven’t seen anything like this before from DC Comics. The dimensions of the book resemble that of an iPad, thus comfortable to hold. An iPad is 9.50″ x 7.31″. The World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria Graphic Novel’s dimensions are approximately 11.25 x 7.37″.

The front cover artwork of World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria seen above is a book jacket you can remove and frame up if you wish to. This is how the book looks like without the book jacket.

Introduction

The first chapter introduces the history of Liu Lang to set the background and starting point of this story for readers new to World of Warcraft and/or to the Mists of Pandaria expansion.

Liu Lang was the first Pandaren to leave Pandaria with the wanderlust of adventure. Originally, after the Sundering ten-thousand-years in the past the Pandaren thought the whole world had been destroyed, and because of the Mists none dared to explore thinking they wouldn’t find their way back home.

Liu Lang observed the dragon turtles would leave into the sea, but eventually returned to the shore they were born. Thus, with that wisdom, Liu Lang explored beyond the mists on top of Shen-zin Su.

The Pandaren laughed at Liu Lang and thought they would never see him again. Five years later, Liu Lang returned to Pandaria on a now grown turtle to share his adventures with fellow Pandaren. The turtle would return home every five years, and more Pandaren accompanied Liu Lang and as centuries went by the turtle became as big as an island.

Some of the lore in this graphic novel is exclusive and won’t be seen in the Mists of Pandaria expansion. However, the story of Liu Lang will be experienced by players who delve into the path of the Lorewalker. I recently shared my experiences in beta on where to find all the sites and achievements to reach exalted with the Lorewalker, and some videos that tell the lore of Liu Lang.

Micky Neilson

Micky Neilson joined Blizzard Entertainment in 1993. He’s got several video games story development experience under his belt, including: Warcraft III, The Lost Vikings II, World of Warcraft, StarCraft. He’s presently Lead Publishing at Blizzard with two graphic novels: WORLD OF WARCRAFT: CURSE OF THE WORGEN (co-written with James Waugh), WORLD OF WARCRAFT: ASHBRINGER (Number Two in New York Times Bestselling Graphic Novels List).

If you have read both graphic novels, you are in for a great story with PEARL OF PANDARIA. It’s written from the point of view of Li Li Stormstout, the niece of famous adventurer Chen Stormstout who we are acquainted with since his debut in the bonus orc campaign in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne (2003).

There’s definitely a message to be found in the context of the story aimed both at young children and [why not] adults. Sometimes we celebrate holidays, study history in school but do not live what we celebrate and commemorate.

Li Li is a dreamer and loves the stories of Liu Lang, but sees that her father and even the Elders of Shen-zin Su have forgotten what it is to leave the Wandering Isle and explore the world and enjoy every day of their lives in a continuous adventure.

She’s young, but not a coward. She refuses to live in a pedestal, and decides to leave the Wandering Isle to go in search of her uncle Chen Stormstout. I liked very much Micky’s approach and direction in this story.

According to Licensing Manager Kat Hunter, in the DC Comics website, this is an independent story outside the Mists of Pandaria expansion. While you might recognize some elements that appear in-game, the story takes place before the events Pandaren level 1-10 players will experience in the Wandering Isle’s starting location in-game.

One of the scenes when Li Li goes to Stormwind gives a glimpse into where in the timeline the story takes place, and it’s definitely not Mists of Pandaria-time, nor even Cataclysm-time. One guard is asking for volunteers to go to Northrend for the ultimate fight against the Lich King. Another scene reveals the fight against the Emerald Nightmare — which took place during World of Warcraft: Stormrage — hasn’t happened yet.

Li Li Stormstout is not an NPC in the Wandering Isle for example. You get to meet her as an NPC later on at level 86 in the Valley of the Four Winds alongside Chen Stormstout.

Sean “Cheeks” Galloway

Sean Galloway is the artist of the interior pages and front cover. Not everyone is used to comic books or animation, so it’s normal for people to like or dislike the artwork style.

Personally, when I saw the front cover a few weeks ago I had no idea who the artist was, but recognized the style right away. The artwork and the coloring resembles that in TV animated series and even Disney animated films. Knowing how Blizzard Entertainment works they will get the best in the industry. We have seen Simon Furman (The Transformers) behind the StarCraft comics series, Walter Simonson (Mighty Thor) behind the World of Warcraft comics series. All the awesome writers and artists in the Tokyopop Manga. You know the drill. Blizzard Creative Team is passionate about their projects and fans themselves of writers and artists that are involved in their personal geeky hobbies: Tabletop, fantasy stories, SciFi, etc.

I won’t lie. I have rarely watched american TV in the past 12 years since playing Blizzard games — kinda odd for someone who lives in New York City. Sean Galloway is a name that caught my attention though.

In the animation front, Sean Galloway is the founder of Table Taffy Studios and lead character designer for The Spectacular Spiderman animated TV series. Sean has been involved in Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms, Blood and Iron, Disney’s Tron Animated, Dreamworks’ Mastermind, G.I. Joe Renegades, and Scoobie Doo Mystery Inc.

As a comics penciler/artist he’s been involved in TEEN TITANS GO and the Teen Titans stories in WEDNESDAY COMICS. He’s also done video game and toy design. Some fans know him for his creator-owned properties: Bastion’s 7, Gumshoes 4 Hire and Little Big Heads.

In terms of World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, the artwork style sometimes might break what’s known as the “Warcraft Style” — which players are used to with Senior Art Director Samwise Didier, René Koiter, Glenn Rane, and other Sons of the Storm artists. However, considering the main character of this story is a little girl named Li Li, and the bulky shapes of the Pandaren — it made sense to go the TV animated series style which is welcomed by children, teens and adults in general, rather than one specific audience.

Some of us have been playing World of Warcraft since 2004-2006. Some might have by now a young kid at home which is ready to kick some indiscriminate justice at your side against the evils of Azeroth. World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria makes a perfect gift to a son/daughter, nephew/nice (etc.) as a background story prior to playing World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria.

The coloring techniques are amazing and quickly you get to dig Sean Galloway and his team’s style. There are many landmarks and locations captured in this 128-pages graphic novel, including Booty Bay, Ironforge, Kharanos, Azshara, Westfall, Golshire, The Dark Portal, Stormwind, Stonetalon Mountains, and Orgrimmar — to name a few.

Wish to ask Micky Neilson or Sean Galloway a question? Post a comment below using your Facebook/Yahoo login. We will talk with them on Wednesday during an interview.

Pre-Order World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria now. Release Date: September 26, 2012.

Chapters

  • Chapter One: The Song of Liu Lang
  • Chapter Two: Wanderlust
  • Chapter Three: Thunderbrew
  • Chapter Four: Kalimdor
  • Chapter Five: Journey’s End

Characters

Li Li Stormstout
Chen Stormstout
Strongbo
Zhahara Darksquall (Naga witch)
Blokk (Ogre)
Elder Po Stormstout (Li Li’s father, Chen’s brother)
Shisai Stormstout (Li Li’s eldest brother)
Xiu Li (Long-lost Elder Po’s wife)
Rahjak (Fel orc blademaster)
Grimbooze Thunderbrew
Dark Iron Coren Direbrew
King Magni Bronzebeard
Keeper Orremin
Rumblefitz (Goblin alchemist)
Fisherman Wanyo (pandaren)

Graphic Novel Credits

Written by: Micky Neilson (Blizzard Entertainment Publishing Lead)
Art and Cover: Sean “Cheeks” Galloway
Lettering: Saida Temofonte
Blizzard Special Thanks: Chris Metzen, Sam Didier, Cameron Dayton, Doug A. Gregory and Glenn Rane
Sean Galloway Special Thanks: Table Taffy Studio’s Derek Laufman, DJ Welch, Dario Brizuela, Caleb Sawyer, Hwang Nguyen and Ryan Odagawa.

Editors: Hank Kanalz& Sarah Gaydos
Design Director: Robbin Brosterman
Publication Design: Larry Berry
VP-Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras
President: Diane Nelson
Co-Publishers: Dan DiDio & Jim Lee
Chief Creative Officer: Geoff Johns
Executive VP-Sales,Marketing and Business Development: John Rood
Senior VP – Business and Legal Affairs: Amy Genkins
Senior VP – Finance: Nairi Gardiner
VP-Publishing Operations: Jeff Boison
VP-Art Direction and Design: Mark Chiarello
VP-Marketing: John Cunningham
VP-Talent Relations and Services: Terri Cunningham
Senior VP-Manufacturing and Operations: Alison Gill
Senior VP-Digital: Hank Kanalz
VP-Business Affairs, Talent: Jack Mahan
VP-Manufacturing Administration: Nick Napolitano
VP-Book Sales: Sue Pohja
Senior VP-Publicity: Courtney Simmons
Senior VP-Sales: Bob Wayne

Blizzplanet Review – World of Warcraft: Jaina Proudmoore, Tides of War

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World of Warcraft: Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War takes place months after the Hour of Twilight and the defeat of Deathwing.

Prince Anduin continues his education in the Exodar with Velen and the draenei — in continuity with the Leader Short Stories: “Velen: Prophet’s Lesson” by Marc Hutcheson.

Kalecgos and the blue dragonflight continue to regret Malygos’ demise, the Nexus War and the Hour of Twilight which is their responsibility due to Arygos’ betrayal and the use of the Focusing Iris to give life to Chromatus — as seen in World of Warcraft: Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects.

Garrosh Hellscream recently set a plan in motion to invade Ashenvale — in the pages of World of Warcraft: Wolfheart by Richard A. Knaak. However, it backfired when the Alliance got word of it and reinforcements came in kind through Theramore marching toward Southern Barrens, Stonetalon Mountains and Ashenvale to respond to Garrosh’s atrocities.

Players have experienced this war in-game in the Cataclysm expansion’s low-level quests.

Garrosh has learned from his mistakes and came up with a master plan to now not only invade Ashenvale, but to take the entire Kalimdor continent for the Horde.

Christie Golden fully benefits from her years of hands-on experience playing World of Warcraft. She is played up to level 75, but still has plenty of material to work with. She used elements from each expansion to add to continuity. Garrosh uses elements from questlines seen in Terrokar Forest (Burning Crusade), Vash’jir (Cataclysm), Coldarra (Wrath of the Lich King) and fused them to mastermind Garrosh’s ultimate plan.

Tides of War is an epic battle between the Alliance and the Horde — rated M, with all the violence, blood and gore.

I was literally surprised by the large amount of characters that either take center stage in the story, or make a cameo. It shows Christie Golden and the Blizzard Creative Team worked really hard with each character that appears in the story and to keep track of continuity.

I’m still unsure about two characters who made a cameo, as they were supposed to be dead long ago, but in general I counted at least 84 characters. Some are established known NPCs who make a cameo, others were created by Christie Golden as they don’t even show up in WoWHead, and few are merely mentioned (i.e. Arthas and Admiral Daelin Proudmoore).

The story mainly focus on the point of view of Warchief Garrosh Hellscream, High-Chieftain Baine Bloodhoof, Lady Jaina Proudmoore, and Kalecgos the blue dragon. Supporting characters who get some relevant screen time in certain chapters are King Varian Wrynn and Thrall.

It’s no longer a spoiler to mention the focus of this book is to lay the groundwork for the destruction of Theramore — coming up in Patch 5.0.4 on August 28th.

This heinous crime is the trigger that starts the war that eventually causes the Alliance and the Horde naval fleets to get stranded within the Mists of Pandaria.

Thus, Tides of War novel serves as a prequel to the events of the upcoming World of Warcraft MMO expansion pack, which is expected to launch in September 25th.

Many changes are to come in the expansion, and I am not truly convinced some of these changes are currently seen in beta servers.

Not only Theramore, which will now become a crater, but even Dalaran might have some changes as well. Significant ones.

The events set in this novel will change Jaina Proudmoore in ways we have never expected, that will put her down the path of hatred and revenge her father Admiral Daelin Proudmoore and her former lover Prince Arthas walked. Will she come to her senses, or seek to return the atrocities of the Horde back at them in kind?

Whichever path she chooses, it will certainly change her forever.

I finished reading the novel. It shook me to the core at an emotion level no other Warcraft novel has at this magnitude. There will be countless loses of life — NPCs we have interacted with since 2004, and characters some players have grown fond with in past Warcraft novels.

I definitely recommend hardcore lore fans to pick up, and read World of Warcraft: Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War — available as hardcover, mass market paperback and eBook formats.

Got questions for Christie Golden? Blizzplanet’s Eldorian will have a live phone interview with Christie Golden on Wednesday, August 22. Share your questions for her here.

More comprehensive spoilers here.

Non-spoiler reviews and interviews by other fansites:

Blizzplanet: Diablo III Normal Difficulty

Diablo III Normal Difficulty Finished

It’s been ages since the first time I beat Diablo II and Diablo II: Lord of Destruction. I can’t say I played religiously everyday, nor multiplayer. Still, I have fond times spending hours and days clearing every single cave, basement, and underground levels.

Some people rush through the quests to reach Diablo. I’m more a completionist, and I just can’t rush through. Takes longer, but satisfaction and victory thrill is felt tenfold.

It’s been over a decade, and we waited so long for this game to ship. After defeating Diablo III in Normal Difficulty, I can only say: It was worth the wait. Blizzard Entertainment’s creative team and the Diablo III team built something that feels like Diablo II, but improved so many areas of the game.

The storyline is awesome. I never saw many of these plots and characters coming. The story feels truly epic, be it quests, in-game lore books, or dialogues between the NPCs. I explored it all. From what I saw in the achievements, I barely missed a few in-game books.

I only found one flaw with the game, and that’s mostly because the Auction House is currently disabled until further notice. So hard to make space in your inventory and stash.

I’d say the cost for each stash 14 slots needs to decrease, and the cost of the tabs as well. The second tab costs 100,000. The third tab costs 200,000. That’s 300,000 — not counting the additional 10,000 per 14 slots.

At the time of finishing Diablo III, I only managed to get the second tab (100,000), and only have 50,000 gold (a quarter of what the third tab costs).

All my focus went into spending gold to buy 14 stash slots, and to buy the second stash tab, and all its slots. I was not able to invest in upgrading the Blacksmith. At all. Thus didn’t even use the Blacksmith’s recipes to build gear.

There’s a work around if you are running out of inventory space and stash space while you manage to get all three stash tabs. You have up to 10 character slots. Create two level 1 characters you won’t be using for a long while. Empty the stash onto both characters’ inventory — use them as bank characters so to speak. When the Auction House is launched, put all those items in those two bank characters for sale. Much better to use this method, than to trash stuff that might have potential value at the Auction House. Go, empty your inventory and stash to make space so you can keep farming Nightmare Difficulty items until the Auction House opens.

At level 32, I beat Diablo III Normal Difficulty wearing only what I looted from bosses and rare elites. Lot of yellow gear. No Blacksmith gear. I’m so glad I could experience the entire gameplay and storyline, and to be able to say indeed Darkness Falls, Heroes Rise. Mission accomplished. Yet so much work to do. Next step: Nightmare Difficulty.

Other than my suggestion to lower the stash costs, this game was worth the wait. Very polished, awesome scenarios, cool random events and game mechanics, and quests. Diablo III is everything Diablo II should have been, now in the flesh, made reality. I love this game, and truly hope to play it often in coop-mode. Big <3 to Jay Wilson, Christian Lichtner, Andrew Chambers, Kevin Martens, Jason Bender, Wyatt Cheng, and the remaining Diablo III Team.

I'm amazed by all the information found in-game about the story. Now I understand how important it is for fans to read Diablo III: Book of Cain and Diablo III: The Order. Reading those two books will prepare players to the video game’s storyline, and overall help them understand what’s going on, and who the characters and locations mentioned are.

Big kudos to Chris Metzen, Micky Neilson, James Waugh and the whole Creative Team for their truly epic story. As usual, there’s a cliffhanger. What’s next? As Jay Wilson mentioned throughout these past few years, there will be Diablo III expansions. Who do we fight now? There are some characters in the game whose whereabouts are still unaccounted for.

Update: Because of the ending, the repercussions are palpable, and yet unpredictable. Will the expansion be set several years in the future? Will Sanctuary have to fight in other worlds where the Burning Hells still have foothold? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I recommend reading Diablo: The Sin War Box Set (Kindle edition). To read the eBook on your PC/Mac computer or mobile device download the Kindle app.

As a mass market paperback, you can get it here:

Chronologically, Diablo: The Sin War is the earliest event in the Diablo story — about 3,000 years in the past. In this book, the Angiris Council voted against or in favor of humanity. The true origin of Sanctuary and the Worldstone are revealed too. Material that is widely used in the Diablo III quests, in-game books and NPC dialogues. Some important characters that play a role in the book trilogy: Trang’Oul, Rathma, Kalan, Lilith, Mephisto, Tyrael, Imperius, and Uldyssian.

Possible Expansion Characters – Spoilers

  • There are seven lieutenants of Azmodan. We only fight two: Ghom (Lord of Gluttony) and Cydaea (Maiden of Lust).
  • Missing Lieutenants of Belial
  • Adria
  • Zoltan Kulle
  • Inarius
  • Lilith
  • Malthael

Blizzplanet Review – Diablo III: The Order

Diablo III: The Order by Nate Kenyon

I just finished reading our review copy of Diablo III: The Order by Nate Kenyon, courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc. and Gallery Books.

The short review: “I’m totally in love with Diablo III: The Order”. Ok, I have a couple of rants that a few trolls might also point out: Tyrael’s voice never talks to Cain (not even in dreams), and a pivotal moment could have had someone like Archangel Auriel (Hope), Trang’Oul or even a necromancer slipping in into the story to guide Deckard Cain in his most darkest time, but in general this book is a [must-have] to all Diablo III fans.

Curiously, there aren’t really Diablo III single player spoilers; except for maybe the epilogue which ties-in with one of the Acts. Even so, the epilogue happens probably 10-12 years before Diablo III.

While these might be spoilers, I think they might serve as key information to those wondering what the book is about. Don’t worry, these only comprehend about the first 50 pages of the book. You decide whether the topic interests you enough to buy the book, or not.

The prologue starts with Aderes Cain telling the story of Jered Cain and the Horadrim (as they hunt and imprison Diablo and his brothers) to a group of children, including her 11-year-old son: Deckard Cain.

This prologue serves as a foreshadowing or primer to understand Deckard Cain’s regrets for wasting so much of his younger life ignoring the stories and scripts about the Horadrim and the demons.

A young Deckard Cain who grew bored of the stories, angry for the loss of his father to disease, who wanted to pursue adventures and dreams away from Tristram — a place where nothing happened, and where he feared he would spend all his life working at a shop like his father. Typical attitude of a young rebel living in a farm, far away from cities.

After the prologue, sadly we jump forward in time to 1272 (59 years later). Deckard Cain should be around age 70.

It’s been ten years since the defeat of Baal and the destruction of the Worldstone (at the end of Diablo II: Lord of Destruction).

Deckard Cain journeys with the Paladin Akarat to the Vizjerei secret repository to search for scrolls that might give him knowledge about the End Days. Cain faces a demon who talks a mix of truths and lies, knowledge which Cain later uses to his advantage after the demon is swiftly defeated.

Deckard Cain travels to Caldeum to visit Gillian the Barmaid (check out her background at our colleague wikia site). She’s a well-known character from Diablo I (voiced by Glynnis Talken, alias Sarah Kerrigan). Adria left Leah to her care, and Cain wanted to keep tabs on the girl.

There’s a flashback (via Cain’s dreaming) of the events of Diablo I: mentioning Aidan, Gillian, King Leoric and Lachdanan.

Gillian sends Cain to bookseller Kulloom. Among the scripts found by Cain at the Vizjerei secret repository were Zakarum, Bartuc, and Horadrim texts. Kulloom hints at having heard of a Horadrim group. This revelation amazes Cain, who thought he was the last Horadrim, and sets to pursue any hints that may lead him to find them.

Nate Kenyon fleshes out the growing bond that unites Deckard Cain and a very young Leah. It’s touching how Leah changes dramatically her initial rebellious behavior to a caring one for the old man.

There are two main plots: the search for the Horadrim group in Kurast, and the one bound by prophecy.

A monk named Mikulov has read the prophecies of the patriarchs of Yvgorod. He has gathered scrolls from several locations around Sanctuary. Scrolls which have something in common: a time juncture that triggers the upcoming End of Days prophecy: The first day of the month of Ratham, the month of the dead.

On the side of the demons, Belial has powerful servants in Sanctuary with the gift of vision and prophecy. Several paths lead to different futures. Different outcomes. However, it’s intriguing none of them foresaw Mikulov in any of the visions — a monk who has visions of the future, too. He’s a wild card. Unexpected. Mysterious. Undetected in visions of the large tapestry of destiny. Intriguing.

After learning so much about Mikulov, and what he’s capable of doing, after playing Diablo III beta — I’m inclined to create a Monk character as my first Diablo III retail character. Mikulov rocks! It seems it won’t be the last we will see of him. I’m inclined to think we’ll see him in future novels. As Richard A. Knaak’s Zayl the Necromancer, many fans will truly get fond of of Mikulov the Yvgorod monk as one of the heroes of Sanctuary.

The author uses the moments Deckard Cain goes to sleep to give readers a quick intro to the lore of the previous three Diablo games (Diablo I, Diablo II and Diablo II: Lord of Destruction) via flashbacks tormenting Deckard Cain in his dreams. He sleeps often throughout a span of seven days.

Belial, the Lord of Lies is omnipresent throughout the story without making much of a screen time. There are spies everywhere. Anything or anyone can be the eyes or ears of Belial in subtle ways.

This book sets a pivotal point for readers to understand the Deckard Cain we will see in Diablo III. The book, of course, delves more into his weaknesses, and his personal regrets than the game itself.

Deckard Cain is a man that carries a heavy burden upon his shoulders. He blames himself for the sins of the past. As a young boy, he refused the Horadrim teachings shared down by his mother. He felt them to be mere unfounded stories.

He blames himself for the death of everyone in Tristram, and thinks Aidan wouldn’t have died if he had focused his young years to learn more from the Horadrim scrolls concerning Diablo and the other Prime Evils. However, how much of his self-doubt is his? How much are [lies]?

Diablo III: The Order is a tragic story of great proportions. I have never seen Deckard Cain so powerless, desolated, lonely, desperate, hopeless. Nate Kenyon delivered as a writer in this book revealing to fans (on-your-face) several facets of Deckard Cain we never knew of him, while capturing that essence of him we have grown fond with over a decade in the previous games.

Deckard Cain has reached rock bottom at a delicate juncture. And the sad part is Cain is out of time. The story locomotions toward a spiraling countdown. Each chapter, and each step taken, each day passed leading toward the first day of the month of Ratham.

A day Belial has designated for the death of the 8-year-old Leah, and the rising of the death — an army of the Mage Clans who died in a lost city of Kehjistan.

We’ll learn something new about Deckard Cain’s past. It seeps in slowly throughout the story. In stages.

Three powerful things will be used for the final showdown against Belial’s servants: hope (as their strength), courage, and a Diablo II item long-thought to be lost.

It’s safe to read the book before finishing the Diablo III single player. No spoilers there, except for a hint at the epilogue — at the end of the book, which ties-in directly with one of the Acts.

The book will change everyone’s perception of Deckard Cain. We’ll now see his most intimate thoughts and memories. His weaknesses, and his strengths through the mind-eye of the author: Nate Kenyon.

Is Deckard Cain a failure? A coward? Or a Heroe? Fans will see him like never before on both sides of the spectrum. For a first work in the Diablo universe, Nate Kenyon is welcome among the hall of legends alongside Richard A. Knaak. Hope to see more Diablo novels from both authors. Dark and gritty enough for old Diablo book readers, and informative to new readers who missed previous Diablo video games.

Order Diablo III: The Order (Hardcover) now. Kindle edition can be downloaded here. Don’t have Kindle? Did you know you can read Kindle eBooks on your PC/Mac internet browser? Download the Kindle Reading app.

Share questions for Nate Kenyon at our following forum thread. (One copy of the book will be giveaway)

Description

For more than ten years, Diablo has been one of PC gaming’s iconic and blockbuster franchises, with millions of players experiencing to this day all the adventure and terror in the world of Sanctuary. Now, DIABLO III: THE ORDER (Gallery Books, May 15, 2012; $26.00) will tie-in with the long-awaited release of Blizzard Entertainment’s all-new game, Diablo III. This original novel reveals the untold story of Deckard Cain, one of Diablo’s most popular characters.

Now a much older man, Deckard Cain is on a mission to find the remnants of a rumored Horadric cell, and must call upon all of his knowledge and wit to teach and inspire those around him even as they face danger and death at every turn. Can he lead the return of a ragtag group of Horadrim and their ideals to Sanctuary … or will they die out with Cain himself?

About the Author

Nate Kenyon is the author of StarCraft: Ghost–SPECTRES. He is a Bram Stoker Award finalist and he has had stories published in Shroud Magazine, Permuted Press’s Monstrous Anthology, Horror World, Dead Lines, The Harrow, and Legends of the Mountain State 2, and has several others forthcoming. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers.

Nate Kenyon (Left) and Blizzplanet's Medievaldragon (Right) at New York Comic Con 2011

Characters

  • Deckard Cain
  • Aderes Cain (Deckard’s mother)
  • Gillian (cameo: Diablo II character, Caldeum barmaid, adoptive mother of Leah)
  • Leah (Age 8 )
  • Kulloom (Caldeum bookseller)
  • Belial, Lord of Lies
  • Hyland
  • James (Caldeum blacksmith)
  • Mikulov (Ivgorod Monk)
  • Cyrus (owner of the Red Circle Inn in Lower Kurast)
  • Lord Brand
  • Garreth Rau (scholar, one of the finest bookmakers in Sanctuary, leader of the Horadrim cell)
  • Captain Hanos Jeronnan (cameo – Diablo: Legacy of Blood)
  • Egil (Horadrim member)
  • Lund (Horadrim member)
  • Farris (Horadrim member)
  • Cullen (Horadrim member)
  • Thomas (Horadrim member)
  • Jordan (Horadrim member)
  • Anuk Maahnor (Bartuc’s captain)

Flashback or Mentioned

  • Farnham (lost his daughter to The Butcher)
  • Pepin
  • King Leoric
  • Aidan
  • Lachdanan
  • Albrecht
  • The Butcher
  • Wirt
  • Griswold
  • Asheara (Diablo II character, Caldeum’s Iron Wolves mercenary leader)
  • Trang’Oul
  • Ratham (founder of the priests of Rathma)
  • Bartuc
  • Horazon
  • Amelia (Deckard Cain’s wife, died 35 years earlier)
  • Thomas Abbey (Captain, Khanduras Royal Guard)
  • Archangel Tyrael
  • Kara (Necromancer) — looking back, while this character is only mentioned by Captain Hanos Jeronnan, and never appears in the story, she’s a canon-character from Richard A. Knaak’s Legacy of Blood along with her companion: Norrec. The book doesn’t mention her last name: Kara Nightshadow.
  • Norrec

Locations

  • Tristram (flashbacks)
  • Vizjerei Secret Repository (Bartuc followers’ runes and a closed portal to the Burning Hells)
  • Borderlands
  • Flating Sky Monastery (Ivgorod)
  • Kingsport (mentioned)
  • Lower Kurast
  • Gea Kul
  • Captain’s Table (Gea Kul Inn by Jeronnan)
  • The Black Tower (near the sea, Gea Kul)
  • Al Cut

Bestiary

  • Thresher
  • Sand Wasp
  • Unburied
  • Overseer
  • Fallen One
  • Feeder
  • Scavenger
  • Skeletons
  • Demons
  • Khazra (Goatmen)

Prologue: Memory

  • Prologue: Tristram, 1213

Part One: Gathering Shadows

  • Chapter 1: Ruins of the Vizjerei Secret Repository, The Borderlands, 1272
  • Chapter 2: The Hidden Chamber
  • Chapter 3: The City of Caldeum
  • Chapter 4: Gillian’s Residence, Caldeum
  • Chapter 5: The Black Tower
  • Chapter 6: The Bookseller’s Tale
  • Chapter 7: The Burning
  • Chapter 8: One for the Madhouse

Part Two: Darkness Descending

  • Chapter 9: The Cavern in the Hills
  • Chapter 10: Out of Caldeum
  • Chapter 11: Dreams of Tristram
  • Chapter 12: The Walled Town
  • Chapter 13: Lord Brand’s Manor
  • Chapter 14: A Stranger Comes
  • Chapter 15: The Graveyard
  • Chapter 16: The Hidden Room
  • Chapter 17: The Road to Kurast
  • Chapter 18: Tristram’s End
  • Chapter 19: The Red Circle
  • Chapter 20: The Docks
  • Chapter 21: The Feeder
  • Chapter 22: The Blood of Al Cut

Part Three: The Lord of Lies

  • Chapter 23: The Road to Gea Kul
  • Chapter 24: The Horadric Chambers
  • Chapter 25: The Camp
  • Chapter 26: The First Ones
  • Chapter 27: Lund’s Bow
  • Chapter 28: The Possession
  • Chapter 29: The Warning
  • Chapter 30: Blood Ritual
  • Chapter 31: A Plan Emerges
  • Chapter 32: The Tunnels
  • Chapter 33: Al Cut
  • Chapter 34: The Courtyard
  • Chapter 35: The Ritual Chamber
  • Chapter 36: The Walking Dead of Al Cut
  • Chapter 37: Gea Kul, Resurrected
  • Chapter 38: The Road Ahead

Epilogue

  • The Lord of Lies

Blizzplanet Review: SteelSeries Diablo III Gaming Headset

diablo-iii-headset-review-1

I have now about 5-6 months experience with the SteelSeries Diablo III Gaming Headset.

I can say “this is the best headset I have ever had”. The first time I unpacked this review copy, I was awed by its design and the box design.

The design is just a complimentary feature for Diablo III fans. This SteelSeries Diablo III Gaming Headset is actually a customized SteelSeries Siberia v2.

It has a 50mm speaker unit surrounded by leather, with XL-sized ear cups which cancel out noise. I have a hard time listening to people talking to me while playing video games because the ear cup does an amazing job at what it was designed to do — giving you that much of an immersion into the video games music, special effects and ambient sounds.

I play Half-Life 2: Deathmatch, World of Warcraft, Diablo III beta, Crysis, and other video games with the Diablo III Headset.

I feel this SteelSeries Diablo III Gaming Headset gives me an extra edge while playing FPS games. The sound is so amazingly crisp and clear, I can hear people walking nearby — allowing me to prepare an ambush. I can more or less determine where other players are by listening the direction in which their shooting sounds come from.

Without the headset I can’t hear nearby movement nor determine the direction where people is shooting from as I do while using the Diablo III headset.

For those using FRAPS, you can record videos using FRAPS while the Diablo III Headset is plugged into the computer, and the sounds can be heard in the uploaded videos.

Bang for your Buck

Alright. The SteelSeries Diablo III Gaming Headset is pricy: $117.78 (approximately). However, every single buck is worth it.

Ever spent $2.99 for a cheapo noname-brand headset from those 99-cents Stores? (guilty)

Ever got one of those $19.99+ Logitech headphones? (guilty)

How long have those lasted? A few months. Let me tell you what’s likely what caused 98% of your headphone’s malfunction. It’s the poor cabling protection.

The cabling is usually thin. As you handle it back and forth the cable bends, and the connection is lost between the jack and the ear cup receiver.

The Diablo III Headset (Siberia v2 D3H) is a diamond for anyone who wants the best sound quality, but the most important thing about this headset is its lifetime.

Cheap headsets usually malfunction within a few months. The secret of the Diablo III Headset (Siberia v2 D3H) is that it shares the same cable material as the Diablo III Mouse. The double-braided nylon cord prevents the internal cable from bending — the natural cause of the death of most other headsets.

The USB jack connector is gold-plated. The only benefits for gold-plated USB connectors is a better contact and that they do not oxidize or corrode, which of course extends the lifetime of the product another notch.

There’s a small box in the cabling that allows the user to adjust the volume of the headset’s sound, and it also has a slide-button to enable or mute the microphone.

The noise cancelling pull-out microphone is located on the left ear cup. You can pull out to use it, or hide it back in when not using it. Ideal for Skype and in-game chat via ventrilo.

Another wonderful feature of this Diablo III Gaming Headset is the length of the cable. The headset has a 1 meter (3 feet) cable, but a 2-meter (6.5 feet) extension cable comes along in the box to attach the headset’s USB connection. In total, you have a cable length of 3 meters (9.5 feet).

I am able to walk around the room to the small refrigerator and back without removing the headset. If you are listening to music, that’s great to be able to multi-task away from the computer.

Illumination Settings

The Diablo III-themed illumination around the back of the ear cups can be programmable.

The illumination intensity has the off, low, medium and high options.

Pulsation can be customized to steady, slow, medium, fast or trigger.

It’s Diablo-III themed, thus the illumination only has a solid red as a color option. No biggies.

Sound Settings

The SteelSeries Engine driver icon sits accessible at all times in the bottom-right of the Windows Vista/7 quick launcher area. Drivers can be found at Steelseries.com/support/downloads

The Diablo III Headset software has an equalizer UI to change the intensity and depth of the sounds. You can create profiles for each game, and assign a specific profile to be triggered by the launch of a game/exe by browsing the game location in your computer.

Box Design

The box has the golden Diablo III logo with a runic-like-embossed texture. The Blizzard logo and SteelSeries logo. Headset specifications and description.

The box is made of strong cardboard, and it’s designed to be opened easily.

The front of the box can actually be opened like a book. The frontal flap is kept closed with a tiny magnet hidden somewhere within the cardboard.

In the interior you can see Tyrael and Imperious artwork, as seen in the Diablo III: Book of Cain.

The text is localized in english, french, german and spanish:

And the Heavens shall tremble. Enhance your senses and prepare to safeguard the mortal realm from the rising powers of the Burning Hells. Hear the world of Sanctuary the way it was intended.

Co-designed with Blizzard Entertainment, the official Diablo III Headset brings players an immersive audio experience through its optimized soundscape, clear microphone communication and an illuminated, Diablo III-themed design. hear your fate. Prepare for victory.

  • Customizable Soundscape: Multiple Diablo III-themed options.

  • Plug-and-Play: In-line controls with USB connection.

  • Long Lasting Comfort: Lightweight suspension design

Cons

I only have one cons. Just one. I am not able to record sound in the Windows Moview Maker’s Narration timeline while the Diablo III Headset is plugged into the USB, and it is not even displayed in the sound source options. I can only see my internal sound card.

Not a big deal if you aren’t into video making. All you need to do is remove the Diablo III headset.

Conclusion

I’m waiting for the price to go down to get a second headset for two family members who would no doubt love this as a gift.

You really need to get the SteelSeries Diablo III Gaming Headset. Best sound quality, best cabling material, great length allows you to walk around the room. Microphone, mic mute and sound adjustment buttons. Long lifetime. Diablo III-themed equalizer UI (via SteelSeries Engine) and product design. It’s awesome. Go. Get. It.

Note: Blizzplanet is giving away one Diablo III Gaming Headset. Check out our Diablo Dialogue web show hosted by The Bearded Gamer to learn how to participate to win one.

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