- Mar 31, 2004
Art by Nexis
It's been over a year since the first Heart of Storms announcement here on Hive. With Act I released this January, and Act II worked on for a while, the time has come for the next major development update. We planned this one as early as in May, but cool stuff kept coming and we kept postponing it to include it all. Now finally the stars are right.
Don't forget to check the first Act II announcement for the baseline info (and cool previews) on what all that is about!
THE STORY AND THE CREW
First of all, we'd like to thank everyone yet again for the feedback on HoS Act I (and even making a detailed TV Tropes page - our gratitude to everyone responsible for it!). Not only it gave us a lot of inspiration for working on the sequel in general, it also provided directions for further improvements. Namely, we're doing our best to avoid hero bloat and erratic storytelling, and while Heralds of the Abyss has even more characters than Dusk of Draenor, we're streamlining the story along two intersecting original arcs rather than trying to show the whole of Warcraft I and II's events.
One of Act II's story arcs is focused on Stephania, a Kul Tiran adventurer who gets dragged into a clandestine Ashvane Company/Kirin Tor project headed by the enigmatic Doctor Aedelein. The other arc involves the unlikely duo of Dayoma and Holga, a high elf and a dwarf, whose hunt for a certain artifact draws the attention of powers beyond the scope of Azeroth's denizens. Both arcs are intertwined with canon events of the First War's finale and the following interbellum. Missions are set in the Kingdom of Stormwind, Khaz Modan and beyond, showing the First War's impact on the Eastern Kingdoms' political situation. Similar to Dusk of Draenor, a lot of "historical" characters will appear, including those who became famous (or infamous) only in later conflicts, such as Daelin Proudmoore, James and Priscilla Ashvane, Plugger Spazzring, Brann Bronzebeard and even Othmar Garithos. The trio of Act I's protagonists - Arnak, Wulnar and Rogaar - will also be also prominently featured in both arcs, and the whole story is a direct follow-up to events previously set in motion.
There will also be a third arc closely intertwined with the first two and overarching the whole plot, it will be centered around Shial and the Void. But outside of a few short playable interludes it will be almost exclusively told via cutscenes. Expect early cameos of the final two races, Shadow Elves and the Burning Legion, to appear there.
While Dayoma and Holga will have their huge share of action, most of the missions involve either Stephania or Aedelein (or both of them), and we're giving them some unique mechanics.
Doctor Aedelein leads more than just Ashvane mercenaries - he commands a group of eccentric and extremely dangerous specialists, some of whom are genuinely loyal to him, while others have been picked from the Violet Hold's inmates and kept in line through magic. Known as the Damned Dozen, this team is tailored to carry out the most dangerous tasks, and in each mission, some of its members can be selected to accompany the rank-and-file troops on the field. While all of them have a lot of plot relevance (and even personal quests), in gameplay terms they are heroic units rather than actual heroes, and are balanced to work together with Aedelein, providing him with muscle, buffs and abilities, and filling specific gameplay niches. You won't be able to field all of them in a normal mission (but there will be parts involving all twelve working together like a little army of their own) so they need to be chosen carefully to provide what your army needs.
Inesse Isabel Kruger
The Grand Inventor
Isabel is Aedelein's second-in-command, fully devoted to his cause and keeping the Damned Dozen in check. Gaspard is the mastermind behind many scientific breakthroughs that set Kul Tiras ahead of rival kingdoms, though rumors say it's less about his inventor's spark and more about his understanding of ancient Titan texts...
Meet the rest of the Damned Dozen under the spoiler below:
Quentin and Carlos Alarosio
The Twin Terrors
Xaltothius the Mad Half-Elf
Sigrun's Better Half
Ramona da Bloo
The Bride of Bwonsamdi
Tarnia the Last and Only
The Vengeful One
Luc and Silent Greg
The Voice and the Fist
Marcy "Countess Calamity"
The Unchained Predator
Stephania has some company of her own as she's able to pick a permanent bodyguard for the mission - in addition to more down-to-earth characters such as Bo'sun Goodheart or Marrax da Cabin Boy (as down-to-earth as a huge and mean dire troll can be), there will be some much more exotic companions available.
Leo "Goodheart" Bertoldi
Bo'sun of the Hammerhead
Marrax da Sneakiest, Shadra's Chosen
Da Cabin Boy
As for Holga and Dayoma, they may look like the classic duo of a tough warrior and a fragile mage... only both of them are mages, but Holga cannot cast any combat spells to avoid angering the elemental spirit of her family heirloom axe (hint: technically Polymorph isn't a combat spell). Dayoma, in turn, has an impressive choice of magiks, but using some of them will have consequences - yes, one-shotting an enemy with a Fel spell that sentences the victim to an eternity of torment is not the most moral thing to do. And the karma system will make a glorious return.
No hero is heroic enough without a cool ship (ask Commander Shepard, Jim Raynor or Artanis), so the other half of Act II's unique mechanics are related to the Hammerhead - a massive Ironclad, more of a floating city than a vessel, which serves as Aedelein's base of operations throughout the campaign. Based on a discarded Ironforge flagship prototype, this ship has been retrofitted with technology commissioned from various sources, from Gnomish inventions, to Dalaran mage-tech, to questionable Goblin know-how and even a reverse-engineered Titan artifact that works as its source of power. Over the course of the campaign, the player will be able to upgrade the Hammerhead, having the vessel go a long way from a rusty hull barely holding together to a fortress bristling with cannons of all sizes. In most missions, the player's base will be located at the coast and the Hammerhead will be present nearby; while the ship is immovable, its secondary turrets will contribute to both naval and shore defenses, and its main caliber cannon will be able to hit targets all across the map (but at a price and with a long cooldown).
However, the Hammerhead's main role is a floating base, not a fighting vessel, and you will be able to requisition a variety of reinforcements staged onboard using Stephania's and Aedelein's abilities. The number and types of units summoned depend on upgrades done and side quests completed, but don't expect them to come free (or cheap)! They will fulfill a role similar to mercenaries from Wings of Liberty, being expensive, but powerful special versions of normal units (with unique graphics and abilities) that can be summoned instantly to help with defense or form up the attacking force's backbone quickly. Each of four available mercenary factions will have its gimmicks, such as the Ashvane Company packing some nasty firepower or Kirin Tor mages possessing a large number of tricks up their sleeves.
Last but certainly not the least, the Hammerhead will be prominently featured in interlude sequences between missions where the player controls Stephania as she can stroll across the ship's interior, talk to her allies and members of the crew, allocate upgrade points and of course have a good drink at the cantina. And we'll definitely include an action sequence or two when things aboard heat up.
Many of the things listed above were planned as early as in the 2006 version (like named heroic units or a giant ship serving as the protagonists' base, there was even an early interior map prototype of it), and bringing them to life is a large, but exciting task. Act II is bigger than Act I, not only is it almost twice as long, but since Azeroth is much more varied than Draenor, lots of new creeps, subfactions and doodads have to be done. The work is progressing at the same pace as with Act I in 2021-2022 (1 new model per day, no exceptions, expanding the team from time to time), and we'll be showing you much more in the following updates.
ALLIES AND ENEMIES
Kul Tiras plays a major part in Act II's story, and, in addition to this kingdom's navy, House Ashvane and its mercenary army will also be heavily featured. We went with distinctive visual styles for Kul Tiran and Ashvane Company units. While the former follow the canon design set in Battle for Azeroth, the latter, while based on it as well, go for a more aggressive, industrialized steampunk look, with a dash of historical armor and uniforms.
Dark Iron Dwarves were supposed to appear in HoS since 2004 when they first debuted in WoW, and we were finally able to make them a full-fledged subfaction that will appear both as allies and enemies to the player. While most Dark Iron units have classic design roots, we added a few new ideas within existing lore, such as the Coreforged - dwarves who have returned to their stone form, but were not exactly happy about it.
We have also drawn from one of Blizzard's newest designs, recreating the Flamehammer from Warcraft Arclight Rumble mobile game. Well, if it's a good concept, no harm in using it!
Goblins were always an integral part of the Warcraft universe, but even when given enough focus, they are often treated as comic relief and parody elements, which, in our opinion, is a waste of their potential. We keep goblins true to their established lore (and even checked older RPG books for more information on their cities and culture) but also make them darker and more serious, which is best epitomized by the their capital city set on the isle of Kezan, which will be prominently featured in the first mission of Act II. It never appeared properly outside Cataclysm's starting area and one Battle for Azeroth dungeon, so we had some creative freedom here, drawing inspiration not only from Blizzard's sources but also from similar themed places in other franchises - such as Runeterra's Bilgewater, Piltover and Zaun, BioShock's Rapture, Dishonored's Karnaca, Star Wars' Nar Shaddaa and even Sin City and Vice City. The final concept is that of a dystopian steampunk hive of scum and villainy built upon the ruins of a Zandalari colony, where rich get richer and poor get what they can seize. Polluted jungle and beaches, smog-blanketed industrial zones, seedy alleys and pleasure dens, colossal wharfs (the Hammerhead had to be retrofitted somewhere), slaughterhouses where sea monster carcasses are harvested for oil, and even the dreaded Felfire Club - Kezan has it all.
As you can see, there are not just goblins on these mean streets - humans, dwarves, gnomes and even high elves arrive on Kezan daily, seeking profit or pleasure. Some of them never return home, instead becoming mercenary guards, servants or indentured workers. While Kezan society is very different to the Gorian Empire you've seen in Act I, goblins have one thing in common with ogres - in their opinion, all other races exist to be exploited. Woe be to those who don't read the fine print.
Speaking of humans, this goblin size chart (one of many ad and info boards and posters we're making for Kezan) gives the idea of the difference between Kul Tirans and regular humans which has been established in Battle for Azeroth and is supposedly tied to the Drust progeny. However, we're including a broader variety of body shapes and sizes, so humans, Kul Tiran or not, can be thick, thin and in between, while some of the protagonists like Aedelein, Stephania or Isabel stand out against regular units by being over six feet tall.
Goblin civilians (present here in punk/ganger variant) were also based on a vanilla WoW model, but received many more custom animations (the old model had none besides basic standing, running and attacks), so Maximal made all sorts of gestures and emotions, dances, headbanging, a new slow walk and even several variants of wrench work.
The waitress model, coming in three variants (human, dwarf and goblin) was an interesting challenge - we based her on a ported Torchlight villager but all animations, except for normal standing, were made by Maximal from scratch, as well as additional race-specific body shapes. Now she can not only serve drinks and gesture suggestively, but also pull out a big knife and protect herself!
Bleeding Hollow, Twilight's Hammer and Burning Blade orc clans will be given quite a lot of attention in Act II, showing their roles in the conflict at the side of the more iconic Blackrock and Black Tooth Grin clans. With the Bleeding Hollow orcs (pictured above), we experimented with a more savage, feral and wild look while also making use of some Warlords of Draenor concepts, such as this clan using blood magic and huge Dire Orcs, larger than even Brutes. (Note: skins are not final and probably will be yet recolored with a yellowish tint to contrast team color more).
And just an assortment of additional heroes and units in animated action: Ashvane Fulminator, Captain Renuald Norwington, Natty "Natalie" Threshwrench, Inesse Isabel Kruger, Bo'sun Goodheart, Luc and Silent Greg (Note: some skins are WIP or placeholders).
And now to the matters of the present...
HEART OF STORMS MELEE: THE PUBLIC BETA
The cornerstone of Act II is porting HoS to the Reforged engine (while keeping its recognizable "semi-Reforged", StarCraft II and WoW-inspired level of detail - no, we're NOT going Reforged in terms of unit model style). This port, known as HoS Melee, has been worked on and tested internally for nearly half a year. Now it's almost ready for a public release.
Technically, HoS Melee is a melee/multiplayer mod for Reforged featuring HoS Act I races (Draenei, Orcs and Ogres - no Act II factions yet!) available with full tech trees, including units that were finished in Act I but weren't unlocked in the campaign because of lore reasons (such as Death Knights, Dragon Riders or Juggernaughts). However, this is not just a straight port of Act I tech as lots of data has been rewritten and adjusted, many models fixed, updated or made more detailed (like the Brute getting a complete facelift, or Broken creeps redone from scratch), and the tilesets receiving new doodads and neutral buildings. Over time, more and more art assets of Act I will catch up with those that were made for Act II from the start. And we didn’t forget about promises made either - sooner or later, each of the ideas will find its proper incarnation.
HoS Melee, playable both in solo game and online, is now ready for testing by anyone able and willing, and your feedback will be invaluable in both improving it (and expanding it to more maps, plus adding more QoL features) and in making Act II missions better and more stable. Everything we improve here will be carried over to the next campaign.
SCREENSHOTS GALORE AHEAD!
The beta of HoS Melee is scheduled to launch October 23, 2023, and its open release will happen soon afterwards - as soon as beta launch helps us find potential critical issues.
To participate in the beta, join HoS channel on Discord and message Undhigillash. On October 23, download links will arrive.
So this is all for now... Or is it?
New updates will follow as we reveal more on Act II's story, mechanics and visuals. Stay tuned!