What can Blizzard bring to the survival genre?

Blizzard is making a survival game
(Image credit: Blizzard)

Blizzard says its upcoming survival game is in "early stages" of development, but it's been brewing for several years, and both current and ex-Blizzard employees—including some who've been highly critical of the studio recently—are talking about it with the sort of hushed excitement that suggests there's something they're itching to  say but have to hold back. A former co-lead on the game, who now works at Riot, said that it'll have "a big impact on the industry."

I suppose we could have predicted that ourselves, though, because Blizzard changes the industry nearly every time it releases a game. StarCraft is an esports pillar, Diablo established a genre, World of Warcraft defined the mainstream MMO and still does, and so on. Knowing that the survival genre itself may not be the same after Blizzard makes its entry, I asked some PC Gamer writers what they think or hope Blizzard will bring to the scene.

Some darn good tree chopping

Morgan Park, Staff Writer: There's basically no genre that I wouldn't like to see Blizzard tackle, but survival is a particularly good pull. I've always liked the concepts of gathering food and making a shelter, but so few survival games actually make those actions fun. Other than a select few survival gems, gathering wood or food is often a janky chore when it should be as much fun as building a base. I don't want to craft or cook things by clicking buttons on a menu, I want to actually throw some meat in a pot! Over-developing gameplay mechanics until they feel super good is one of Blizzard's specialties, so I have to imagine mundane survival game things like chopping down a tree or picking some berries will be a pleasure.

Lore for days

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor: The basic survival game template is a blank slate for player-driven storytelling: An island with just enough backstory to explain why a bunch of naked people are scavenging for beans. Well, when Blizzard did its take on Team Fortress 2, it built a whole universe and plotline to explain why a gorilla was shooting at a cowboy. It isn't really known for blank slates, and I expect no less from its survival game. 

Judging by the concept art, we may be looking at one of those 'present-day people stumble into a fantasy world' situations. The bicycle in the artwork above leads me to wonder whether we'll be able to bring technology from one world into the other, which could create a fun dynamic. Whatever the case, Blizzard's collective experience developing settings should hopefully produce an environment more interesting than 'spooky island' or 'zombies happened,' although it has its own cliches to avoid—WoW's orcs vs humans setup has felt outdated for a good while.

And an actual story

Lauren Morton, Associate Editor: If Blizzard is going to bring something to survival games, I hope it's a real plot. I love a good crafting sandbox, but I want to care about more than just a fleet of resource processing machines. Some of my favorite narrative RPGs lean on the "your base is slightly larger or nicer than before" to communicate progress—Dragon Age Inquisition's slightly evolving Skyhold comes to mind. If Blizzard can combine a story and characters I care about with a sandbox's ability to let me really personalize what growth looks like, it could be just what I'm looking for.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition (Image credit: Bioware)

A lot of money

Chris Livingston, Features Producer: Depending on how you define "survival" and "AAA," I guess there really aren't many AAA survival games out there. Some big games have survival modes, like Ubisoft's The Division and Bethesda's Skyrim (at least the most recent version), but mostly the genre has been the realm of indie games or mid-size developers and publishers. I'm interested to see what a big budget survival game production looks like.

I'm not suggesting the size of Blizzard's bank account guarantees its survival game will be better than something like Don't Starve or Valheim or Subnautica. But what money can buy is all the things money can buy: a big, talented staff of developers, the resources to spend years in development without worries about shutting down, and plenty of post-launch support. Like battle royale, the survival genre is a tricky nut to crack and there are tons of survival games that failed after a shaky start in Early Access. Blizzard has the resources to take risks and then make changes if things aren't working, and it won't have to wait to see if the game is a hit to start work on post-launch updates. That certainly improves the odds of success.

Tyler: It could be an even grander project than we're envisioning, too. For all we know, the plan is to build a WoW-sized MMO. Just because Blizzard is calling it a "survival game" doesn't mean it'll be like Rust or Ark or DayZ.

New survival game players

Chris: When a new survival game pops up, all eyes at PC Gamer turn to me. And I'm tired of it. Why am I the only sucker at our outfit spending hours chopping trees and mining ore? The more people playing survival games, the better, and I'd love to rope some of our loyal MMO and hero shooter players into the genre.

I know the survival community is already huge and lots of its games are popular—just look at the lifespan of Ark: Survival Evolved and Rust, and the mega-success of Valheim—but a lot of people have tried survival at some point and decided it's not for them. Blizzard could pull them back to give the genre another try, and maybe this time they'll give it a longer look and stay a while. 

Tyler: It's true. Every time we see a game that contains choppable trees, we ask Chris to write about it. It's about time a Hearthstone or Overwatch player chopped some trees down, too. 

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.

With contributions from