A flurry of invitations has gone out to players to test the beta of the new Battle.net client, and they have begun to be downloaded. You can see a screenshot of the client above, and note various aspects of it quite immediately. Firstly, it has all the Blizzard games on my system available within one launcher for me to choose from, and the launcher also monitors downloads, updates, patches, you name it, for all the installs on your system. The eagle eyed reader will also be able to spot a drop-down menu above the big blue Play button, this currently allows you to choose between PTR and Live servers for your game launch.
I'm hoping that, in time, this drop-down might also allow players to pick between different installs and accounts, as I, although I find myself in the minority, have both US and EU accounts that I switch between regularly. While I would emphasize that this isn't a usual mode of play, it would be nice if the option existed to pick between regions and accounts. You can see various other elements on the front page, and there are more that appear as it loads in, and your battle.net friends come online.
Now, the names are obviously blurred for privacy, but this window pops up when your friends log in. It's available in each game, separately, but there doesn't seem to be one unifying location at the moment for all your battle.net friends across different games. This is a little irritating, as you are required to hop from game to game to see whether your friends are in each one. As yet, there appears not to be a way to chat to people who are in-game from this client, but it seems both logical and likely that one will appear before too long. You'll note that it also tells you what zone they're in, how long they've been there, and whether they're online or away. A few of my colleagues have commented that it would also be nice to be able to shuffle the boxes around to have them appear in the order that you wanted.
This screen also allows you, via drop-downs, to carry out various actions: change options, manage your account, repair your installation, look at the latest patch notes and redeem codes.
The next screen to look at is the News screen:
As you can see, all the latest posts are here, along with their comments and the like, and the posts themselves are readable within the client. However, clicking anything with the pop-out icon next to it will open the relevant item in a new browser window. The news can be filtered according to game, so if you want just the WoW news, you can have exactly that, same for Starcraft or Diablo, and so on. This will also include Hearthstone when it appears in beta!
There is not, yet, a way to access the forums through this client, and they're such a lumbering behemoth that it would seem like that might be a curse rather than a blessing, but some sort of blue post tracker might be nice.
While a game is downloading, the launcher also allows players to modify various settings from within itself. You can see these settings in the screengrab below:
While, again, none of this is revolutionary, groundbreaking stuff, it's a vast improvement on where we are right now. Things like settings for bandwidth, easy to change installation directories, the option to automatically update or require manual updates for reach individual install, this is all great stuff. And if you can see over to the left, there is also a tab for Game Settings, which is NYI or not yet implemented. It seems very likely that this will allow you to change in-game configuration from outside the game, we could say goodbye to the times of struggling to disable your addons on expansion launch day!
Altogether, despite a few hiccups, the client works very well, it's smooth and responsive and really rather pretty. I'm looking forward to region switching being implemented, as well as battle.net chat, but am still quietly hoping this will bring the long-awaited Appear Offline feature.