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I’ve spent over a month with World of Warcraft’s new expansion Warlords of Draenor. Even after all that time, I’m not sure whether I hate or love its new Garrisons feature.
Garrisons are players’ personal fortresses, filled with NPC followers they recruit throughout the new level 90-100 zones. They can also construct a range of useful buildings, such as a mage tower for creating portals or an inn that offers exclusive quests.
The feature is sort of a return to World of Warcraft’s real-time strategy roots. About 8 years since I played Warcraft 3, I’ve been given a new opportunity to carve a base of operations out of hostile territory and raise up an army. It was as satisfying in WoW as it was in WC3 to turn an empty patch of wilderness into a mighty citadel.
However, now that I’ve reached level 100, filled my base with fully upgraded buildings and molded my NPC’s into a mighty force, I can’t help but feel bored. It seems that I’ve completed the most gratisfying activities of the garrison.
Now, the garrison just feels like an obligation. I have to log in at least once a day to gather herbs from my garden and ore from my mine. These raw materials then have to be turned in at my garrison’s facilities so they can be refined into crafting reagents.
My followers, meanwhile, must be sent out on missions. Each of the randomized missions available to you vary in length. One might take 45 minutes while another might take 4 hours. At any given time, there’s a mission wrapping up. I find myself logging in multiple times per day so I can collect rewards from completed missions and send these followers back out on new tasks.
What bugs me about the constant attention my garrison needs is that this feature didn’t need to be this time-consuming. The raw material gathering, for example, maks no sense. Why am I, as the commander of this garrison, the one picking all the herbs or mining the tunnels underneath it? I can assign an NPC to garrison’s facilities but this merely increases the yield. I’m still the one doing all the grunt work.
The missions, meanwhile, could be easily handled through the Armory mobile app. Sending a follower out on a mission only requires a couple buttons. You don’t see any of the action; you merely find out whether it was a success or failure once the mission timer is up. The interface seems perfect for an iPhone.
However, Blizzard has no plans to make garrison features accessible over mobile devices. It’s easy to see why. They want players to log into the game to play garrisons. Once they’re in the game, they’re likely to be drawn by some other activity. On many occasions, I logged in to mine ore only to find myself doing a random Heroic dungeon or a world boss minutes later.
At first, garrisons felt like a satisfying endeavor. I was creating something tangible. Now it feels a bit more like a trick to get me to log in. I can’t help but imagine someone at Blizzard proudly giving a Powerpoint presentation about how daily active users and logins per user have skyrocketed since Warlords of Draenor’s launch.
My paladin character recently acquired an item called Aviana’s Feather. This allows him to soar in the air for a short period of time - a rare thing in an expansion that doesn’t have flying mounts at present. One night I used this item to reach a tall, black cliff overlooking my garrison. Looking down on the soldiers and workers walking around my fortress, I couldn’t help but feel some pride at my accomplishment. That pride’s slowly giving way, though, and being replaced by a suspicion that this fort I built is just a Farmville-like construct meant to keep me playing WoW.
I hope that Patch 6.1 can make the garrison feel more like a grand mission rather than a bundle of chores. Garrison invasions - which allow one to three players to fight off waves of attackers in the fort - were a small step in the right direction. I wish there was something else for me to do with this army I’ve raised, though. Blizzard needs more to convince players that these garrisons are worth the work.