We're all talking about garrisons these days. Whether it's how they're going to work, where they're going to be, or what we're going to do with them they're the big new feature for Warlords of Draenor and we're all constantly worrying at the bone to try and squeeze more information out of them. It's understandable. Players have wanted something akin to player housing for years, and the garrison goes beyond that - it's effectively your own fortified town. It brings back memories for players of old school pen and paper RPG's like me of hitting the end of the expert levels in D&D and getting a dominion.
We've recently found out that the garrison will be heavily integrated into the leveling experience, requiring it to have a stable location (Frostfire Ridge for Horde, Shadowmoon Valley for Alliance) and that there will be specific racial-themed buildings for the professions section of your garrison. There's even going to be group content for garrisons. Mumper has even assured us that the garrison will not be required to level. Meanwhile, Muffinus has asked players who, out of the entire World of Warcraft, would they want as a follower - I'm personally pulling for Rexxar and Marhsall Windsor. Yes, I know.
What this all means is in flux, of course, as Mumper himself acknowledges - design is iterative, and changes happen. We're still waiting for more details, but what I wanted to talk about now is how the garrison is shaping up to become one of those rare things, a feature that can completely transform your playing experience in fundamental ways, yet not directly.
First off, let's discuss the garrison in terms of its real world location. I admit, I'd always assumed the garrison was going to be in the starting zones of Frostfire Ridge and Shadowmoon Valley. So I'm not upset that what I believed to be the case has become so. I understand other people's disappointment, though. One of the cool things behind the idea of having your own fortified town is getting to decide where it is - to essentially stake out a claim and dare the world to come at you. So while I'm on the side of setting the garrison in the starting zones, because I think it makes sense to fortify your foothold into a new world, I would like to see some thought given to making it possible to move the garrison in a future patch. And so would Mumper.
That being said, I so far find all the news about garrisons almost baffling in its sheer scope. The idea of up to four possible professions via garrisons, the multiplicity of builidings, the vast follower minigames with raids and quests for them to complete, having to defend them - as long as I was mired in thinking of garrisons as player housing I couldn't get my head around what the garrison was doing. But then a discussion from the day of Blizzcon 2013's announcement came back to me. I was talking in work chat about the whole thing and someone (to my shame, I've forgotten who) said "It's Warcraft III - they're putting Warcraft III in WoW." And it's becoming more and more apt. Warcraft's roots are the RTS genre, and more and more the garrison reminds me of a base set in the middle of a hostile wilderness, gathering resources, deploying new structures for new benefits, and the followers serve as units. And what that says to me is that there's all sorts of untapped gameplay possibilities tied up in the garrison.
I'm also fascinated, as they've revealed more and more details of the garrison, as to how this will be an optional feature. What does 'this will not be required to level' mean? Does it mean that you can quest and level without doing your garrison? That seems hard to imagine, with all the details of how it is integrated into the leveling experience. Then again, it's possible the garrison could simply serve as a home base while you're leveling, not much different than Shattrath in The Burning Crusade or Dalaran in Wrath or the Shrines in Mists - I can easily see us heading back to the garrison in-between zones as we level up to get new breadcrumb quests. Will we be expected to get invested in the meat of garrison management while we level? Mumper has said that we'll make choices in every zone that will affect the garrison and the zone in question - I'm fascinated in how that's going to play out.
It's this notion of the garrison as a Warcraft base that has me contemplating all these recent details - in the past, when we would play World of Warcraft we would level through all these settlements and home bases other people created. Now, in Warlords of Draenor, we're starting our own base and giving quests to our own followers. In essence, we're taking the idea of the Welcome to the Machine quest from Cataclysm and expanding it in every direction. And in a way, it's vastly fitting that, as we approach level 100, we become the settlers and the conquerers, the givers of quests. The existence of the garrison evolves our role in the story and in events - you're not just some random soldier of fortune anymore, going to a new world to seek baubles. You're going there to seize control of the chaos, to oppose the Iron Horde directly. The garrison becomes a statement of purpose. And rooted in that purpose is the potential for more than we've already seen announced. Will there be scenarios rooted in the garrison?
What about a potential five player dungeon set in there? It's easy enough to justify - let me explain. One of the first modules almost any D&D player played in the old days was Keep on the Borderlands, and it was basically a simple enough story - there's a fortified keep on a harsh borderland region near a cavern complex infested by monsters, and you went and cleared out the monsters. Simple enough. Sometimes you don't really need any more than 'this place has monsters in it' to justify a good crawl. And that's exactly what you could put in the garrisons. You're digging out foundations for all sorts of buildings, heck, there's even a mine in there - and in the Warcraft setting, digging too deep could easily breach some cavern full of critters that need to be taken out for the good of your settlement.
I find the sheer potential for further gameplay inherent in the garrison almost stunning. You could easily spend all day coming up with new stuff - garrison PvP play where you pit your followers against the followers of another player, garrison raids where a raid group gets together to defend a garrison from an Iron Horde assault (accessible through any person in the raid's garrison), garrison bounties where you as head of the garrison go out and neutralize threats (you could easily make them rotate), class specific garrison buildings (warriors could get a sparring hall, paladins a private chapel, priests an actual church, death knights a graveyard), there's so much you can do with the concept of your own fortified town that I get kind of giddy.
I hated the farm. I never did the farm once in Mists of Pandaria. But my own fort? My own armed camp, my own chunk of defiance standing atop a hill, daring Draenor to throw its worst at me? That I can definitely get behind.