When World of Warcraft rolls away from the inexplicable inclusion of alternate Draenor for good, it will also mean bidding farewell to the elements of Draenor, and I imagine most everyone will respond to that with several rounds of cheering. I don’t blame anyone for it, either. One of the loudest cheers will be reserved for Garrisons, one of the least-liked features of the expansion, and frequently pointed to as one of the signs that the expansion wasn’t very well-handled. And it’s pretty understandable there, too… but I don’t think that Garrisons are inherently awful despite that.
This is not to say that there aren’t several structural problems that came up with Garrisons more or less as soon as they were baked into the leveling process in Warlords of Draenor, so I’ll be as happy to be rid of them as anyone else. But I think the majority of the problems that people have with Garrisons (and always have) say less about Garrisons themselves as a concept and even most of their execution. It’s more about the state of the game itself.
People have a lot of complaints about Garrisons, of course, but the majority of them fall into one of two categories: Garrisons aren’t what was originally promised, and Garrisons are an absurd chore. The former is both understandable and true, but it’s also part of the nature of game development. While I might not agree with the choice to turn Garrisons from a feature you could place anywhere and do almost anything with, the reality of those design shifts were visible slowly and steadily, and the developers were pretty universally forward about what was going on.
Of course, this speaks to the nature of why many people disliked Garrisons just the same: because the design choices were pretty much universally made with a strictly functional viewpoint. The stated goal of having WoW‘s version of housing fell away based upon the designer assertion that no one wants to play The Sims in WoW, disregarding that the two aren’t mutually exclusive goals. There’s space to argue that these were bad choices, but I think that ties in nicely with examining the other major complaint about Garrisons being an unpleasant chore.
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that one, definitely. Even before the game’s general release people were making jokes about the fact that we were sending other characters out to do things instead of going out and doing things. That was always kind of ridiculous. By this point in the expansion, I’m willing to bet no one actually likes logging in to do a whole bunch of Garrison mission management… which is probably why the game added one last area after several delays which sends players back into a totally different style of zone with daily quests.
But hey, at least there’s something to do outside of the Garrison now. And that’s where I think Garrisons have fallen down – not in their very nature, but in the world surrounding them.
The world of Warlords of Draenor offers very little for max-level characters to do other than raid or prepare for raiding. Until the addition of Tanaan Jungle, dailies really weren’t a thing that existed. For all the talk of gating Heroic dungeons, the rewards from these streams trickled to irrelevance almost right away. Mythic dungeons fared somewhat better in the reward department, but “the same dungeons you got bored with months ago only now they’re super hard” isn’t the most rousing endorsement possible.
So Garrisons became a chore, and the daily-less world largely became a chore, just as dailies in Mists of Pandaria were a chore – because both of them had the same feeling, that this is what you have to do at max level to actually get rewarded for your playtime whether you like it or not.
I’m not sure Blizzard understands that the problematic part of Mists of Pandaria‘s dailies was not the fact that we had a lot of them in somewhat random selections (a bit annoying, but fine), nor was it the fact that they were the only way to gain reputation (strictly worse than what had come before in Cataclysm, but also something that had happened before). What made them truly intolerable was that for the first time since the idea of gear bought for currency had been introduced back in The Burning Crusade, the token currency rewards and the reputation rewards were one and the same.
That was what made the whole thing seem like a chore. You didn’t have the option of saying “eh, I don’t feel like doing a Heroic today” or “meh, no more dailies for a bit.” You had to do both or you could only stare in resentment.
And that’s where Garrisons became a chore too. If you wanted to have anything to do, you had to focus on Garrisons. When you can get better rewards from Garrisons than from doing anything else short of Heroic raiding, so to speak, you are naturally going to do that, because why would you not? I am that rare sort who actually enjoys repeatedly running dungeons, but it’s a different sort of fun, and it’s the sort of thing I do because I know there are rewards at the end of it. If those rewards become pointless, my interest wanes fairly quickly.
The problem wasn’t the number or frequency of the rewards; the problem was that every other approach had been stymied. You had to do this, and there was little point to doing anything else.
Not for nothing, this ties back into that functional thinking I was talking about when it comes to design decisions. So much of what Garrisons originally meant to be was gutted over time to make sure that they were more functional, that they provided better advantages or more desirability for people pushing for Mythic – and as we’ve discussed before, that is a tiny percentage of people. The fact is that Garrisons needn’t have been oriented for those people.
There is, in fact, a prevailing attitude running through WoW‘s design about whether or not people really “deserve” rewards, which strikes me as incredibly counterproductive and damaging on a whole. It’s a topic for another day, but it deserves a nod.
Ultimately, though, what makes Garrisons a tedious chore isn’t just Garrisons themselves. If you slapped identical functionality into Wrath of the Lich King, it would still make for a far better environment and not feel like a chore because you have a choice about what to do. There are several different objectives you can choose to pursue, and getting your weekly raid cache is nice, but it hardly obviates running Heroics and buying tier pieces that way. Or doing 10-person raids, or taking part in PvP, or even doing dailies.
It’s only when these activities become mandatory that they stop being fun. And that’s my great fear about whenever Legion institutes its own follower system. Not that I’ll be sending my followers on missions, but that doing so is the only thing worth doing in the game.
Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, let’s take a look back at the game’s history in a completely serious manner.