With my recent return to World of Warcraft, I’ve been readjusting to the rhythm of Warlords and one of the big parts of that is the Garrison. As is always the case when I start to think about parts of the game, I begin fabricating ways that I would improve it. I am not sure if this is the armchair designer in me, or the programmer… but whatever case the instinct is always there. You can hand me the best possible implementation of something, and I will find ways I would tweak and improve it. Before even starting to write this, I realize that Garrisons like so many new and interesting ideas in Warcraft… are being utterly abandoned when it comes to Legion. So I am largely going through this as an academic exercise, because it has been on my mind. This line of inquiry all started as I once again began trying to dig into the Shipyard for my Garrison. Everything about that minigame feels like an worse in every way version of the Garrisons. With Garrisons there was at least a clear path to success… and with Shipyards the answer seems to be throw oil at the problem until you get something interesting. This of course lead me to start sifting through the design of Garrisons as a whole… and this mornings post is the loose collection of those ideas.
A Mobile App
I have said this point numerous times, but I am going to highlight it here again… for the purpose of hoping that if we ever get another garrison like feature… Blizzard will rethink the implementation. Everything surrounding the Garrison should have been available through a mobile app. I took the time to crudely mock up an ipad version, and I think for the most part it works. Of course this a mocked up version of the Master Planner addon… but whatever… I feel like anyone who is actually using their garrisons is using that addon. The fact that we can stroll around our garrisons is awesome… but the aspect that I dislike about it is how much it takes us out of the game. The garrisons I think were meant to be this place for the player in the world that is just theirs, and it does a great job of doing that. The problem being… people just live in their garrisons now. Before and after a raid… you can look at the guild list and see every single player sitting in the garrison fiddling with whatever they need to fiddle with to get ready. For both factions, Ashran was supposed to be this Dalaran like experience to bring us all together in the same place… but it was generally so poorly laid out that people have just adapted to doing everything they need to do in a combination of the Pandaria Shrine and their chosen set of Garrison buildings.
The negative side effect is there has been this daily maintenance ritual that takes us out of the game… instead of causing us to dig further into it. I know personally I have ten characters with garrisons, and four of those with level three fairly maxed out ones. I feel this obligation that if I do ANY of them… I should just go ahead and sift through all of them making sure every machine is optimally humming. This style of interaction is what we tend to expect from Tiny Tower/Fallout Shelter style mobile games… where we check in every so often and make sure all of the parameters are working like we intended them to. If I could have fiddled with my Garrisons from my phone, when I was stuck waiting in line at the pharmacy, or any other time I am forced to sit idle… it would have felt like a much better experience. As cludgy as the web based integration with Destiny is, it has given me ideas of how well it COULD work if someone did so properly. In Destiny I can fiddle with my inventory, or check the status of quest all from the web… or as a result of that api third party mobile app. That means I can do things like… if I forgot a consumable in the bank… I can drop it straight into the active characters inventory. Mobile integration of the garrisons would turn what feels like a lot of busywork, into a resource that is valuable and helps the players get more out of their game time.
One Garrison Per Account
I think pretty much everyone agrees that Garrisons are essentially a mobile app already… but now we are going to get into the more controversial tweaks. I think there should have been a single Garrison that is being built by ALL of your characters on your account. Now this would get a little weird when it comes to someone who plays both Horde and Alliance… so in theory I would also be fine with having one Alliance Garrison per account and one Horde Garrison per account. This means that all of the resources you are gathering would be shared in one big pool… and similarly all of your followers would be shared. Now in order to make this work, you would need to keep adding new followers as you add characters that gain the ability to access the garrison. The idea is here that you start with a base of like ten followers, and then each additional “garrison eligible” character would add 5 more followers to the pool. There would need to be a cap to the maximum number of followers, but we could safely place that cap somewhere in the range of 40. That would allow you to have upgraded your follower count with six more characters before capping out. This gives you a real reason why you would want to be playing more than just the one character, because alting becomes a path to access more perks.
Similarly I would make it so that the Garrison footprint itself expands as you get more characters to the level cap of 100. Much like the garrison expands when you shift from TownHall 1 to 2 or 3… or add the Shipyard. There would be additional annexes of your Garrison that would add building slots when you get any of your alts to level 100, allowing you to eventually build all of the buildings to support your characters. This also serves the purpose that I originally hoped Garrisons would do of allowing you access to tradeskills that your current character doesn’t have. When you are a multi-crafter like myself, you spend a silly amount of time not playing the game.. and swapping resource between characters. To facilitate this better I would have added a new kind of bank that came with the Garrison that was shared by all characters on your account. Once again the bank would start small but each additional character you get to the level cap would increase the bank by a number of slots, essentially giving you something in the end that is around the same size as void storage. While you could never store EVERYTHING you would want to store in this… it would serve as a place for shared crafting resources or raid materials among your stable of characters.
Characters in Your Garrison
One of the things I love about the Garrison is seeing the NPCs that I have picked up as followers, running around and at least “acting” like they are interacting with each other. In my perfect version of the Garrison, each of these followers would be more fleshed out… and through a sequence of talking to them and doing tasks for them… it would eventually open up a side mission. What I am thinking is the same sort of interaction that you have with the NPCs that you gather up in say a Mass Effect game or Dragon Age. The side missions might unlock new cosmetic items, or simply have a decent gold or whatever the raid currency happens to be pay out. This would make them feel more like actual characters, and less collectibles to decorate your sorta kinda home…. that just happens to look like everyone else. Currently there are a handful of followers that offer quests, or sell merchandise… and that is awesome. I just wish they were all so well thought out as those, because right now it feels like an awesome mechanic that only goes about half of the way to really being great. Especially with a shared Garrison, it would allow players to feel a greater connection across multiple characters to the same batch of NPCs.
As cool as the NPCs are however… I think the best possible thing for Garrisons would be to see your OTHER character wandering around in them. Ultimately where I am getting at with a lot of my changes is to give the players a reason to roll multiple characters. I realize there are folks out there that only have the one character that they care about… and that is fine… but for most of us multiple characters is the way we stay engaged with the game for long periods of time. There would be this huge sense of accomplishment in seeing your other characters wandering around in the same setting, highlighting the fact that your entire stable of characters is a “team” of sorts and that you are all together working towards some common goal. So for all of those people who take painstaking care in transmogrifying to just the right look… you would get to see your characters strutting their stuff together decked out in any fashion you would like. Additionally I think a nice feature would be for you to have the ability to interact with one of your characters that is wandering the garrison, and do some pretty simple things. Like hand off an item to them, or ask them to craft something for you. Essentially I am looking for ways to allow you to keep from having to do a constant sequence of swapping characters instead of actually going out into the world to play the game.
The Problem with Garrisons
There is a lot that I love about the concept of Garrisons, but my large problem has always been and continues to be today… that it keeps me from playing the game. Sure you are thinking… “but Bel, Garrisons are part of the game!”. To that I say… “Sorta”, they are this package of busy work designed to keep players coming back to the game… but in truth they also end up keeping the player from really going out into the world to play it. It is so easy to get stuck in this rut of logging in every night, and doing nothing but collecting garrison loot and sending more followers out on missions. If you add harvesting the ore or herbs, you can easily end up with a two hour or longer ritual that means… that is a couple of hours that you weren’t going out engaging in the world. You weren’t raiding, or running dungeons… or even completing the content in areas like Ashran or Tanaan jungle. You were essentially sitting at “home” doing paperwork, while there was a bigger and more interesting world out there… simply because we as players end up feeling an obligation to do it… or in some way we will “fall behind”.
When I left the game last time… I had run into a rut where I was simply doing nothing but garrisons and two nights of raiding a week. There was nothing pulling me outside of the tiny walled garden and thrusting me out into the more interesting world as a whole. The idea with these tweaks falls along the lines of making Garrisons feel more important to all of your characters at a whole, while speeding up the interactions so that you can get done whatever you need to do and get right back out into the world. World of Warcraft as a whole needs to do more to support the alting lifestyle, and I feel like most everything that is soul bound should really be account bound. I’ve also long felt that currency like Valor should be accumulated at an account level, allowing players to play whatever class happens to be needed by their guild or their friends… but at the same time support the development of the characters they really want to be gearing. Basically there are a ton of tweaks I would do to the game, but this morning… I simply focused on Garrisons and some quality of life improvements. I am sure I will catch hell for some of the things I have said… but at the end of the day its my blog and my opinions.