Garrisons are the biggest, splashiest feature of Warlords of Draenor by a considerable margin. Players have been rhubarbing about the lack of player housing for years, and this is Blizzard answering them while drawing from their RTS roots for inspiration. Combine these factors and you get an instanced Warcraft III-style base of your very own, complete with meaningful building choices and dozens of NPC followers.
If there’s one reason to return to World of Warcraft, or maybe try it out for the first time, this is it. Let me tour you around my home and I'll explain why.
Let's start with the followers. In WoW, for better or worse, working your character up through the levels and improving their gear from green (uncommon), to blue (rare), to purple (epic) is the beating heart of the game. The diabolically clever thing about followers is that they echo this compelling path of progression, in a stripped down fashion. They have a race, a class, abilities and traits. They level up too. They can get better gear. They can even attempt the same dungeons and raids that you do (albeit in a non-interactive way), and there are dozens of them. Dozens of satellite opportunities for small-scale satisfaction.
Early in the Draenor experience, my subconscious committed to getting every single follower to max level and epic status before my conscious mind had stopped thinking about breakfast. I don’t even know exactly what the benefits will be, but pshaw to such petty details - I will have an army beyond compare. This is more about the journey than the destination, anyway.
My garrison is level three already (the maximum) and while I haven’t finished levelling every individual building, I have filled all my plots. In almost every case I made choices that would help my followers as much as me - that’s the kind of selfless leader I am. Let’s take a tour.
I start, as usual, in my Great Hall. My loyal followers have been out all night sweating blood and maybe even bleeding sweat for the greater glory of me, and I have about ten mission reports to review.
Missions are the raison d’etre for your followers. In the simplest terms they have a level, a duration, a threat (represented by an iconic WoW spell), and a reward. You check the threat, find a follower of the right level whose ability counters that threat, review the projected % chance of success, click ‘Start Mission’, and that’s it. Done. Just wait until the timer ticks down - it doesn’t stop, even when you log off.
The system feels suspiciously Facebooky, but without insidious microtransactions offering you the chance to spend real cash to get instant results. I would be shocked if Blizzard bring those in, but I can see why suspicious eyebrows have been cocked.
Unsurprisingly there are already at least a couple of quite nice addons that help manage the whole follower/mission business. I recently installed Master Plan, and already I can’t imagine the game without it. It helps filter missions so I can more easily see those that I am best equipped to beat based on currently available followers, and shows me a neat overview of my completed missions, including rewards. A few followers just levelled up (hoorah!), I got an exciting epic token of some kind, some follower gear tokens, and a rare bracer for me.
This last item is particularly handy as I have been running heroic dungeons pretty regularly, but haven’t upgraded my bracers yet. The epic token even becomes a weapon that is significantly better than anything I can win in the current content - the new raids aren’t out yet at time of writing.
The symbiotic nature of this relationship with my followers is rather clever. Inevitably the lustre will pall somewhat over time, but every time an upgrade is earned (for me, or for them) there’s an associated thrill.
When a mission succeeds, there’s also a good chance that I’ll get a Big Crate of Salvage. This is a perk of my Salvage Yard, and given that I can only sift through the crates while physically at the yard, I’ll head over there now.
I’ll be honest, the crates mostly contain junk, but I do get another four gear tokens for my followers. These are invaluable in my current quest, but have to be used carefully. Just like with my own progression, followers don’t stop when they hit level 100. The gear keeps on getting better and better, and is measured by what Blizzard call the ‘ilevel’, which is essentially the stat budget for a piece of gear. The higher the ilevel, the more powerful the item. Who deserves a big upgrade to their armour? Hm. Vivianne the fire mage has a really useful ability shared by only one other follower, and she’s well on her way to upgrading her quality from rare to epic. Congratulations, Viv! Now you can join your friends doing dungeons!
There are two other small buildings in this lower section of my garrison, circled around a large bonfire. I spot some peons who seem to think it’s acceptable to sit by the fire for a moment to warm their aching bones and chapped hands. I look around for a whip or cudgel, but find nothing suitable to hand. I’m watching you, peons.
I make a quick stop at my Engineering Works to get a bit further with my tradeskill, and then I skip past the little bank I’ve got and head to the more interesting buildings on higher ground.
Ah, the tavern. It doesn’t really have a proper name, but I call it the Smog and Strumpet. Inside, a couple of characters plucked from WoW’s vast backstory loiter, booze it up, but more importantly give me quests. They change every day. Today, this chap Moroes wants me to find a barrel of acid. Hopefully he doesn’t remember me killing him over and over again in a raid seven years ago. Unless… that’s what the acid is for? Crivens.
There is also a lady troll in here called Akanja. She’s a headhunter - literally! Haha. Ha. Once a week, she lets me get a new follower instantly (rather than scour the world for them, as is usually the case). I can even define which particular ability or trait I need, which is incredibly useful for ensuring that my followers have a fairly even spread overall, and are able to tackle whatever missions come our way.
Next door is my fully upgraded barracks. It has a sinister prison in the basement which is as yet unused, and a blood elf warlock loitering outside. She is one of my followers, but I have temporarily taken her out of the pool and assigned her to this building because she has a specific, quite rare trait. She can be my personal bodyguard. This means she’ll follow me around as I quest and such, until she inevitably tries to take on a hundred mobs at once and dies horribly. Oh Aeda Brightdawn. You so cray. I actually build reputation with her specifically as we plough a murderous furrow through Draenor, and once I reach a certain threshold she will learn useful new abilities.
I continue my tour with Aeda at my side. Orc grunts stop and thump their chest in salute as I pass. I nod magisterially. The stables don’t help my followers at all, and are my one concession to selfish pride. Not only does this building showcase a handful of the many mounts I have collected over the years, reminding me of triumphs past, but gives me the chance to capture, break in, and own a bunch of new beasts local to Draenor. One of them is a hippo. It’s pretty sweet.
Once I have wrung the stables dry of mounts and achievements, I am likely to just swap it out with something else. I hear that the war mill is a very direct source of follower gear, so that’s a good bet.
I am momentarily distracted by another peon industrially smashing a harmless patch of snow with a large hammer. “That’s better!” he exclaims. Okay then.
Tour over, I pause to survey my domain. Every follower who isn’t currently out on a mission can be found somewhere in my garrison. They take strolls, dance with each other, and chat to me as I approach. Shadow Hunter Rala is supposed to be working in my herb garden, but I watch as he casually saunters into the tavern and downs a drink in one. It’s barely lunchtime, man! I mean, troll.
Suicidal and alcoholic tendencies aside, I feel rather proud of my gang. Many of them are the same level as me, with gear that’s pretty much as good. The truth is, I am not an efficient player. I do not use websites and spreadsheets to maximise results in the minimum time possible. The truth is, my quest for an army of purple followers might not be the best idea. The truth is, I don’t care.
Garrisons aren’t optional. They don’t sit alongside the core experience, they have become an integral element of it. The daily demands on my time have increased, without doubt. There is more upkeep than ever, but there’s also a crucial elasticity to the time I can invest, and the return on that investment has been gauged very carefully to feel worthwhile to as many players as possible.
I’m going to keep on levelling my followers and making them as powerful as possible because I know that, all other benefits aside, I’ll be able to look at them in a list, in a little interface, know what it took to achieve that, and feel genuine pride at the accomplishment. Honestly, my followers might raid before I do. And I’m okay with that.
Want more WoW? Read Tom's Warlords of Draenor review.