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PAX East 2014: Can World of Warcraft's garrisons live up to the hype?

Like many players, I have very mixed feelings about the garrisons being added to World of Warcraft's latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor. At this year's PAX East, I sat down with Blizzard Entertainment to discuss the feature, and the studio reps explained garrisons as a way for Blizzard to bring a bit of Warcraft into the WoW universe. As a fan of WarCraft 3, I left the interview feeling hopeful and excited. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to worry that garrisons will boil down to one of three things: an expanded version of Mists of Pandaria's farms, a new daily quest hub, or just another time-sink that will keep players isolated from one another.

Farms 2.0

Blizzard has mentioned that your garrison's first buildings exist to gather resources such as ore, herbs, and skins. While it is interesting that you can gather a significant chunk of resources for professions you don't possess, it's not exactly a new feature. Special seeds allowed the harvesting of many material types in MoP. The addition of resource buildings seems like a set-it-and-forget-it minigame, and I fear that this part of garrisons will become just another bullet point on a player's daily to-do list.

Fortunately, the NPC system seems to involve a bit more player agency and choice. While the total number of followers has not been specified, Blizzard has said that there will be far more of them than you can ever hope to recruit and that you'll need to develop your own criteria for deciding which ones belong in your garrison. This, along with the end goal of putting those followers to work in specific buildings and eventually sending them off on dangerous quests, speaks of more engaging and emergent gameplay. It's a reasonable step up from the Mists model of currying favor with the same NPCs every other player is trying to impress. There's just something a little depressing about standing before an NPC, gift in hand, while dozens of other players wait to give the very same thing for the very same purpose.

The daily quest hub to end all daily quest hubs

If there's anything I hope garrisons don't become, it's yet another daily quest hub. At the moment, though, it's a baseless fear. While there will presumably be one-time quests to unlock the garrison -- and many quests that send you back there -- Blizzard has not yet touted garrisons as a central location for repeatable quests. This could be due to the cool reception of MoP's gated daily quest system or just because daily quests aren't a significant part of the garrisons feature, which is my hope.

Quests have been mentioned, however, in the form of missions. These are more reminiscent of WC3 mechanics than of traditional WoW quest design. You choose which followers go on which missions based on the information presented to you. If your followers succeed in the mission, you're given a reward and your followers can level up, equip new gear, and eventually tackle more difficult missions. It's another relatively hands-off means of acquiring loot and upgrades, but choosing the right configuration of followers seems more like an engaging puzzle than a tedious minigame -- at least until the "right" list for each mission finds its way onto every major WoW database.

Draenor ghost towns

I can certainly see how passive resource generation and daily quests will appeal to some people even if they don't appeal to me. But my third concern is something universal, something that's plagued WoW and many other MMOs for some time: an absence of players out in the world.

WoW's cross-realm tech has made this less an issue, but every time an expansion is released, players gravitate toward the newest hub. Shattrath, Dalaran, and even the respective faction cities have all seen heavy loitering once players reached the level cap. And no matter how much I enjoy not fighting for resource nodes, there's something unsettling about spending hours in an MMO without seeing another soul -- not to mention it's almost game-breaking for PvP servers.

I had a chance to express this concern directly to the developers, though, and it was a concern they shared. Because of how understandably tempting it could be for players to hang around their own garrison, Blizzard has chosen not to include auction houses or banks in them, forcing players to travel elsewhere for those essential resources.

Developers also mentioned a nearby, non-instanced town where players will constantly see and interact with each other, but I'm skeptical that it won't just turn into another version of Halfhill, the current and surprisingly small hub near player farms where players are crammed together before eventually disappearing into their own instances.

Despite my fears, I am genuinely excited for Warlords of Draenor's garrisons, and I will admit that it's extremely early to criticize a feature that hasn't had the development time needed to reach its full potential. If your fear is that garrisons will be yet another feature that feels like the same old WoW, then you're probably right, but I don't think that's a bad thing. I'll be spending a lot of time with them either way.

Massively was on the ground in Boston during the weekend of April 11th to 13th, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2014. Whether you were dying to know more about WildStar, Landmark, or any MMO in between, we aimed to have it covered!

This article was originally published on Massively.