First thing’s first: Alpha is alpha, and everything is subject to change. Take nothing written here as set in stone.
Update: Part 2
Let’s hit the ground running. Literally the second thing you do once you get into Frostfire Ridge is start the process for establishing a garrison. If you were someone who didn’t know that garrisons was supposed to be a big subsystem, you really wouldn’t be able to tell at first, because the initial quests are all centered on securing the area and gathering resources, which is pretty standard quest hub behavior by this point.
It’s once you clear the first couple quests and the first iteration of your garrison takes shape that you start to realize there’s more to this than just quest mechanics. The first set of quests you get from your Garrison Architect center on a) gathering materials, b) getting plans, and c) getting your peons to work, all of which contribute to the idea that you’re not going to be doing all the heavy lifting yourself. Once you’ve racked up the materials you need (more on that later) you get to build your first building, which is naturally the Barracks.
Once you commission the building from the Architect Table in the Town Hall, the building starts construction, where you’ve got peons working on it, foreman walking about, the whole shebang. Once the actual construction time runs down, you get a clickable object in front of the building that lets you finalize the building. You’re treated to a very short cinematic showcasing the Barracks once you’ve finalized it, and you start seeing the finished product of the first stage of the Barracks immediately.
As soon as you’ve built the Barracks, there’s a Blueprints Vendor in front of the Town Hall who’ll sell all of the remaining Level 1 blueprints. At this stage, all but one are locked to higher levels. The only one that’s available at this stage is the Alchemy Lab. Coincidentally, all of the characters created using the template start with Alchemy, and the Alchemy Lab is one of the only profession buildings that has Specializations fully enabled. (That said, the Alchemy UI is actually bugged at this point: more on that later.)
Once you’re done building the Barracks then your next task is to learn about Followers. You’re given a straightforward task to rescue your first Follower, after which point you’re given a quest to dispatch him on a mission using the Command Table. Olin has fixed abilities, and you’ve only got two missions available at the moment, which he’s noticeably perfectly suited to complete. This also introduces you to the Garrison Progress mini-map icon, which keeps you up to date on Missions (and apparently building upgrades, when they take longer than 20 seconds).
Completing this first quest (which doesn’t even require you to wait the 30 minutes for Olin to get back from whichever mission you sent him on) you’ve cleared the first section of questing in Frostfire Ridge. This was basically the tutorial intro stage of the campaign, just like Thrall’s first mission in the Prologue for WC3 showed you how to move around the map, build buildings, generate lumber and units… it’s note-perfect.
Let’s talk materials first. The part where this stuff starts to become available for you before you even unlock the garrison itself is interesting. It’s treated like any other currency in your Currency tab, and as you progress through the opening quests, you’re essentially given the rundown of how you’re going to generate materials, along with examples:
- Many of these opening quests straight-up have materials as a quest reward.
- Rare mobs (denoted with a skull icon on the mini-map, just like on the Timeless Isle) drop materials, but seemingly only the first time you kill them. (Further testing is required to see if that’s limited by day, by week, etc.)
- On that note, you’re encouraged to explore, since you might just randomly come across usable materials in the world. An easy example is given when Sena’s flunky lets slip that some materials might be hidden somewhere, and then your Architect basically tells you “yeah, they’re probably hidden somewhere, go find ‘em.” No quest, just as a suggestion. (And yeah, no spoilers, but you’ll find them in the garrison. It’s not hard.)
- Most surprising of all is the part where your garrison passively generates 1 material every 10 minutes, even while you’re logged out.
As for spending materials, at first it seems like your buildings aren’t going to cost that much to do; questing for the Barracks gave you all the material you needed for that, and the Alchemy Lab only cost 1 Material to build (which really feels like a placeholder). It’s when you get into a second round of missions that it starts to become clear: some of your missions will cost material in addition to keeping your followers busy. So you’ll want to keep a steady flow of material income to keep your followers on missions.
Overall, this is a solid tutorial on how the system works; get material, build buildings, get followers, send them out to do stuff, which the buildings support. And you’re encouraged to do all of this by setting your garrison to do things and then you can poof off to play the rest of the game, and just check back in when your staff needs new orders. Even when you add more buildings to the mix, I don’t think it’s going to get inherently more complicated on its own. Now, when you add in professions, and when you’ve got a big spread of followers you’re trying to manage, maybe that’s a different story. But that’ll come later.
Probably my biggest gripe? The name of the garrison is immutably “(Insert Character Name)’s Garrison.” I really feel like this was a missed opportunity. If you’ve got players who are going to insist on calling it “Pooperhal” then is that really worse than players who name their characters “Ownsusohard.” And given that the player who names it is the one who’s going to be seeing that name, I don’t see why we don’t have more freedom in picking a name for the place. Unlike character names, you can’t really inflict your awful garrison name on someone else, unless that someone willingly joins your party/raid.
The verdict for now is that this is shaping up to be exactly what was promised at BlizzCon; you get to run your own base, your own way, and assign dudes to do stuff so you can focus on Big Damn Heroics. There’s a lot of nostalgia bait for veterans of the RTS games (your mook guards are orc Grunts and troll Axe Throwers; you can’t get more classic Warcraft than that), but the garrison management itself doesn’t feel like an RTS. There’s a lot more to talk about (including the AI of your followers walking around the garrison, the player housing discussion, and other topics) but we’ll dig into that in future entries. For now, garrisons are off to a great start.