In most MMO expansions, players are asked by their faction leaders to do one thing: kill the big threat. In Warlords of Draenor, they're being asked to do something more: build a fortress and raise an army of followers.
It's an interesting twist that should appeal to some non-WoWers. Every player can claim a plot of land on the new Draenor planet and start constructing a large Garrison on it. Like most castle-builders, you start small. Your small plot can house several buildings at the start, and can be upgraded three times to expand its size.
Like SimCity, each of those buildings will have special effects. If you think you're dying too much out in the game world, you can build an Infirmary that can be specialized to give you a once-a-day ability to resurrect yourself. If you're trying to save up crafting materials to build a new breastplate, you can build a Mine, which spawns mineral nodes every day.
It doesn't sound nearly as complex as SimCity--there's no management required to keep it functioning or riot-free. But the core idea is shared and it sounds like there are a lot of different building options to play around with. Mage Towers and Inns were also specifically mentioned, with many more hinted at.
You are the commanding officer
Anyone who's experienced the sick, twisted pleasure of being a god to characters in The Sims will love this next part: you can recruit Followers to live in your garrison and do your every bidding.
Like The Sims, these little fellas can be named anything you like, and will go about their personal business when left alone. But as soon as you need something, you can order them to embark on quests, scenarios, dungeons, or raids for you.
Sure, you can balance out the different Followers--who specialize in either DPS, tanking, or healing--to ensure that the group you send out on a mission has the best chance of success. Or you can send that lazy dwarf into a raid all by himself and wait for him to be brought back on a stretcher. Be sure to cackle diabolically.
Of course, if the group is successful, they'll bring back epic gear and other rewards as tribute to you, their Garrison god. So it's usually worth making sure they stand a chance against the content (unless you named them after someone you hate and just plan to torture them).
And there won't be any BioWare-style narrative ploys to make you feel sympathy for these followers, either. WoW's Production Director, J Allen Brack, told me that they want the system to feel more like XCOM than a BioWare companion system--so send them to their deaths guilt-free.
Brack also described a scenario where a follower sent on a raid may get kidnapped by the raid boss, and you'll have to form a real raid of players to take down that boss and free your follower (who will be severely chastised for letting themselves get kidnapped in the first place).
They want to be just like you
The weirdest part of the Follower system is just how similar it follows WoW's progression model. It almost feels like a parody. Followers must gain XP to level to 100, and then, when they do, you need to start collecting gear that has specific item levels on it, which increase the item level of the Follower to make it more powerful on missions.
They even want to be crafters like you. Some followers will be skilled in a certain profession and will be able to craft gear and consumables or gather resources for you, just like another player.
Progression parody or not, the garrison system looks to be a lot of fun, and breaks far from the standard mold of gameplay in WoW. That should make it a refreshing change for veterans and an intriguing prospect to new players, who can jump into the Garrison immediately with the free level-90 character that comes with every purchase of the expansion.
Josh Augustine is a connoisseur of online games in the MMO, MOBA, and RPG style. He currently works as a game designer at Sony Online Entertainment on EverQuest. He’d love to talk with you on Twitter.