You know those early stages of love, when you just can't seem to get enough of the other person, yet it feels as if the entire world is conspiring to keep you apart? That's exactly the first few days of Warlords of Draenor.
If I hadn't woken up from a lengthy nap at 3am on Thursday morning to catch the opening of World of Warcraft's fifth expansion pack. If I'd not been completely engrossed by the expansion's opening sequence, in which the forces of the Alliance and Horde band together to charge through the Dark Portal and face off against the titular warlords one-by-one.
If I hadn't possessed the patience to fight through the ridiculous crowd swarming the initial quest givers in Shadowmoon Valley, then I probably wouldn't care so much about spending the past two days sitting in enormous queues, hoping desperately to return to these new lands.
The Warlords of Draenor launch was a bit of a clusterfuck, to say the least. The first World of Warcraft expansion without a new player race or class to split server populations between zones, once the clock struck midnight Pacific time, everybody playing on North American servers hit the same zone at once. The opening sequence was instanced — multiple copies were spawned to deal with massive amounts of players — but the first real zone, Shadowmoon Valley, was not.
And it was hell. Easily a hundred players gathered around the NPCs who gave out the zone's initial quests, many on mounts, obscuring the NPCs entirely. The first two quests involved tagging (clicking on) flags near trees and killing X amount of crows. As soon as either spawned, they were taken. People were forming 40-man raids to finish quests. The lag was so terrible that other players and creatures would appear on screen seconds after encountering them.
But those initial quests paved the way to my current love, my favourite new reason to gain experience in World of Warcraft — garrisons.
When I'd learned of the garrison feature coming in Warlords of Draenor, I'd discounted it as another side activity, like Mists of Pandaria's gardening. Thus I paid the feature little heed, and was blissfully unaware of its importance. Oh I had beta access, but I didn't play much at all — I hate ruining expansions for myself through beta testing.
After completing those initial quests in Shadowmoon Valley, I was awarded a modest little wooden fort. I built a barracks to house my soldiers and an engineering section to practice one of my professions.
I started gathering followers through questing in the zone and progress made on my stronghold, sending them off on timed missions like something out of a free-to-play Facebook game. After the allotted time was up they'd return, bearing gifts.
Soon my I was able to upgrade my garrison to level two. Suddenly it was no longer a modest fort — it was a bustling town.
Now I've got an enchanting station to go along with my engineering station. I don't have mining, but my garrison's private mine provides me with ore. I've built an inn, where travellers arrive daily bearing special dungeon quests.
There's more to it than simply building and gathering. I've fought off a massive invasion by Shadowmoon orcs. I've been learning to fish in the private pond out back. There's a pub that runs through town, and if I follow him I can find garrison supplies he's buried in the woods. This is a living, breathing World of Warcraft town, and I'm in charge.
Garrisons have changed the way I play World of Warcraft. Instead of logging in to more quests (they're still there, of course), I'm logging in to check on my town, see how my followers have fared on their missions, and see if my crafting work orders are ready.
That's not to say I'm not enjoying the rest of Warlords of Draenor's fiction. I'm well-versed in the fictional history of the orc tribes of Draenor, thanks to some lovely novels by Christie Golden, and it's exciting to see how the fresh Horde and Alliance forces are screwing that story up.
It's just that now my World of Warcraft day begins and ends in my garrison. It's a wonderful place.
Today Blizzard's got the game back up and running again, installing new server hardware and making use of instancing to help ensure the new zones aren't constantly crashing. Time to continue my quest to catch up with the cool kids. Of course I'm off on Thursday and Friday, making today effectively my Monday — not great timing, but who knows, maybe I can sneak in a dungeon stream later, maybe invite people to check out my new home.