WoW players for the past three and a half years have gotten used to a common theme – no matter the expansion, there is some clickable table that gives us access to a little Facebook-style game.
It is a point of contention for a great many players, representing a sore spot of “content” that doesn’t really add much to the game, and maybe even detracts.
First introduced in Warlords of Draenor, the Mission Table was used first for the Garrison system, allowing you to send followers on missions to acquire experience, items they could use, items you could use, epic gear, and gold. Oh the gold! During WoD, it was a high-upkeep but low time investment activity – missions took small durations to finish, and so you could theoretically run full loadouts of missions 3-4 times a day if you were always on or coordinated when to log in.
In Legion, this evolved to the Order Hall system, where the emphasis has shifted away from the maintenance of the WoD Garrison. Now, with Order Halls, you have a small amount of upkeep that can be ignored, if you so desire. Ultimately, maximizing potential loot and rewards does require using it, but it requires far less management and can also be done out of game via the Legion Companion App.
Now, I think it is worth talking about opinions.
So a mission table and some followers have popped up in datamining for Battle for Azeroth, and everyone is kind of losing their minds.
Basically, the majority of internet voices are loudly talking about not being fans of this gameplay and the presence of it in BfA will be a net-negative for the game.
I think it is worth evaluating this claim – but first, let me discuss my opinion.
The current state of the mission table in WoW is fine to me. I don’t go out of my way to do it, other than trying to keep raid missions cycling on my main. For a few months now, I haven’t even logged into the companion app on my phone. It is a thing that I am aware of, but I don’t feel it changes my gameplay experience much at all. Even when I am doing it actively, it doesn’t bother me in Legion. In WoD, yes, it was a pain with the upkeep, but I responded by mostly ignoring it after a while, and that served me well throughout the expansion. Yes, even in WoD, when it was a large amount of the content we received, I was able to ignore it quite successfully.
The Legion model does not bother me at all because it is even less consequential while also being easily ignored if you do not like it. To me, it is the same as PvP or PvE gameplay at this point – if you like it, it is there, if you don’t, you can pretend it isn’t there and it doesn’t usually hurt your gameplay at all. Sure, there are points in Legion where the Order Campaign quests require some interaction with it, but since launch, that BS has been kneecapped down to nothing in short order, and now feels pretty okay.
So the BfA table, having faction heroes, as it appears, means that we are likely to have some interaction with it during the War Campaign in the expansion – the extent to which, or how it will work, is unknown, but it seems a safe bet.
Here is my take – the mission table is easy, low-investment gameplay that allows you to interact with the game easily without having to plug in a ton of time. You can, hypothetically, just log in, send some missions, and log out, if that is all the time you have. I think having it present is good for the overall health of the game, in that it provides some simple, low-effort stuff you can do on breaks, when popping in to say hi to guildmates, or just when you don’t feel like grinding some other thing. It is, ultimately, just a Facebook-game ripoff from the old golden era Facebook games of 2009 or so. Just a window, some clickables, and some bars – easy, simple gameplay.
But I do think there is a historical context needed.
The History of What The Mission Table Represents
The challenges I think a lot of people have with the mission table represent the unique intersection of multiple factors of the time in the game in which it was introduced. Taken on its own, devoid of this context, the table is a simple, easy to design mechanism to improve player engagement and increase logged-in time and activity. However, it was introduced during Warlords of Draenor, meaning the principal work, development time, design time, and implementation all took place during the most content-lacking expansion in the game’s history. This is problematic for the poor mission table. It frequently (and rightly) is rolled into a larger discussion of the issues presented by the WoD-era of WoW – low amounts of content which were scapegoated onto the Garrison and related systems, repetitive gameplay loops with little change over an almost 2 year span, a 14 month content drought at the end of expansion, and through all of this, the mission table stuck out as the only thing many people engaged with – for over a year!
Further, the mission table represents the growing “leadership” of the player character role in the game lore. The mission table, in theory, gives you control over Draenor natives with significant lore roles, Azerothian champions and saviors, and in Legion, literal dragon aspects (if you’re a mage at least) and a number of other significant lore characters. But, the reality of this in game is rarely that cool – often you might just see them in your Order Hall, or wandering your Garrison, but the end result of commanding these mighty heroes rarely feels all that cool. It also represents that you are no longer a faceless nobody trying to establish yourself in new and unfamiliar terrain, but a trailblazing champion who is one of Azeroth’s best hopes against the encroaching darkness. There is never a sense of wonderment or accomplishment, just the expectation that the player character role is this amazing avatar of all that is good – a title we never really have to earn for long in game and is often just the foundational lore of whatever new content we get.
Lastly, it is important to evaluate the gameplay implications. During WoD in particular, the mission table is like reading a plain, boring story – your champions went and did this cool thing. During WoD, they were doing cooler things than I was – beating Mythic Blackhand on the regular, for one. How was this conveyed to me? A could-be-web-animation of a character performing an attack animation and Blackhand falling over dead. Exciting. In Legion, they are out exploring, but there is nothing to that – I can’t bump into my champions on Broken Shore if they are on a mission there. I can’t get a dungeon quest from them which results in a champion of mine being there for the boss battle at the end, even if he’s phased just for me and does nothing of consequence to the boss. The raid quests give me some item with no logical explanation of how they got it or how they figured out the connection to the raid zone in question. Wouldn’t some of these be cool? Encountering a follower in a zone, or having them march up with some nameless soldiers in your command and present a raid quest item with some flavor text – this would at least convey a sense of scale and place in the world. Instead, I might as well just always do them through the app, because it doesn’t matter to the game lore in the slightest.
Sure, maybe that would take development time, but here’s the thing – the mission table would be COOL if it had those things. Even my generally pro-mission stance is based on the idea that A – it takes little effort to develop, and B – I can ignore it once it bores me. Giving me a reason to care would be cool. There was supposed to be this idea that I could send a follower out and meet them to do a quest or mission or something, but instead, it is the same old Facebook game and then I can also take a follower as a bodyguard, exactly the same as WoD, except now I don’t have to feel bad about the fact that my undergeared followers in parties of 3 can beat Mythic Blackhand. Cool.
Blizzard, if you’re reading, first – hi, big fan, but secondly – I want a reason to care about the mission table strongly. The current idea, I don’t care for – it just exists and is fine but adds nothing for me. Add some flavor, add some seasoning to it. Let me do missions with my followers, let me see them performing the tasks, let me engage with the lore through them more. Give it flavor text and performative events like champions presenting me with a rare treasure, or accompanying me into a dungeon or raid. Maybe even make a mission that once engaged, requires me meeting the party I sent on it in the zone in question to perform a quest chain.
I don’t mind missions, and I certainly don’t hate them. If you include the same system in BfA that has been around since WoD, I’m not really going to be mad or even disappointed. But I will wonder, deep down, why doing the same half-baked Facebook game inside of your already gameplay-competent MMO is worth this much to you.