Monday, November 7, 2016

Legion's Gameplay Loop: The Order Hall

Click here to go back to the intro article on Legion's Gameplay Loop to view other topics. Again, I'm sorry for the lack of updates. Not sure what kind of schedule I want to do for releasing articles at the moment if any.

As the title of article states, this particular one in the series will review the Order Hall (or Class Hall) in Legion. If one were to contrast the general tone of my past articles in this series and my stance on the very similar Garrisons as expressed in articles like this one, they may wonder about why I don't continue the streak of positivity by reviewing something else. That is because this article series was never intended to be one where I gush about Legion. This is also why I was critical of and made suggestions for content such as world quests even though overall I like it.

Either way, I wasn't really looking forward to messing with the Order Hall since I was concerned about how much it would take over my gameplay. The concern grew as I heard various scathing remarks about it prior to Legion's release. However, while some of the claims made were well founded and there's definitely some strong comparisons to be made to Garrisons, I was also pleasantly surprised with how well the Order Hall integrated with other gameplay. The following sections will review various facets of the Order Hall with the previous points in mind.

Order Hall Missions

Order Hall missions, much like their Garrison counterparts, require resources and available followers to start. Once started, the mission will be completed after some time, providing various, typically lucrative rewards. Such a description would have someone worried that these missions would disincentivize players from participating in other content because of how rewarding it is for the time invested. While this is true to a point, there's a number of fundamental differences between Order Hall missions and Garrison missions, such as:
  • Followers are split between champions and troops.
    • Champions have fixed traits and can be given equipment to enhance their ability to do missions or improve rewards as a combat ally.
    • There can only be five active champions, including a combat ally.
    • Troops have a limited number of uses based on their Vitality, meaning they can usually only be sent on a few missions before more have to be recruited.
    • Missions require a champion to start.
    • Missions do not require all slots to be filled to start (a champion can be sent alone instead of three followers, for example).
  • Order Hall missions have a bonus roll system that typically awards greater loot and usually requires multiple champions assigned to it to have a practical chance of earning it.
  • The counter system is more flexible and failing to counter a mission's threats doesn't necessarily decrease the chance of completion. This means that it might be more optimal to not counter some threats since they're not as big of a deal.
  • Missions can award player experience, champion experience, gold, Artifact Power, reputation tokens, champion equipment, quest-starting items, and other miscellaneous goods such as Blood of Sargeras.
    • The quests missions can end up providing involve a significant amount of player interaction since it'll have them going into places like dungeons, raids, or battlegrounds.
    • If a player is exalted with a faction, they will acquire a Bind to Battle.net Account reputation token instead of a Bind on Pickup one.
Based on the information above, the general impression that Order Hall missions give are that players can only have a few going at a time. Personally, I usually have about two missions since I have a combat ally set at all times, leaving four champions to do missions with. I then try to ensure I get bonus rewards from the mission to both maximize my usage of Order Resources and acquire what I consider to be great rewards. The process of starting missions takes about a minute due to the reduced number of missions that can be started at a time, reducing the need for addons like Master Plan. The missions themselves usually take several hours to complete like with Garrison missions, though I typically only start missions once or twice a day.

When it comes to mission rewards, which is a huge part of why Garrison missions were so good to do, I'm only really concerned about gold rewards. This is because gold-bearing missions show up regularly and can award over 1200 gold each (counting bonus rewards), which is the equivalent of completing two elite world quests (or more). 
An example of one such gold-bearing mission. Note that the base reward is nearly 1000 gold in itself. At the time of this writing, my Hunter has three missions like this available to start.
Even when accounting for the relatively high influx of gold in Legion, this is quite a large amount that might keep players glued to their Scouting Maps. I'm also not a big fan of potentially causing further inflation-related issues.

Overall I will say that this iteration of missions is a little better than Garrison missions due to the greater depth and reduced emphasis on it. With that said, the mission gameplay itself since is relatively short-lived and will likely leave players wondering why they aren't doing the missions themselves, which makes missions more of a supplementary form of content compared to something like world quests. Missions that assign quests to the player are pretty good though. These quests replace the Garrison missions that used to award caches of gear by locking it behind successfully completing content, which appropriately tunes the difficulty of acquiring gear-based rewards up to the source of the gear itself. Because of this observation, I think that having more missions that reward quests would be an improvement upon the system since the quests would drive players to participate in other content, making missions a great engine for replayability at the very least.

Combat Allies

While not really gameplay itself, champions assigned as Combat Allies can help out on the Broken Isles, enhancing all gameplay associated with overworld content such as world quests. Each Champion that can be assigned as a Combat Ally provides a permanent, dismissable perk for the low price of 50 Order Resources in the form of a passive effect, an active effect, or by accompanying the player as a bodyguard.

Of the above, I personally find the latter most useful since while they might not necessarily deal high amounts of damage like certain Garrison bodyguards did (which was nerfed), they can provide a mix of active and passive benefits that seem to outstrip other types of benefits overall. Furthermore, unlike Garrison bodyguards, Order Hall bodyguards respawn, which is especially useful for tank bodyguards. Bodyguards can be inconsistent though and sometimes vanish for no reason, so it would be nice if the Combat Ally ability could call them back in case that happens.

Aside from the above benefits, Combat Allies also provide benefits based on their equipment and earn experience for each quest completed, making it an alternative to missions when it comes to increasing champion level. Like with the gold-bearing missions mentioned above, equipment that provides passive gold from completing world quests can also contribute to inflation pretty significantly. As a result, they concern me especially since the 15/25/50 gold per world quest reward may be underrated because of the smaller, more consistently earned amount and lack of indication that players are earning it through chatbox messages.

Aside from the relatively minor grievances above, I think being able to assign Combat Allies, which at least half of the champions can be, allows players to get to know their champions better and in some cases, battle alongside major lore figures. Since the system is available relatively early into Legion, players can benefit from it while leveling, making the ordeal of progressing through the Broken Isles a little easier.

Research and Work Orders

While the Order Hall doesn't allow the player to build structures that provide various benefits, a player can do research using Order Resources through five tiers of two-choice branches to obtain some benefit within the Order Hall or on the Broken Isles. Some research unlocks work orders while others are available by default. Research can take up to a couple weeks to complete and can be switched at any time other research isn't being done, but doing so is a time-consuming process.

Work orders are a returning feature that allows players to invest some resource to obtain something in return like with the Garrison. They are simplified compared to their Garrison counterparts and have varying speeds of completion. For example, troops can be recruited very fast, but acquiring Artifact Knowledge is a process that takes days. All Order Hall work orders require some amount of Order Resources to start and typically can't be queued as much as Garrison work orders can be.

Overall, the systems provided through Research and Work Orders are very bare-bones but is generally useful and functional. Much like some other features of the Order Hall, both serve to enhance the experience inside and outside the Order Hall and aren't necessarily what one would consider content in and of itself. Some enhancements may encourage idle gameplay a little too much though, such as the research that allows players to instantly complete one (non-elite) world quest for free each day.

Order Resources

All of the above features of the Order Hall couldn't be possible without Order Resources, which is similar to its Garrison Resources counterpart. Order Resources can be obtained from treasures, rare spawns, quests, dungeons (specifically chests in dungeons), and some other sources that generally follow a trend of players having to actively participate in other content. This is a huge fundamental difference from Garrison Resources, which can be obtained from missions and a cache inside the Garrison that gradually fills over time, along with other largely idle methods.

The above difference is a major part of why I think the Order Hall is an improvement on Garrisons since while it's possible to gain a minimal amount of Order Resources by trading in Blood of Sargeras from the relatively rare missions that award them, it's not a sustainable method. This means that to do nearly anything in the Order Hall, the player has to go get it themselves by participating in other content.

In addition to the other aspects of the Order Hall that strongly encourage players to do other content by enhancing it in some way such as by offering rewards or the aid of a champion, there is a gameplay loop of sorts associated with the Order Hall. The gameplay loop is composed of performing Order Hall activities, then doing other content to continue while waiting for missions and work orders to finish. The player will then have the Order Resources to continue doing said Order Hall activities. There will eventually be a point when Order Resources are abundant due to a mix of champion equipment and research, at which point players do the other content anyways because there's plenty of other incentives to do so like to farm Artifact Power.
The amount of Order Resources my main currently has. The highest tier research requires 12500 and missions typically require 100 or more.
If there's one issue that Order Resources cause, it's that the aforementioned point of abundance is a very real issue since there's not a lot of ways to sink it beyond missions and work orders, which are limited due to their time-gating. It would be nice to see a way to sink Order Resources in the future, such as the ability to purchase the Order Resource cache that can be purchased with Blood of Sargeras at highly unfavorable exchange ratios (5:1 would be good). This is a relatively minor issue that can be addressed later though.

Final Statements

As the general trend of statements in the article indicates, I like the Order Hall more than the Garrison when considering the gameplay it offers. While mission gameplay and the other idle content isn't anything worth writing home about, the Order Hall provides additional incentive to do other content that has more substantial gameplay and requires greater player interactivity. This makes it superior to the self-sustaining Garrison with rewards that basically overshadowed any need to do other content. Furthermore, the Order Hall is likely being overshadowed by other content which is fine considering the time invested into keeping an Order Hall working. It might almost be possible to ignore the Order Hall entirely after finishing the Class Campaign, though the missions that yield gold may be too tempting.

Overall, the Order Hall isn't great content in itself, though if it were to be removed as a whole in future iterations, I would hope some aspects remain (like Combat Allies, for example). To put it another way, despite all the positive remarks I can make about the Order Hall, it in itself is just mediocre to okay and would probably be one of the first Legion-related things I'd consider cutting if it would somehow improve the development of other content.

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