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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Star Wars TOR: Pet Hates

2 comments
There has been quite a bit of discussion recently on the official forums and other gaming sites about the companion system that Star Wars: The Old Republic will bring to the MMO table. I have seen a lot of comments along the lines of them being pets and complaints that "every class will be a pet class", and "I hate pet classes, why should I have to have companions?". Just last night in level 1-9 chat in EQ2 I saw a similar discussion with lots of decrying of the system and forcing pets onto players. This viewpoint seems to have been borne from misinformation and a lack of coherent information release from Bioware.

I think it's time to set the record straight! Companions in Star Wars: The Old Republic are so much more than the pets found in other MMOs. In fact, I have a feeling that the companion system might just be the main area of true innovation in the game rather than the much vaunted storyline aspect.

Before discussing why I believe the system may offer a truly new aspect to MMOs it is worth outlining what the companion system actually is. The official site information page tells us:

"In Star Wars™: The Old Republic™, a variety of these Companion Characters will join your cause. Some will join you for adventure, some for greed, and some for motivations that will remain hidden until much further along in your adventure. The Companions run the gamut from intelligent droids to bizarre aliens, from an honorable princess to a roguish pirate, and each class has a completely unique set of Companions.
While traveling the galaxy, your Companion Characters will provide commentary, information on plots and directions to points of interest-- all from their own unique perspectives. Companion Characters may act as your conscience, and try to influence your decisions. In turn, you will influence them, and change how they develop as the story progresses. Based on your choices, some Companions will become your closest friends, others may become your lovers, and a few may even become your enemies!"

However, there has been much more information on the system given out through individual developer posts on various forums, interviews and reporting from the media following play sessions. When you put all this information together it quickly becomes apparent that companions are much more than just pets.

Fact:
There will be between 3-10 companions available per character. They will be encountered through the main storyline quests and will be based on the players space ship if they decide to join the player's crew. When grouping each player will be able to bring along their own companion. (Source: SWTOR-Station video interview and official news post)
Conjecture:
There may be secret companions available that will only be found in secret out-of-the-way places. This has been hinted at several times by the devs.

Fact:
Companions are integral to the crafting system in the game (called Crew Skills). Crafting is actually done by the companions (up to five of which can be ordered to craft at once), giving them something to do whilst the player is off adventuring. Different companions will have different specialities (for example, one might be an expert Treasure Hunter, another an experienced Diplomat), offering more choice over which companion you send on which crafting mission. Crucially, the companion's performance in crafting will be dependant upon the player's current standing with that companion. If you annoy them too much with your story choices they will take longer to make items, but treat them well and make them happy and your items will be made more quickly and possibly be of a higher quality! (Source: Official Crew Skills page, Darth Hater interviews 1 and 2, official dev blog)

Fact:
Companions allow you to play your class properly from an early level. For example, if you are a healer you will be able to focus on healing, as you would in a normal group, whilst your companion tanks, rather than having to dps as well as you do when soloing in most MMOs. Note that this is also a feature of Guild Wars with their henchman system. (Source: TOROcast special report number 2)

Fact:
Companions will allow groups to do instances and dungeons even if they do not have a healer or tank. For example, a group without a healer could decide that every player brings along their healer companion, which might be enough to complete the dungeon without a player character healer. (Source: Darth Hater interview)

Fact:
Each companion has a special ability they can use. This ability will be on a cooldown timer, and will be activated by the player. Other than that the companions will fight and defend using their own AI system, leaving the player free to control their own character and not micromanage their companion. (Source: developer forum post)
Conjecture:
Presumably there will be some level of player control regarding aggressiveness, following, etc as found with normal MMO pets.

Fact:
Companions will also be able to harvest for you whilst you are out adventuring. See a nice harvest node? Send your companion to harvest it whilst you take on the nearby mobs or harvest a different node. (Source: Darth Hater interview)

Fact:
Companions will be able to travel back to the nearest town and sell your goods for you whilst you are out adventuring, saving you the time and effort of travelling back yourself. Send them off and they will return after a short while with the coin they made. (Source: Darth Hater article)

Fact:
Companions are fully equipable and have their own character sheet and stats. They start with their own equipment, but you can upgrade this with items you find or buy, thereby upgrading their stats and appearance (Source: Gamespot video interview)

Fact:
Companions are integral to the player character's story. Their opinion of the player's character will change depending upon the story choices the player makes - annoy them enough by doing too many evil things and making too many dark-side choices (or too many nice things depending on the companion) and they could even leave your crew. Choices you make in regards to your companions are permanent (there is no Save Game function in an MMO). Kill a particular companion and they are gone forever! (Source: IGN interview and CVG interview)

Fact:
Companions will chip in with additional dialogue during NPC interaction conversations. If you are in a group you may even find your group-mate's companion contributes as well. (Source: PC Gamer article)
Conjecture:
Based on the experience with previous Bioware games in which companions were present, the comments will be unique to each companion character. So, you will get a different experience depending on which companion you decide to take on that particular quest.

Fact:
Companions will have their own storyline quests you can go on. (Source: IGN article)
Conjecture:
Based on previous Bioware games these companion storyline quests are often long and involved, and can drastically alter how the companion views the player character.

Fact:
Companions can currently fight in PvP combat (though this may be changed at a later date). (Source: Darth Hater interview)

Fact:
You will be able to romance several of the companions depending upon the choices you make in your character story. (Source: Official companion info)

Fact:
Companions can be given kits to alter their function, stats, and appearance. Give a companion a healer kit and their AI and abilities will change accordingly. (Source: Darth Hater interview)
Conjecture:
There may be some limit as to which kits an individual companion can use.

Fact:
Unlike many other MMO pets, companions do not draw any aggro unless they are using a specifically agressive skill. (Source: Darth Hater article)

Overall Conjecture:
Based on previous Bioware games companions may react differently to each other, and their views will change as time goes on and the player makes various story choices.
Some companions may die depending on choices the player makes.
Whilst it is not compulsory to take a companion character with you when you adventure, the game will be balanced for them, so it may make things a little harder if you leave them all behind (and you may miss out on some game content such as companion quests).

The list above is based on what we know now, from the limited information Bioware have released. You can see that companions are so much more than just pets, and have the potential to really impact how the game plays out. They have been a part of several single-player games before, but truly bring something new to the MMO genre. As I said above, companions might just be the true innovation with the game.

I shall sign off this post with a fan trailer I recently came across. It's been made by chopping up various other official trailer releases, but manages to be more exciting than all of them. It's a great piece of work. That's all for now!

/pethide

2 comments:

  1. Great post mate. I liked the companion system in ME and if the ones in SW ToR are the same or even similar it should be good.

    I understand by the same token why people are getting a little jumped up by it. I know they are not 'pets' per se, or even at all, but it still means for you to play the game to it's full extent you will need to utilise your companions. It's a forced choice and some folks play the games to their specifications/needs. What about the person who roleplays themselves as a loner, or those who simply want to be responsible for just one avatar?

    I personally love the idea, think it is amazingly innovative and don't think they are like pets at all. But they still mean you are dependant on others (your companions) and not just the one avatar. It simply won't appeal to some.

    EQ2 kind of touches in a very light way on some of these issues. Like as a guild we can have harvesters and amenities in our guild hall who provide services. But SWToR seems to take these useful little tidbits and devellop them in something truly useful and exciting to be a part of. I like it. But for those who just wanna be 'me' and no one else, it may restict game play a little.

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  2. I know what you mean about forced content. Whilst the game will not force you to use your companion (it will just make the game more of a challenge) people may feel it is required to join raids, or to obtain certain quests. We'll see how it pans out!

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