Friday, September 30, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Repbulic - Companions

Today I want to talk about the companions in SWTOR.  I’m a bit late to the party (what else is new) as the blogosphere went on about this for a couple of days a few weeks ago and then went silent.  Still, it’s my turn now, and I’m hoping to go into a little more depth.  I’d also love some commentary, as my information is pieced together and quite possibly not accurate, as I can never remember to check official sites when I’m at home and can’t access them when I’m at work.

Hi!  Will you be my friend?
Bioware recently revealed that companions will be unique to each class, and that each class will earn five companions (plus a ship droid) over the course of their adventures.  Only having five companions to choose from for your character sounds pretty anemic, but you have to consider there are eight classes, so Bioware is creating (and voicing) 40 companion characters.  That’s a massive investment of time and far outstrips the effort they’ve put into companions for any game they’ve made to date assuming, of course, that each companion is at least as fleshed out as the ones in Mass Effect or Dragon Age.

You meet your companions over the course of your class quests, so finding them shouldn’t be hard, but you don’t get them all at once.  While there is a good variety in the roles your companions play, I hope the order in which you get them is sensible for each class.  As in, I hope the Jedi Consular doesn’t have to wait until level 40 to get a tank companion, or the Sith Warrior has to wait until level 35 to get a healer.  I’m not sure if there’s been any information about that yet, but I sincerely hope companions are awarded in the most complimentary order.

Unlike DA and ME, you can only have one companion with you at a time.  That makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose, since the setting is Star Wars, and if you think about the movies many of the “player” characters had a partner of some sort, but not a gaggle of flunkies following them everywhere they went.  While companions can be brought with you for group content, it sounds like they take up a player slot (much like Guild Wars), so if you have enough player characters to fill a group you won’t have any companions.
From what I’ve read, it sounds like you do not get the level of control over your companions’ skill development that you do in Dragon Age or Mass Effect, but you can control the type of skills they have “equipped” through the use of kits.  The kit you equip on your companion will determine which subset of skills they use.  How much variety exists isn’t terribly clear, but it does suggest that you can have two players of the same class in a group use the same companion but get different results.  I’d rather have full customization like in other Bioware games, but something is better than nothing.  I’ll take it.

I wish I was green
Visual customization of companions will be possible, both from the basic skin/hair/etc. side and clothing equipment.  Thank God for that.  Anything less would be a disaster, with seventeen clones of the same character standing around while their owners go shopping.  The Clone Wars haven’t happened yet!  Guild Wars can get away with it because you hardly ever see someone else’s heroes (companions), but in a persistent world like SWTOR it would be pretty miserable.  I hope the customizations are significant.  If all you can do is change hair color or skin pigmentation it’s not going to make much difference.

Companions will not be controllable directly.  At all.  They will be entirely dependent on their AI, though players can set tactics for them much like in Dragon Age.  Still, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to switch to direct control of a companion in DA/ME to stop them from doing something stupid, so I hope the AI is very, very robust.  Presumably we’ll be able to unsummon companions if they get stuck (something you can’t do in DA/ME) which will help a little.

Companions level up, but are always one level behind the player.  I’m assuming it will work much like the other Bioware games, where all companions earn XP whether they’re in the active party or not, so we won’t run into instances of players grinding out xp to level their tank companion because they were using their dps companion for 40 levels (been there, done that, thanks WoW!).

You know you want to date me.  I've got head . . . things.
Romance – yes there are romances possible your companions.  Of the five companions available to each class, there is at least one male and one female capable of being romanced.  Strangely, not all classes are created equal in this regard.  Most classes have two options (1 male, 1 female), a couple have three, but the Sith Warrior can romance all but one of his/her companions (4 options).  Who says using the dark side of the force leads to hate?  Become a Sith Warrior and wow the ladies with your giant . . . saber.  Or, you know, mind control.  Whatever.

That’s pretty much an overview of what companions are, but what do they do?  Apparently they do a lot of things.  They tag along on your adventures and will heal, tank, dps, or die for you.  They lurk in your personal space ship and craft for you.  They run your errands (do your laundry, mend your clothes, make you dinner) and they just generally assist you.  Perhaps most importantly, they interact with you. They’ll comment on your decisions, participate in cutscenes, give you quests, comment on places you visit, both act as a moral compass and be swayed by your own morality choices.  They won’t just be pets, and that’s kind of the point. 

I was originally pretty grey on the idea of companions, but if Bioware can deliver on all their promises I think they’ll be a nice addition to the game.  As someone who tends to play late at night when sane people have gone to bed I’ll appreciate getting a little more interactivity out of the game.  At the same time, only being able to use one companion at a time means I won’t be soloing any flashpoints and will still have reason to find groups and play with real friends.  Hopefully the fact that everyone has a “pet” available at all times means content can be a little harder and more diverse.  All quests can be group quests.

Here’s hoping.

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