“Will SWTOR Fix the Companions System?” or “My Only Friend in the World is a Moron”
MMOs are supposed to all about companionship, the thrill of being a part of something larger than your self, the adrenaline rush that comes from working together as a team, and overcoming a common obstacle. Companionship, at least for me, is one of the key components of an MMO. You and your friends, out in the world, seeking adventure, defying death, having a blast.
Most MMOs, in their incessant hunt for additional subscription numbers, have allowed for the ultra-casual-model, that allows one to level practically the entire game without ever having to interact with another human being. I don’t get that. Remember when you needed to group for elite mobs in WoW? Yeah, that golden time is long gone. If you are one of those players, perhaps you should stick to single-player games to begin with, but that is not the purpose of this post, just a sidenote.
One sub-system that exists in MMOs today is companions. MMOs throw all kinds of companions at you, from mounts to pets to vanity pets and temporary, quest-related NPCs. Companions are an essential component of MMOs. Everyone wants them. People will pay ridiculous amounts of money, even for a vanity pet, just so they can say they own it.
But companions are an oddity in MMOs. Despite their apparent function, they suffer from two intrinsic flaws:
- They are two-dimensional.
- They don’t serve their core function of being a “companion”.
Allow me to elaborate.
Two-dimensional: Companions in MMOs today have no personality. It is almost as if they see the world through this twisted lens that allows them to see only two individuals: you and whatever is attacking you. In the case of vanity pets, it actually boils down to just you. They have no backgrounds, they have no history in the world, their purpose is unclear and their future uncertain. No one else, apart from you, ever interacts with them, they certainly don’t interact with anyone, and most of the time they have nothing to say.
Failing the core function: A companion is someone you can jointly undertake a task with, be it a quest, a dungeon, a battleground, an arena, or just simple daily quests. A companion is someone who should augment your skills and abilities (granted this happens most of the time with fighting pets – if the AI isn’t terrible), share their experience, reply with something meaningful when you try and talk to them (even if it is scripted), provide company in the dark dreary dungeons of your brand of MMO poison, and exist beyond the confines of your character. MMOs today feature mute, obedient, dumb companions that don’t really give you a sense of true companionship.
But maybe Star Wars: The Old Republic is taking steps in the right direction. If their recent companion reveal is to be believed, companions will have backgrounds, complex personalities, and in-depth personal needs and objectives. You can go about ignoring them, only interacting with them as needed in the heat of battle, an option that will cater to the mindless MMO player, trained for years to treat companions as meaningless pixels on a screen. Or you can choose to interact with them, dig a little deeper into what makes them tick, and through the acceptance system (yes, it involves ‘gifts’ *groan*) eventually unlock additional dialogue options, as well as unique quests and rewards.
They will provide commentary, information on the plots of the various missions you undertake, they will also try to influence your decisions. They can become your closest friends, lovers or even enemies. You get your first companion early on, but more will rally to your cause as you progress further into the game.
Maybe, just maybe, Star Wars: The Old republic will succeed in creating a solid, meaningful companion system, where so many others have failed.