Home > World of Warcraft > “Will SWTOR Fix the Companions System?” or “My Only Friend in the World is a Moron”

“Will SWTOR Fix the Companions System?” or “My Only Friend in the World is a Moron”

Companionship

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.

Companions

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:

  1. They are two-dimensional.
  2. 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.

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Categories: World of Warcraft
  1. September 27, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Kneejerk reaction to this was “faction of one”… but if they do it right then they can introduce the branching paths that MMOs so dearly lack in comparison to traditional RPGs. I’m excited by the thought that maybe, *maybe* we’ll get a system where making a choice actually has a persistent effect that cuts off other options, even if that effect is limited to one NPC.

    • September 27, 2011 at 6:21 pm

      Wouldn’t that be something? Making a choice that has a lasting impact, however limited the scope, but an impact that you can tangibly see, point at and tell people that you made that particular bit of difference.

      • September 27, 2011 at 6:33 pm

        Yeah… I understand the design principle behind “no lost opportunities”, but it honestly leaves me feeling like I’m not an invested part of the world sometimes. Worst example: Thisalee Crow’s ‘choice’ in Hyjal.

        Ever heard of Hobson’s choice?
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobson%27s_choice

        • September 27, 2011 at 10:01 pm

          Heard of it? We play it and live it every day in our respective favorite brands of MMOs!

  2. Mizerboy
    September 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    I am still unsure of the mechanics of this game; obviously it is an MMO (duh) but I am not following how the social aspect of this game will be. Will it be like WoW, meaning I can actively talk with any and all my friends? Will there be “raids” so to speak, grouping up with 1 or more people to accomplish something. I am unsure if I will get this game or not until I better understand this stuff.

    • September 27, 2011 at 10:04 pm

      I would suggest you go through their website in detail. They have been steadily releasing information since the behemoth was announced and the website is really quite comprehensive. You can also look at Darth Hater, those guys have SWTOR covered down pat!

      Of course there will be raiding, or at least a Star Wars version of it. No matter which MMO you play, it seems raids are absolutely inevitable. They are the single defining element in MMOs that force people to come together and work towards a goal. Sometimes I think if there were no raiding system in MMOs, they would effectively be single-player games that you play with a lot of people. Wait, that is what most of them are now.

  3. September 27, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    I enjoy the companions in the Bioware games and I think they will be a real neat aspect of the game, maybe one of the most unique. I am really interested to see how they are in-game because I’m such a pet/merc/companion lover 😀

    • September 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm

      It certainly looks like it. I am very appreciative of the fact that they kept a lid on it, and only reveled it when they had the system in place and (possibly) tested. 40+ companions, each with his own quest line, it’s almost like adding 40 additional quest hubs to the game just to give it more character.

  4. September 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

    If there is one thing that has me interested in this game is its Bioware RPG pedigree. I quite enjoy the companions in their SPRPGs so I hope they get the same treatment here.

    • September 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      Yes, the companions in Dragon Age and Mass Effect had a lot of personality. But it seemed to me that their quests and allegiance system was too straight-forward and elementary. Do one quest, and they are your allies to the bitter end.

  5. Nobody
    September 29, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    “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.”

    how does casual = solo? or how does being social/grouping make you hardcore?
    using this logic i should assume that having a level capped player run you through dungeons to level you = hardcore? when i ran (5 man)dungeons with a group of friends(less than 5) were we “casual” since we didn’t have the full group?

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