Posted in Star Wars: The Old Republic

TOR: A Companion To Call My Own

Some people call me the Space Cowboy, some call me the gangster of love

Having just finished Mass Effect 2, I can vouch that companions are an essential part of the BioWare experience.  They’ve always been, really, and not just in BioWare — memorable sidekicks from Floyd in Planetfall to Crow in The Longest Journey have enriched our journeys, even though they were just lines of code.

While people will (and already have been) decrying companion characters in TOR as promoting anti-social behavior and taking away reasons to group, I think that’s both baloney and missing the big picture.  MMOs need to be doing more to connect us to the world, and I don’t see the harm in bringing some of the elements that have really worked in past games into the online world.  Sure, maybe there will be people who will rely on companions only and will never group, but there are people who will never group anyway.

There’s a reason why some of us get so attached to our pets in game (combat and non), because we crave the virtual companionship they offer, even if it’s mostly in our head.  I’m pretty psyched about TOR’s companion system, and we’re finally seeing more about how it’s going to happen this week.  There’s not a lot of blindingly new info, but they have confirmed the following:

  • You can collect multiple companions, but can only have one out at a time
  • Companions can be droids and from races other than humans
  • Each companion brings something different to the game in terms of skills: tank, heals, hacking, DPS, crowd control.
  • They have special abilities in battle
  • You can equip gear on your companion
  • You get your first companion early on
  • Companions have a relationship with you, which can change (friends, enemies, lovers)
  • You can change that relationship and their attitudes with the Affection system (words, gifts, actions)
  • They give commentary and viewpoints on the world and your actions
  • Companions are optional, not mandatory for play

One complaint people have had is that we will each be sharing the same companions — that companions won’t be unique to just one character.  I can see that as being a deal-breaker for some, but really, there isn’t an alternative unless you don’t want the companions to have much of a personality or backstory (in other words, just be a blank slate).  I’d rather have a deep and detailed character in my party, and I think it’ll be interesting to see how my companions end up different than other players’ companions — kind of like alternate universe versions of the same person.

12 thoughts on “TOR: A Companion To Call My Own

  1. My concern, so far unfounded, is based on their comment that each class will have a unique set of companions. Now say I really want a droid companion and perhaps droids are only an option on a few classes, well that will limit my class choices.

  2. I have mixed feelings about the companion thing. Yeah, it’s a kinda cool mechanic and makes soloing easier but doesn’t it just kinda defeat the whole point of playing a MMO in the first play? We have companions in single player games because we don’t have access to real people, exactly the reason why MMORPGs exist!

  3. My main fear for companions is them becoming mere pets. I hate pet classes. I hate the micromanagement. But I do like the way that the companions are said to enhance the storyline. If I am able to just set my companion on “CC” or “Heal me when I hit 30%,” I’ll be happy. I don’t want to have to deal with their loyalty, hunger, and other such nonsense.

    I also fear the “ability” to equip them with items. I hope that honestly doesn’t mean that they will be useless unless I gear them to the hilt, something I have a problem doing on my main characters sometimes. I don’t like the idea of having to gear two characters at once. I’d much prefer a robust talent-system with just a few slots to put items in.

  4. @Gordon – Then why have any other characters in the game other than people? Why do NPCs exist in both RPGs and MMORPGs? They help to define the world, to give us stories, to provide connections, to make us feel as though we’re both interacting with a lot of real world people and a fictional world without losing either.

    I mean, sure, you could play a MMO that’s solely populated by player characters who provide the “cast”, but I — and I think most people — prefer to be in a world where there’s a large supporting cast to give more meaning to it. In TOR, they’re giving us a cast member who’s more than a quest/item vendor, which is something we’ve been bemoaning for years (how NPCs are essentially “lifeless”). And as BioWare and others have said, this is not without precedent. Even dating back to PnP D&D, the GM would often include companion NPCs and other NPCs who existed to be a part of the story — just because other people are playing with you in those campaigns doesn’t mean that a “living” NPC becomes obsolete, just that they perform a different role than PCs.

    What frustrates me about TOR and a lot of the other upcoming MMOs is just how quick people are to decry anything different before experiencing it. We complain for years that there’s nothing new, and then when they start working on new stuff, we complain about that before even seeing it. It might suck, it might be great, but I’m willing to be optimistic until then and then give it a chance.

  5. FFXI has this, the NPC companion. You do a quest to obtain one at around 30, and they can be used for a limited amount of time in a variety of builds. Healer, tank, dps. They have a personality, can be any body type a PC can, can be given weapons to change their usable weapon, and armor as well.

    They aren’t strong enough to be a party replacement, but speed up duoing and farming. You’d never use them otherwise. Any character can.

    This video is a battle of one of the quests you have to do to raise their level. The catch? Your companion has to test their strength against a boss…you.

    Maybe this will help give an idea of how npc companions can work well.

  6. Every time a new game takes another step away from forced grouping grindfests (ala EQ, FFXI) a certain subset of the community says “Why should game X even be an MMO?”

    It’s a predictable but fairly tired response by now. If players didn’t like things such as quests to follow or the stuff to do solo, I doubt designers of older MMOs would keep retrofitting them in. Even EQ let’s you hire NPCs and has quest givers with little glowey rings these days.

  7. I’m from the camp that has come to the grim realization that players are less colorful actors than NPCs, so this is a welcome addition. Companions are pocket immersion in a world where most people detract from immersion just by playing normally.

    As for its effects on the game, Guild Wars did have its moments with Tease-based AI builds, but overall, people do group together because AIs either are too micro-intensive to play comfortably or are simply boring to the point where players will combine out of necessity.

    However, from a continuity perspective, if you want great continuity in the world, companions would be referring to themselves as vaguely as they refer to you as an individual without a proper noun. If not, you get a billion mirror universes. That being said, most people probably don’t care that much about it since it is a RPer beef if anything.

    Still, Bioware is no stranger to the Familiar Possession system. Part of me wishes that I could have free reign over my companion in situations where the AI proves inadequate.

  8. The concerns directed at TOR’s companion system don’t really seem thought out in it’s context.

    Companions are optional. Don’t want to feed, clothe and micro manage a pet? Then don’t.

    The purpose of their companions is to bolster their ‘Fourth Pillar’ – not prove grouping obsolete. I for one will be using my companion for solo play when friends/guild members are not around especially if they implement something similar to the tactics system seen in DA (then I might not use them at all, or all the time – I’ve nothing as of yet to base my assumptions on!)

    Also looking forward to a character’s story progresses with the extra variable of a persistant NPC that has a ‘personality’ affected by the consequence of your actions.

    It’s new, exciting and should be encouraged till it proves a disaster. Calling it now, so early on without any actual experience of the mechanic is wholly counter productive.

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