Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Phase 3: There’s This Magical, Butthead NPC Standing Next to Me

Note: This article may contain spoilers for the upcoming MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic. If you don't wish to have anything ruined, I suggest you keep scrolling to the next article.

Mako better heal my ass, or no digital dinner tonight!
The Companion Character.

Part of the BioWare trademark at this point. An NPC buddy to follow you on your journey of kicking ass, and providing mild entertainment.

A unique aspect to TOR in comparison to other MMO’s is that companions take on a vital role in the game. They offer you assistance when your soloing, bonus missions and special gear, and in-dept relationships. Most games it’s just you and your pet kitty, or magical fairy that does nothing but flys around and looks pretty. FFXI is the only game that I can think of where you can quest for an NPC companion to fight with you in battle, focus their tactics into one of three areas, and level them up. Even that has it’s limitations and it’s not exactly someone you’d want to bring with you to boss battles.

In TOR, you need your companion. In many cases, they are the difference between life and death in a situation.

BioWare was smart about companion characters. Over the past year the little bugs have been weeded out, and now I can’t imagine playing solo without having a companion with me. Unlike other games where you might have an xp decrease for having a buddy, with a companion you don’t. You also don’t have to do the song and dance of swapping companions to ensure they all have the same general levels. They level with you. So if you hit level 30, so do all of your companions.

Here is what the Wookie Bowdaar looks like in the TOR
Offical screen shot.
Slowly they have been adding customization kits so that your companion can have one of 9 looks (1 primary upon first receiving him/her/it, and 8 that can be purchased at NPC Companion Kit Vendors) that can adjust the skin color, hair, and facial markings. So we don’t have a world of 500 Corso Riggs’ running around looking the exact same.

Each player can receive a maximum of 6 companions; 1 is your ship’s droid which really can’t be used for much other then cannon fodder and crafting and 5 odd assortments of characters that can be used for battle. Each companion will come with a unique set of stats, armor, weapons, and crafting bonuses (they apply to your skill with an increased probability in making Exceptional Items or bringing more stuff back from gathering missions).

This is where things can get a little bit more complicated. You, the player, don’t actually get to craft stuff or go out on gathering missions. Your companions do that. Starting at level 10 you can learn 3 Crew Skills-1 craft, 2 gathering. At level 10 you can send out one companion at a time for missions and crafting. At level 20, 2 companions, and so on. It’s a good progression because most people won’t have their first 2 fighting companions until around the level 20 area (unless you’re a Jedi Knight -_-).
Here's what Bowdaar really looks like-skinny Wookie alert!

Now you have the power to harvest nodes sitting out in the world for your gathering skill, but even your companion can do that for you. If he/she/it is out, it’ll pick at the node if you right-click on it. So really, you’re completely removed from the crafting experience. That’s one part I’m still not completely on board with, because I enjoy crafting. I like the technical aspects of it. But this is a very hands-off approach to let your companions deal with it while you explore the world and get xp.

Next issue, gear and weapons. While your companions come pre-geared when they enter your group, you’ll need to update their crap eventually. Most people will probably only have one companion that they want to play with, and that’s fine. I know some Jedi Knights who are in love with the second companion and will only use that one person for their entire experience. For me, I like to swap out my companions depending on the situation I’m up against. Especially as a squishy healer. So I can’t have my level 40 companion running around in level 20 gear. He’ll get slaughtered. Instead of having 2 people to gear, myself and 1 companion, I now have 6. I don’t use the droid for fighting. He’s really that bad. On the plus, there are enough drops through your general questing that work quite well for companion gear if you don’t want to use the pieces on yourself. But you still have to manage 5-6 NPC’s. It can take a lot of time and effort to get them the way that you want.

It looks like crappy gear, but at
the time, it was pretty good stat-wise.
I don’t mean giving them crappy gear. Your companions, aside from the ship droid, are pretty powerful. They’re not throw-away NPC’s. They actually take a beating, dish out damage, or heal you quite effectively. So now it’s not just about equipping them properly, but what you’re able to afford.

And then there is companion affection. Much like with KOTOR, ME, and DA, what you say will affect how your companions feel about you. Now for every job and every gender, there is at least one companion that you can form an intimate relationship with. Not that you can see anything because it is a Star Wars game and it is still rated T for teens. Depending on your class and your choices, companions will either be all for your decisions or against them. The grey area jobs, aka the non-Force users, are the ones where you will get companions that will hate your responses. How do you mitigate those? Companion gifts! Your new companion hated that you chose a Light Side option? Shove a gift in their face and things will be better.

For class quest conversations, all companions are involved (particularly on your ship). If it’s a normal quest, only the companion in your group will be affected by your choices. Why should you care about affection? It can grant you A TON of bonus XP. When you reach certain milestones in companion affection, you can talk to you companion for a cut scene in a cantina or on your personal ship. In turn, you get xp. And with up to 10,000 companion affection points available, it’s a lot of cut scenes and a lot of xp. In the case of your very first companion, it’ll grant you additional quests and items. And the stories range from mildly amusing to pretty in-depth.

Now you don’t “HAVE” to use your companion. You can totally solo the game all by yourself if you wanted to. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. It’s not like they take away your xp or anything. They are there to help you and to enhance your general gaming experience. Part of what we love about the Star Wars movies is having this odd grouping of people coming together to save the galaxy.

Ahh Blizz. You are my favorite companion.
In terms of the types of companions, well they’re all over the board. Yes, you can get a Wookie companion and yes, you can get a Mon Calamari. If you play Smuggler. If you want a bad ass fighting droid, play Jedi Knight or Republic Trooper. Want your own Twi’lik slave? Sith Warrior. Shock collar and all. No. I’m not kidding. You have options to shock her (just don’t expect any love in return). If you want a Jawa, play Bounty Hunter (who is by far my favorite companion of them all; he tanks like a beast!). They seem quite random, but from a story stand-point, they make a lot of sense. Smuggler’s is probably the craziest, and yet fits the best. You have a former peace-brigade member with an unhealthy obsession with guns, a Hutt-enslaved Wookie, a lost pirate princess, a vengeful Zabrak Mandalorian, and a scum-sucking, conniving Mon Calamari. It makes so much sense, but there are times when I would board the ship and think “what the hell did I get into letting these people on board?”
Who'd want to shoot you?

By the way, you don’t have an option to say no. They’re boarding your ship whether you like it or not. And with the most recent update, they now talk a lot during battle and have been given more lines of dialogue if you click them. They get pretty chatty when they fight. Sometimes you want to smack them. But isn’t that what real friends do? Some days you like them. Some days you hate them. Some days you want to whack them on the head with the butt of your Blaster Pistol, but they are still your friends at the end of the day.

Those are the aspects that stand out to me at the moment. I may add to this later on, but this is the Companion Characters. Enjoy the insanity as you try to equip them!


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