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Community Spotlight: Are 'Companions' to be Commonplace?

Posted by MikeB Saturday October 1 2011 at 2:56PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the thread "Will we see more 'Companions' in MMOs?" by Elikal. In the thread, Elikal notes that many MMOs establish trends with their standout features and he ponders if companions, such as those found in Star Wars: The Old Republic, will become more commonplace going forward:

MMOs often cause new trends, like the "?" for Quest givers from WOW or the Public Quests from WAR. Other trends vanish entirely, like Entertainers from SWG or 3 factions from DAoC.

So I wonder, when TOR brings in the Companions, will that become a new trend?

The companion is different from a mere pet in many ways. A pet class is built around a pet. Like the WOW hunter, where the pet keeps the aggro. A Companion is someting altogether different, since every TOR character will be able to stand alone, but the Companion makes questing easier and in some group quests instead of 4 players you can use 2 players and 2 companions.

You see, one of the biggest issues of MMOs these days is: people solo too much. The result: many quests are solo quests, people are alone, and the developers can't add too many group demanding quests, because people will complain about that. A solution would be the companion, because then you can add group quests again, people CAN group meanigful, but also die hard soloists have a chance.

Of course it also adds the element of *personal* story, which may or may not become another new trend to MMOs, in contrast to the generic "fetch X of Y" quests.

Finally, it also sort of disperses the feeling of aloneness, some MMO gamers these days complain, myself included. Companions have been a much loved part in single player RPGs, from the earliest speaking companions, Iolo, Shamino & Dupre in Ultima to DA's Morrgian and Alister or Bastila and HK-47 In KOTOR.

Let's find out what the community thinks! Read on!

empyros hopes that companions will not become commonplace:

I sincerely hope that this will not be the case. 

Companions, no matter how well done, are ultimately NPCs. MMOs are typically played for long periods of time - years in some cases. The "magic" of an NPC wears off in such a time span. Not only will companions eventually feel fake and thus detract from the immersion of the world, but companion upkeep by the devs will be an expensive endeavour. 

A companion just cannot recreate the fun a player can have with new friends. And really, that's what MMOs are about aren't they? Meeting new people in a  new world and exploring it and sicovering it together?

The reason why MMOs are "lonely" these days is because of how they're made - with emphasis solely on end game and gear. If the devs gave a reason for the community to be interactive with each other and tight knit, there wouldn't be all the angst regarding lonely solo players. 

And even if there is angst, as I stated -- nothing can replicate a human friend. 

Especially in MMOs. I *loved* Alistair in DA:O... but to have him stand by my side dumbly as an NPC saying the same things over and over again for over three months would get so damn old.

Mithandolir doesn't really mind if companions are in most MMOs as long as there is a solid selection of MMOs that don't feature them:

As long as there remains a few mmorpgs without companions, then I am happy and don't care where the rest of the industry moves towards. I can't stand the concept of companions in mmorpgs, unless they are extremely superficial and are there strictly as hirelings or henchmen to aid on a tough quest or something... and have no storylines associated with them, no artifical emotions or romances, etc...

But I realize that I am in the minority on this, and therefore voted "yes". I do believe the industry is moving in this direction and will likely continue to. I think it's a great thing for those who enjoy that sort of thing, and am happy to see the industry broaden to accompany all types of gamers. 

I just hope there are at least a few studios out there who will leave out the companions... leave out the voice acting and the cutscenes, etc... because there are still a handful of us old timers out here who would much rather play a game the old fashion way, with other like minded people.

To each, his own.

Vlad_Tepes likes companions, and hopes they appear in more games:

I hope so. And I hope they are more a part of my toon's story like SWTOR is doing, and not just npc's following me. Don't get me wrong, I prefer to group with friends, guildmates, etc. But I play at very odd hours when said friends are not online. So yes, given the option, I'd rather have companions to travel with than some player that just wants to blow through the content in a week to show how hardcore or elite he/she is. I do group with strangers, and enjoy it sometimes, but more often than not I end up with some impatient, rude, player that cares only about himself and his next shinny drop. 

So bring on the companions, and give them depth, because a lot of the mmo community has none.

I'm fairly indifferent on the existence of companions, however, what I don't want to see is the approach BioWare is taking as far as how they factor into the player's power envelope when it comes to combat. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, your companion is 40% of your damage output. That means if you dismiss him and just want to run around on your own, you'll be taking a 40% damage hit and the content is obviously tuned for this, so you'll have a hard time playing truly solo. If I'm playing a Smuggler, I don't mind running around with my Chewbacca-like Wookiee companion all the time. But if im playing a Sith Warrior, why do I need Vette around to take care of business?

Basically, I'd like to see companions stick around in the genre, but I don't want them to be as powerful if it means I can't really do stuff on my own without them.

AutemOx writes:

Lots of games have had them.  They don't add a huge amount to a game really, maybe some complexity but are unnecessary overall and that is why you do not see all games adopting them.  Definitely not revolutionary.

Sat Oct 01 2011 8:39PM Report
AutemOx writes:

My comment goes for cutscenes too.  Cutscenes are more of a hook than something that actually applies to long term gameplay.  It is enjoyable, but only initially.  Games that rely on cutscenes for the game to be 'fun' may tend to be shorter lived for that reason.  Resources could be allocated elsewhere to make the games lifespan longer, but that doesn't mean a game with cutscenes is doomed to fail.

They may be better suited for games like GW1 though, which are not subscription based, IMO.  And single player games.

Sat Oct 01 2011 8:42PM Report
Elikal writes:

I think like every powerful instrument, this too must be handled with care. In the long run I see the addition of companions as the necessary and logical evolution in MMOs. Carefully implemented they can actually make people MORE grouping, and add a versatile element to the rigid class system, without watering down the class role. A character keeps his sharp class role and his identity and still with a selection of companions gets versatility. It is not to replace the real player companion, but in our days of soloism, it can add those elements your duo or trio lacks to do the group content.

Sat Oct 01 2011 11:39PM Report
Lord.Bachus writes:

Its fun to see how GW2 leaves the companion system of the orriginal GW game behind and takes another route based uppon 5+ years of experience with Henchmen and heroes.



Sun Oct 02 2011 3:11AM Report
someforumguy writes:

Bioware is just continueing with what they already did in KOTOR, Dragon Age and Mass Effect series (all had these kind of companions) . This is a Bioware thing, not a new trend.

Then there is Guild Wars 1, which used companions with much success in the form of hench and later on heroes, but those were implemented in a different way.

Can hardly say that its starting a new trend. Actually I think its not easy to copy. Ive seen bad pet  systems in other MMO's. Where they didnt even get the basics right, like routing (captain's pet in LOTRO) or basic AI (Mastermind minions in CoH).

Sun Oct 02 2011 6:25AM Report
Digna writes:

As a (primarily) soloist, a companion (NPC) give me the feeling that I am not 'alone' but still not forced to find someone (player character) to run with. I am righteously angry when my companion is gunned down (arrowed magicked etc) and frequently sacrifice myself in favor of of the companion. I enjoy them.

Sun Oct 02 2011 10:25AM Report
Spectre100 writes:

As in previous incarnations of Companion style character assistance,  see Guild Wars, the use of Henchmen or Heroes to fill the slot you can't, or don't want, to fill with a human assistant is a good way to go. To make the companion a sizeable part of your necessary playstyle (Every class is a pet class) would take a piece of the variance out of the game. I'd not enjoy a game so much if everything i played was a Stealth/Heal/Tank spec hunter.

Sun Oct 02 2011 11:36AM Report
halobump writes:

I always thought that Guild Wars lost a bit of it's group play with the introduction of Heroes. There was no longer any need to play together...

I was a little saddened by this, but they implimented it at the right time when it was reaching the end of it life.

Sun Oct 02 2011 12:05PM Report
aslan132 writes:

Unfortunately this is the way the industry is moving, but more over youre entire article is riddled with misinformation. I know you dont come out and say that those games you mention were first to feature what you descibe, but the implication is obvious with your wording of "new trends". I have no idea if WAR was first with the public quests, since the game was dead and gone before i ever got a chance to play it (within 6 months of release), but i know for sure WoW wasnt first with a "?" for quest givens. For that matter i challenge anyone on this site to name one feature that WoW had before another game, everything in WoW came from somewhere else.

As for the companions, they have been in games for years, not just months. EQ1 has had them since 2008 (see Mercenaries), and other games will even be seeing them before SWTOR is released. Not a bad article to bring up trends, just please do your research before naming them 'new'.

Sun Oct 02 2011 5:01PM Report
ZombieKen writes:

I have a moderately advanced companion system running in WAC.  So far testing and feedback on it has been quite good.  The most common application is fleshing out a group that doesn't have a decent trinity combination.

The henchmen tank, heal, buff, and combat both melee and ranged.  They're also intentionally designed to cause problems by chasing runners and pulling more aggro.

I don't see them detracting from grouping.  Yes, soloers like them but henchmen are no replacement for a real group of players.  The cooperative "fun" of playing with others isn't something that AI companions can offer.

Mon Oct 03 2011 4:56AM Report
BadSpock writes:

It's really a Bioware thing being brought to the MMO space, I don't think it is the same at all to GW1 and I don't think Bioware-style companions would work in many MMORPGs.

That being said, others will try it and fail horribly.


Bioware is fantastic at creating characters. That's the big difference - a companion is more then a pet it's a true character just like the other Bioware games.

Will it really "change" things? Who knows. I'm excited to see what it will do for a MMO, because I love what it does for their RPGs.

Mon Oct 03 2011 8:47AM Report
garry writes:

Shrug! Over and over I see these comments. Group only no matter what. Soloist (loners-losers). Don't want Companions and do not want anyone else to have them either. Doesn't matter that by dropping or not using Companions makes the gameplay harder, which I hear repeatedly in forums as a demand or complaint. Do not want players to have a choice. The list goes on and on and on - repeated.


Thats ok cause we do have free speech. Companions are in SWTOR and I am glad they are there.  No cause for flaming, just a single (solo) opinion. Plenty of grouping opportunities as well a both required and choice selection plus hybrid play - players plus Companions. Where actually is the problem? Glad we will have a choice.

Mon Oct 03 2011 1:22PM Report
TheLizardbones writes:

I think companions are a good way to 'fill in' the weak points in a character with a specific build.  Tanks can have a dps companion, healers can have a dps or tank companion, etc.  When you get into an instance or group activity, you don't have your companion, so they aren't in the way, and it isn't gimping your group activity.

I think it's a good way to deal with crafting as well.  I'd rather have a planning mini-game than a hit the key when the light turns on kind of mini game for crafting.

Overall, I think it's fine.  I don't think it makes sense for every game to do it or for it to be applied everywhere.  It makes a lot of sense for solo game play.  Not so much for group game play.


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