Last week I put together a handy primer on what we could expect to see at this year’s PAX East and I know a few of you were looking forward to my take on all the juicy stuff that was to come, however, I have some bad news: I wasn’t able to make it out to the show! D’oh!
Due to some unforeseen circumstances I had to hang back and check things out the same way you guys did, by gluing my eyes to the screen and waiting with bated breath for any updates coming out of the show. The central focus of BioWare’s showing at PAX East was the Taral V Flashpoint, a “dungeon” for mid-level players. While I unfortunately can’t offer you a hands-on take of Taral V this week, my esteemed colleagues Garrett and Bill both got a chance to check out the build and you can find their impressions here.
While there are countless videos of the Flashpoint available on the interwebs, BioWare put together their own slick walkthrough of Taral V and so I’ll be mostly going off that. The developers decided to take the Taral V build as an opportunity to defy player expectations (and show off the Advanced Classes in doing so!). Those lucky enough to get their hands on the Taral V build were able to pick from a Jedi Guardian, a Jedi Sage, a Vanguard Trooper or a Scoundrel Smuggler, and just about all of these classes were spec’d to explore their atypical playstyle options. The Smuggler was spec’d for healing, the Jedi Sage for damage, the Jedi Guardian for DPS, and the Trooper was the only exception, fulfilling his role as a tank. Of course, he’s a fairly unique ranged tank, so that was different enough.
While all the group role trappings are there, it was interesting reading reactions from users who were somewhat confused over the team makeup. I’ve previously expressed confusion over the fact the Smuggler can serve as a healer from a lore standpoint, but the fact he was doing it nonetheless was simply fun to watch. Keeping things in perspective, the Smuggler class also has high damage melee (including stealth) or ranged combat options that it can specialize in, so the fact it can serve as a healer as well is frankly a bit refreshing, if still confusing.
The Jedi Guardian was sporting its single-bladed lightsaber DPS specialization, something that was only revealed just recently. Previously, many were under the assumption that we’d only be able to fulfill a damage role dual-wielding lightsabers, so it’s nice to see that the singleblade is also an option outside of tanking.
The Sage was probably the most underwhelming, it looked like it was contributing to the damage charts for sure, but didn’t really appear interesting doing it. Sure, it can rip debris from the ground and chuck it at enemies, but if I’m already bored of just watching that ability, I can imagine I’d be bored pretty quick actually playing with it, hopefully there is some more variety there.
Really the most alarming thing that came out of PAX East was BioWare’s response to a question regarding companions at the Meet and Greet. If you’ve watched any of the Taral V videos you’ll notice that companions are curiously absent from the experience. There’s a reason for this, BioWare is (currently) not allowing companions in group content, such as Flashpoints and Raids (though the jury is out on Warzones, I’d prefer them not involved in PvP for what it’s worth).
I found this to be a bit of a shock, and so did a friend of mine who noted that one of the big draws for him was the potential to round out a team with companions to fill areas that are lacking (such as healing), but it sounds like this isn’t going to be a possibility unless feedback during testing gives BioWare a reason to think otherwise (hint hint). The reasoning given at the Meet and Greet was that AI is simply never as good as an actual player and they want failures to result due to choices made by the player and not due to the AI screwing up somehow. Georg Zoeller offers a more detailed explanation here.
To be fair, Georg’s explanation does make a bit more of a convincing argument against them, as part of the game design is set so that companions are not to be micro-managed in the way pets usually are in your typical MMO. BioWare figures that due to the human coordination required in group content such as raids coupled with the lack of fine control for companions (by design) would mean that most players would just disallow companions from their raid groups anyways.
Ultimately, it looks like they made the decision to make companions fulfill their roles in the areas of the game they intended for them instead of devoting a ton of time and resources into making them raid-ready. This isn’t a dealbreaker for me, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by this. I do have to caution that none of this is set in stone, as Georg notes that BioWare hasn't officially made an announcement regarding companions in Flashpoints and this is all very much in testing at the moment.