13/02/2012

Companion Personality vs. Utility

When playing with other people, we're probably all familiar with the issue of personality vs. skill. I'm pretty sure that we've all known someone who was great fun to have around on a personal level, but who sometimes drove you up the wall because they just couldn't grasp the concept of not standing in the fire. On the other end of the spectrum, we've all probably met more than one person who appeared to be really good at what they were doing, but if they ever opened their mouth you immediately regretted grouping with them because they were just that obnoxious. And of course there's all kinds of degrees between those two extremes.

By making companions in SWTOR almost as powerful as real players and infusing them with believable personalities, Bioware has managed to introduce this conflict into the player-NPC relationship as well. Skill isn't really an issue since it's probably safe to assume that all companions operate using the same basic AI, but instead there is the issue of utility, since each companion can only fulfill one role, and you can't tell them to respec. So you might suddenly find yourself struggling to choose between a companion who is fun to have around in conversations but has no synergy with you in combat, or one who gets on your nerves whenever they open their mouth but complements your skills perfectly. It's an interesting conundrum. (And yes, I know you can solve this problem by switching every time you do something different, but that can be a load of hassle as well.)

I haven't really had any major problems with this on my trooper, maybe because I rarely felt that dependent on my companion to begin with, considering that I'm pretty much always playing in a group. However, on my alts things have been trickier.

My Jedi consular for example is a heavily light-side oriented character who tries to follow the Jedi code at all times. Her first companion is Qyzen Fess, a Trandoshan hunter. The game makes it clear from the start that your friendship is slightly unusual, and it shows. While it helps that Qyzen places a high value on honour, he's not a fan of taking prisoners or constantly helping out people who can't take care of their own problems, which obviously creates conflict. I didn't dislike him, but I was still looking forward to hopefully getting another companion with whom I'd get along better.

Then I did get my second companion, and he turned out to be a healer. A healer with a healer companion? I did it for one quest, and it was just awkward. Come back, Qyzen!

The other night my consular quested her way through Tatooine, and some run-ins with a couple of nasty Gamorreans really made me rethink my relationship with my pocket tank. In particular there was one quest where I accidentally let Qyzen die (oops) but figured that I should still be able to finish off the already heavily injured Gamorrean - nope, the bastard ended up kicking me every time I tried to heal myself and I died! The shame.

After that I took another long, hard look at Qyzen and realised: He's letting some Gamorreans kick him in the nuts while I stand in the back and throw rocks at them, and yet he never complains. He taunts things off me without needing any prompting, and his "sayings" during combat are all in a language I don't understand, so they never get old - they just provide a sort of comforting background grumble. I think... the old lizard-man might be growing on me after all! His performance in combat softened my attitude towards him and made me forget our personal disagreements.

In contrast to this, we have my Imperial Agent and her companion Kaliyo. I knew that she was going to be bad news from the moment she joined me. Yes, she does make me laugh sometimes and she tanks like a boss, but one of my agent's defining characteristics is that she's a patriot, and one of Kaliyo's defining characteristics is that she hates patriots. Whenever she frowns at me for saying "for the Empire", I want to kick her in the shins. Oh, and did I mention that Imperial Agents don't get a second companion until the end of Alderaan? /twitch.

When I finally did get my second companion, I was at first relieved... until I realised that he was a melee dpser like me, and I kept dying on every other pull. Not the best synergy. However, I haven't given up yet, as I'm sure that there's a way to make it work. I'm even considering respeccing to healer just for that purpose. Am I crazy? At first I thought so, but then I heard in a recent episode of Mos Eisley Radio how one of the hosts had respecced his Jedi Knight to tank purely to give his questing with Kira better synergy.

What's your attitude towards companion personality vs. utility? Are you putting up with an annoying companion just because they get the job done? Do you prefer to take out the ones you like even if it's less than optimal? Or do you actually swap companions every time you have a conversation or are about to get into a fight, trying to min-max the benefit you get out of your companion's company at every corner?

7 comments :

  1. Well, I'm playing my Imperial Agent as a traitor (he's utterly light side, which pretty much adds up to treason), so, while I imagine he sleeps with a blaster under his pillow and his cabin door locked (and gives Kaliyo presents in the hopes she doesn't stab him in the back), her personality kind of fits. Even if I do lose affection with her every time I do something nice. But I can see her attitude being much more irritating to a patriot.

    On the flip side, I'm pretty sure Corso did a better job as a tank than Bowdaar does on my smuggler. But there is no way in hell I'm switching back. My smuggler wants to borrow the Sith's social ability every time Corso opens his mouth.

    So... I stick with the companions I like. (Or am amused by - I don't see switching Kaliyo out for someone more amicable on my agent, just because I'm amused by more poor good traitorous agent being stuck with a bloodthirsty anarchist as a partner.)

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    1. That's an interesting approach to living with Kaliyo! Though I agree that she's probably slightly less disapproving of "being nice" than of being patriotic. I've occasionally seen her approve of not shooting people (though I have yet to figure out just what makes the difference for her), but I've never seen her be anything but annoyed by me praising the Empire.

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    2. As far as I can tell, she only approves of good things (like not shooting people) if it's sufficiently against orders. I see a lot of -30s to go with my light side points. Which would be where the "please don't shoot me" presents come in.

      Of course, it's far easier to explain why a traitor would keep bribing their scary companion to not, oh, turn them in, than it is to explain why a patriot wouldn't ditch her for someone actually loyal to the Empire.

      What they really need are a sufficient number of companions that light and dark side at least are covered in the various roles. (Not that this helps with other problems, such as Corso.)

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  2. I have this problem too, where I really need a certain companion to compliment my playstyle - but they just don't mesh with my character's personality. My inquisitor is entirely light-sided, and Khem Val hates me... but I really need his tanking.

    On my bounty hunter, who I play as a total jerk, I run with Gault because I got really sick of seeing Mako get mad at me. We're both ranged dps, but I level my BH with my room mate's Agent healer, so I don't have to worry too much about it.

    It is a lot more noticeable when you're trying to level solo. I'd almost wish they'd give you an option to respec your companions, but at the same time, their roles often fit their personalities.

    It doesn't stop you from cringing when you get the -30 of shame. I swear Khem Val is always getting -30s or more for everything I say. Thank god my BH can supply me with impressive gifts through diplomacy or I'd be so screwed. ><

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    1. Ooh, trying to be kind with Khem Val around must be hard. I guess the issue is at its most noticeable with your first companion, because once you get the later ones, you always have a choice. But that first guy or girl is someone you're pretty much stuck with for ten to twenty levels, whether you like it or not.

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  3. Rohan has a pretty good post with ideas on how to improve companion gameplay, so I wouldn't necessarily say that "skill" isn't a crucial issue when it comes to (micro-)managing one's companions. This can get rather annoying at times.

    Considering their personality, I also think that it's most problematic at the beginning when there is no choice which companion to use. Someone already mentioned the painful light-side Khem Val. I have similar problems on my dark-side Jedi Knight with T7-01. My heart pains every time I let my character do something really disgusting and the little fellow chirps around. If only I had known that T7 would be so adorable, I would have led my Jedi Consular down the dark side and made my Jedi Knight the goody two-shoes. Figures!

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  4. I was struck by how weird it was to have a healer companion as a Consular - nice I suppose if you go the stealth advanced class route. I ended up tanking for him for the brief chain of missions where I had to have him with me then Qyzen was back as soon as I got out of the area.

    Qyzen is a very good companion, and I've learnt by trial and error to keep him moderately happy with me.

    I suppose companion respecs would be several layers of difficulty to add to the games coding. It would be nice if there were optional companions that anyone in that faction could get via mission arcs to mix things up a bit.

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