05/11/2015

The Great Companion Debate

If you've been playing any PvE content in SWTOR since patch 4.0 at all, you must have noticed that your companions have become significantly more powerful than they used to be. To some extent, that was to be expected, since their gear ceased to matter and back when it did, few of us kept our companions' gear up to date at all times, so they were pretty much always weaker than they could have been. Also, we were told in advance that affection/influence was going to affect companion performance in combat come KotFE time - considering that it didn't used to before, that was going to be another buff.

However, what's been going on in practice has been crazy town. Healing companions spam massive heals non-stop, to the point where your health never even moves even while you fight multiple mobs at once. Tank companions can solo seemingly everything, as they shield themselves from damage and have a small, constant self-heal going on. And as far as dps goes, someone on the forums let his max level companion parse on a dummy for five minutes and came out with about 5600 dps. The current top dps player on the worldwide leaderboard sits at 7200, so at least in that area companions have not completely taken over yet... but they are still outperforming the average damage dealer by a considerable margin.


The official forums are on fire with people discussing the issue. One side wants to see companions nerfed, the other enjoys being powerful and wants to hear none of it. Just tuck your companion away if you don't want it, they say, but leave mine alone! (Here's the currently biggest forum thread on the issue that I could find.)

Personally, I am somewhat concerned. I get that people enjoy being powerful, and I don't mind if someone wants to sit back and AFK while their companion does all the work (though personally I'd find it boring). And as someone who plays a lot of healers, I certainly appreciate my dps companions actually packing a bit of a punch now when I'm out questing. What worries me is the effect that overpowered companions are going to have on small group content.

Now, they have always been able to fill the role of an extra player in most heroic missions and flashpoints. They were not as good at the job, but you could manage in a pinch. And that was partially what they were there for! However, in my opinion they should never be preferable to having another player around, and that's exactly what I'm already seeing right now, especially with healers. A guildie of mine was in a flashpoint the other evening, they lost their healer, and when the group finder gave them a replacement he expressed disappointment because they had been doing so well with a companion healer. I've also been in a similar situation myself, when my group of one tank and three dps kept wiping on Colonel Daksh in tactical Maelstrom Prison (even with me kiting him around the boxes like a pro, all old-school hardmode style). When two people quit, me and the remaining dps whipped out our companions instead and things only got easier from there. Did I mention that they even know how to use CC properly now (unlike a lot of players)? It's not hard to imagine players getting kicked from groups in favour of someone's companion healer. This should never happen!

Under the old system, companions were good at dividing small trickle heals among multiple group members, but there was a hard cap on their burst healing, because using their biggest heal would place a debuff on the person who got healed and for several seconds they couldn't be affected by the same big heal again. (This also prevented healer stacking.) I'm not saying we need that exact same system back again, but there does need to be some kind of cap on companion performance in my opionion.

Even if we assume that people won't go to such extremes as kicking people to replace them with companions, new players will simply get a completely warped view of the way the game works. I've always liked how the companion system allowed newbies to get at least a vague idea of how trinity gameplay works and that it made it viable to level as a tank or a healer, even if you played "solo" (that is to say just with your companion) most of the time. However, the kind of output we currently see from companions will just set completely unrealistic expectations for newcomers. The first time they meet a real healer, they'll think: "Wow, they sure suck!" Because unlike their companion, a real healer has resources and cooldowns to consider and can't just spam huge heals non-stop. And why can't that tank just keep himself healed up...?

I hope that Bioware will address this in some manner. I'm willing to give it some time because I know from experience that something that looks like a problem after a big patch may sometimes sort itself out after a while, and not all bad predictions necessarily come to pass. Personally I do suspect though that companions will require at least a little bit of tweaking if they aren't supposed to replace real players in group content in the future.

NOTE: Patch 4.0.2, released on the 17th of November, did indeed nerf companions' damage and healing output. Musco explained their reasoning here.

8 comments :

  1. I also think that the effect of Presence needs to be considered. The most vocal, experienced players have a lot of Presence thanks to legacy, so their companions might be excessively overpowered compared to those of a genuine newbie.

    A lot of the work and tuning in KotFE feels to me to have been done for the first-time player, or really old returning player.

    Personally, I think that, absent evidence that a zero Presence companion is overpowered, adding diminishing returns to Presence is the best solution for the moment.

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    1. Presence might play a part, but it does seem like a lot of different things factor into it. For example I've seen someone claim on the forums that companion stats are bugged in flashpoints and that they are not powerful there at all. I'm not entirely convinced by that, but it's true that in the Maelstrom Prison run I mentioned for example, we still managed to wipe on the bonus boss and on Kilran when we had only one companion set to heals. We actually had to "double up" to survive. But that might also have been due to neither of us being max level and/or something to do with the bolster system.

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  2. I've heard of a few of those horror stories and am very pleased to have not encountered any myself. Well, not since that one time pre-2.0 when a Tank was kicked about halfway through and someone else's Bowdaar sadly proved better at surviving...

    Speaking of Tanks, whilst I agree that Healer and DPS Companions make things too boring now - and I used to do everything with HK-51! - I love what it's done to the Tanks. Whereas before they were squishier than a damp sandwich and needed either a dedicated Healer or off-heals from a viable DPS, now they're much hardier and able to hold their own very capably. It's actually viable to run with one full-time as a DPS class now!

    It also helps that they're not as affected by Influence and Presence as either DPS or Healers. Yes, they gain HP and Damage from it, but because Defensive Stats never change a Rank 1 Tank is just as effective as a Rank 50 Tank; admittedly, lengthier and harder-hitting fights will still favour a Tank with dedicated Heals or one with greater HP.

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    1. I had this typed out before and somehow it got omitted; the Flashpoint Bowdaar replaced the Tank on was an SM Mando Raiders.

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  3. It actually is happening that low level players or non-guild players on 2-3 guild member runs are getting vote kicked so the jerks can pull their healer comp out. Gotta say, that's pretty lame, though if I saw that I'd probably leave group and group up with the other guy and do the fp with our comps, giving what tips and tricks I could, assuming they weren't after the group finder rewards. That said, I haven't had the urge to run group finder yet.

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    1. Sad to hear that it's already happening, but I can't say I'm surprised!

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  4. I'm inclined to think they made companions as powerful as they did because so many people fell in love with the GSI droid and wished for it as a companion. Now we've gotten something sort of like it and people are upset.

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    1. People loved the GSI droid, really? I know the solo mode option was popular, but most comments about the droid itself, at least the ones that I saw personally, tended to range from indifferent to disparaging, such as a video of the person's character /dance-ing in Blood Hunt while the droid soloed all the enemies. (No, I didn't watch the whole thing.)

      I will totally agree that having an overpowered companion does at least feel a bit more personal than having a random droid be the saviour of the galaxy. It still makes you wonder why they even bother to call the player character in though.

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