The Old Republic Unveiled: Companion Characters


Even in a massively multiplayer space, it can be lonely. Playing by yourself in an MMO can be a strange, isolating experience. Solo play is fun every once in a while, but the point of these games is to play with other people. Or at least other entities. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare is approaching solo play and storytelling in a unique way ... that should be wholly unsurprising for anyone that's played one of their titles before. They're leveraging their experiences with games like Mass Effect and Baldur's Gate to creat the most compelling NPC allies yet seen in the MMO space. Join us as we explore characters you'll learn to like, hate, and maybe even love.
%Gallery-35034% James Olen, Studio Creative Director: Companion characters are a big innovation we have. We want them to be more than pets, we want them to be virtual friends. We want you to interact with them, to become friends with them. We want you to think of them as actual companions on your journeys throughout the game. Your actions are going to change how your companion characters develop. If you're a Sith and you decide to be very evil following the classic Darth Vader role, your companion is going to develop very different than if you decide to be more towards the lights side.

Companion characters can also act as your conscious ... or perhaps push you towards evil. And finally you'll be able to form friendships and romances with companion characters – or even betray them for extra power.

Daniel Erickson, Lead Writer BioWare Austin: Companion characters have always been hugely important for Star Wars and hugely important for BioWare games. We are doing more with companion characters than we've ever done as far as how you can interact with them, what they do, how they interact with the world, and become the lens through which you can actually see what is normalcy in the world, what is ethical in the world, but also how many quests they have, how much unlockable stuff is with each companion character, and how they branch off the various classes.

You mentioned companion characters being important to your character's story. Do they disappear when you're playing with other people? How do you prevent ending up with a small mob if you have three players and all of their companions?

Rich Vogel, Co-GM BioWare Austin: So the one thing is, you only have a single companion character. You might have collected more than one, but you can only have one with you at a time. You can switch them out because characters have different strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. You might decide that your character likes to have someone around with a big gun. You want to use him all the time. Or you might just choose your character because you like the story and personality of that character ... you're pursuing a romance with them, perhaps. Or maybe that character has really interesting quests that you want to finish.

You're only ever going to have one but they won't disappear. When you join other players you will end up with a few companions. We've been balancing for that, we've been cautious to make sure our areas and our combat is that kind of situation.

James: The key thing is, if they feel like pets we have not done our job. That is a key distinguishing factor. We want to make sure they're compelling, they're a part of the experience ... its' also a nice thing that if you're playing by yourself you have a companion that can spend time with you. You don't feel like you're all alone.

Gordon Walton, Co-GM BioWare Austin: They have to be emotionally engaging.

Are they entirely AI controlled, or can you trigger certain abilities or attacks with the companions?

Rich: Different players have different expectations. That's something we've learned. Some players are going to want a lot of control, some players hate pets. They don't want to play a hunter-type class and are going to want to have less control. We've made sure that we accommodate those two kinds of players. We don't want players to be forced to control something they don't want to.

Can you talk a bit more about the companions. Modern BioWare games have these great camera angles, this great voice acting ...

Gordon: We've decided to go with really bad voice acting.

Rich: And no cinematic at all. [laughs] This is something where we know what we're doing. We can't talk about it a lot, but we can say that we have a lot of learning that we can take from previous BioWare games. If we're going to take storytelling to the next level we certainly have the base to work from on that.

Daniel: There are more than we've ever had before, and they have to be able to interact with the various classes. That is exactly what they'll do. One of the great moments early when someone plays a Sith ... I think I can safely say that one of the first companion characters you interact with is not an evil person at all. And the first time you strike somebody down and do something vicious, your companion character turns to you and is like, "Uhhh." One of the reasons you'll want to do certain things is because you'll want to impress a companion character.
Star Wars: The Old Republic BioWare has finally unveiled Star Wars: The Old Republic, their new MMO! Massively's got you covered on all the details -- from liveblogging the announcement to screenshot galleries and more. Join us in the Galaxy far, far away!
This article was originally published on Massively.