I’ve never been much good at playing “pet” classes. My very first character in World of Warcraft was the pet-centric warlock. The only reason I chose that particular class was because I had been told that warlocks receive a unique mount for free. In hindsight, I have no idea why this was so compelling to me. Maybe I thought the game would require my character to spend time as a barn hand, shoveling horse manure. Considering how many quests Blizzard has since created that involve poop and outhouses, I may have been more prescient than I realized. Sadly, my warlock was abandoned by level 45 in favor of the more hands-on rogue.
For whatever reason, controlling a “pet” in a game feels unseemly to me. If I need to beat up on a bad guy I want to do it myself, not stand back in relative safety and demand that a magic hedgehog do the fighting for me. It feels unheroic to me. It feels… detached.
With this in mind I was a bit apprehensive when I first learned that all classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic would be assigned a “companion” character. “Oh great.” I thought. “An NPC that I have to dress and babysit. Just what I always didn’t want.” Not only is there a sense of detachment from combat when a pet is involved, I’m also frequently annoyed by the compounding of minutia. I have enough trouble doing the constant comparing/contrasting of stat bonuses and skill abilities that’s required in almost any RPG. For me, doing it for two characters becomes less a game and more of an exercise in Excel spreadsheet acrobatics – with the added threat of strabismus. I realize that number crunching is an integral part of online games that many players enjoy. I just don’t happen to be one of them.
Thankfully, SW:tOR’s companions are fairly undemanding, easy to manage, and probably wouldn’t be strictly classified as “pets”, as their combat abilities are completely independent of those of your character. Make sure to keep their gear current, set them to “attack” mode, and let the game’s AI do the rest. In the game’s many dialogue scenes they even have their own responses and actions based upon what conversation choices you make. Overall, companions add an interesting and fun dynamic without being burdensome – if only you could get them to SHUT UP!
My only experience has been with the Smuggler companion, Corso Riggs. Perhaps the other classes have less verbose buddies. After almost every kill, Corso feels the need to articulate his feelings about the enemy. These taunts and boasts are amusing the first 100+ times. They eventually became boring, annoying and monotonous.
Which leads me to my overall perception of SW:tOR. Here’s a game that has truckloads of back-story, history and mythology to draw from that yet somehow still ends up feeling dated, boring and monotonous. As I kill yet another generic mob, who is inexplicably standing around waiting for his (and it’s almost always a “he”) inevitable death – only to reappear 5 minutes later. As Corso yells his canned response for the bazillionth time. As I wander through beautifully designed yet sadly empty and player-less world environments. I can’t help but think to myself, “This is not the MMO I’m looking for.”