Thursday, March 12

Heroes and Henchies - Good or bad?

By Heroes and Henchies I'm referring to the Guild Wars NPC's, in the early days it was just 'henchmen', AI controlled characters of both genders who you could use to boost your numbers to get the required number of members in your group. Those early henchmen were often the subject of many jokes espicially regarding their efficiency as healers, their rather random behaviour caused us to often wonder how much I was in the AI but nonetheless if you couldnt make a full group they were there, never went on strike, never bitched and only took a small percentage of your drops as payment, after all you shouldnt always get something for nothing.

Later came the 'heroes', heroes are different to your poor hench' who now became your continual second choice after you had chosen the max number of heroes and couldnt get any real players (or didnt want to) to fill the gap. Unlike hench' heroes had a skillbar that you could modify, atts you could modify and their own character panel so that you could assign weapons, armor, runes and insignia etc. Not only could you customise these NPCs but with their introduction came a degree of direct control of their actions, each could be set to attack, assist or avoid depending on your uses and they could be 'flagged' individually or en masse to go where you needed them or to stay out of your way (yes they were still noobs).

GW has so far been the only MMO I've played that utilises this system so extensively and with my fellow contributors talk on lack of options in games for differing group sizes I can see the uses of such a system in games which have content designed around group and level requirements, ideally it would be great if such design decisions weren't made when developing content but the added problems of developing a useful scaling system for all encounters probably stretches things too far otherwise we should have seen more of it, right?

Are Heroes/hench the answer ? Arguments against on a social level are about discouraging group play in a multiplayer environment but honestly, I think there will always be less-social people, I also think that for us social butterflys there is also the need to have that game 'me time' or that smaller 'us time' which as we know isn't often very well catered for.

Thinking aloud (well in type) a hero/hench system could be an answer to the grouping problem of many MMO's, of course the AI would never be as dynamic as human interaction and as such those social MMO players should only be using them as the final option.

I'm sure you both will have something interesting to say on the subject :)


  1. I am not a big fan of henchies, or heroes, or pets. But view might be a bit distorted. In my experience you often end up standing on the site while they do the work. They are the ultimate in MMO futility. But I know I am seeing this way too dark.

    My pet experiences started in Anarachy Online. I played for a little bit a metaphysist and engineer. In both cases they do most of the work and you just contribute a bit as well. A more fun character was the bureaucrat that had a weak pet and the power to charm your opponents to fight for you. It was a lot more involved game play. But it was really hard to try do that in a team.

    My next experience was a mastermind in COV. I wnet with it full blast when COV got released. And I had some fun, but as my team grew stronger and bigger, I grew more and more bored with them.

    But these experiences are about classes that have pets, versus the idea to have an AI teammate to tackle tougher quests.

    So it is more about is having an AI teammate a good or bad. I think it is bad. It makes interacting even less necessary. And most players will abuse their henchies to rush through the content. I can see there are benefits in some ways, but as I think harder the arguments of the benefits all seem to vaporate.

  2. It's funny, the GW henchmen had pretty good AI, well except for the monk who'd start running after that one mob that runs away and try to kill it with her healing spells while the team gets slaughtered by the mobs that stay to fight. At least they ran out of AoE spells from the start. That was a (much hated) MobAI upgrade half a year into launch as I recall :-)

    I don't like pet classes for the most part. Mainly because you either have not enough control over their actions, or you have to micro-manage too much. However from my GW experience I think Henchmen and Heroes probably too, are a different animal than Pet classes.

    I do remember looking forward to a Cleric henchman while playing DDO with Phè. In the end they didn't come in time for us to loose interest. That was a shame though, since for once I refused to play a healer. Phè and healer classes don't mix, so we were without healing. Now, I don't mind being the healer in our duo's as long as I can do some soloing with a different class like I did in AoC with Suhaya, but sometimes it'd be fun to fight alongside Phè not as just her support. It's one reason why I like playing CoX with her as my Controller Char packs a considerable punch herself. It's also why I like Vanguard's Disciple class as I need to be in the thick of the fray in order to be effective as a healer.
    In MMO's where the Healer role is more of the the hang-back-and-cast-heals-from-a-safe-distance variety, it'd be nice to relegate that role to a henchAI npc.
    It's worthy of note that both Cox and VG are games where a Healer-type can actually solo pretty well.

    Having said that, I think I prefer scaled/scalable difficulty settings as a design choice over Henchmen-like NPC's. in AoC it'd feel a lot like compensating for a design flaw if henchmen were introduced. The full group content is artificially made to be full group only. It's the same system used for "Epic" areas. Just make the mobs 6 times as strong with 10 times the hitpoints to make them challenging is what they've done. Going from there I'm pretty sure they could implement an intermediary difficulty level, or maybe even two, for smaller groups. CoX did that from the get go and both games are equally Instance-heavy. Scaling mission population on both your prefered difficulty setting AND group-size.
    The Heroes in GW sound a lot like Single Player RPG partymembers and that can be fun. Somehow it feels like something that's for Single Player games. Not for MMO's. But then again, GW isn't an MMO but an Online Competitive Role Playing Game, as ArenaNet dubbed it. The Heroes (in conjunction with the entire game consisting of private instances and Battle.Net like Map Lobbies) turned the PvE campaigns into a Single Player RPG with a built in Chat Box if you ask me. it's why I never even came back to try Nightfall.

    So, I think Henchmen have a place. Mostly as HealBots though. They shouldn't be used to cover up design flaws though. if you're going to use them, make them a feature, not a patch. Besides, as a Healer-player who never went ons trike either I have to object to something that'd make me obsolete.
    Remember that fighting a Dungeon End Boss means there's 5 people trying to bring down a single ball, and one Healer trying to keep 6 balls up in the air.