NPCs for Hire

by Jon on November 28th, 2007

I’m aware that there are other MMOs that have successfully implemented a henchmen system, namely Guild Wars, but I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing it first hand. The awesome Tobold keeps beating me to the punch and touched on this last week but I wanted to give you my take on it.

I do think that it would take a significant amount of effort to implement such a system in WoW but Blizzard has already got a couple of things in place:

First, if you’re a resourceful engineer or a friend of the Cenarion Expedition you have the ability to call upon the aid of combat-capable pet or ally. Even though they help for merely a few seconds, my Mithril Mechanical Dragonling has been the difference between a successful kill and a long corpse run on more than one occasion.

Second, although I hate escort quests due to their annoying pace, they at least provide the foundation and basic proof of concept for having a functional AI party member. Most of the escorted NPCs walk annoyingly slow yet charge every mob they come in range of and never wait when you’re low on health or OOM. But is this really any different than that warrior in your PUG that wears the +intellect ring and employs the same tactics?

At least you don’t have to compete with the NPC for loot right? Let’s see, how much should a hired mercenary cost? If the price is too low then you’ll trivialize the concept of grouping all together. If you make the price too high, the only people that could afford it would be the mains that are leveling (or twinking) an alt. At a minimum the merc would take its share of the coin drops much like a normal player would. You could supplement this with either extra cash upfront or some sort of lootshare or percentage of the spoils.

There would obviously need to be some constraints. Would you restrict mercenaries to one per group or let up to four tag along? Would you give them a time limit? Keep them an instance-only feature? How would they work on a PVE versus PVP realm? What happens when the group wipes? Does the henchman die for good or make the corpse run with you?

Mercenaries could come in different flavors. For the most part you’ll probably want a healer, a tank, or a combination of the two. If you’re masochistic enough to try level as a tank your healer yourself, then a damage dealer would be the way to go. And how would you control said mercenary? An added action bar seems to work great for locks and hunters but you could also make the NPC semi-smart and respond to /emotes or text commands. There at least needs to be a way to prevent your hired help from pulling a Leeroy Jenkins.

What are your thoughts?

Update:

Thank you all for your comments. Some very excellent points were made. I think that for all intents and purposes, the current 1-58 (and arguably 1-69) game is a singe-player affair. Yeah there are a few instances here and there but I know that its difficult to get a group together even in the higher levels. Henchman that were available only to assist in PVE instances seems like it would be an ideal solution that wouldn’t break existing game balance. You’re basically just replacing a potential party member with an AI controlled character.

Besides finding a group to run an instance with, my biggest setback is the inability to devote a chunk of uninterrupted time for even the shortest of instance runs. “Sorry guys /afk diaper change” is not something I want to drop on any fellow players when we’re in the middle of a boss fight.

I’ve been known to dual box with my laptop and Shelbi’s lock to get one of my many alts through an instance. How awesome would it be if you could bring one of your alts online to run around with you in henchman mode? Effectively leveling up both characters and giving you the versatility of both classes. There could be a quite-worth-it imo XP penalty or even an extra subscription cost involved to appease the higher-ups at Actiblizzion.

7 Comments
  1. It does sound like an idea but it sort of messes up the idea behind an online game for me… might aswell go play Morrowind or something like that then if i’m gonna play the game as a single player one.
    Sure there might be times where a henchman could be helpfull, mostly in the lower levels which are spread thin (as discussed in a previous blogpost of mine: http://fulltimewow.blogspot.com/2007/11/last-man-elf-in-azeroth.html) or perhaps when you can’t seem to find that 5th player for your instance.
    In most cases i have little trust that an AI-player would be able to function as good as a RL person (altho some people would proof me wrong :P ), not sure if i would want a NPC as a healer when i’m playing main tank.

  2. Girik permalink

    Solo content is pretty accessible right now without a henchmen. The games which have added them (FFXI added something like this too) I believe was because soloing wasn’t a viable way to play and henchmen helped the solo player without having to re -balance the game.

    I’m pretty happy with the balance of the different kinds of gameplay that WoW has. I don’t think henchmen are needed.

  3. There are for and against points to go on with something like this. If everyone gets one, then the problem is that not everyone likes the “pet” type classes simply for the effect of the need to micro manage more than they want too.

    The other part comes in the effect is that how bad would this change the game play as it currently stands.

    I was looking foward to Gods and Heroes until I got in the beta just for the henchman concept but after playing it I found out I didn’t care for it in that game.

    It is a good topic to ponder though.

  4. I have a short list of things I wish NPC escort quests would feature:

    1. I want them to follow ME for a change. That turtle in Tanaris does this.
    2. I want them to accept my heals/buffs. I’m a paladin. I can do these things. The Defias Traitor can be healed, but that Blood Elf in Northwatch can’t. If he’s going to run headlong into three Theramore Marines, I’m sure he’d like a Holy Light.
    3. I want them to appear on my screen as a party member/pet. I’d love to be able to watch their health without a mouseover. If you already have a pet this would necessitate some supplementary pet slot. I’m not upset by this.
    4. (Entirely Optional) I want them to buff me. I freed a NElf in Terokkar Forest the other day. In addition to her brain-dead behavior (more on that later) she’s a druid. She casts moonfire, roots, etc. Why can’t I get Gift of the Wild or Thorns?

    The aforementioned elf escort thing: I break her out of the cage she’s in. She walks out of the room and then proceeds to follow the road out of town. Let me let that sink in. She’s supposed to be a recently freed prisoner, and she WALKS DOWN THE HEAVILY PATROLLED PATH! The one that goes RIGHT BY THE WARLOCKS!! Is this supposed to simulate Stockholm Syndrome? The tower she was held in is the Southeast corner of the settlement. Going southwest between two buildings would be the best way out.

    Getting away from the escort thing and back to the Henchman thing: How about rolling the two together? Say the escort followed you around for a while until you turned the quest in, helping you out with stuff you need doing and accomplishing this intelligently (putting you on Follow, stopping when you Sit, UI like a warlock pet etc) then non-pet classes would have a hint of what it is like being a pet class. Pet classes would be playing Warcraft (The RTS), what with having two “pets” but hey this won’t be happening in the Arenas or AV or anything so I don’t see how it would do anything other than making all those “Group [2]” quests solo-able. Now as soon as you enter the Allerian Stronghold or Shattrath I imagine they would say “Cool, I’ll take a griff to where I need to go” and leave.

    This is way too long. I’d put it on my own webpage (and still might in the future) but the dang webhost appears to be down.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree that a henchman system should be in place, at the very least, for instance scenarios, even if only for training purposes (i.e. teaching a character their group role in a mini-instance).

    That said, the double/multi-boxing community is already running full-steam with a makeshift henchman system, and the class combinations one can choose from makes for interesting discussion. Granted, to make use of these homegrown henchman, one needs to run a second WoW account, but doing so opens up a number of possibilities that a solo character cannot involve themselves in without finding a PUG. Oftentimes, especially for group quests outside instances, PUGing is impossible on lower-populated realms, but dual-boxing overcomes most two and three-person quests with relative ease.

  6. Rom permalink

    I actually played Guildwars for over 2 years and was a very experienced player there. I now play WoW and have to state that implementing a Henchmen system is not what is best for this game. It takes a lot away from classes who are already somewhat balanced (I wont state balanced as I watched my wife play her lock and their far from balanced), but it still takes something away from why you play your Hunter, Lock, etc. It also has a fundamental impact on the mechanics of the game. The game is designed for some single player questing, but heavily geared towards grouping, i.e. instances. I have witnessed some very poor results of what henchman do to grouping in GW. Basically, no one ever groups. If they do, its to do a elite mission (though i’ve used henchman for this), or to maybe finish that one incredibly hard mission.

    This doesn’t even take into consideration to what means Blizzard would have to rebalance areas to accomidate what gamers will do to tweak their builds to take advantage of now having a henchie in their group. Think what it would do to farmers, or what farmers could do now that they have additional help.

    What also really makes me against this henchie system is this game will become a single player game, as someone else kind of stated.

    I do however think Brooks was right on the money about the actual NPC behavior though. I’ve been in WoW for ~5months, and this game is buggy. Its NPC’s are beyond dumb, theres a horendous amount of bugs for a game that is 3 years old now, that Blizz easily has the income level to put ppl in place to clean it up. I think if anything, Blizz implements something more along the lines of what Brooks said and also cleans their bugs up.

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  1. Dual-boxing: three months later. at mendax.org

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