Thursday, November 13, 2008

Minions, Henchmen and the Like...

I used to play a lot of Guild Wars some time ago. Even had a post about it, my second one, actually. The game has changed a lot since I started playing. It kept getting better and better. It had a unique flavour to it, and I fear Guild Wars 2 will lose that (although I highly anticipate it's arrival). But I'm not here to discuss Guild Wars 2. I'm actually here to talk about henchmen.

Henchmen were a very nice idea. In case you couldn't find a willing and determined party, you could always resort to hiring some henchmen to help you complete a mission or a quest, which you possibly couldn't do alone. They really helped a lot, and it sure was better than going against those nasty Mursaat alone. However, henchmen had a huge flaw. They were stupid. I mean, really stupid. They would always go where they weren't supposed to, they would keep fighting when you wanted to retreat, and they would stand by looking at the scenery while you were getting butchered by those Titans. At first, that was forgiveable, after all, the makers of the game wanted to give you only a little bit of help, they still encourage forming player parties.

When Guild Wars: Factions came out (that's the first expansion, for those who don't know), they made henchmen a lot more intelligent. They started using skills better and they showed you a lot more support, overall. They still sucked compared to even the least skilled of players (though that wasn't always true), they were a huge improvement over the first batch of henchmen. However, with the release of the aforementioned expansion, a new mode of PvP was released, in which you could compete against computer-controlled enemies. This was weird. PvP was pretty competitive. How could henchmen-like enemies survive more than one round in this environment? Turns out, they were nothing like henchmen. These computer-controlled enemies were precision killing machines. You needed a pretty good team to beat them. They had typical builds and used them to perfection. For example, the Elementalist had a skill that ignored armor, but had some cooldown time and even gave you exhaustion (meaning it reduced your maximum energy for a short amount of time). At a high enough level, this skill dealt around 100 damage (and since it ignored armour, it really did 100 damage), and your maximum life was around 480. Imagine a build of four Elementalist who cast this spell at exactly the same time. It meant that your party members died of one by one, with only a window of 5 seconds (the skill's recharge time) between deaths to actually hurt them. That showed us the truth: henchmen could be a lot smarter, but they are intentionally made stupid! Outrageous!

Why do I talk about this now? Well, I've been playing Diablo 2 recently, here in Finland. It brings back a lot of memories. One of the things I didn't remember was that your mercenary companion is stupid. It's a strange coincidence that they are also called henchmen, here in Diablo 2. It's so strange. They have so little to do, compared to the high-paced skill-clicking havoc of Guild Wars, yet they prove to be complete jerk-offs. I mean, how can you suck so bad?! They get lost, they get stuck behind walls, they fight monsters on opposing corners of the screen, and so much more. Once, I was playing with a ranged character and had a mêlée henchmen. Of course, he didn't want to go into the fray, so I was forced to draw enemies out, and then, when I retreat, instead of covering me, so that I could turn around shoot, he started running as well and I ended up being picked off by the enemy. Damn!

Do game creators get a sadistic pleasure from making computer-controlled aids of the player be more of a burden than assistance?

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