Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Henchmen in WoW

I bought the original Guild Wars, found it not very solo friendly, and never played it much. But many people tell me that since the Nightfall expansion added NPC heroes to accompany you, which are much better than the ordinary henchmen you could use right from the start, the game is much better for soloing. So when one of my readers commented that World of Warcraft doesn't have a tutorial to teach you how to play in groups, I was wondering whether World of Warcraft could introduce henchmen or NPC heroes.

Imagine running through a World of Warcraft dungeon together with 4 NPC henchmen. You would give basic orders, for example by setting the already existing raid marks and then giving a GO command, at which point the mage sheeps the mob with moon over his head, and everybody attacks the mob with the skull. The NPCs would be of your level, and would play uninspired but according to their class role. So if for example you were the healer, the NPC tank would pull on command, and the NPC DPS classes would do a steady stream of damage. But if you decided to heal someone too early with too big a heal, and pulled aggro on yourself, the NPC tank wouldn't automatically rush to your rescue, unless given a command to do so. The whole thing should be balanced (which is probably difficult) in a way that if you did nothing, or played badly the group would fail. But if you played well, you and the NPC group together would be able to finish the average WoW dungeon (non-heroic).

I don't think Blizzard is even thinking about adding such a feature, at least not before the third expansion. But when I stand all alone with a low-level character in front of a dungeon and can't find a group, I find the idea to have a group of NPC henchmen rather attractive. I didn't get to control more than 1 henchman in the Gods & Heroes beta before the game was cancelled, but the gameplay was certainly interesting. And I think that by playing with 4 NPCs instead of 4 random pickup group members, players would learn better how group play works. Unless you already know a lot about aggro management etc., it isn't always obvious why things went haywire on that last pull. The tank blames the healer for not healing him, the healer blames the tank for not getting the aggro away from him, but in reality it was the mage casting an AoE spell that made the plan go wrong, because then the healer had to heal the mage, which transferred the aggro to the healer, and thus kept him from healing the tank. Most people in a PUG think that one of the other 4 players was the problem, and rarely realize when it was themselves. If you'd control the other 4 characters, and they did only predictable stuff, you'd be able to experiment with different tactics. NPC heroes should be too weak to tackle the dungeons at the level cap, heroics, or raid dungeons, so people would still be encouraged to group with real players. But if they had practiced with NPCs first, maybe their group play at the level cap would be better.
Getting the processing power for 4 semi-intelligent NPCS for some percentage of more than 9 million players is going to be.. non-trivial.
It is, however, exactly what apparently Guild Wars does ;) - and Tabula Rasa has this planned too, soon (TM)...
A very good idea. Even though, with some minimal twinking and knowing what I will get into, I have successfully soloed several Azeroth instances while *STILL* in range and getting XP for the kills, a system like GW where you HIRE henchmans would be very good.

Add to that some semi-intelligent report (optional, after the Nth failed attempt and that you'd have to pay to have it, virtual gold ofc!) on what went wrong, and players all around would be playing their classes better.

When my feral druid hit 70, I went, as per the request of an online friend, to Caverns of Time: Old Hilsbraad. Actually, they wanted to go to the next one, but since I had never done OH, we went there. Tanking was not bad and we ALMOST made it. Sure, they were a bit trigger-happy, but at one point, near the end on the several waves of dragonkin, I was being hit by 3 and couldn't stand the beating.

I could have blamed the healer, but I recognized myself as the weakest link and apologized. Next day, I'm on to BBB's blog checking out the Druid Starter Tank Gear. Grab all the quests, buy all the stuff and gems needed, and a few days later (refusing to even set foot on any instance I got invited to), I was MUCH better tank than I was before. Spent around 600g on gear+gems, but now my druid bear is almost uncrittable (missing only +8 DEF to achieve that) and has nearly 66% damage reduction with it's 20K armor and has 12 K HP.

I'm still missing a couple items, but then I got carried away on my alts. :)

I haven't tried CoT:OH afterwards but I'm pretty SURE, I won't be the weakest link when I get back there again! (Unless the rest are all Khara-geared players!)
I'd settled for one henchman.

Nonthing is more annoying then checking out a quest on only to see multilple Lock's posting, "Easily soloable as a lock". Lock's don't solo anything. They have a built in Henchman already.
I'm not sure if this is a good idea or not. I loved instancing when I leveled and the fact that I basically can't is one of the reasons I don't play anymore. But fixes like this are just glossing over the existing problem.

There needs to be something in the game to encourage people to do the content. If they have to add henchman to let people instance thats pretty much admitting they've done nothing to make the instances worth doing for a person leveling. Fixing the loot tables and bumping the EP you get in the instances would be a better fix in my opinion.
What would be the baseline skill level for henchmen? You wouldn't want a henchman to play better than a player. In Guild Wars, the henchmen aren't terribly good, but it's also a lot harder to be worse than them. In wow, it's actually not terribly difficult to be that bad (and I'm sure we've all been in those pickup groups where somebody was just horrendous).

When you've got 9.3 million players, you're going to run the gamut from the very best of the best to the very worst of the worst. I guess my point is "Is it ok to have a team of henchmen and not succeed if you do your best?"

I have mixed opinions on this.

I loved Guild wars and I mainly henched my way to the end of GW Prophecies with the crappy henchmen that were available. Using henchmen to solo really tells the lie to the comment you often make Tobold about "there being no skill in soloing". Just try to solo Thunderhead Keep with henchmen and tell me that again with a straight face.

On the other hand having henchmen, especially decent ones makes grouping less essential and it becomes much harder to get a group. Many good players just don't bother any more. Far from training people to group it actually discourages grouping in my opinion.
I wouldn't mind one or two training dungeons that you can run with henchmen, fairly early in the game, in order to educate players on how to play in a group. That's actually a fine idea. But to apply the henchmen option to some/all of the normal dungeons, would just take too many players out of the pool of players willing to doing real groups.
I love this idea. Henchmen would allow players to complete elite quest if they can't get a group.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
They are called hunter and warlock pets.
=##=, elite quests became extinct on 2.3, when they took the elite status off of most of the former elite quests... So the only need for the henchmen would be instances, which would IMHO destroy the whole concept of MMO in WoW. The game would turn to MMO-solo-game even more than it currently is.

I have to agree with Sam that the Old World instancing should be made more lucrative option to level than it currently is, but I don't know exactly how. Could there be a way to link the instances by Quests even tighter? I know there are some linking quests in the lower level instances, but are they enough to lure people in?

So, no henchmen. The game got dumbed down enough already.

Actually, elite quests did not go the way of the dodo. Quests like Overmaster Pyron and It's Dangerous to Go Alone still have elite objectives (Overmaster is marked "Dungeon" while Alone is "Group" in the quest log), while elites associated with other quests like "All Along the Watchtowers" have been demoted to regular mobs.

I suppose there is some method to the madness that is the elite-to-normal change; whatever it is, Blizzard is holding it close to its chest and leaving it to the players who will eventually experience the retooled quests and NPCs to discover which ones changed and didn't.

That said, I've mostly soloed through all three Guild Wars campaigns and the expansion pack with the original henchmen and when the feature debuted, Hero NPCs. I enjoyed the challenge of first playing with a group of characters that I didn't have control over (behavior- and gear-wise), and later with the release of Heroes, the added challenge of preparing my heroes' skill bars and their equipment to meet the challenges of a particular mission, dungeon, or zone. (Come to think of it, the challenge of running with the original default henchmen is not too dissimilar with joining a PUG--I don't have control over their skill or gear either--the advantage (or disadvantage) of NPC teammates in this case being just bits and bytes.

P.S. I think that as World of Warcraft matures, it's in Blizzard's interest to look into implementing a henchmen selectively.
As the game slowly raises the level cap, it's just natural that the lower level content is populated by fewer and fewer players. Thus those new to WoW or players leveling alts may find more and more that they can't find enough people willing to come to instances or help with group quests.
A (wow-flavored) henchmen system would thus be ideally implemented in the lesser frequented level ranges so that players could experience what would by then be classic, somewhat underutilized content and in the process, learn how to more effectively participate in group content. Perhaps Blizzard could even make the henchmen available to players only through the current LFG/LFM system instead of utilizing a "mercenary market" as seen in Guild Wars' town commons (i.e. Districts). Similar to how the current Battleground queues try to fill the roster at first selectively, but as wait time increases, becomes more inclusive in its party-formation, this Henchmen-LFG/LFM hybrid could favor grouping real players together, then as wait time reaches a certain threshold, it adds NPC characters to fill out the group.
I seem to have made a mental typo over there. I should have written that the 'elite quests became next to extinct', as I'm well aware of the fact that all of them were not wiped out. But given the trend of Blizzard to speed up the levelling, this will happen soon on the Old World content.

It was something I noticed in the last couple of days that made me thought this way. The exp 'boost' Blizzard introduced in the last patch has speeded up the levelling by questing so much that there will be no incentive for a power leveller to go to any instances anymore. I fear that my toons will pass the instance level ranges too fast already!

By doing this Blizzard has also made the henchman idea obsolete: why offer automated help when soloing is faster, safer and easier way to pass the game to reach The End Game?
IMO, probably the only way to repopulate the Azeroth instances with players (rather than solo+henchmen) is to force them into the instances.

One such way would be to *require* one instance run every 5 levels or so:
As an example, one would simply cease to gain XP beyond level 15 until you complete RFC or Deadmines, then at level 20 WC or SFK, at level 25 BFD or Stockades, etc.

Such a heavy-handed design might be unpopular, though, and would run counter to the new Blizzard model: Speed toons through non-elite solo-friendly 1-60 content and into Outland.
no forceing them into the instances just pisses people off. Look at what attunement did for the 5 man's in BC. The 5 mans were everything people had been begging for but because they were forced to do them for rep people felt forced and burned out much quicker than they did in vanilla wow.

They need stuff like they used to have Orbs in strat the stuff for alchemy in scholo. I used to help guildies run instances all the time in places that had no upgrades for me but there was still the chance of a drop that would make me some gold.

Positive goals will always work longer and keep people happier.
The instances should scale to the lvl of the group that is doing them. It tragic players never get to see MC because they rather jump right into BC content.

Henchmen would be great. However for WoW, the flavor would work best if you could flesh out a PuG group with 1-2 (max) henchmen (tank/healer/dps). Their stats/gear would be the adequate lvl to run the instance with some difficultly. It is actually quite annoying playing a tank / healer class and in the middle of solo'ing or doing stuff that is fun (like BG"s) to get nagged to do instances for whiney QQ dps classes, but not asked to do anything else (like 2v2, 3v3, 5v5 arenas).

My paladin could solo alot of old dungeon content with just a backup healer and maybe a 3rd dps. Id greatly enjoy doing more BRD (<3) or even some lower instances to help flesh out my enchanting recipes repetoire (greatly dislike greedy rollers in PuGs anyway).
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