If WoW Added Helper NPCs

I have been playing Final Fantasy XII on the PS2, as of late. I’ll cover my experience with this gem of an RPG soon. In the meantime, there is a game mechanic here, which I felt like discussing – The Gambit System. With the Gambit System, Square Enix has, in my mind, come as close to perfecting the idea of helper non-playable characters as any game I have seen. The system works so well that I couldn’t help but have a, “OMG! What if they added this to WoW?” kind of reaction.

Helper NPCs can often times be a crutch for a game. Having more than one character represented on screen adds depth in combat variety, as well as a bit of realism. I think we have passed the days where it is acceptable for a party of adventurers to fold up into a single avatar with which to traverse an environment, as if the main character is giving them all a virtual piggy back ride. The problem lies in that it is either difficult, if not impossible, to truly have control over more than one character at a time. Which means, while you are controlling the sprightly, young protagonist, the software must be in charge of issuing commands to the scantily-clad, female healer, as well as the ill-tempered and overly protective soldier, through the use of some form of artificial intelligence. If the AI being used to control your NPCs is anything less than stellar (which it almost always is), then it can lead to frustration, as your adventuring troupe perform illogical actions on each other and their foes.

Essentially, Gambits are little snippets of logic that you can work into your NPC follower’s automatically performed actions. For each Gambit there is a target and an action, both of which have an incredibly varied number of choices. For instance, I can set a Gambit with something as simple as “nearest foe” for a target and “attack” for an action. I can also make it as complicated as having a target of “friendly with less that 30% health” and an action of “Cast Cure” or “Use Potion.” Sounds simple, right? It is.

The simplicity makes it ideal for almost any type of game play system. Which is why I immediately think of World of Warcraft. How many times have you wanted to get that 5-man group quest done or run a dungeon, but no one in your guild was on or available? Sure, you can always find a pickup group. But depending on what class you are, this can be easier said than done. Not to mention that once in a while, its just nice to play alone. I know, I can hear it now. “If you don’t want to play with people, don’t play an MMO.” Which is true to an extent. However, aren’t we all allowed to be a little anti-social sometimes? That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to play our game of choice. After all, Guild Wars has been using Hero NPCs for a while now.

The Gambit System from FFXII is simple in its nature, but in practice offers its own set of challenges, which only make it that much more enticing. You set your followers up with all of the necessary Gambits to help with a typical fight (or maybe even a very customized fight – because the system does allow for that too), but maybe your healer is burning through mana too quickly, or your ranged DPS is popping pots like Bob Dole pops Viagra. So the Gambits, although they automate a lot of the tedious parts of combat and give a fail-safe for when you miss that small window of opportunity to cast that heal, it does require a healthy dose of manual work. Turning Gambits on and off on the fly for any given character can be the difference in success or failure.

What do you think? Have you used the Gambit System from Final Fantasy XII? Do you think it could bring something interesting or helpful to Blizzard’s opus?

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~ by Zero on January 28, 2009.

3 Responses to “If WoW Added Helper NPCs”

  1. Nice write up. I have wondered about helper NPCs myself. In Blizzard’s DiabloII series, you could hire such a character to fight with you. Experience was split between you two but it was worth the extra hand. That said, I believe Blizzard has that possibility worked out already with pets/minions.

    Like all games, books, hobbies, movies and daydreaming since the dawn of man, it’s an opportunity to ‘get away’ for awhile. I interact with a hundred people every day, and to balance that I love playing solo!

  2. I had the same reaction to FFXII. =)

    I don’t know about putting them in WOW since 99% of the game is so soloable already but in a future MMO designed around them, it would be great. Get rid of the silly distinction between “soloable” mobs and “group” mobs and make everything a group encounter, and then give us henchmen to provide us with our soloability. At least then when/if we migrate to playing with real people we’ll have been playing our group-oriented role the entire time (healing a tank henchman, for instance).

    They would also add a lot of lateral advancement that gives us ways to improve our characters besides the level cap (collecting Heroes, collecting new Gambits, unlocking new Gambit slots, etc.)

  3. Agreed. In addition to being a great system for managing your NPC followers, the Gambit System creates a lot of opportunity for accomplishments. Basically, you get to discover new and more involved Gambits to play with as you progress through the game; the combination of which can be very interesting. In a genre like the MMORPG, where nearly all player rewards are based on equipment, collecting Gambits could be just one more thing to add variety to your achievements.

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