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Companion Balance Changes

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MichaelBackus's Avatar

11.23.2015 , 11:28 AM | #1 Click here to go to the next staff post in this thread. Next  
Hello, everyone.

My name is Michael Backus, and I’m the Lead Designer for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I wanted to take a minute to apologize for the recent Companion changes and address combat balance. I wanted to do so personally because as fans of Star Wars: The Old Republic and our customers, we cherish your feedback and value all of you, and I feel you deserve to hear this information directly.

I would like to go over why the changes were made, what we’ve learned, and what’s going to happen going forward. There’s a short summary at the bottom if you want to skip the Why’s and get to the What’s.

Why the changes were made
Combat balance is a tricky thing. So many factors contribute to the question of, is this too easy or too hard--ability rotations, number of enemies and their abilities, player play style, player skill level, player class choice, Companion role, and even how well your computer can run the game. All of these things and more impact how well you play and how successful you are in combat. Jennifer might say, “This game’s a snap,” while Joe might say, “This is the hardest thing I’ve played in my entire life,” and there’s literally no way to tell who is “right”. The best we can do is create goals and do our best to make sure as many players as possible hit those goals. We posted our goals with different content types recently, here.

The one thing that was obvious was that Companions were overpowered in 4.0. We came to this conclusion, not only from player feedback and our own playtests, but from watching how players were playing—it is not ideal to send your Companion into combat in a [Heroic 2] and then go make tea, only to come back and collect your loot. We want combat to be engaging, to be fun. We want combat to be something, since you do it for so many hours, that can challenge you. If it’s too easy, we risk players not being engaged and getting bored. If it’s too hard, we risk players leaving and not even trying certain content anymore.

So, in 4.0.2 we toned down Companion power significantly to be in line with our stated goals. And that’s where the problem occurred.

What we didn’t realize was how with Knights of the Fallen Empire gameplay had evolved. As a community, you were playing differently than we had expected. I’ll give you an example.

Emergent Gameplay
[Heroic 2]s. Before Knights of the Fallen Empire, Heroics were not very utilized content. Most players ignored them after doing them once. So when we highlighted areas of improvement for our leveling experience, we knew we wanted to make Heroics sexier. We wanted players to have good reason to go do them, but also give players a reason to join up with their friends. What we failed to realize was how much most of you would enjoy them, but also how frequently you would engage in them. [Heroic 2]s were initially meant to be challenging content for what we would say is an “average” player. If you had good gear and really knew how to play well, you could solo them but you’d still have to pay attention to what you were doing. If you had expected gear for your level and didn’t think of yourself as that skilled, you’d probably find a friend to join you so you could both reap the rewards together.

With Companions being the power level they were, “everyone” began enjoying them. And that was the point that we hadn’t realized. By reducing Companion power, we took that away from a lot of you. You could still engage in [Heroic 2]s and beat them, but they had become arduous, even grindy to many players.

Our misstep was in not realizing that our goals we had set no longer fit with the game all of you were enjoying. The emergent gameplay that was created didn’t fit what we had embraced as our mandate within the Design Team.

Going Forward
So, what does that mean going forward? We will be increasing the power level of Companions. And while they won’t be as powerful as they were when Fallen Empire launched, the increase will be significant. I have gotten together with the Design Leads and we have re-discussed our goals for combat and content difficulty. We want players to enjoy [Heroic 2]s and level up their Alliance. You can find the exact changes coming in tomorrow’s patch, below. And I assure you, we will continue to carefully watch how content is being enjoyed and adapt as necessary.
  • Companion healing has been increased by roughly 48%. (Influence level and character level will determine exact amount.)
  • Companion damage has been increased by roughly 15%. (Influence level and character level will determine exact amount.)
  • Companion base stats have been increased by about 15%. (Influence level and character level will determine exact amount.)
(click the spoiler tag for specifics)

Star Fortresses
Which leads me to Star Fortresses. We are going to treat Star Fortresses as a different topic from Companion balance. The initial difficulty level for Star Fortresses are clearly story content, meaning, we expect all of you to take part and enjoy them while earning new Contacts. This hasn’t changed. The difficult mode for Star Fortresses, though, we feel is a challenge that players should aspire to achieve, and not something players should easily do without gearing up their character and increasing their Companion’s Influence level. We obviously set an expectation Heroic Star Fortresses were going to be similar to [Heroic 2] content, but that was not our intention. As a result, we are going to change the “Heroic” nomenclature for Star Fortresses to something different. We’ll let you know what we decide the new name will be soon. In addition, this will allow us to balance Star Fortresses independently of Companion power, but still make it challenging without making it impossible for many players.

So, in conclusion, or the tl;dr for the internet savvy:
  • We will be increasing Companion power. It will not be as powerful as before, but the changes will be significant.
  • Heroic Star Fortresses will get a new moniker to denote that it’s a different type of challenge. And we will balance Star Fortresses independently of both Companion power and [Heroic 2]s to ensure they are tuned appropriately.

Thank you for reading and we look forward to more of your feedback as these changes go live.

May the Force be with you,
Michael Backus
Lead Designer
Michael Backus | Lead Designer
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Zanriel's Avatar

11.23.2015 , 11:41 AM | #3
Are there any plans to adjust how presence and/or influence scales? It seems like making influence more prominent should give players more freedom to choose how powerful their companions are.

These changes look fantastic, and I'm really happy to see the DPS and tank specs being increased. I mostly run with companions in DPS stance and seeing their output was pretty disheartening. Even with a 15% increase in base stats, they'll still only be doing 65% of what my character puts out instead of 50%. Maybe getting them up to influence 50 they'll be beating my healer and almost on par with my DPS characters. Maybe not.

Either way, thanks for listening to community feedback and I think you're exactly right in your assessment of how people are playing the game and what their expectations are. I can't speak for everyone but I know that's true for me and my friends/family who I play with.
<The Knights Equitable> - Begeren Colony, Republic
Zanriel (Seer Sage) Kalan (Defense Guardian)
Zanavieve (Tactics Vanguard) Talent (Scrapper Scoundrel)

Pergamon's Avatar

11.23.2015 , 11:42 AM | #4
Thank you.

SirUrza's Avatar

11.23.2015 , 11:43 AM | #5

Jerba's Avatar

11.23.2015 , 11:47 AM | #6
Quote: Originally Posted by MichaelBackus View Post
As a result, we are going to change the “Heroic” nomenclature for Star Fortresses to something different. We’ll let you know what we decide the new name will be soon.
Not sure if that's a good idea, "Heroic" is a term used in many MMOs to designate more difficult content. If you only use it for the planetary heroics (which are now supposed to be the repeatable content for solo players), then it will cause confusion - especially since the Heroics are by your defition not supposed to be difficult.
I also find the "Heroic 2" term misleading. If you intent it to be solo content, remove the 2 and just call them "Heroic" or "Weekly" or something else.

Difficulty-wise, I didn't mind the too easy companions in 4.0 and I didn't mind the changes post-4.0.2 but I'd also consider myself a skilled players. The middle ground coming with the next patch should be a good compromise for all players but I'd have to see it myself to know for sure.
Scoundrel healer. Raid leader. Guild officer @ Tulak Hord

Psychopyro's Avatar

11.23.2015 , 11:47 AM | #7
So it ends up a 35% reduction in power where a lot of us said it should be... Wow....

As for Star Fortress, why not call it Tactical 2. That would fit with the desired goal for naming I think. Good players could solo (even on level) Cerka FPs when they were Tactical 2. Just a thought...

EDIT: For clarity, we know Tactical means group content. We've been raised that way so to speak.

EDIT 2: Also on this point, you could always retune it later for more "content" and make a HM4 person version for it as well.... Plus saying Tactical 2 allows you a new in between from solo to full 4 tactical FPs.
OK fine... I'll post my referral link in protest.

dlcman's Avatar

11.23.2015 , 11:49 AM | #8
Quote: Originally Posted by SirUrza View Post
Uhh he says tomorrow's patch.
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Satsuke's Avatar

11.23.2015 , 11:49 AM | #9
Thanks for the clarity. Some questions though.

1. How did the wildly overpowered companions make it out of internal/QA testing and to live in the state they were in? Did nobody catch on to their ludicrous power levels and flag it as a potential issue that could impact player behavior and gameplay? Did you not foresee players avoiding grouping for H2+ content and just soloing it with their overpowered companions.

2. When are tank companions getting their proper fix? IIRC they still are missing shielding/defensive stats and I know mine still has a hell of a time trying to hold threat off me from healing aggro alone. With what you've outlined, it feels like healing will be the "default" mode for companions since it will likely be far stronger/more useful than either tank or dps modes.

And "emergent"? Really, that's hard for me to read you call players soloing H2+ content as "emergent", especially when you created the situation for it to happen (overpowered companions) and made the content itself a central part of the post-story gameplay. Sounds silly.

Voblat's Avatar

11.23.2015 , 11:51 AM | #10
15% damage seems low, my healer does more damage than my influence 38 companion in DPS mode at the minute.

Making heroic star fortresses whatever you want them to be is fine, but you shouldnt be putting the things into peoples mission logs and gating companions behind it if they are end game stuff.

This is basic game design here, you dont go from easy content and direct people straight to the hardest stuff in the game to do outside of the big group content. Solo mode should be where it stops for the story, the heroic version should be about gear and achievements. (It only drops 208 gear remember)