Okay, so I have been thinking a long time about Companions and their system. And I wanted to wait till U41 pts to see, if there are some changes planned.
I play everyday with Companions and I have noted some things, that need to be reworked. They do not require much effort on ZOS's side, just some flags and tweaks in numbers. So, I am hoping I can inspire a revisit of the current system implementation. For the following discussion I will ignore the set Telvanni Efficiency, because it would require the player's build to significantly change. And I think companions should be an addition to a build, not the focus or sole purpose of one.(1) "Not Combat Pets" or how player abilities treat Companions.
I do not think it is possible to greatly improve comp AI, but we can make them better when it comes to interaction with player abilities. What do I mean by that? Well simply said, make them Allies! Not pets, not summons, but allies.
One big detriment to the companions' combat effectiveness is their low survivability. But that isn't because they should be expected to survive on their own. Think about it. How many players do you see standing in stupid? And dying to it? How many players are monkeying round and cannot be healed by your ground HoTs? Too many. Would you expect companions to be different or even better?
The reason why companions are so much harder to protect and keep alive is "smart heals" and how these prioritise seemingly everyone and their mother over your companion. Atm, it doesn't matter, if your companion is at 50% health or lower. When you cast a burst heal it only takes one of your HPs missing and the heal will target you, not the comp. Or imagine some random Bow shooting 16k hp Bosmer Nightblade decides to chime in on your World Boss fight. And there you go ... All your heals will target them, not your companion.
Or can someone explain to me why my Sorcerer's Ward can target the summoned pets, but not the summoned companion? Its ridiculous. The companion needs it much more. The companion needs to be more.
It has to change! If a player summons a companion, they need to be prioritised by that player's abilities. Treat them as allies!(2) Armour, Weapons and Scripts
We currently have a situation where players put heavy armour on every companion in the hopes of increasing their survivability, completely neglecting the passives and underlying mechanics. Or equipping Bows and Lightning Staffs on a healer companion in order to keep them at range and not have them follow a hidden Restoration Staff script, that will consistently lead them close to enemies and die in their AoEs or lets Bosses focus them, because they heal too much.
Those hidden scripts for companion behaviour need to be reevaluated, for they clearly impact build choice and sometimes even total avoidance of companions.
Armour passives should also have downsides or lateral secondary effects, creating more pronounced costs of opportunity.
Also, the inability to upgrade companion gear is beyond frustrating
. But I am sure this is known and criticized far and wide by now.(3) Traits
Man, what a mess! At the Moment we have nine traits (on one purple quality piece):
- Aggressive Increases damage done by 1.7%.
- Augmented Increases duration of buffs and debuffs by 2.6%.
- Bolstered Reduces damage taken by 1.7%.
- Focused Increases Critical Strike Rating by 2.6%
- Prolific Increases Ultimate generation by 13%.
- Quickened Reduces ability cooldowns by 2.6%.
- Shattering Increases Penetration by 1300.
- Soothing Increases healing done by 1.7%.
- Vigorous Increases Max Health by 2.6%.
Out of which three are outright useless:
- Augmented gets dominated by quickened. Not just because quickened targets all abilities instead of just a few, but because the size is totally off. A full compliment (12 pieces) of quickened gear will net 31.2% less cooldown, where 12 pieces of augmented will increase duration by 31.2% All peachy you'd think, right? Wrong. The problem here is the base number. With Augmented it stays at 100%, but with quickened it becomes 68.8% ( 1-31.2). That makes it a 45.3% increase effectively. To alleviate that Augmented would need to be buffed to at least 3.8% per purple piece, instead of the 2.6%. And even then it still only works on buffs and debuffs. Would it also work on all heals, Augmented might get relevant to healer builds.
- Focused suffers from being the only thing that buffs companion crit chance. So with full focused gear only about 31% crit chance is reached. That's it. Nothing more to gain. And forget about crit damage as a multiplier, because it is always 50%. All in all focused doesn't suck because it is inherently weak, but because you build up from 0%. Raising the base crit chance to 10% - 20% would be raising the focused trait from the grave.
- Prolific. It is only useful regarding Ultimate abilities. It doesn't do anything for the other 5 active abilities. And there is only one ultimate per companion, no choice there. They unlock at lvl20! Not lvl1, or lvl12. Lvl20. And what the abilities themselves are capable of is a j o k e! One even has the largest portion of their damage shoved into execute. It's like a bottleneck within a bottleneck within a bottleneck. Make the Ultimates worth casting.
Then there are five that can be useful under certain circumstances or for certain companions:
- Shattering is only useful, when you use a comp as DPS and only in overland (9.1k armour equals 7 pieces of shattering). If you can provide debuffs to the Boss in the form of Maj/Min Breach, Crusher, etc. you can even calculate the missing amount and use as many shattering pieces as needed. However, 12 pieces of shattering should be able to entirely penetrate a Boss armour. So shattering should be buffed to ~1517 (18200/12).
- Vigorous gives 31.2% health at 12 pieces. Comps have 30k at lvl20. That makes for 39359 health. But does it really improve survivability? Against one Boss? Maybe. Against Boss and his add waves and AoEs? No. Not really. The comp lives 3s or 4s longer and that doesn't help much. It would be a wider window to heal them, granted. But the incoming damage being lower is the far better alternative. Also, there are only 8 companion abilities that scale of comp MaxHealth. 2 non class shields, two class shields, three class heals and one DoT. That's it. One can argue that only Sharp, Bastian and Mirri can make good use of Vigorous, as they can heal themselves better with more health, when they Tank. The others should probably not touch it. If all classes had a health scaling self heal, Vigorous would be all around good option for comp Tanks. Increasing it to 3.8% would even make it an universal option for healers and DPS as well.
- Soothing is not the best option for healers, as you'd expect. With the sometimes very long cooldowns, the bottleneck is uptime, not scale. Only Blood Transfusion has the "effect time = cooldown" and thus benefits more from soothing than quickened. All healing abilities need to be revisited for that conundrum (also see below). If none are changed the trait effect should be increased to at least 2.6% to account for the sometimes extensive downtimes.
- Aggressive is of course the go to trait for DPS setups, but as we discussed previously, only impactful after the enemies' armour is taken care of (Shattered or Player abilities' debuffs). So it doesn't make sense to have more than 5 pieces, because every additional piece is a net loss compared to the piece of shattering.
- Bolstered is a good tanking trait, in that it reduces all incoming damage all the time. But it is useless for all other stuff that comp tanks need to do. Taunting, self healing, debuffing/buffing and casting shields. Also, the ~20% DR for equipping 12 pieces can be achieved by casting an armour buff or ritual of salvation. One ability equals 12 pieces of equipment? Really?
Now the generally most useful trait is of course: Quickened
Cooldowns are the main bottleneck of the companion combat system. So the trait that reduces cooldowns and almost entirely removes said bottleneck is the best option in about a 90% of the cases. For example, being able to cast the class armour buffs on cooldown will let the companion have 20% damage reduction (12x Bolstered is 20.4%), as well as being able to cast the four other abilities more often, hugely improving combat effectiveness.
That kind of Dominance over the other traits is detrimental to the entire system. Ironically, if Quickened would be buffed, the need to run 12 pieces of it would be lower and the other traits became more relevant. That would create a new balance and the diversity of companion builds would definitely improve, along with their combat effectiveness.(4) Abilities
I want to preface this part by stating Companions are an addition to a player's SOLO build. They are irrelevant to group play or PvP, and improvements to their abilities shouldn't be discarded as unbalanced. Anyone who says that is a fool, imo. The idea behind any companion build should therefore be that they become a supplement
or an extension of the player build. There are broadly three categories of companion abilities.
(a) Damaging Abilities
I don't think this category needs much improvement. Companions shouldn't be able to do more damage than players. 12k to 15k is a good ceiling for their capabilities, which can be reached with the current power level of their abilities.
The only gripe that I have is the existence of execute abilities for companions. It's stupid to use one slot for an execute, only to cast it once, if at all. Companions cannot cast them back to back. Cooldowns prevent that. So please get rid of execute abilities
(b) Defensive Abilities
Heals, shields and armour buffs are a staple option for companions and every functional build has at least a least one self heal. But there the problems already start. I am talking about targeting and casting conditions. What a lot of players maybe also do not know, is that abilities have a priority for casting. The priority is left to right on their ability bar.
Now a self heal shouldn't have a long cooldown, for obvious reasons. Yet most do. Also, the most prevalent cast condition is <75% health and only one or two have a <50% cast condition. More of the latter means companions will not heal themselves or the player with high amounts of over-healing, but also will be casting them less. That in turn means they will cast their other abilities more often, like HoTs or debuffs, the timing for heals is better, because the cast comes usually after a big chunk of incoming damage and is ready in case there is a large chunk of damage coming instead of being on cooldown. Obviously the scale of the heals should be reconsidered, when they need to be able to heal 50% to full, instead of 75% to full.
And by the way, Mending Incantation doesn't even have a casting condition. Your comp will cast it whether you or them have a scratch, a wound or nothing at all. Really inappropriate for a burst heal, isn't it?
(c) Utility Abilities
The problem with non damage effects for companions is that they are more disruptive than supportive. That is most annoying with the stuns and immobilizations, that are worked into many comp abilities. And their disruptive nature makes a lot of player avoid these abilities, rather than use them.
I mean, can a comp even tank like a player? No! Thinking about comps as player substitutes is wrong! They are machines. Likeable machines, yes, but still not capable of observation, split second analysis and decision making, which are all key skills that make a great Tank. Just giving a cat a hammer, doesn't let the cat drive a nail into a beam of wood.
On the other side we have too few abilities that have a combat buff or debuff attached to them. Now, if there were more buffs and debuffs from the Maj/Min system, we'd have a great addition to combat effectiveness of the Player
. Things like minor Breach and minor Heroism are very rare and sought after Buffs. The lists is long. Some classes still don't have access to Major Brutality/Sorcery or Major Breach. You could solve their issues for Soloing in ESO without impacting general game balance and especially PvP, if a companion would be able to provide the buff on cooldown.
Thank you for reading to the end and please feel free to comment on this.
read, think and write.In that order.