[SWTOR] Mob Action

Like I said earlier, there are two core differences to the presentation of Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) from other vanilla MMOs. Fighting static NPCs is one of those differences. (The other is replacing quest text with interactable cut scenes, but I will save that for a later post.) Fighting feels less formulaic than many other vanilla MMOs, and it definitely feels higher in action even if it is still the equivalent of two spreadsheets in mortal combat. The reason is that instead of single mobs, SWTOR has encounters.

Encounters are a group of enemy NPCs (i.e., “mobs”) that are all alerted to the player’s presence if one of them is attached or alerted to the player’s ill intentions, like walking by. They all aggro, but even with a 4-on-1 fight, the heroic player wins the day.

The early Trooper skills were great for taking on these groups of mobs. I could throw a sticky grenade on one weaker mob, which would put that mob into a “get it off me”-type panic and then launch an on-hit explosive to knock another off his feet. I could start whittling down any tougher mobs in the bunch while the sticky grenade finally exploded sending nearby weak mobs again the ground. I had to admit it was tricky, but fun.

The added puzzle element of dealing with the groups of enemies made me think early on how to handle my skill rotations. It was almost like dealing with two skill rotations simultaneously where one skill rotation was simply which enemy to target in sequence with my actual skill rotation. I am making it sound horribly complex, but it was quite intuitive at the lower levels.

I admit that I am not sure how far BioWare took this mob action mechanic since I did not get beyond the Trooper’s starting zone. I would be interested to hear if this dynamic changes as player’s progress. What happens when a player gets a full skillbar with 20+ skills to chose from. One “pitfall” of many vanilla MMOs is that the fight length seems to increase proportionally to character/creature level. Does that pitfall rear its head later on in SWTOR, especially since without critical balancing fights versus multiple mobs could overwhelm players quite easily.

 The downside is that once a first player damages each enemy in the group, he or she basically “owns” that encounter. There is little point in having a friendly, ungrouped player help since the mobs are tagged only for the first player. I had to say it’s a tad immersion breaking to run into an enemy base, see an intense firefight, and not even care. The mobs will ignore you, the system will ignore any “contribution” to the fight, and the players likely will too. For the most part players essentially phase out of the persistent world as they engage the firefight.

–Ravious

21 thoughts on “[SWTOR] Mob Action”

  1. Really enjoy the encounter design in SWTOR, but something occurred to me last night after rolling a new toon; we’re fighting tons of humanoids, but they never seem to speak unless it’s a boss fight. No threats, no request for mercy, nothing. Tomb robbers and traitor acolytes all over Korriban just silently and grimly meet their fate as I quest, never really seeming to mind the sacrifice they’re making for my XP bar…

    Super-fun game, but i hope that changes at some point – would help the immersion.

    1. I definitely had mobs voicing.

      As a Bounty Hunter, I got a ‘sticky bomb’ of sorts, too. When it would stick to a mob that was suceptible, they’d voice…confusion “Buh????” then horror, “AAAh, get it off get it off me!”, as they danced around before going *BOOM* and knocking all of their comrades down. Sometimes fatally so.

  2. That encounter mechanism sounds identical to the original EQ2 version from 2004. It was deemed to be highly innovative back then but I thought it had pretty much become standard issue by now.

    In EQ2 if you select any given mob, all other members of its linked Encounter light up, so there’s no doubt what will come when you tag any one of them. In Everquest mobs were linked by what we generally called “social agro” and would assist each other within a certain radius, but you didn’t get any visual indication of what was connected to what.

    I personally loathe the EQ2 visual clues and turn them off in the UI as far as possible. I like to find out what’s going to come when I pull and not before. I also strongly dislike Guild Wars agro radius circles for the same reason.

    A huge part of the attraction of hunting in Everquest was learning the behaviors of mobs, what was social with what, who would assist whom, how far one creature would have to be from another before it noticed you attack its buddy. I thought, and still think, that the Encounter system subtracts from the base entertainment value of the game.

    EQ2 also has a way of breaking the encounter to allow other people in to help you. You /yell for help. Rarely used, in my experience. Most people seem to prefer to go down fighting rather than lose ownership.

  3. Fight length did increase incrementally. Not as bad as, say WoW. By the time I was approaching 30 fights were maybe (MAYBE) twice as long as they had been in the starter area. The real problem is boss fights. The rotations and combos you roll off fighting enemies don’t change THAT much in flashpoint boss encounters, but the bosses have 10x the hitpoints or more, as well as different abilities so the fights devolve into “will your healthbar last longer than the healers manabar” stuff.

  4. Personally, I think the encounter system they have will lead to launch woes. Nothing sucks like having massive competition for world spawn quest drops. I’d prefer something like DCUO has for area credit on kills you assist with. Maybe you’d still need to compete for actual loot drops, but the kill credits for your 10 space rats/npc’s would be nice. Anyone who has done beta on the starter worlds during high population times will know what I am talking about. To be fair, I know that they have been tweaking the respawn timers on world clickable quest items which does help, and I saw some improvement between builds I played. Still, I think we will still see people waiting around or endlessly roaming a circuit hoping they pop on the respawn before anyone else. I can’t comment on how the timers are in the latest beta build because I’ve decided that the time I’ve put in is sufficient for now and I don’t want to burn out before launch.

    I don’t really see how the system they have is much different from the other mmo’s I’ve played tbh. The main difference between leveling in tor versus wow, besides some voice and thus more involving story (I get more interested in the quests than I do wow’s) is that wow’s leveling areas are generally not competitive.

  5. I can happily report that the encounter mechanics continue to contribute to really interesting, strategic, choices as you advance in levels! This is a really great post. I think that a some of the “ho-hum” reactions to SWToR combat that we’ve seen in the blogosphere recently from folks who have been in on the weekend tests is because it’s easy to overlook this aspect of the gameplay mechanics at lower levels. In all fairness, mobs do a small enough amount of damage on the origin worlds and Coruscant (republic), that you can get away with being inefficient in your approach to combat (not thinking about how to best manage groups, as you’ve described above). But as you level into the mid-30’s you really have to start being much more strategic in your approach, or you’ll be meditating/reloading/etc. between every fight.

    I’ve been in the general Beta for several months, so have had an opportunity to play both the Commando and Shadow to higher levels. Both classes layer on new mechanics as you advance that keep things interesting, and keep you on your toes to make smart choices about which abilities to use (in general debuffs for the Commando, DoTs for the Shadow; regen’ing CC’s for both). Things get even more interesting when you consider the resource mechanic for Commandos: the more ammo you have, the faster your bar refills. In regards to your question about longer boss fights, this becomes a really important aspect to your play (coupled with managing recharges that have long cool downs).

    One other aspect of the game that keeps things really interesting as you level is managing your companion. Choosing the (a) correct companion to complement your play-style, and even more importantly (b) choosing which abilities she/he/it has active and (c) matching their itemization to (a) and (b) has a huge effect on how useful they are to you in solo and small group play. You definitely don’t want to just leave all of their abilities on auto-cast.

    The core combat mechanics are standard MMO. But after playing for awhile I’ve come to appreciate that, for the classes I’ve had a chance to play in SWToR and elsewhere (WoW, EQ2, Rift, etc.), this implementation is the deepest and most nuanced of the current breed.

  6. Just as a correction, mobs aren’t automatically tagged when pulled, even in groups. They all aggro as a group, but if someone has not actually damaged all of them, you can “help” a stranger and get credit for the untapped mob. Of course, that means the other guy doesn’t get credit for killing it.

      1. If other player is fighting a group of 3 mobs and one mob get no damage from that player, you can deal it and receive xp from it.

        I played jedi knigh and sith warrior, both have the jump skill, so when I saw other players fighting a group of mobs and I saw one or two mobs not flagged, I just jumped into, you know… just for help… or wait, my sith was jumping into justo to show the other player how weak it is…

        If you want flag all group of mobs, you need use an AOE attack for make damage to all them. That sometimes will not work when there are mobs that have as strategy run out and start shooting from a safe distance. But I will have no problem with otehr players taking down that mobs.

  7. Just to add, it helps that they’ve got different grades of mob as well. Normal, Strong (silver portrait), Elite (gold portrait) and Boss (gold and solver portrait). Packs are tuned so that the average player can take down a large pack of Normals, a smaller group of two Strongs or some Normals plus one Strong, or a single Elite.

    Having that granularity does help a lot with combat, although it does mean that you can feel like you’re wading through zerglings at times.

  8. As requested, I have an anecdote of this for you. Not from 20+ mind you, but from around level 18.

    But first, an observation; Rift tried to do this. Rift failed to make it engaging. The main difference between SWTOR and Rift in this regard was, in Rift you seemed to be made to take on at least groups of 3 normal enemies to have a slight challenge. The problem was, most mobs were linked 1 by 1. Meaning, unless you went out of your way to pull many groups at a time (which you would only do if your spec was AoE focused), the normal leveling would be trivially easy, and the only challenge in the leveling game was “how long can I go without regening”, or soloing minor rifts to full closure (stage 5, timed)/soloing major rifts to closure (stage 3, not timed). That is, if you came upon them solo.
    Compared to SWTOR where I believe it goes Swarm, Normal, Strong, Elite, Champion and Boss enemies, where Strong seems to be the standard mob, Normal usually link 3-4 at a time, and Elite is that seems to be tuned to just ALMOST kill you when at level without a companion. And I would not be surprised if Champions were doable with just a companion and a bit of clever play. In fact, I might have done this (not sure). Which brings me to my anecdotal evidence.

    SWTOR is awesome for at least trying to provide challenging, yet soloable leveling content. Yes, you can always gather a group for examples like these, but I will leave that to the people who don’t like being challenged.
    The experience comes from Friends of Old, a Heroic 4 (that is, 4-player recommended) level 16 quest in Dromund Kaas (level 10-16 Empire Area).
    I was a level 18 Sith Sorcerer (Inquisitor focused on lightning+heals) with my trusty melee tank companion.
    The quest was located inside a Group Phase, and involved killing groups ranging from 2 elites, 2 strongs and a normal to 3 elites and a strong. And it was beautiful. CCing 1 elite, using my absorb shield to tank both using myself and my companion, finally finishing off each group after quite intense combat. Often I was reduced to regening my resources while chain-CCing the last elite to give myself the edge needed to take him on after my companion died.
    Twice I wiped (but no corpseruns in SWTOR if you got a bit of patience), and once I was saved by the b… ding, literally, as I regained all my health thanks to a levelup right as I was about to die.
    All in all an enjoyable challenge, and what a rush!

    Also, on a slight note. Ran into 2 nice challenging champions in the class story. One was due to me forgetting I had a quest macguffin to reduce him to a wimp. He killed me once, but I still took him before remembering the item.
    The second might have been a bit nintendo hard (though I was 2-3 levels underleveled). Did a constant force degen of about 3x my regen, quickly leaving me resource starved. I only beat him when, after 2 death, the debuff suddenly was gone (I assume this was a bug).

  9. Nutshell summary – somebody on the TOR dev team played City of Heroes/Villains at some point, since the mob/encounter system plays almost identically. Sadly they didn’t crib the sidekick/exemplar system while they were at it, but that’s trickier to implement in gear-reliant games.

    1. Was just about to make a similar point. CoX’s minion/LT/boss system means you always have mobs of mobs (ha!) to mow through, making you feel powerful. It also forces you to make choices, such as mezzing a nuisance LT (Tsoo Sorcerers and Malta Sappers come to mind) while focusing on the boss and letting AoE take care of the minions (powerset dependent).

      Even with relatively few powers on hand, you’re still constantly making strategic decisions from group to group, thus keeping the combat fresh. And it’s usually easy to escape from a bad pull.

      The strength that CoX has is you don’t get the queuing effect of theme parks like SW:TOR, with no ‘tagging’ of mobs (xp shared by proportion of damage), and the many instances are automatically scaled to your level and chosen difficulty. You just never see kill stealing in CoX.

      The instancing and very fine grained difficulty settings also mean CoX is not about beating the base game, but about seeing how high you can set the difficulty with particular powerset and group combinations. All difficulties are fun, but higher often more so, if only for the feeling of being powerful enough to tear through a dozen mobs at a time and to push your build.

      Also, CoX *never* punishes teaming. You always do better in every respect in a team. None of this theme park team-for-one-mission-then-disband thing.

      Amazing that the game came out before WoW and new MMOs are still lagging behind some of its more innovative features.

  10. Maybe I’m showing my ignorance, but in all three MMOs that I have played – Guild Wars, DDO, and EVE – mobs typically aggro in groups. Provoke one, and all its pre-programmed buddies come along too. Though both GW and EVE sometimes mix multiple groups into a pack, where you can pull only some of the bad guys if you are careful.

    Have I missed something?

    1. Yes, the formulaic approach of any game that has not tried to do something original. To name a few, WoW, LOTRO, EQ1/2, Lineage 2, most GPotato games (Flyff and Rappelz are the ones I know), Rift and Champions Online. Sure, some enemies have such close spawns that it is hard to avoid a double pull, but in general in these games, outside of group content (mainly dungeons/raids), mobs do not link.

      And while I know what you mean with “miss” is something else, I can tell you that I won’t miss games where the standard is lone mobs.

      1. I’m with Nom on this. I don’t see why this is something worth mentioning about SWTOR, pretty much every MMO I’ve played had linked mob groups, including most of the ones MMOtte named there. I could also add FF11 and RO to name 2 pretty old ones.

        Ravious, what are we missing here? Why are grouped mobs in SWTOR special? The difficulty tiers?

        1. It’s not new, but it is notable.

          I would say a true vanilla MMO is most like WoW, LOTRO, Rift, where a solo encounter is usually 1v1.

          Star Wars uses linked groups, and really makes it work for solo encounters.

          That’s it. Just sharing what I felt stood out.

  11. “The downside is that once a first player damages each enemy in the group, he or she basically “owns” that encounter. There is little point in having a friendly, ungrouped player help since the mobs are tagged only for the first player.”

    And when I played in the beta, this made me miss the grouping in Rift. Even now, if I get on one of my toons in Rift and am questing with others around, they will auto add me or vice versa.

    @Nom: no, you didn’t miss anything. Mobs do tend to attack in groups depending on their proximity to each other.

    In my weekend betas, I noticed a lot of mobs that were attacking a player, but since that player didn’t damage them they were still free for the killing. Only when the player did some sort of AOE did I notice all would be tagged.

  12. From my experience with a 25 consular and 36 bounty hunter the fights do get longer but they are extended by the enemies getting additional mechanics. For example some strong enemies get a knock back, some get a stun, and some get damage spikes that must be healed or mitigated.

    One series of encounters were kicking my butt till I realized the enemies were immune to my high damage flame skills. They were also immune to a flame skill that could reduce their damage output. While they had lower hit points they also had high damage and were paired with high hit point enemies that could take fire damage. It took a few fights but I worked out an effective skill and target prioritization which I won’t spoil for the budding BHs out there.

    While my bounty hunter was a tank, my consular/sage was a healer and most fights boiled down to figuring out who to CC who to put DOTs on and whether or not to heal my tank minion. Slightly less engaging, but I also played my consular before they started buffing strong and elite mobs so it could be quite different now.

    Unlike my warlock in WoW who I used the same six button combo to level I find myself using about 20 different skills based on cool downs and encounters.

    These fights are much different than in Guild Wars 1 since in that game combat was balanced around two full groups with healers on both sides. In TOR healers are another accent like knock backs and stuns they make you think about group make up and target prioritization. In many ways I feel like leveling in TOR is teaching you the end game of CC, threat/aggro, healing, and damage. Essentially when run a flash point the only new mechanics you are experiencing are the boss “puzzles”.

    Aaand that was way longer than I was expecting to go…

  13. -One quick note, i actually quite like this part:

    ” The downside is that once a first player damages each enemy in the group, he or she basically “owns” that encounter. There is little point in having a friendly, ungrouped player help since the mobs are tagged only for the first player.”

    In many other MMO homes i have had over the years, i took on the role of my Paladin character from EQ. I stood and fought while my friends ran to safety, or i jumped in to help someone in trouble regardless of situation or threat to my own life. And in most of those MMOs, players automatically thought i was kill-stealing or trying to ninja-loot.

    Having the encounter locked, so long as i can still pew-pew the bad guys and help someone out, actually works better for that (admittedly niche and seldom-occurring) playstyle.

    Pardon the interruption, carry on.

    Jergis

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