In the latest Friday Update over at Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare Senior Game Designer William Wallace delves further into BioWare’s unique companion system, discussing their AI and role in group content.

Those familiar with traditional BioWare games such as the Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age and Mass Effect series might be used to and comfortable with the ability to fully control their companions, but the spectrum of players expected for SWTOR contains those with little or no interest in micromanaging their AI allies. Originally, companions functioned almost entirely on their own, with only a few options for manual control. From both internal feedback and testing, BioWare determined that many people wanted more direct control over their companion’s behavior.

To facilitate this desire, BioWare have added AI toggles to each ability to control whether the companion should decide on their own when to use them, or whether they should be manually activated by the player. Players uninterested in managing their companion can leave them on autopilot. Players who prefer full control can attain it by expanding the companion bar onto their screen and using the abilities directly as though they were player abilities.

BioWare expects most people to fall in between the two extremes and occasionally utilize the AI toggles to alter the way their companion fights. Examples of AI tweaks include:

  • Players may choose to disable some area-of-effect abilities when using crowd control or when fighting tough single enemies.
  • Players may activate special modes or stances for their companion, causing them to focus more on damage or tanking, or on a single target versus groups of enemies.
  • Players may want to manually activate buffs and powerful special abilities on long cooldowns, as opposed to letting the companion pick when to use their most powerful attacks.

On the subject of running group content with companions, any PC can be substituted for a companion in 4man (or fewer) content, including flashpoints. If a PC has to leave the group temporarily, a companion can substitute until they return, allowing the group to continue. While BioWare admits companion AI won’t be on par with the human brain, the ability to micromanage their actions will enable experienced groups and competent players to successfully complete their mission, even after losing a group member.

While the majority of content in the game can be mastered by a player and their companion, some group content is a different matter. Flashpoints often require human coordination to successfully overcome challenges, meaning any instance which requires independent thought from all four players may prove too difficult for a group of two PC’s and two companions alone.

The full dev blog can be accessed here.