Wow Mercenaries?

Level 23 Priest

The Problem
Wow classes are not balanced for PVE soloing. I’m not suggesting that they aren’t balanced for other efforts or that they should be changed, but as we all know, some classes have a real problem soloing in PVE.

Some Background
I’m not a whiner, and I’ve been playing MMOs for over 5 years, so I have some experience beyond Wow. Here in Wow, in the past few months, I have played all the classes and studied the wiki guides.
Let’s look at the biggest example you are all familiar with: The Priest. The priest is the squishiest of the classes. I’m sure it’s possible to solo the priest in PVE. I’ve gotten a priest up to level 20, but it’s no fun. It’s a lot of work to solo a priest. The mental and input “load” is very high. Many different skills are required and everything needs to go just right to take down mobs, even if you are a few levels higher than they are. And if two mobs run you at the same time, forget it. You are in for a long walk from the graveyard.
Class Solo Ability
I’ve played all the classes in PVE, and some in dungeons. Some up to level 60 [ I know. I’m no expert until I’ve Raided at level 85 with every class. But bear with me for a while here. ]
The following ranking is based on how much work it is to take down foes and stay alive, and how many times you die while soloing in pve. Work is measured by how much attention you have to pay to what is going on and how many different skills you have to use per minute to get the job done. The more different skills you use and the more attention you to pay, then the higher the number in the ranking, that is the harder it is to play this class in solo pve.

It seems that the solo ability of the classes can be ranked like this:

  1. Hunter – a great solo class. Comes with this own tank, which is a big deal, esp when working two or three mobs at a time. No problem soloing at level. Basically, pick a target, hammer the bow skills, pretty much at random, and your tank will watch your back.
  2. Warlock – a good second solo class. Also has it’s own tank, some minor healing and good DPS, but long casting times and lower armor rank the warlock second. You need to pay attention to which skills you are using because they have long casting times, and you need to watch your health and use your minor health slurping skill. Sure there are subtleties beyond that, but they are most useful in parties, not in pve.
  3. Paladin – Great armor and good healing put this class next, IMHO. My experience is that a paladin can level effectively solo, but it’s not where as easy as Hunters and Warlocks to do so. You need to watch your skill bar since some skills have long cool downs and you need to heal yourself. But the heals are good when you do them, and you can do them during combat. No ranged weapon. Bummer. But did I hear that this was being fixed in the next update? Can’t pull with no ranged weapon.
  4. Warrior – Great armor and good damage, but poor healing. I’ve played the warrior less in pve than the other classes since they seemed less interesting. Maybe they rank here or below the Rouge and Druid.
  5. Rogue and Druid – Stealth and good Melee skills rank these two classes about the same. I’m sure there are subtleties that folks might argue separate them, but basically they are about the same experience to solo. It seems that to solo effectively, you want to be a few levels above your mob foes. Druids drop back to casting from melee when you heal, which is a bummer. Rogues have a ranged weapon which is useful.
  6. Mage / Shaman – I’ve grouped these together. If we are talking about solo pve up to level 20, these classes are about the same amount of work. Long casting times might actually rank Mage worse than the Shaman.
  7. Priest. – We all need priests for healing in dungeons and raids, but they are not effective at PVE solo, so we don’t grow enough of them in the wild, right?

Compare with Other Games
Let’s look at some other games I’ve played. When I play an MMO, I always play all the classes. I guess I bore easily so I want to experience all the variety in the game. Let’s look at some of the games I’ve played:

  • Guild Wars – Classes are well balanced. They all solo well through lower levels. At higher levels – at level 20 in high level areas of all continents – all the classes solo well with heroes. And now with mercenaries [you play with other characters from your account or other chars you create for this purpose.] Soloing the high level content on all continents is possible with all classes. I’ve done it.
  • Dekaron – all classes are designed and balanced for soloing PVE content to the highest levels. I’ve worked to high levels with all classes. A real manual grinder in the Asian tradition. Private servers abound.
  • Ether Saga – again all classes are well balanced for soloing. All classes can have pets. This is a grinder game which becomes tedious after about level 40. When you find yourself putting a game on automatic for a day at a time, then it’s time to move on.
  • Jade Dynasty – all classes are well balanced for soloing. Another grinder at the higher levels.  I found a private server that levels more quickly. But it’s still a grinder at higher levels.
  • Heroes of the Three Kingdoms – All classes are well balanced. But some are easier than others to level to level 40, but differences are minor. This game seems to have disappeared from the Perfect World site. Not sure what happened. Two currencies and lots of confusion about what you have to buy with which currency make this one a non-starter. Not a grinder tho. The quest system is very nice and complete.
  • Aion – Played this on a private server – Gamez AION.  Classes seem well balanced and on the private server, they level quickly. But there is so much running around – some areas you are grounded – I got bored and moved on.

Friends and Guilds
So the first point that will probably arise when you say you can’t level a priest is: “Go find a friend or a guild”. And that’s a good point. I’m very social in games, when I get the opportunity. I’ve partied when ever I can and done a fair number of dungeons. I have no problem with doing those things, but it’s not easy to find friends or a guild that is useful.
I play during the day, when other folks are working. Friends I’ve met are only showing up on weekends or I never see them again online. Guilds often to be more about signing up members than signing up members that play. Although one guild had a 15 day kick rule. You don’t sign on for 15 days and they kick you. Since guilds are by character and not by account, I guess I’m kicked. Not been back to that alt for a while. The guild was no help for leveling anyway. They were too high a level to be interested in helping me get to level 20, or 40 or whatever.
Dungeon wait times [as Blizzard knows] are long even during busy times. The problem appears to be that there aren’t enough people playing priests? I wonder why?

History of Guild Wars
Let’s look at an example of what Wow might do based on the ideas from Guild Wars. First a little history.
Guild Wars started with a single continent and then added three more. From the beginning the game had Parties and NPCs called Henchmen, that you could add to your party to solo in PVE. These henchmen were adequate to the task at lower levels, but at higher levels they did not allow solo of the content. In the third expansion they added Heroes, which are NPCs that you gain as quest rewards and fight along with you. As you play the game you build your stable of heroes and customize them so they quickly become stronger than any henchmen.
As recently as May 2011, Guild Wars added Mercenary Heroes. This allows other characters in your account, or PVP characters created for this purpose, to be customized for use in PVE. I guess Mercs were added by popular demand. I never saw the forum posts, but over a year before it appeared, I privately wondered why I couldn’t play my other account characters as Heroes. Well now you can. When this happened, I was quickly able to build a merc team to solo the hardest content in the game – the end quests of the Prophecies campaign – with any class. So it made it possible, and the whole game more fun.
In GW, a Merc is a clone of a character from the account. You get a COPY of the character at the time of the clone with:

  • The armor look, but standard stats like Hero armor.
  • No weapon.
  • No Skills
  • One fixed base class of the character.
  • The secondary class can be changed at any time.

This scheme is based on the way heroes work in GW already. Basically, you clone a hero that looks like another character in your account. From then on, you armor buff them, weaponize, and skill buff them as you see fit. Those changes have no effect on the character that was cloned. In fact the original character can be deleted. This means that you can make temporary characters, clone them, and then delete them.
The whole Hero thing would be a very large change to make to Wow. But there is a limited way to enhance Wow with these ideas to add a significant way to party, to level the playing field for all classes in PVE and to grow more priests in the game.

Mercenaries in Wow
I propose that in Wow, Mercs are a clone of another character from the account on the same realm and of course, faction. They appear as a party member next to the player in the state they were left in when the character was last used. There is no way to change them once they appear. They can’t be re-dressed, re-weaponed, and no access is given to their inventory from the current character. I’m not suggesting that Wow adopt the Merc idea from GW so you get a clone of the characters and customize them from the start. But only that you get a clone of the character as it was when it was last used. For example, skills, talents, and the hunter pet, or warlock minion, are all set up by logging into that character and changing it, then going back and adding it as a merc you get the updated state of the character.
Mercs work as follows:

  1. Allow clones of other characters on the current account, from the current Realm and Faction to be added to your “party” as Mercenaries. Adding a merc to your party must be done “out of combat” and has no cooldown. Removing the merc is easy, just Kick her. No voting. Again, adding back has no cooldown. This allows for simpler travel, if you like. See later travel issues.
  2. You can only add mercs from alts on your realm that are at your level or above. If the alt is below your level, then it does not appear as a choice to add. This is because the system does not buff a merc to work at your level.
  3. Each Merc you add gets a simple interface with three buttons: Fight, Defend, Passive. That’s all. The spell effects are not available, but are automatic, and intelligent of course. The spell bar is the same as the last one the merc had when you played him. There’s a quick way to set Fight, Defend, Passive for all Mercs that you control. Do we need Go?
  4. Mercs fan out to the left and behind in an intelligent way like pets and minions do. They don’t jump all over you and so close that you can’t select foes,  NPCs and other players.
  5. The number of mercenaries is limited by level of the character adding them. Level 1-10 – none. Level 10-20 – one. Level 20-40 – 2, Level 40-Max – 3. If there are more than one player, then each may add mercs based on their level. Currently high level players are not de-buffed or limited  from power leveling low level characters, so we don’t add de-buffing rules for players now.
  6. However, mercenaries are de-buffed to not more than Character Level + 5 and their spells, armor and weapons are reduced to appropriate levels, or damage, based on that de-buffing. Mercs are not a path to Power Leveling. They are a means to make parties when other players are not available or to balance your party for PVE.
  7. Mercs level with you as long as you are partied with them. But they drop out of your party if you level beyond their true level. Any leveling that occurs is not transferred back to the original alt, but is transitory with the merc.
  8. De-buffing? What if you have Slam, a level 85 warrior with a ton of powerful skills and  you merc him with Splat, a level 10 character. How do you de-buff Slam to work with Splat? I don’t know, but I’m sure that there are intelligent ways to do it that are simple. Not trivial, but simple. Slam doesn’t have to be insanely great, to help out at level 10. But if you merc him with Punch, a level 60 character, you expect that he will be more help and not make stupid decisions.
  9. If you have a resurrect skill of some kind, you can use it on a dead merc. If the merc dies, and you can’t res him, then you dump him from the party and add him again to get him back. If the hunter pet dies [or warlock minion dies], she will rez him intelligently when she can. Shaman merc with self resurrect will attempt to do so.
  10. If a merc has a resurrect skill, she will res you at first reasonable opportunity to avoid you walking the long way from the graveyard. If more then one party member dies, then members are prioritized by class. Priests / Shaman / Paladin with resurrect skills are rezzed before others that don’t have those skills so the party can be returned as intelligently as possible.
  11. Above level 20, Mercs use their mount to follow you when you use your mount. Assuming they have a mount. If they don’t yet have a mount, then they are going to be left behind. Which mount to use when there are several is a minor issue. Maybe a simple dialog in the character itself to set the “default” mount. This use of mounts includes using flying mounts.
  12. Travel with Mercs. When you fly with a flight master, your Merc is de-rezzed like a pet / minion, and re-rezzed at the destination. When you take a boat or dirigible, then the merc stays rezzed and accompanies you, just like another party member or pet / minion  would do. Yep, boats might get more crowded. But you can kick and re-add a merc with no cooldown.
  13. Mercs are not available in dungeons. Or are they? This might solve some of the current dissatisfaction with dungeons.
  14. Mercs are not available in Raids. Or are they?
  15. Got a problem with copyright? Call them Sidekicks or something else.
  16. Mercs are not available in PVP. Or are they? I’m not suggesting that I have an idea how to make this fair.

De-buffing powerful characters to work pretty well at intermediate levels is probably the most challenging part of designing mercs. When you debuff an 85 to work at level 10 or 20, it’s ok to be suboptimal. But when you expect an 85 to work at level 60, then you expect more out of the merc. To get the best “performance” from your merc, require as little debuffing as possible. For example, if you really need a 60 Priest, or Mage with specific skills, then don’t take an 85 and expect it to just happen. Maybe building the 85 with skills/ talents available at 60 would be best. You don’t’ need to manually de-buff weapons or armor. That is done automatically. De-buffing weapons and armor is the easy part. Rebuilding a skill bar that would be empty if all high level skills are removed is harder. Maybe the automatic skill / talent de-buff is done by down grading each skill / talent rather then removing the ones not available at the lower levels. The de-buff is designed to be “fair”, not to be perfect in some way.
The design presented here probably has some holes left in it, but basically I think it’s sound and reasonable to implement. The AI behind NPCs and Mobs should be adequate to drive a merc, so it’s not that Wow would need to design a whole new subsystem to play them. I’ve tried to limit the impact on the interface, database and basic concepts to make Mercs a reasonable enhancement that we might actually see in a reasonable timeframe.

Example Scenarios
Let’s look at some examples of how Mercs would work.

  • To build characters in a realm, start with a hunter and work the hunter up to level 20, for example.
  • Then add another class, and at level 10, party up with the merc hunter to level 20.
  • Then level the hunter up to level 30 or 40 or whatever, and come back to your alt and use the hunter to level them up.
  • For instance, you have Spike, a level 20 hunter with his pet. And you have Squash, a level 10 priest that needs some help. You play Squash and add Spike as a party member. Now you do your PVE quests and Spike and his pet do damage and tank for you for mobs that attack you or that you attack.
  • As you level up, Spike and his pet level up too. They don’t add new skills or talents, but they become stronger, less de-buffed [re-buffed], as you level up.
  • When you reach level 21, Spike stops leveling up, but stays with you and fights. It would be a bad idea for Spike to leave you suddenly without aid in a fight. But you can no longer add Spike to your party.
  • To level up further with Spike’s help, just go back and play Spike and level him up.
  • Notice that you can use Squash as a healer with Spike if you add him at the same level. So when Squash and Spike are both at level 20, Squash can be the healer for Spike for some harder PVE quests, or maybe in dungeons.
  • Say that you and your friend want to do an instance dungeon, but you are both warriors. No healing. Well you can add a priest from your account as a merc, or a priest and a hunter, and then  you can party the instance dungeon yourselves.

Some classes are not well balanced in Wow for PVE. Some classes like the Priest, Warrior, and to a lesser extent, Rouge, Druid, and Shaman, need help to form a balanced party for PVE. This fact is recognized in the formation of dungeon parties, but is not addressed for PVE. While guilds and friends are a solution, it is not always possible to take advantage of friends and guild members.
Mercs are a solution to this problem. By allowing the account to serve as a source of party members, Mercenaries would allow all the classes to be played with their strengths in PVE. This will mean that more folks play the roles of priests, mages, shaman, rogues, druids and maybe someday, Monks.

– windy