One of the things I have always enjoyed about Bioware games are relationships that can develop between the player and their Companions.
Companions are not just AI Fodder for enemies, that are doomed to die and then be resurrected when the area has been cleared nor are they hirelings or hangers on who are ultimately more useful as walking inventories, Companions provide a connection to the world that we are trying to save, this connection is valuable because ultimately if there is no connection to the world then who really cares if the darkspawn or the Reapers destroy it.
Having Companions or Sqaudmates or whatever is not the only way to provide a connection to the game world of course but they are an important and often over looked (by other game studios) way.
To find proof of this we can compare the Bioware Forums and the Fallout Forums. Biowares forums have whole threads devoted to Companions or LI or Companions we wished were LIs, no one is so passionate about the Companions in Fallout because essentially Companions in Fallout are Inventories with guns.
The relationship between you and your Companions evolves during your conversations with them or when listening to the party banter that you get in the Dragon Age games, however there have always been two things that have always frustrated me about Companion Dialogue
1) it seems to be possible to go through it all quite quickly in most games
2) Companions rarely seem to react to events that happen in the story unless it directly affects them.
So I’d like to explain and discuss these two points.
Mass Effect 2 is the most glaring example of this you get about 5 or 6 Conversations with each of your companions and an additional two if you have romanced them. While that seems like a lot it is possible to go through them all quite quickly meaning you might be left with much of the game to go and no one to talk too or only few Companions to talk too. This wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t get the same response from them every time you asked them to talk, well apart from Mordin who I would activity go and speak too even when I knew he had nothing else to say just to here is reason why he couldn’t talk to me right now. I am still wondering how the Scale Itch got onboard the Normandy.
This is especially true if you play through the DLC before end game
Even games with a lot more dialogue like Dragon Age can suffer from this, because can talk to your Companions at any time it is possible to use up most of their dialogue at the start of the game, leaving yourself with a very quiet Party Camp.
In both games certain events or achieving your companion’s loyalty/trust can trigger more dialogue but with the additional DLC that you can play before endgame it is still very quiet.
Of course the easiest solution would just be that players should pace themselves and make sure they do not use up all the dialogue at the start of the game, the only challenge with this is that A) on you first play through, how do you know how much dialogue a character will have without looking it up first and B) not speaking to a Companion at a certain time may mean you miss out on a quest/mission or you are not able to gain their trust, also something that you will not know on your first play through.
Some games like Dragon Age 2 will only you allow you to speak to your Companions at certain times. I actually quite like this, it means that you can speak to them all the way up to endgame without ever worrying about running out of dialogue. It also has the added bonus of being able to show your Companions actually doing things without you, like chatting to other Companions, drinking, playing cards etc. giving them a life outside of you, which I think is great as it adds to their personalities and shows you that Hawk is not the only person they ever talk too.
Others like Mass Effect adds dialogue whenever you complete a main part of the quest, this extends the amount of time that the dialogue lasts for, but that time depends on how many side quests you complete and in what order.
Both of these solutions have the added benefit of being able to include reactions to certain events in the dialogue, which I will discuss further when I go into my second point.
In my opinion the way to make sure the dialogue lasts until endgame is a combination of the Mass Effect /Dragon Age and Dragon Age 2 dialogue styles.
This would mean that you could go and speak to your Companions whenever you wanted and get certain dialogue but other dialogue is only triggered after a certain event and your Companions will ask to speak with you. And I don’t mean only ask to speak with you to give you a loyalty quest, like they do in Mass Effect 2, I mean they want to talk to you about something that has happened or just to chat, like in Dragon Age 2.
This controlled way of triggering certain dialogue will help avoid the annoyance of realising that your Companions have nothing more to say to you and you still have half a game to complete.
And all of this leads me on to
Companions reacting to events; first of all I would like to point out that I am aware that in most of Bioware’s games so far Companions do react to certain events, but they mostly revolve around thanking you for helping on a Companion quest or commenting on a main even that has occurred. What I am referring too here are events that happen that a Companion should comment on but don’t, for example During my first play through of Mass Effect 2, Jacob says how Tali is not going to like the fact that I have decided to reactive Legion, so after reactivating him I ran down to Tali as I expected her to react to this action and I got…….nothing, no reaction, no mention of her concern nothing. I had reactivated a Geth and Tali didn’t seem to care. Later on when I gain both of their loyalty there was a confrontation but it rang sort of hollow to me, because she hadn’t cared that I activated him. Even after the confrontation, there was no mention of concern about having a Geth on board.
I feel that Tali should have had some dialogue when Legion is activated; I think that she would want to voice her concern then and there.
There are a lot of examples of this throughout the Dragon Age and Mass Effect games, Jade Empire and (as far as I can remember) Baldur’s Gate. Some examples are big like the above one with Tali, others are smaller like no one mentioning conflicts between squad mates in Mass Effect 2 or only Wynne commenting on the Wardens relationship.
Mass Effect 2 tried this concept out with Kasumi; she does mention events that happen that didn’t involve her, which was a nice touch. Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 tried this a bit as well by keeping Companions commenting on events to the party banter.
This may seem nitpicky but there are certain Companions who I feel should comment on other things that occur in the game, Miranda or Garrus should have a reaction to waking Grunt, Wynne or Alistair should have a reaction to the events at Ostagar, someone besides Ashley and Kaidan should comment on Shep’s relationship with an LI (and even then they only do it when you are romancing Liara)
Even if these things are relegated to Party Banter or passing comments it adds to the game because it means that your Companions know what is going on outside of themselves and makes you all feel like more of a team. The Normandy or the Party Camp are small places and gossip should get around and it would only add to a Companion’s personality to have them comment on some of the smaller events that occur in game.
All of this adds to the illusion that Companions are not just sitting around waiting for you to show up, that they have private lives or even talk to other people when you are not around.
As a side note a very nice touch in Dragon Age Awakenings and Mass Effect 1 and 2 is that Companions will sometimes react to places you go, Nathanial will mention that a wall has slime’d him when you enter a part of the deep roads, Miranda comments that Omega is a piss hole, Kaidan comments that he can hear a buzzing around the Relay Statue. This is a very small touch that to me really makes a difference to my opinion of my Companions and helps add to the illusion that they are not just empty vessels following Shep or the Warden around.
In summary my point is that having different dialogue available at different times and having Companions comment on or react to more than just the main plot points are the next steps in adding depth to their personality.