Last night I tried out the somewhat new hireling system in DDO when my fiancé and I ran into a tough level 3 quest and came away very impressed. It’s not exactly like having a real player, but its close enough, and adds another activity to manage during the dungeon crawl that adds to the enjoyment of the overall experience.
Since I’m currently playing DDO as a duo with my fiancé, the ability to bring two hirelings along is great, as a party of four is the ‘recommended’ number of players to complete an instance on the normal setting. (DDO vets correct me if I’m wrong on that, but I believe I’ve read that someplace) In addition to just providing the right number of players, the fact that you can pick from a selection of classes also solves the “we need a healer/tank/dps” issue that can arise. Since the fiancé is a fighter, and I play a rogue, we can grab a cleric and a wizard and bam, perfect group. Or we can mix it up and go heavy on the dps, bringing say a wizard and sorcerer, or go all melee with a paladin and barbarian. Point being, it adds more variety to the game, and since you control your hireling through a pet-like hotbar addition to your UI, what class you hire determines what abilities you control from that bar and how you should direct your hireling. The fiancé was having a great time just watching the spell effects from her hireling wizard fly, and managing my cleric allowed my rogue to also have access to healing when the group needed it.
The AI for the hirelings is good enough. When you set them to ‘attack’ mode, they will use their abilities to their best judgment, so while a wizard will cast some spells, he won’t mana-dump as fast as possible. In defend mode the hireling will follow after your character and if a mob attacks them they will fight back as normal. On the pet-like hotbar you also get access to four of the hirelings skills and can use them as you would your own. So for the cleric, I simply select someone and click the Heal spell, and my cleric casts away. Very handy, very easy to use, and again a nice layer on top of everything else going on. What’s really nice is if a battle gets really hectic, you can put your hireling on attack mode and forget about them. They won’t be perfect (but then again PUG players are far from perfect as well), but they will do a good job and hold their own. An interesting side bonus, it seems hirelings will move to any area technically reachable by ‘floating’ up to it, so if you have a mob on a ledge that would normally require you to jump 2-3 times to reach it, the hireling will float up and attack the mob. (Not sure if this is intended, but it happened last night, and I figure it’s the solution implemented to prevent the hirelings getting stuck on tougher jump areas or falling down a ledge and becoming unusable)
In any other game the addition of hirelings would be a nice but overall meh improvement, but in DDO’s group-only environment it just opens up the game for those unable to field a full party, and makes what would previously be an uphill battle possible and more deep/entertaining. A great addition to what has so far been a really enjoyable experience.
edit: My only concern with hirelings is their cost. I’ve yet to do the math, but I’m not sure if buying one or two hirelings per instance (the contract is a one use / one instance only item) is feasable long-term. If it’s not, we might get into a situation where we first try to 2 man something, fail, and then hire help. That could lead to some frustration on the longer missions. The counter to this is that as a duo, perhaps we can attempt ‘hard mode’ on shorter quests after completing them on normal, which would yield more gold to pay for future purchases. Currently at level 4 I have just over 2000 platinum, so I’m not hurting for money atm, but it’s something to keep an eye on.