Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What the Heck is Henchie Flagging?

You'd think I might be sick of PvE after my grindalicious weekend. You'd be wrong, of course.

Somewhere along the line people got this idea that because I like to PvP that I dislike PvE. I guess it's because I'm so bland and formless myself – people tend to project their opinions onto me. Far to the contrary, though, like a lot of people I got into the game through the PvE side and discovered the wonderful PvP later on. I reject the false dichotomy that says I have to favor one side over the other and, instead, try to enjoy the whole game in all its myriad ways. Giving each its own chance to thrill me with its special charms. What I don't like is repetitive PvE because, well, it's boring.

Anyhow, I'm no where near my fill of PvE yet. In fact, I've been considering drifting further from the shores of reasonable play and getting back into farming. That's the real way to make money, after all, and after buying 36 SoC my bank account's starting to feel the pinch. And I can put up with beating up wave after wave of helpless enemy for long enough to pile up the loot. There's as much involved in putting together a good farming build as there is in putting together a good PvP build, too, just different design constraints. You're still trying to exploit the best stuff you can find, it's just the game's much more forgiving about what you can get away with when your opponent's the AI instead of another player.

The way to farm, of course, is to find some juicy targets – critters that give good drops – and then come up with a way of beating them quickly and consistently so you can maximize your productivity in the time you spend gathering resources. It's all about the efficiency. Which, of course, is why the best farming's done on your own. You get more drops that way – everyone else in your team is taking a portion of your potential wealth away from you. But since it's often hard to kill the high-level creatures that drop the stuff you want without party members farming builds tend to be really specific. And horrendously unsuited to anything else. They get to their farming spot, farm their critters, warp back to an outpost, and go again. Very niche.

Anyhow, I'm as out of practice at that as I am with everything else in the game so I've been studying up. And while I was learning at the feet of the farming masters I saw the phrase “henchine flagging” used. A quick search of my favorite haunts didn't turn it up so I had to delve a bit deeper into things. Places like Guildwiki don't have it. Yet. They tend to be very good on basic information but if you want bleeding edge techniques you have to look elsewhere. Oh, they'll catch up but if this was some sort of secret farming technique like the gold chest in the mountains I want to use it before it gets nerfed into oblivion. That doesn't happen a lot, mind, because the developers generally leave PvE to its own devices unless there's some gross abuse going on. They really only care about making things hard for botters and professional farmers not your average players (Which, you know, is good. I've been hard on the devs today so I just want to point out that they're 90% of the way there. I just want that last 10%. And I'm going to push for it as hard as I can for as long as I'm able. Congratulating them for getting the things they're supposed to do right is just encouraging them to rest on their laurels. We don't play that game here, we keep running.) but every so often they'll step in and put a roadblock in my path to infinite riches. For example, they added Scarabs to the Crystal Desert so it'd be harder to farm Griffons. That was primarily aimed at the real hardcore but it hurt those of us who'd drop in for a bit, too. The term's probably all over the forums by this point but, in general, I'm avoiding those swamps lately. Not so much because I think they're devoid of intelligent life so much as I know that if I start hanging around one I'll get sucked into it all. Dragged down into the bog. Reading, responding, replying, and spending way too much time thinking other people's thoughts instead of my own.

I digress from my mission to figure out “henchie flagging” but only because it's a pretty easy concept. The general idea is that if you're by yourself you can have up to 7 computer controlled companions. Your three chosen Heroes and four henchmen. Now, your Heroes are much more under your control than your henchmen so you'd be a fool not to take them, even if you just ghost the henchie builds (Which, you know, don't.) to a similar character. But you can set how they attack and, here's the important bit, control their positioning a lot better than with henchies. This is something I'm now painfully familiar with having gone through the tutorial “learn how to use Heroes” quest six times now. Including four in a row this past weekend (Hooray for unnecessary tutorials that you can't skip! Look, how hard is it to check if an account's already unlocked Heroes and give them a pass on that quest or at least an option to skip it? Dirtiest feeling 250 XP I've ever taken.) but what the tutorial neglected to mention was that using those flag buttons under your mini-map to place your Heroes will also control your henchies. The mass move one, anyway. You can still control individual Heroes with their numbered flags. But if you try to separate your Heroes from your henchies by ordering them to move away you're out of luck. You'll have a herd of seven bots flocking to a point (And standing around close enough that they all get whomp ed by AoE. They are artificially unintelligent, after all.). Using those flag buttons you can direct the whole rest of your party away from you. Far, far away.

Okay, so did you know that if you're not within radar range of an enemy when it's killed you won't get a drop? It's done to prevent griefing, I believe, so that people can't just hang around the stat of a mission or something and wait while other people do the hard work and get them good items before swooping in to pick it up. Radar range is the upper limit on the area that most skills will cover – like Heal Party or a spirit or something – so if you're not within that you haven't helped the party at all. Thus, you get no loot. The game calculates it as if you weren't even there. This doesn't work for gold, mind, but only for items.

Now, since when henchmen are around they take a share of the drops just like a normal party member (They just do it invisibly. I remember when the game used to let you know exactly what the henchmen had “picked up” the same as it does when any item drops for anyone else in the party. And let me tell you, it was not good for the blood pressure when you'd get your twelfth non-max scimitar while your henchie walked off with a gold long sword with perfect stats. So, changing that was, you know, good.) that means if they're not in radar range they also don't get that share.

And with the advent of Hero controls you can now direct your whole henchmen team out of radar range while still using them to farm with. It's a way of farming solo with a party.

Obviously, this doesn't work so well when you're doing something like Griffon farming where you want to kill a lot of things in rapid succession. But if you're hunting, say, a boss who drops a valuable green item then it makes a lot of sense. Especially if that boss and its group is a little too tough to handle on its own. You use your full party to clear out the underlings and maybe even weaken the boss but before you kill it off, you sent them away so whatever drops is yours and yours alone. I imagine finding the right distance can be a bit tricky but either putting them at the edge of the radar and pulling the boss in another direction or just running off a bit so they're beyond the maximum range of where you'll fight the boss should do it – basically, as long as their names are grayed out on the party menu then they're far enough away. But, done properly, it opens up whole new avenues of farming – bosses that were previously unassailable are now “solo”-able.

I mean, you won't get that green to drop every time but when you're farming uniques you're playing the odds. And killing a boss alone gives you a much greater chance of a lucky roll of the dice.

Anyhow, this, to me, is a pretty basic concept and simple enough to do. But it smacks of unintended consequences. I'm not sure if this little technique is one the devs are going to let stand for very long. In the meantime, though, I'm going to abuse it while I can. If, of course, I can find a decent farming build. And a boss with a valuable enough drop.

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