DevDiary 15 - Companions
Ave! Welcome to DevDiary 15, and boy do we have a doozy for you this week. It’s companion week! Every day starting today, we’ll be releasing a new video about one of our five companion characters, introducing the role they play in the story as well as in combat, and hinting at the personal problems they’re saddled with, which you will hopefully help them deal with throughout your adventures together.
We have a lot to get through today, so let’s get started. Companions are a staple of the roleplaying genre. Originally an attempt to emulate the dynamics of a tabletop RPG group, they have become one of the most beloved and distinct aspects of the genre, and we daresay its greatest storytelling asset. With a sufficiently compelling set of main characters, a story can really tug on the player’s heartstrings – and one of the keys to making a group of characters appealing is to give them enough screen time for the player to get to know them. RPG-style companion characters are perfectly suited for this, as they typically follow the protagonist everywhere, participating in every scene and every crisis.
We’d love to say that we wanted to place our companions front and center in Expeditions: Rome right from the start, but that would be untrue. In fact, we originally envisioned something much more like Conquistador: a large pool of bare-bones praetorians who were mostly just a collection of names, portraits, and stats. The player would be able to assemble their team from these praetorians, and as they were all able to die permanently or be kicked out of the group at any time, none would be integral to the plot. Four of these praetorians did have a slightly special status as the starting party that we would use to tutorialize the four character classes, but once the tutorial was finished, they would be treated the same as any expendable praetorian.
But soon we ran into a problem: if we couldn’t count on the player to have at least 4 people on their team at any time, certain content in the game simply didn’t work. We decided to promote our four starting characters to “companion” status, making them functionally immortal in that their deaths would result in a game over, and then we added a fifth character to the group to ensure that you could fill a whole 6-person team with companions only. Once we had made this decision, we found ourselves investing more and more personality and agency in these four – after all, if we know these characters are always around, we can use them in dialogue and make them important parts of quests.
But let’s take a step back. Having decided that 5 is the number of companions the game will have, how do you decide who they should be? Well, a game – even a heavily story-based RPG – is first and foremost a mechanical thing, and since Expeditions: Rome offers 4 base character classes in combat, of course all classes must be represented among the companions. This spread of combat roles was the seed upon which we built the player’s tight knit second family. A good short-hand that we like to use to steer our creativity when designing characters is to assign a single title or nickname to each of them that hints at an archetype. Then each companion is fleshed out with details that either support that archetype or counter it, until you have a well-rounded character. Let’s go over them now:
Every Expeditions game is set in a particular culture at a particular time, and in our view that culture must be properly represented within the companion group. In Viking, we invented Asleifr as the stereotypical ruthless macho viking warrior. In Expeditions: Rome, Caeso represents the archetypical Roman centurion – a dutiful and disciplined veteran soldier who loves the Republic and will happily die to defend it.
But Caeso isn’t a stiff professional, he’s a bon vivant who likes wine, women, and for that matter men when the mood takes him. When you meet Caeso, he is well set in his ways, but eventually the consequences of his easy living will catch up to him, and his sense of duty and loyalty will be tested in equal measure.
In combat, Caeso is a Princeps (heavy infantryman). He wades into battle wielding the gladius and scutum of the Roman legionarius, his polished breastplate and his pristine helmet plume providing a fixed point in the chaotic skirmish for his friends to rally around.
Ancient Rome was a sternly patriarchal society with strict gender roles inherited from the Greek culture that they admired and condescended on in equal measure. What then is a young woman of the patrician class to do if she cannot and will not fit into the role that society has thrust upon her? Calida’s answer was to disguise herself as a man and join the legions. Her deception did not hold up for long, but fortunately, those who discovered her were impressed by her talents. She was given a role away from the front lines where she could work independently and without constant risk of discovery: the role of an occulta speculatrix, a military spy.
When you meet Calida, she is still attempting to hide her gender from you and your men, but her disguise is flimsy, and she is soon forced to drop her act. However, discontentment with Roman society was not the only reason Calida left Rome, and when she eventually returns to the heart of the Republic as part of your praetorian guard, her past will once again threaten to assert its control over the direction of her life.
Calida is a highly skilled Sagittarius (archer) and assassin, and as part of your praetorian guard, she is most comfortable hanging back or seeking out high ground to pick off your enemies at a distance with her deadly shortbow.
The Gladiator: Bestia Tabat
The ruling class of Rome knew the importance of providing two things to their population: bread and entertainment. Whenever Bestia Tabat would enter the amphitheatre, entertainment would never be in short supply. With a flair for the dramatic and a singleminded pragmatism to keep him alive, he fought as a “bestiarius” (a gladiator who specializes in fighting against beasts) for many years until he earned his freedom. Then, incapable of imagining a life without violence, he left Rome to join the legions.
When you meet Bestia, he is in search of a new purpose, but his growth as a person is held back by the brutality of his upbringing and his career. Hopefully through his acquaintance with you and the rest of your praetorian guard, he will broaden his horizons and develop a more well-rounded personality.
As a gladiator, Bestia excels in the skirmish. He is a fast and quick-witted Veles (light infantryman) who moves far and makes many attacks each turn. He favours dual-wielding and is capable of devastating burst-damage, but his brash and bold style often puts him in great danger.
The Mentor: Syneros
Slavery was a fact of life in ancient Rome, from the kingdom through the republic and to the days of the empire. The life of a servus could be brutal, but those who were well-educated, especially Greeks who the Romans considered nearly their equals, benefited from many legal protections and could achieve a status that was indistinguishable from a salaried employee.
Old Syneros has been your house servant and teacher since you were a child, and it was only natural that he would come with you when you were forced to flee Rome for your own safety. He is a wise and caring mentor, yet when you find yourself in combat, he is shockingly cool-headed and deadly with his staff or even a pike. How did Syneros learn to fight so well? The secret past of the old philosopher will not remain hidden for long.
Though he is not a soldier, Syneros navigates the field of battle remarkably well, where he fits into the role of a Triarius (a support unit of sorts). He is a most natural fit for the role of a medicus, which is underlined by his perks that allow him to treat injured friends after a fight.
The Amazon: Deianeira
In the steppes beyond the easternmost of Rome’s provinces lay the territory of Scythia, inhabited by nomadic horse-people which were infamous for letting their women fight and hunt alongside the men. To the patriarchal Greeks, this was a scandalous idea that gave rise to the legends of the Amazon warriors. Though these legends were often fanciful and greatly exaggerated, Deianeira does not ill suit the stories. Her name means “man-destroyer”, and it was given to her by a Greek lanista who bought her for his gladiator school after she was taken as a slave.
Deianeira is hesitant to talk about the events that led to her capture, but despite her seemingly kind and curious demeanour, it is clear that the warrior woman harbors a deep vengeful anger. May all the gods help those who stand in her way when she eventually choose to act on it.
When you meet her, Deianeira has been trained as a gladiator. While her people are famous for their horseback archery, she now favours the spear and shield of a Princeps.
When you begin the sprawling 70+ hour story of Expeditions: Rome, you will have a chance to delve much more deeply into the personality and background of each of these characters. In addition to the problems that haunt them, they all have important parts to play in your personal quest for justice. Together, you will eventually determine the fate of the republic.
A mere DevDiary cannot do justice to the depth and breadth of these characters. Be sure to keep an eye on our social media to catch all of our companion trailers, and remember to join us on the THQ Nordic Twitch Channel this Wednesday January 12th at 1:00 PM Eastern / 6:00 PM GMT on http://twitch.tv/thqnordic. Once again, Senior Producer Brad Logston will host Creative Director Jonas Wæver and Lead Narrative Designer Fasih Sayin to talk about the companion characters of Expeditions: Rome, and everything that went into bringing them to life. We know you have questions about romancing them, and since we didn’t have time to write about that in this diary, the stream is your chance to get answers!
Until then, Valete!