DDO Hirelings – Fair or Foul for MMOGs?

When Turbine introduced their innovative hireling system in Dungeons and Dragons Online, it was both praised and cursed.

When Turbine introduced their innovative hireling system in Dungeons and Dragons Online, it was both praised and cursed. Many people clamored that being able to hire NPC party members takes the “massively multiplayer” out of MMOG. Fans of the hireling system reply that it does not do so, that it is just a tool. Where exactly does the truth lie? Does DDO’s hireling system help or hurt the MMOG genre? To answer these questions, we’ll examine the hireling system, and then look at the pros and cons of being able to hire fodder….uh, I mean willing fellow adventurers.

To begin, let’s go over the basics of the hireling system in DDO. As a player, you can purchase the contract of an NPC hireling. The hirelings can be of any race and class, except for rogues. They also vary by level. Once summoned, these hirelings will travel with you as you adventure through dangerous dungeons and fight, cast spells, and heal at your request.

dungeons and dragons online hireling picture
Shopping at the hireling vendor
You can purchase the services of hirelings with in-game gold or by using Turbine Points, otherwise known as real cash. Once you enter an area ripe for adventure, you can then summon the hireling to travel with you. The time limit for the hireling is one hour and, once you summon them, the counter keeps counting down. If you purchase a hireling with in-game gold, then you can only summon a single hireling to join you. If you spent Turbine Points on your hirelings, then you can summon up to five. Each hireling is unique and you cannot summon the same hireling with a different contract if they are already active. You cannot increase the maximum size of a party in DDO with the addition of hirelings.

Hirelings allow players who cannot gather a full party to still play DDO and experience the many adventures and dungeons. Everybody has had the frustration of spending a great deal of time getting together a pick-up group (PUG). Once you’ve started the adventure, you might realize that the PUG you’re in is home to some really bad players or first class jerks. How many times have you spent an hour or more in a dungeon getting close to the climax when some doofus quits on you, leaving you with the decision to either spend time calling out for another player or try to press on one player short?

Hirelings allow players to avoid those hassles. While some gamers can spend endless hours every week playing online, other people don’t have that luxury. My friend Mattlow and I are a perfect example. Between day jobs and families, there isn’t a ton of free time to waste trying to get groups together. When we’re running dungeons we have only a few hours to spare. We’ll spend five to ten minutes trying to get a group together through PUGs or guild members, but if nobody is biting, then we’ll just hire some hirelings and away we go!

Those who say the hireling system takes the “massively multiplayer” out of MMOGs will look at the pros listed above and exclaim, “See! You’re not grouping with other actual players. You’re only playing as a solo gamer with AI-powered NPCs.”

There is some truth to that statement. The ease and use of hirelings may discourage players from attempting to form PUGs with other players. In an MMOG, there is no need for hirelings. Why have NPCs when there are thousands of other players looking to form groups? In addition, by not interacting with other players, you’re forgoing the social aspects of online gaming. If you’re not regularly grouping with other people, how do you form friendships or join guilds?

Like the glittering jewel sitting atop a dragon’s horde, the hireling system is a trap--a beguiling trap, but a trap nonetheless. The whole purpose of MMOGs is to discover a wondrous new online world, meet other players, and together go out and adventure. If you rely on hirelings, you might as well be playing a single-player game, not an MMOG. The only interaction with a hireling is to summon or dismiss them. Plus, they have an appalling lack of witty banter.

dungeons and dragons online hireling picture
I feel so lonely...
dungeons and dragons online hireling picture
Now I have a friend!


While those opposed to the hireling system in DDO have some valid points, I think that, overall, the hireling system is an amazing addition to MMOGs. In fact, I wish other games would implement the system as soon as possible. (On a side note, I do not include Star Trek Online’s away team as a hireling system because STO basically plays like a single-player game.) To be honest, those people who whine about the hireling system destroying the community and social interaction of MMOGs are blowing smoke out of their asses.

The use of hirelings is a tremendous tool to players. It allows you not to waste time worrying about putting a group together so you can play the game. When I log into a game, I want to play it, not sit around for an hour crying for companions to join me. If I can get a group together quickly, then I’ll do so, but if not, then I’ll use hirelings. Even if I use hirelings, I still am involved in the “massively multiplayer” aspect of DDO. I do trades with other players, get involved in global chat, sell items on the auction house, and many other activities that include me in the online world. Just because I use hirelings does not mean that every other player on the server immediately vanishes!

In the end, the use of hirelings is a boon to the game as a whole. By making sure that players who are frustrated by the lack of ability to form a group and play are actually able to play the game, Turbine has ensured that those players will continue to keep playing DDO. More players in a game equals “massively multiplayer” in my eyes!

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