Before hirelings (particularly divine healers) became back on the plat market for Reaper healing, I can recall using them as far as I can remember.
The number one misconception I always hear from players is that hirelings are a waste. They have buggy AI, which pretty much wraps up their mischief: from running blindly into traps, to healing themselves over the player, to countless more. But there is more to hirelings than just the first impression and generalization that all hirelings are “a waste.”
One of the biggest things that people don’t take the time to do is to buff their hirelings. Hirelings already start off with zero buff/effects (save for Druid past lives, feats/enhancements, and ship buffs), extremely minimal gear and spell list, and carry the programming limitations of AI. Buff, buff, buff, if you are looking for a hireling to carry more than 10% of the work. Greater Heroism, Blur, Protection from Evil, Resist Energies, any sort of speed buff (Longstrider’s, Haste), are all easily accessible in some form, typically by scrolls and wands. If you expect a hireling to do more than just flop around like a Magikarp, then expect to treat it like a player member — well, I take that back, the average player nowadays do not even buff other players. Basically, you need to put in at least some effort towards the hireling if you want any decent effort out of it. Strictly speaking, if you want it to survive and heal or CC something, those buffs will grant it the necessary means of basic protections against typical hireling deaths.
One of the other things I notice is that people tend to choose the “wrong” hirelings, and either have not played enough with hirelings to understand their behaviors or do not really think much of it. As an observant player, these behaviors are crucial in determining the types of hirelings to contract with. For example, Larafay, a highly well known and popular hireling for divine offensive caster “DPS/instakill,” is also highly aggressive and is not an appropriate hireling that is focused on healing first. Similarly, we see this between the healer hirelings – Heystack generally has poor performance overall compared to the level 16 Favored Soul, Althea, who performs much better and even carries a Greater Restoration spell which is very handy for that level range in particular.
The number one thing I look for when selecting a hireling is highly dependent on its available actions primarily, and then their behaviors. For instance, I will almost always prefer Althea over Natasha, despite that both are level 16 divines – Althea is typically good about casting Heal on her own when necessary, and I find that having a cure mass spell is much more useful than to Heal everyone individually at points of stagnation in a quest. Another reason for this is that Favored Souls are going to be the superior class when it comes to their other divine counterpart – because hirelings lack the other unique abilities the two classes are comprised of, it is much favorable to select the class that has the more SP, and ultimately, more firepower and heals per shrine. Both may have Death Ward, Mass, which I will touch on later, but there are distinct differences between choosing one over the other which can make a difference when it comes to questing for maximum performance potential. However, because they are in the same level range and it is often bothersome to go to hireling vendors after every hour, I often buy both anyway in the event that I will need Natasha (primarily for her Heal spell usage in circumstances where that is favorable over cure mass) over Althea.
Most of the times, when we purchase hireling contracts, we often select healer types because those are the ones we need the most. Granted, most of the hires that I purchase are indeed mostly divine types for heals, rogues for traps in epics, and Mikayl for DD. Here is an extensive list of the types of hirelings I will purchase over, with more solid commentary from levels 15-30:
- Erythryn, level 3 Cleric
- Kendra Estleton, level 5 Cleric
- Arias Oreth, level 6 Cleric
- Laerathor, level 7 Cleric
- Marissa Lorle, level 9 Cleric
- Fayden Maeleth, level 10 Cleric
- Lani Vesta, level 9 Favored Soul
- Miranda Kelvin, level 11 Cleric
- Duerim Guardwell, level 13 Favored Soul
- Mikayl the Pious, level 11 Fighter
- Tempys Lorben, level 14 Cleric
- Natasha Thorston, level 16 Cleric
- Althea, level 16 Favored Soul
- Larafay Do’rret, level 15 Favored Soul
- Micardya Elsryn, level 14 Bard
- Albus Gladwin, level 20 Favored Soul
- Lilo Blackstitch, level 21 Rogue
- Tarlov Snowtrack, level 23 Ranger
- Grobbin Halfhitch, level 21 Wizard
- Garret the Sainted, level 25 Favored Soul
- Kieran Ostermann, level 26 Fighter
♦ Two of the hirelings are listed solely due to unique spells: Lani and Grobbin for Freedom of Movement and Trap the Soul spells respectively. These two are the only sources found in hirelings and in none other, and may serve to be highly useful in niche situations (often, FOM is best if another player summons Lani in addition to the main hireling, and Trap the Soul is used primarily for soul gem farming).
♦ Some of the hirelings are listed due to usefulness in combat: Tarlov, Kieran, and Larafay for instance. Tarlov is one of the best TWF DPS hirelings with some healing capabilities, Kieran has high HP and can take a hit, and Larafay, as mentioned before, is a divine casting killing machine.
♦ There are very similar behaviors in some of these hirelings, within the same class. Althea, Albus, and Garret are all within the “family” that exhibit decent healing behaviors – they also all carry the same main actions (Mass Deathward, Greater Restoration). Natasha is very similar to her elven brethren within the same level range (i.e. Isadora, Jatrina), which I did not post due to the fact that they don’t carry Deathward. And so on.
♦ Mikayl is highly important due to his Sentinel Dragonmark ability: Dimension Door, which can be casted x3 per rest, and last infinitely.
♦ Lilo is listed as the only Rogue hireling because strangely, she is the best trap equipped hireling out of the four in epics – she is able to trap low level EE quests with a much greater chance than the others who cannot even find the box, which is partly due to the fact that they do not have a Rogue Skill Boost action. With the proper buffs and external hireling effects, she is a competent trapper well past level 25 quests in EE.
If you have not already noticed, Mass Deathward is a huge must in divine hirelings. Because I am one of those people who don’t like to fit in Deathblock as a constant in her gear setup (rather, prefer to swap in when necessary), I recognize the vast important Deathward has, beyond the fact that it can also be a preventative measure for many other things that Deathblock cannot protect against. Thus, it is something I always make sure to carry with me, and something that I encourage others to do as well because I always notice the same mistakes that I’ve observed in both my and others’ game-play. The fact that it is a mass spell makes it so much easier to help protect party members too, who may not realize its importance either.
Knowing how to play a hireling is honestly, more than half the battle as well. If you want it to be stupid aggressive and give it free reign to go crazy, select the active stance. If you want it to stay back, and especially for healers, to perform healing duties, use the defensive stance. Always be conscientious of what the hireling is doing and if it is sabotaging a part of the quest, immediately hit the passive action, recall its location to your character, and force the hireling to go into stationary mode until it is safe to proceed. Perhaps this is just my impression but a lot of people seem to dislike micromanagement, so when it comes to hirelings they don’t really see what is happening beyond the scope of their own character. There is no paid attention to hirelings because of their perceived insignificance, and thus there is a lack of knowledge about them. Hirelings have a highly predictable behavior, generally speaking (because well, AI and programming) – it is our ignorance as players that chooses to blind ourselves of learning the inner compartments of such products of half AI, half bugs. Or at least part of it.
When we pay attention and take notice of hirelings, we learn that there are many predictable moves, primarily due to bugs and the patterns that occur from them, and ultimately, they can truly bend to our will. For instance, and hireling AI will always vary as updates may make changes but for now, there are sets of behaviors that any player can realize a specific pattern. When a divine healer type hireling is recalled to you and your HP falls below ~75%, the typical response is for the hireling to cast Heal upon the player. However, this is not the case all the time – the hireling’s response may be negated by an internal bug that negates Heal spell action to be executed, perhaps the recall action cleared that response, etc. But the active stance, using our basic knowledge of what the hireling actions do, is a sort of this “counter” against that – when you hit active from defensive, or defensive or passive back to active, this allows the hireling to properly respond. This is more of a bug and a fault on the programming system, as when cooldowns were introduced to hirelings, from the coding side, it could have offset the actual performance of some responses. On the bright side, while hot in mid-combat, it has become almost a tactical response to immediately use this loophole in order to get command the hireling, internally, despite it not having the Heal spell on the action bar, to do so. So in that regard, it becomes almost an advantageous bug because we have an internal “Heal” command in addition to everything else on the action bar.
Another bugged response is the use of spells, buffs, or any other class unique action. The cooldowns as mentioned before really screwed up the timing and effective response of most if not all of the class/hireling specific abilities. A prime example would be the use of Resurrection type spells – most of the time, when I have to use it in a dire situation where the party has wiped and the hire acts as “insurance policy,” I drag the hire to my location, preferably in a safe spot, immediately throw it into passive and stationary modes, and attempt to hit the Resurrection spell on my character. However, this will not work where it used to in the past (or as far as I recall) – instead, I am forced to select it at least out of stationary mode, and often into defensive because even passive mode will bug it out. This requires some speed and timing, and even luck if your wipe is bad enough depending on mob size, environment/location, and the above two factors. For abilities such as DD, there is often an internal cooldown in addition that will not allow the usage of that spell despite the cooldown timer reset.
Despite the usual rage and frustration by the general consensus of hirelings, I have almost faithfully used them at any chance I get. There is nothing to lose when you have a divine hireling to save you when things get a little pear-shaped, more XP from trap bonuses in a group where no one ever seems to be the trapper when I am not one that life, and speedy completions through both the actual assistance of hirelings, or a swift DD out. There is the factor of them raising dungeon scaling, which matters in wildernesses. They are indispensable and can be used as fodder, distractions, lever pullers, and so on. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks hirelings, overall, are wonderful products of half bugs, half AI, but they sure have saved my tush more than a thousand times in so many ways.