Something Old, Something New, Something Jawa, Something Blue
Companions are finally getting a shakeup in the new expansion for Star Wars: the Old Republic. BioWare Austin has set themselves the task of making companions interesting once more, with some meaty choices where one or more of them could die as part of your Outlander storyline.
In Knights of the Fallen Empire, players will wake up after a certain number of years out of circulation, and their companions have scattered to the four winds. We now know the length of time between when we agree to the several warnings that you can't go back after clicking THIS okay button to become the Outlander, and there won't be any weird timelost lovers’ situations reminiscent of a TV series of the same name currently airing in the US on a premium cable network... I hope.
Companions in SWTOR aren't just story-related like in BioWare's other two major story-heavy franchises. They've served as combat support so your character doesn't die whilst fighting through the leveling process, and they also served as crafting support by doing missions that made my credit balance weep on some days. It's no secret that the crafting system in the game has been broken for a very long time (roughly coinciding with the release of cheap orange shell gear that only needed mods periodically). We also know that having specific unchangeable crafting and combat abilities forced players into keeping certain characters in use that they otherwise couldn't stand – and it also forced BioWare to change things before launch to prevent players from airlocking their least favorite companions like they could in beta (Malavai Quinn and Skadge being the frontrunners in who's going out in their undies first).
Right now, the game has five companions per class and a ship droid per faction, and players can unlock one more through gameplay, buy one on the cartel market, and subscribers as of August 10th will get another one for free. When a player permits the game to turn them into the Outlander, everything changes. With how they're selling the singular role, I don't foresee many of the old companions coming back due to practical reasons – they only have so many writers on staff, some of whom were off writing the new Dragon Age DLC. What I do foresee BioWare doing is something like Blizzard has in their World of Warcraft Garrisons: consumables to reroll a follower's abilities. However, I'm sure they'll just be a straight-up purchase from the Cartel Market, unlike how Blizzard lets you win them doing certain follower missions.
Let's face it, while most of the elder companions are interesting, I was always more invested in HK-51 because of having to work to earn him, and of course, there's my favorite homicidal furball Treek, because she was overpowered so much I rarely used any other companion after getting to Fleet once she was introduced into the game. The others didn't contribute as much to my crafting needs that I felt compelled to max their affection. The limited choices in romance options meant that out of my large pile of alts, only three have gotten to the fade to black scenes. To be fair, I actually think it's because I primarily play female characters, and the romance choices for male characters are far more interesting if you're playing it straight, and currently, the game doesn't let you play otherwise for elder content. There is some hope that the companion revamp will change this for elder game, but I'm not sure it's feasible given the time constraints. As far as we know, the elder game revamp is to speed up leveling so they can retire the 12x class XP bonus for subscribers more than anything else.
We also have to take into consideration the tidbits of information we've gotten so far: there will be new companions, there will be cross-pollination of class companions, and some companions may die during the storyline. They were quick to correct the implication that the characters listed on the KotFE sub-site were definitely new companions. Some will be, some won't. Also, this will be a set story, so don't expect to get to pick and choose which companions you acquire along the way. We've also been told that unlocks such as HK-51 and Treek will not be taken away, but we might not get them immediately after we click the shiny button to migrate to Outlander status.
It's very important to reinforce here that per BioWare, once you elect to embark on the KotFE story, you cannot go back and complete your old class or companion quests even though you can return to the elder planets in their current status. We've been told there will be multiple warnings before that irrevocable choice is made, so ensure you complete any old content you want before taking the plunge. It will be like the Ziost story, how it warned you before the big plot point swept through and changed everything.
One of the community issues BioWare will face is simply the fact that everyone has their favorite companions and will hate to lose them, and out of forty primary companions, odds are that we're losing most of them when the story coalesces into a singular pathway. Even if they increase the number of companions a character can have (gonna need a bigger boat), there's no guarantee that, for example, a player gets to keep the companion their character married if they followed the romance storyline to its end in elder content. What I'm expecting here is a set number of companions, perhaps maybe ten in all, with flexibility for those bits of the new content where a player may elect to let a companion die. Remember, we're not getting class stories as such anymore, so everyone will be following the same storyline more or less. All of the companions set for that story are presumably the same. It's a much easier methodology for the writers, but there will no doubt be much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the forums and in social media once players find out which companions get left behind in elder content.
At the end of this particular galactic day, there will be some big changes in store for Star Wars: the Old Republic. Knights of the Fallen Empire is due to launch on October 27th, with early access for subscribers on October 19th.