If you were to ask me — and I’m not suggesting for a minute that you would do so, since you’re a busy man/woman/intergalactic parasite — what my most anticipated aspects of Star Wars: The Old Republic are, I’d most definitely put “companions” in the top five. Easily. I know some people are not on board with the concept, but I’m willing to be 100% self-centered in this regard and go, “WOO! It makes me happy, baby!”
After all, I’ve always loved pet classes, crave non-combat pets, and vastly enjoyed the array of BioWare companions that the company’s created for their various single-player RPGs. They do live up to the word “companion,” because they’ve provided an artificial but still meaningful feeling of companionship during my journeys. I’m much more likely to remember companions and their related stories from those games than the other aspects of the games’ stories, which is a testimony to the storytelling power that these characters can bring.
I think that the boon of companions is something that can’t really be felt out in the many quick impressions that people are getting from conventions and beta testing weekends, and thus might be vastly undervalued until people start playing for keeps. I know there’s worries that “hey that guy has my companions and thus I lose that unique spark” and all that, and while it’s understandable, I don’t think it’ll be as big of a deal in the long run. I like that BioWare’s not only including appearance kits so you can make your companions look different, but that the team’s removing the names of companions over their heads when you look at other players and their little friends. It’s a small touch, but it’ll help to shore up the illusion that we’re all special snowflakes.
Gamespot posted a new 7-minute dev diary about the companion system, and it just flew by when I watched it, it was so good. You can tell that the devs know not everyone’s sold on companions, but that they’re confident enough in their place in the game that they’re going to put them out there and trust that they will catch on — and even be a watercooler topic for some.
I agree that Blizz looks like one of the coolest characters ever — a Jawa with a rocket launcher(!). If you’re not allergic to spoilers, several sites already have the full list of all 40 companions (5 per class, plus a ship droid per faction) for quick perusal. Five seems like a good number, particularly when you consider that you can only take one with you on any given excursion. It’s enough that you could switch up a new companion every night for most of the week and get a different experience each time.
BioWare promises that companions are more than mere pets, and I can see what the team is trying to do here. In addition to providing storytelling moments and feedback on your character’s decisions, they can participate in crafting (and crafting quests), get into romances with you (I’m betting each class has just one romance option per gender, so two out of the five), unlock special companion quests, and — perhaps most importantly — shore up your character’s weaknesses with their strengths. An example shown in the video was of a ranged Force user who teamed up with a melee tank companion to keep the bad guys off of his back while he worked his mojo.
The “gift” system from Dragon Age, etc., is back, and it’s both appreciated and unfortunate. Gifts are basically a way to buy influence points with your companions if you treat them like crap or do actions that they disapprove of. On one hand, it lessens the consequences of your choices if you don’t have to live with the fallout of what you’ve done. On the other hand, this frees players up to actually choose what they want instead of what they think they HAVE to do to appease their companions. I guess that having to shell out money for the gifts is a form of consequence, when you think about it.
Companions might be such a huge draw after the launch of the game that new ones will be in high demand — and could up the replay value of classes. Heck, I can see even going through the same class twice, choosing wildly different choices and engaging with my companions in different ways, just to see what happens. We typically do that for most BioWare titles anyway.
In any case, I know I’m going to have to eventually experience all eight classes, if nothing else than to see all of the companions and get to know them. Looking at the scope of that, SWTOR could be the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship.