26/01/2016

Companions - Where Are They Now?

I've been doing some thinking about companions lately and about how their place in the game has changed since 4.0. I'm not so much talking about the mechanical changes (though those play into it) but their overall role and purpose in the game.

Looking back at it now, the original implementation of the companion system seemed to be all about compromise, trying to make them simultaneously important to your levelling experience and an essential part of the story, yet also completely optional and not required. Many people tended to stick with their first companion, simply because that one tended to be the most fleshed out - introduced naturally as part of your class story and then always with you for at least the first couple of planets. It's the additional companions that really threw a wrench into the system, because as soon as you give people the choice of who to bring, you can't allow that companion to get too involved in what's happening - unless you want to add another couple of extra story branches that a large part of your player base will never even see. I can completely understand why Bioware opted for minimal companion involvement for most classes as the story progressed. (Some of the classes that were presumably written earlier still do have some notable companion influences in their basic class story, such as Quinn for the warrior or Khem Val for the inquisitor, but there's definitely not a lot of that kind of thing.)

Companion stories were for the most part completely separate from the class story, giving you the option to ignore them if you didn't like a certain companion. That they were gated behind an affection grind always struck me as a bit odd though - I originally thought that it made sense that you would naturally unlock the story of whoever you quested with, but in practice no amount of "naturally" gained affection was ever enough and you had to shower everyone with gifts to get them to talk to you. After the gift-giving binge you'd then have ten conversations in a row, where your new friend could go from distrusting to loving you within the space of ten minutes - hardly immersive.

Looking back at that, I really approve of several changes that Bioware has made in Knights of the Fallen Empire. For example I love that all the original companion arcs now unlock automatically as you progress through your class story, regardless of individual influence level. You can still ignore them if you really don't like a certain character, but for those that you do like it feels a lot more natural to interact with them a little after every other mission, not to mention that the conversations provide a steady and welcome trickle of extra XP as you level.

I also approve of what they did with the companions in the new story chapters, that they simply saddle you with a different one every other section and that's that. It removes some choice, yes, but by knowing for sure who is actually going to be present in each scene, Bioware can get your companions so much more involved in the action, and hearing them wisecrack about your choices is honestly a huge part of the game's appeal. The removal of companion gear and role restrictions also took care of any worries about struggling with the gameplay in story segments that make you team up with a rarely used companion.

What I'm still waiting for is the option to actually have some variety among alts that have done KotFE - I don't really like the thought of all of mine ending up with the exact same companions, especially since you can't even customise their looks. Looking at the characters of Koth, Lana and Senya, I'm almost certain that there will be a big showdown where at least one of them will leave you or turn against you based on your choices, but I was honestly hoping for more of that kind of thing a bit earlier on already. That one point where you get the option to kill a former trooper companion is a lot less exciting when you realise that even if you spare him, he still won't join back up with you. It's just all a bit same-y so far, but I'm hopeful for the next couple of chapters.

The one thing that I can't really make sense of are the new Alliance companions. They feel like an attempt at giving us more options for everyday gameplay, except there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of choice involved here either. If you are bothering with the Alliance system at all, you will get most of them anyway, and therefore have the exact same stable of companions as every other person doing so. Each new companion features an interesting little intro story and then that's it. Admittedly I don't know for sure, but I didn't get the impression that Bioware has any further plans for involving those characters in the main storyline - assuming that they are optional, they simply can't show up there or we would be back to the same old issue of people bringing different characters that all need their own lines.


Two Alliance companions with (in my opinion) pretty interesting backstories: Veeroa Denz and Choza Raabat. But you recruit them... and then what?

I've also heard people joke about how it feels like we have "hundreds" of companions now with the Alliance system, and I can definitely relate to feeling a bit overwhelmed by that. The most companions I ever had pre-4.0 was eight: five class companions, the ship droid, HK-51 and Treek. After finishing what's been released of KotFE so far, my main is up to 23 companions already, which could have been 24 if I hadn't rejected Xalek, and I haven't even used the panel on Odessen to retrieve old companions that haven't actually come back (yet).

What's the point of having all these companions if I can only use one at a time and send out six or however many it is now to craft? Everything else is just interface clutter. With the great companion normalisation it also feels like I don't need more than one companion to be out and about anyway, since each one can fill any role and they all have the same abilities anyway... which just adds to the indifference about having more and more of them thrown at me. Influence actually affecting companion power and being a huge grind also encourages you to pick a favourite or two and ignore the rest.

You might ask why that's a problem - if I don't like the extra companions, I can just ignore them, right? Well, yes, but only if I want to ignore the whole Alliance endgame as well. If I do participate in it and allow myself to be flooded with tons of companions that all feel way too similar to each other, this is actually a step in the opposite direction compared to Bioware's other efforts to make companions feel more unique, interesting and relevant, which is just a strange contradiction.

6 comments :

  1. There are definitely positives and negatives to several aspects of these changes. The utility of selecting roles is really, really handy at times - especially if you happen to not like your tank or healer companion on a character. Yet the homogenisation of them all having the same (mostly) abilities makes me feel they've lost a bit of their character.

    I haven't unlocked a horde on my main since I'm busy levelling alts. Given that all companions can do everything I'm not that interested in "collecting" them anyway. It would be nice if at least some could be given more substantial, post-unlock, story arcs to play through to make it more worthwhile unlocking them.

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  2. I was amused by finding out that the underworld person on the shadow port was... the one guy in Havoc Squad who was likely to do that sort of thing.

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  3. Reason Tanno didn't rejoin was the voice actor died , so they didn't want to confuse us and find a new voice actor and have a ton of complaints about a new voice for Tanno. Very good article and I enjoyed reading it. I have done the alliance grind on a few names, but won't be doing them on all. I understand that if we want certain companions though, we must do ones like Qyzen, and Lokin, but for everyone to get class specific companions , well that to me was like a slap in the face. You work hard on your class story , and get said companion, whether you love or hate them. Now everyone is starting to get the same ones, while the alliance comps , Eh, I would have just left them alone.

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    1. But Vik's voice actor already died in 2012 according to IMDB... whoever they got to replace him must be pretty good because the character's voice certainly didn't give me reason to pause at any point. Unlike, say, Lord Scourge's new combat lines...

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  4. I suspect that one of the KOTFE companions will leave/turn against you, but only briefly (like some of the original companions have done). I would be pretty annoyed if I went to the trouble of getting level 50 affection with one of them, only to have them taken away in Chapter 16.

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    1. As someone who hasn't bothered to level companion affection, I am immune to such fears! And with how much they've said that choices matter, I certainly hope that you can have a serious falling out with one of the new companions and lose them.

      I agree that it would likely be a customer service disaster though. "I want Lana back, she was my only rank 50 companion!" "Well, maybe you shouldn't have ticked her off in the final chapter then..."

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