The PAX Prime Livestream has recently shed light on numerous factors. First, actual gameplay - and some "interesting" story developments - of Fallen Empire, set in Chapter 3, and second, various changes coming to one of the most long-standing functions of the game: Companions.
Companions are a big thing in many of BioWare's games, so obviously these changes have attracted a lot of interest. There are still questions to be answered, but from what we know so far here is my own analysis of the changes which are being introduced.
Ever since the outline for Fallen Empire was accidentally posted two days early, a lot of attention was brought to the possibility of being able to "betray" various Companions. The common consensus was that we'd either get to kill a certain Houk or persuade someone we didn't really like to either never re-join our crew if given the option or to simply pack their bags and go.
As it transpires, such alternatives are going to be much trickier than envisaged.
Companions which have always belonged to us are staying with us; we can only summon them outside of the Story Chapters for Fallen Empire. So essentially once any potential Daily Area for Zakuul is unlocked you can use Kira or whoever to your heart's content but before that they're strictly relegated to being "lost" as far as your character is concerned unless you take yourself away from dealing with the Eternal Empire for a short time. Immersion-breaking perhaps, but still better than losing your favourite companions with no definite way to reclaim them until later on.
What will be interesting to see is if you encounter a certain Companion in the actual story and the option does emerge to kill them or permanently banish them from your sight, or even if the story "takes care" of them for you. If you're on another class, that's fine, no problem. However, as gameplay-wise Companions shall not be affected, this might make it possible for, say, a Hunter to kill Skadge and for the blasted Houk to still survive as a member of the crew. Whether or not this will actually be the case remains to be seen.
Seeing as we are not losing any Companions I'm interested in seeing what happens to those who create Immediate 60s. Since story missions, including Companion conversations, are counted as "Completed" and thus not able to be done in any shape or form following embarking on the Fallen Empire story I wonder whether this will mean that those characters' Companion Buffs will be automatically unlocked. The alternative to this is simply making the requirements for unlocking them Reaching 10,000 Influence - simply Affection re-named - instead of completing every Conversation, similar to how the Companion Achievements work. This way, those who have still to receive the buffs can still work towards it as the buffs they grant - a 1% to Critical, Surge, Accuracy, Healing Received, and Maximum Health, a 5-minute cooldown reduction and whole extra minute duration increase to the Heroic Moment, and a grand total of 400 Presence - are not to be missed out on.
Straight away, the big news: Lana Beniko is going to become a Companion.
As much as I still think she was deserving of a story-break, I can't say I'm surprised. She and Theron - it will be interesting to see whether or not he turns up - have been pitched as the most likely contenders for new Companions since Forged Alliances started and the simultaneous opportunity to romance either character, an option which persisted into Shadow of Revan. Both becoming Companions would at least allow people to make something of those formerly-temporary flirtations, but the only one so far confirmed is Lana and Theron is pure conjecture at this point.
However, she is not the only New Companion who may have been revealed, as Koth Vortena, our rescue-ship pilot, shares an Influence-altering option with Lana whereby a Light Side choice to save Zakuulian citizens from a Sun Machine gone critical appeases Koth but angers Lana and the Dark Side option to leave it be does the opposite in both cases.
Also of-note is that Lana is confirmed as a Marauder, in spite of her sole armoured gauntlet and the fact that she only ever uses one Saber in the cutscenes both heavily implying that she was going to be a Juggernaut, and Koth seems to have gotten the Nico Okarr Blaster Pistol confused for a Carbine. Not that I mind, as it is a nice gun, but it is still strange to see it treated as a rifle when it has only ever been promoted as a pistol. HK-55 only adds to the confusion by having no weapon whatsoever.
One of the trends of these changes is that flexibility is going to be a powerful asset indeed. The first of these changes is the fact that gear has no value whatsoever outside of cosmetic appearances: Companion stats and effectiveness will both be handled purely by the Player's Presence stat and the Player's current Level.
This change is very welcome as far as I am concerned. Not only does it solve the problem of being unable to choose how your Companion looked when decked-out in the free Devoted Allies set from Yavin but it also means that you don't need to worry about keeping your Companion geared at any one point in its career. For the Knight Class in particular this change shall prove very useful for the final mission, for example. This also means that you will only need to use Basic Commendations earned via levelling to manage your own gear and it will thus be much cheaper than it already is.
Additionally, and especially if Legacy Datacrons also become a thing, this will result in eligible Level 1 Characters becoming incredibly powerful from the off. Whilst Treek can only be used from Level 10 the other current "non-story-essential" Companion, HK-51, can be bought at any Level. As it is now, a Level 1 HK will still decimate targets but his Level 50 gear will be "broken" and need constant upgrading once a certain point is reached. With no gear and with scaling in effect, HK shall become an invaluable asset if people decide to shell out for him at low-level.
Interestingly, it seems that whilst this system is most likely based off of the Player's Outfit Designer - it even lacks Implants and Earpiece according to one of the answers to questions on the Forums - it is slightly more advanced based on the fact that weaponry is a part of it. It will be interesting to see whether a Marauder or Gunslinger Companion can lose their Offhand to become a Juggernaut and Scoundrel respectively or whether the presence of an offhand and type of mainhand will still play a role in the maximum damage/healing/whatever output. Regardless, at least this means that people don't need to use bizarre Cartel Crystals on low-level Companions any more and can instead operate with the "standard" Blue, Yellow, Green, or Red, which I instantly approve of.
Guss Heals Enemies with his Jedi Power of Pain
By far the biggest change to Companions now is that they can fulfil any one of the three roles. We merely need to tell them what role they're in and they will adapt accordingly. Treek's days as the most versatile Companion are numbered.
This flexibility means that, rather than needing to use this Companion here and that Companion there, you can simply use your favourites all the way through and merely switch them to the desired "spec". Whilst I was at first a little apprehensive about this particular change because I do like my Companions having their variety I have since come around to being a big fan of it because of the more long-term benefits which this should bring, such as being able to more readily accept a Companion from another Class into your crew without upsetting any pre-established formulae.
Story-wise, this change will make little sense. Someone like Doc who only specialises in Healing and Medicine needs a lot of suspension of disbelief to suddenly be put into a Tanking role, and the same can be said of the burly Pierce Healing.
Whilst we did not see how this role-switching was accomplished since the Stream only had Lana in her Healing spec, it can be inferred that unlike Treek this system is not managed via the Stances. Lana's abilities, including an equivalent to Force Barrier which is more likely than not the Force Users' "Kolto Probe", were either pure Heal or pure DPS, whereas Treek's are of course either Tank, Heal, or both as denoted by a split-icon, depending on the Stance.
Additionally, because we only saw Lana's healing, which of course is the first ever appearance of the Force Companion Healing, we did not see how the Tank and DPS abilities were going to be handled. My current assumption is that they will simply copy the respective Archetypes - Ranged Tech, Melee Tech, and Melee Force, so Cannon, Techstaff/Rifle, and Lightsaber - over and thus keep the original Companions as they were. It would be a shame not to see more variety, but it will doubtless be interesting seeing a Gunslinger Companion Tank since not even Players can do this.
I am most curious to see how HK-51 and Treek are affected by this. I am assuming that as Treek already has a combined Tank and Heal ability set there is no need to split them and she will only gain a DPS set; probably involving more spears, bees, and annoying Ewok shouting. HK-51 will require both a Tank and a Healing set; judging by his unique DPS Abilities which in my view set him as the best Ranged DPS Companion available, both his Tank and Heal abilities shall be similarly unique. HK being a model of efficiency, I have no doubt that they shall be still quite flashy and effective but much like Treek at the moment whether or not he will be considered a "better Healer" than the standard Healing archetype will remain to be seen.
All in all, these changes look really very decent. It will be a very strange sensation to go from being able to manually maintain your Companions to just letting your Level and Presence stat manage it all for us. Flexibility and simplification is by now a noticeable trend with how they're going around managing pre-existing systems, and whilst the changes to Companions are extensive we still have yet to see an official stance on the changes to crafting which is also being affected in this way. When BioWare indicated that they would be "Streamlining" the system, I don't think anyone could have predicted just how far they would go, but in the case of Companions I feel that it could prove incredibly successful.