Companions, of course, received a fairly significant overhaul in 4.0. Whereas previously you needed to gear a Companion up and they each had their own set roles, they now no longer need gear and their roles are no longer set, meaning that each Companion can either deal damage, heal, or tank opponents.
This wasn't the only change, of course. Affection was renamed to Influence and became the only way to improve a Companion's stats. Additionally, the amount of Influence one could gain from conversations drastically increased to match the similar increase of maximum Influence from 10,000 to 250,000.
Now that the basics that everyone knows about by now have been covered, it's time to deliver my long-overdue opinions on the matter!
Whilst I have very fond memories of carefully attending to my Sniper's fully-modifiable gear for HK-51 from 2.6 to 3.3 - HK-51's modifiable droid gear was one of the only few items which never received a Legacy-Bound equivalent - I personally have no qualms about Companions no longer needing gear.
This is due to several reasons. The first of which is, quite simply, because it makes it easier to give them whatever items of clothing you think look decent without needing to give them an overhaul with mods and augments or what-have-you. This also has the adverse side-effect of people just putting their female companions in dancer gear whilst they're still dishing out the same damage/heals as they would before.
Yes, we get that some people like drooling over someone's boobs like a ravenous infant, but do they really have to make us feel sorry for your Companion whilst doing so?
Secondly, this means that, no matter what happens, you'll never be left with a weak Companion if you decide to switch out as soon as you get a new one. Pre-4.0 the Knight really suffered from this in their final class mission even with a puzzle which helped them to acquire some pieces of gear for T7.
Finally, it means that you no longer need to worry about maintaining a "good Healer" or "good Tank" Companion Legacy set. It was fantastic when BioWare introduced the Devoted Allies gear for Companions to achieve this effect for lazy people, but this has taken it one step further. Your companion's gear not in your Legacy Bay? No matter; just bring them out naked!
Disclaimer: Here at Galactic Antics we do not endorse punishing your Companions in this manner. If said Companion happens to be Skadge, this is more a punishment for nearby players than it is for Skadge himself and is not to be attempted without suitable protection.
This having been said, it is worth mentioning that hilts and barrels in a Companion's weapon does affect output. I previously thought that it was only a superficial change on the character sheet, but damage does increase with better equipment. This is the only case of a Companion's gear affecting their role now, and sadly I don't see it being fixed any time soon. I'd love to be wrong, though!
HK actually stands for Heal/Kiss-it-better
The idea of having every Companion be able to fulfil any of the three roles is an interesting idea in-theory, but in-practice the whole idea does seem bizarre. Whilst I initially thought highly of the idea, I found myself reversing my opinion pretty quickly afterwards, as the established patterns really do make a lot more sense.
I am still fond of it in one regard as in some cases the role-switching can make sense - for example, Mako can fit as a DPS but not as a Tank - but in others it just doesn't work. Notably, Tharan Cedrax is a self-professed (so much so that his "did I mention I'm a pacifist?" line is seared in my mind...) pacifist, so he can only suit Healer as otherwise he's a blasted hypocrite. Yes, tell us more about your pacifist tendencies while you shoot that poor defenceless Rodian in the face because I told you to!
I do personally try to adhere to the strict regimes as much as possible, even going so far as to switch Companions I don't use to their previous roles in the Companion list. The only Companion whom I have used regularly in an alternate role than their previously set one has been Lokin; whilst he was previously a Healer, his Rakghoul form being his DPS and Tank 'stance' makes him an actually logical role-switcher, although I feel that he makes more sense as a DPS than he does a Tank.
However, I can't deny that having only one 'good' Companion renders this a little more 'unstable'; there is a fair amount of logic behind making your best Companion flexible if switching to a lesser one simply because the better one doesn't fit their new role is a risky alternative. I've been guilty of this on my Gunslinger with Vette during Rounds 6 and 7 of the Eternal Championship, given that Calph's three Influence 50 Companions are a Tank (Bowdaar) and two DPS (Gault and Vette) whilst her next-highest is M1-4X at 23.
Even then, Forex isn't exactly who I would want to go to for a nice soothing Kolto session...
As far as I'm concerned, making Influence play an active part in combat and not just a minimal increase of Crew Skill ratings (which has also received a significant boost since 4.0) is one of the best changes brought to the game thus far.
There never really was a reason to grind Affection in the past once you'd already done the conversations on previously-levelled characters of the same class. Sure, it was extra XP, but you'd already got the stats and Presence boosts, so what point was there in doing all that grind for nothing?
This change makes this grind actually mean something, even if it is another grind in an overall fairly grindy expansion.
Even then, there have been ways to negate this for the Alliance Alerts; not only were the Star Fortress Companions boosted to Influence 10 before you even grouped with them to invade the shield generator, but Blizz, Bowdaar, and Qyzen all reached Influence 10 once you'd completed their objectives - unless you happened to be a Consular or Hunter, in which case Qyzen and Blizz could be left at Influence Level 1 for some people.
Even the "most grindy" Companions could be 'skipped'; aside from Consulars and Hunters as mentioned above, Troopers and Warriors could convince Forex and Pierce to come with them without doing anything else, whilst Agents could avoid gathering materials for Lokin but would still need to go to the Rakghoul Tunnels. Heck, even the mission for Talos can be bypassed by Inquisitors, and his recruitment mission is one of the least tedious missions yet!
Of course, being Valor 40 and skipping the completion of Warzone requirements for Forex and Pierce also raises their Influence Rank to 10. Yay for ways to skip stuff..?
Of course, an oak tree from a little acorn grows. Because the amount of Influence you could gain drastically increased with 4.0, you'd find yourself rising through the Ranks incredibly quickly. Nowadays, when doing everything including Esseles and constantly making choices which elicited a response from your Companion - if they do not respond at all to two options but disapprove of the third, 9/10 times it's better to choose this option - your first Companion will be in the 20s if not higher when leaving the starter planet.
This in itself leads to a bit of a bigger problem. For Healers and Tanks, this is fine, as their damage output and fighting 'style' is almost negligible. For DPS Companions, however, this of course means that with each increased Rank that's more damage they're going to be doing, meaning that fights will more often than not go too quickly, even against Strongs and Elites.
As someone who seemingly exclusively goes DPS these days, this is still ever-so-mildly annoying to get used to. It doesn't help that at low-level when we're still struggling with the barebones of specs our Companions have all of their abilities - including an actual execute - compared to pre-4.0 when they needed to reach Level 35 to get their final ability.
I'm happy with Influence being the driving force behind a Companion's combat performance. It's currently the closest thing we've got to 'designating' a primary selection of Companions, something which as I've stated before, I would love to be able to do more 'properly' in future.
I can't finish this post without addressing the Ortolan in the room, and he's looking very shiftily at an elephant who is wondering exactly when this metaphor lost its way.
Trust me, I don't know either.
The performance of Companions was insanely high back when 4.0 launched. To give some context, in PvP Combat a player's damage could be outhealed by their opponent's Companion, making killing them almost an impossibility. Damage output also needed to be seen to be believed, whilst Tanks... had a broken Shield generator.
The output was toned down, but people complained, so it was increased again, and we still haven't reached a happy medium. Healer Companions are still powerful, DPS Companions can still hit for 20k with their executes, and Tanks actually have a working Shield.
I don't know exactly what went on behind the scenes when these changes were suggested, but it does surprise me that seemingly nobody thought that maybe, just maybe, they were barking up several wrong trees with the performance. Still, what's done is done, and BioWare has lost face for it.
I also can't go much further without also expressing my disappointment that so many Companions lost their unique abilities. Blizz no longer has his Rocket Launcher, HK-51 no longer has his Blindside or his Assassinate, and Raina Temple no longer has a Force Blast.
That said, I am happy that Lokin still has his Rakghoul form and Tharan actually retains a second stun throughout all three specs: Holiday!
Whether or not Companions will receive yet another overhaul in future remains to be seen, of course. I for one am hopeful that, if they do, it will purely be to bring some of that unique flavour back to the specific Companions whilst still making them function in theoretically the same manner.
On the whole, I do like what they've done with the Companions in 4.0, even if the practice is a bit screwy. The role-switching doesn't make logical sense for the most part, but not needing gear and mainly gaining combat performance from Influence are fantastic developments.
I do have to say that I absolutely adore the Tanks with their triple-pull and lack of comparable squishiness. Bowdaar, Choza, and Xalek, I salute you three in particular.