So 4.0 has finally hit and whilst not everyone has access to the story, which I shall cover next week, or Level 65, everyone has access to the changed systems such as Companions and Level-Sync. This is just to look over what has changed and what my feelings are on the matter.
Level-Sync and Heroics
I'm really pleased with this system in-practice. I was hopeful that they would use it for story purposes rather than just forcing it to just be "in existence" as a feature, and they have indeed delivered on that. A slight deviation from my non-spoiler policy of this post, but after the main quest of Fallen Empire is concluded, they do provide a story reason to go to these planets and even to farm Heroics, which is excellent to see, and I hope that more use is made of this potential in the future.
As for the Heroic missions themselves, quite a few - notably on Hoth - are still painful but this is as much of a "challenge" as there is. It would be a little less interesting if you could go through every Heroic without the risk of death looming over you, but I will admit that there are those where a copious amount of trash bogging you down is annoying. Thankfully, there are very few of these specific examples. Regardless, these missions have a decent reward system, which I shall go into more detail on next week, although specific rewards such as the Companion weapons from Makeb's "The Observer"/"Savage Skies" and the Voss Reputation trophies have been removed completely.
Operations and Flashpoints
Because of the bolster system, which by my understanding applies regardless of how you enter, everyone above level 50 can access Hard Mode Flashpoints and Story Mode Operations. I like the fact that they have increased the chances for people of this level to get experience with these types of content whilst also ensuring that there is a larger pool of players for the Finder to pick up which should hopefully decrease queue times. Amusingly, you can earn many Levels by completing just one Operation whilst below max-level, so that will probably be the default "go-to" way to level alts for quite a lot of people.
Similarly, I love the theory behind increasing the amount of Tactical Flashpoints that there are in the game. The practice, however, does fall apart slightly. A new player unfamiliar with the name of a certain expansion could innocently end up spoiling the fact that a certain fanatic has returned to the galaxy at the head of a certain cult before they even have a chance to familiarise themselves with his in-game "legacy", for example. That's just a minor nitpick on my behalf, though.
Companions have benefited a great deal from this expansion, and can be seriously powerful if allowed. Each separate rank of Influence - 50 ranks all adding up to 250,000 points - results in a further 50 Presence being added to their "presence bonus", which has a 2,500 cap not including additional Presence stats on the Player's sheet. To give some indication of exactly what this could mean for their prospective power-levels, these are the stats of a level 65 DPS Companion with Influence Rank 41 on top of maximum Player Presence.
Seriously, these guys are insanely powerful; I've seen the DPS execute hit for 30,000 damage.
Speaking of the execute, let's talk about the abilities.
It's a shame that they had to remove both specific abilities and individual animations to facilitate the universal changes. HK-51's Assassinate has bitten the dust, as has Blizz's rocket launcher. Similarly, Torian and Akaavi actually use their weapons instead of their Tech abilities. There are still some individual animations, such as droids chucking a canister into a fight as their periodic damage ability and armour debuff and to my understanding Tharan still deploys Holiday, but this is pretty much the extent of it. Otherwise, nearly every Companion's ability sets function exactly the same way as one another.
I say nearly because there are still some exceptions to this, mostly pertaining to "non-story-essential" Companions. HK-51, whilst keeping to his non-AoE standard, does not have a periodic-sundering DPS ability, whilst in Tank stance he does not have the same damage-protection ability as other Tanks despite retaining his self-heal in that role alone. Meanwhile the new Cartel Companion, the Akk Dog, also lacks a sundering ability despite keeping the periodic element of it. Additionally, its execute seems to have a cooldown of a minute whereas other Companions have that ability on a cooldown of roughly 20 seconds. Due to the amount of damage an Execute does, on one high-HP enemy this won't matter but when dealing with several in succession the Creature is at a definite disadvantage compared to other DPS.
Personally, as much as I liked the unique animations, I believe the trade-off is more than worth it and that the new abilities are vast improvements upon what they had before. I don't mind the fact that the Healing and DPS roles have borrowed Treek's periodic heal/cleanse combo and HK's execute, respectively. The playing-field is now very much even whereas before you would see many players using either in place of their more standard counterparts because of their abilities setting them up as being a more practical alternative (i.e. "standard" Companion Healers would sometimes delay cleansing their target whilst Treek provided a guaranteed cleanse and an accompanying heal). I haven't put the new Tanking ability sets through its paces yet, though, but on the surface they look like they'll make a fantastic difference to their survivability compared to before.
Also, in spite of the fact that Companions no longer gain stats from gear, the damage values of weapons will still factor into the character sheet's presentation of their damage output. This is purely a cosmetic feature and has no impact on their true output potential, but I thought that it was still interesting to note nonetheless since it can throw you off if one Companion has a 192-rating barrel and thusly seems to be able to deal more damage than another with higher Influence using empty weapon shells.
Because I don't want to get involved with discussing Crew Skills in their entirety since I rarely, if ever, use them, I'll include this bit here. Each individual rank of Influence builds up 1.5% Efficiency and 0.5% Critical Chance when performing Crew Skills, so it's well worth grinding Influence if you craft a lot.
On the whole, I really like these changes. Whilst the game is now noticeably far simpler and in several regards "easier" than it has been before, I still am a firm believer that in the long run this will prove beneficial to the game. Time will tell on that front, however, so there's still a good chance that my confidence will be ill-warranted.