Moving on to general changes and upgrades, the two biggest game-wide system changes since I last played are the Discipline system and the Companion overhaul. Previously, after players picked their Advanced Class for their character at level 10, they gained access to three talent trees specific to their Advanced Class. They would distribute their talent points across their trees, unlocking further skills or passive abilities. As the years have gone on, many MMOs have moved away from this type of system and SWTOR is no exception. Talent trees have been replaced with Disciplines. Each Advanced Class has three Disciplines to choose from (which seem to very roughly correlate to the three talent trees in the previous iteration of the specialization system). Rather than distributing talent points, Discipline-specific skills and passives are unlocked at certain level milestones. You can change your Discipline at your faction’s Fleet if you find you don’t like the one you chose.
Even though a given Discipline will be the same for every character of the same Advanced Class, you can still tweak your build using Utility Points. You’ll get a total of 7 Utility Points over the course of leveling to the current max level (65) and they are divided across three tiers: Skillful, Masterful, and Heroic. These Utility skills will passively buff your character (e.g. flat percentage damage reduction) or specific abilities, (e.g. decreasing cooldowns, adding additional effects). You can reset your Utility Skills in the menu where you distribute them.
While I personally enjoy theory-crafting and tinkering around with builds, I think the Discipline system is sleek and more approachable to many players. It’s certainly easier to balance and add on to as the level cap continues to grow, as well. I also think that it indirectly helps with grouping with friends. If someone decides it might be best for their to take on another role when playing with their friends, they can just go and change Disciplines without having to worry about figuring out a specific talent build. There’s still a cost with changing Disciplines, so people won’t want to do it all the time, but I feel like it severely lowers the mental barrier to changing roles on a given characters.
The Companion system changes now allow players to utilize whatever companion they wish without having to worry about what’s mechanically ideal. Previously, each companion character had specific roles (Tank, Healer, or DPS). The fact that you also generally equipped the same gear on companions used by player characters compounded upon this, and as a result, each player character usually preferred one or two specific companions due to the role he or she provided. All of this has changed, however. Now, each companion can be toggled between a Tank, DPS, and Healer role and their gear is purely cosmetic, not functional. Instead, their stats are level dependent and Influence dependent. Influence has replaced Affection (the system found in most Bioware games) and Influence will now directly boost both combat effectiveness as well as Crew Skill (gathering and crafting) efficiency and crit chance.
I found the Companion changes to be improvements pretty much across the board. I found gearing my companions to be a bit of a hassle, so I’m glad I no longer have to worry about that. I also like being able to bring whatever companion I want into combat since I can change his or her role to whatever I feel I need. It always felt slightly immersion-breaking when I felt like I was saddled with bringing a certain character into combat, despite how my own character felt about him or her. Now that’s no longer an issue.
Overall, I found that all the changes and additions to the game have gone in the direction of making the SWTOR experience more mechanically accessible to players while giving them more choices in the flavor/lore department. I think much of this has to do with a large percentage of the community being lore and story nuts rather than hardcore “server first” raiders. Honestly, I’m glad that SWTOR has gone in this direction and embraced its strengths. I look forward to seeing how this continued to progress in the next two expansions.