At some point on your starting planet, you'll eventually find your first companion character. The Jedi Knight, for instance, rescues an astromech from the Flesh Raiders, while the Smuggler allies himself with a battle-hardened soldier who shares a common enemy. The companions act as a sort of a moral compass for your actions, and you'll instantly see feedback when your decisions change their loyalty. I actually started feeling kind of good about myself as a person when the little astromech looked favorable on my decisions. As an added bonus, whoever wrote the translations for the little droid did a first rate job of writing exactly the way I thought R2-D2 talked.
Companions can even help you out in combat, allowing you to take on even tougher challenges than you would normally. Given that you're almost always outnumbered in this game, it helps that the companions make smart use of their abilities and generally pick the right targets. You can micromanage their abilities if you want, but I didn't find it necessary at all. Even little T7-01 kicked some ass. In fact, he was so effective, that enemies would often run right past me and attack him instead. I know I'm supposed to be above that but, for a Jedi-in-training, that kind of hurts the old pride a little bit.
When you need even more firepower, you can group with up to three other players to take on the game's tougher challenges. The added firepower is nice, but my experiences on Ord Mantell were insanely chaotic, and not in a good way. I'll assume it's just that my smuggler's more calculated approach to tactics was out of step with what the three troopers I was with wanted but, whatever the case, fighting with other players seemed to make the things that my smuggler was good at even less relevant.
Thankfully, the combat is true to the overall style of Star Wars. Jedis leap into combat, swinging their lightsabers left and right as flesh-eating aliens fall around them, or how Smugglers crouch behind cover, using thermal grenades and blasters to take out robot sentries and bounty hunters. I have to say though, having started with a Jedi class, the smuggler and trooper are just not as dynamic. Sure, the cover system and ranged combat work as designed, but I didn't feel that the combat for the ranged classes was as active or strategic as the combat for the Jedis. Once you find a spot of cover, you just start cycling through your attacks until it's time to move on to the next bit of cover. Sure, as a Jedi you're equally focused on hotbars and cooldowns, but at least you get to move around a bit and watch some exciting animations.
On the other hand, my smuggler can kick guys in the nuts, so I'm conflicted.
The beta's answered a few other questions for me. Multiplayer conversations can work, thanks both to the holocom you can use to call in for conversations you're not present at, and the random system that determines which players get to speak at key moments. It also appears that Light Side and Dark Side points for choices made during the conversations are only awarded to players who voted for the conversation option that was ultimately given. So if you want a criminal to destroy a shipment of illegal goods but the rest of your party votes to profit from them, your choice won't be honored but at least you won't suffer Dark Side points for it.
We'll be back in the coming weeks to bring you even more coverage from the beta, this time exploring the world of the Dark Side.