It was kind of funny watching Diablo III and The Old Republic dance around each other's release date. But D3 has been pushed into 2012, and The Old Republic seized the opportunity to get a Christmas release date.
The game looks pretty interesting so far. Like many gamers, I'm looking to give it a whirl.
Whenever I think about NPC companions, the following dialogue runs through my head:
Gamer Gary, MMO newbie: "MMOs are awesome! You get to play with real people!"Snark aside, I do like the idea of NPC companions. For one thing, they make the fundamental unit of play a group, rather than a solo character. You're always in a group. That makes group-centric characters like healers and tanks a lot more viable.
*Gamer Gary goes off and plays with real people for several years*
Gamer Gary, MMO veteran: "NPC companions are awesome! They'll help me solo!"
From a healer standpoint, the one thing I hope The Old Republic does with their companions is make them full party members in the UI. Often in WoW, healing companions and pets--especially those belonging to other players--is hard to deal with most UIs. The poster child for this is that one Firelands daily that gives you a full group including a tank. But because there's no UI support for that group, healing them is a pain.
Ideally, NPC companions show up in the UI exactly like other players, making healing a companion the exact same as healing another player. This would even help train new healers.
Other than that, I would like companions to not be so "main character"-centric as they have been in recent Bioware games. In some ways, I enjoy the NPC-NPC interactions more than the NPC interactions with my character. It feels a little bit weird that everything is about your main character. I rather liked the husband-wife pair, Jaheira and Khalid, in Balder's Gate.
Of course, I may feel this way because Alistair and Morrigan were clearly destined for each other in Dragon Age: Origins. It was gravely disappointing when I realized that I could not promote that pairing.