Oh, companions, you just have to love them. Whether they're healing you up while you wallop enemies and bosses, collecting crafting materials, performing missions for you or just chilling on your personal starship, they liven up the world of Star Wars: The Old Republic and stick with you till the end - or, at least until you get frozen in carbonite for 5 years. Gaining influence with these characters carries a number of benefits, so let's take a look how it's done.
What is Companion Influence?
In broad strokes the system should be familiar with anyone who isn't new to RPGs. By default, every class gains 5 companions throughout chapters 1-3 of their class story, and there are additional opportunities to gain companions in further chapters, through promotions, but completing achievements or by purchasing them on the Cartel Market.
You can have one companion with you at all times. BioWare has tweaked and rebalanced how companions work several times over the years, and as of 6.2.1 all companions can perform all three roles: healing, tanking and damage dealing. For the most part, all companions are equally effective in all roles, save for few exceptions - but this is a topic for another guide. Companions can also be sent on gathering and crafting missions based on what Crew Skills your current character has learned.
Influence affects all of these actions. In the past, it also affected the pace in which special conversations were unlocked, and whether a given companion would enter a romantic relationship with your character - changes to the influence system mean that conversations unlock based on progress with story missions, and romance is always available depending on what conversation options you choose.
Influence can be checked in your Companions and Contacts panel, the default key bind of which is "N". Here you will see a list of your companions, organized by category, and a purple circle next to their name with a number in it. The number is your current Influence level, and how far the circle is filled indicates your progress to the next level. The higher the level, the more points it takes to reach the next one.
What does Influence do?
The higher your influence with a companion - which ranges from level 1 to 50 - the more effective they will be at everything they do. When following you around, they will deal more damage to enemies or heal you more efficiently with higher influence, and when sent on missions or to craft, their success rate or chance to roll a special reward increases with influence.
For the casual player, organically increasing influence at the pace of the story should be enough, as you'll get to the 10s and 20s just by completing the class story these days. However, there are many activities where having companions with influence level 50 is a huge help, or outright necessary. If you're a hardcore crafter, high influence is essential to deal with the grind, and having an influence level 50 companion as a healer - especially Z0-0M - can make some group content soloable, like the Star Fortresses.
How to increase Companion Influence
The road from influence level 1 to 50 can be long and daunting for new players, and generally takes a lot of effort, grinding or credits even later on, but once you get the hang of it you won't dread the task. Unfortunately there is no snowball effect to take advantage of, unlike with the grind to reaching Item Level 306 - it will always be just as hard to pull a companion up to 50.
There are many ways to do this, and BioWare has made the process somewhat easier compared to how hard it was at launch. The main advantage we have now is that companions do not lose influence under any circumstances. Even if you perform actions or say things they don't like, it just means the influence points you get are fewer - nothing a gift or two won't smooth out.
Something you should look into before getting started is buying the influence related perks in your Legacy tab by pressing "Y". There should be perks that increase influence gain from conversions and gifts, as well as one that reduces the cast time of gift giving.
Let's go through the various methods of increasing companion influence:
Giving gifts is by far the most common method of grinding out Companion Influence 50. It is the most straightforward method, even if it can be arduous and time-consuming. Throughout your adventures in the galaxy, you will often happen upon gift items of varying type and rank.
There are a total of 12 types: Courting, Cultural Artifact, Luxury, Technology, Trophy, Underworld Good, Weapon, Military Gear, Maintenance, Delicacy, Imperial Memorabilia and Republic Memorabilia. Different companions will like different gifts - when you have a current companion active, the item tooltip will display their influence gain from the item in the following range: No Influence Gain, Small Influence Gain, Moderate Influence Gain and Large Influence Gain. Additionally, if you click on a companion's entry in your Companions and Contacts panel, there will be a handy list of gift types they like, so you'll always know what gift to save for which preferred party member.
The rank of the gift will determine how much of a gain you can get. Naturally, the higher the rank, the more influence points you will receive. The influence level of your companion factors into this calculation, as the higher the level the lower the gain from any gift.
To better illustrate this: say you want to increase your influence with Blizz - of course you want to, everyone loves Blizz - and his influence is at level 1. Blizz loves Technology, so you give him a Rank 12 Technology gift. This earns you a ton of influence points. Later on, you've worked up your influence level to, say, 20. Now, if you once again give Blizz a Rank 6 Technology gift, the influence point gain will be significantly lower. This system of diminishing returns serves to further elongate the influence gaining process.
There is a lot of variance in the ways influence gain from gifts is calculated, so it is impossible to nail down an exact number, but the rough math indicates that approximately 200 highest-ranking Large Influence Gain gifts are needed to get you from level 1 to 50. So how does one get gifts?
The first and most organic way is via drops. Occasionally, you'll find gifts in loot, or get them as mission rewards. Naturally, if you are trying to fast track your way to 50, this just won't do, as the drops are randomized and never the highest ranking gifts.
Gifts can also be gained by completing your Weekly Conquest. Completing the Weekly Conquest by achieving 50,000 Conquest Points will net you various rewards, and this often - but not always - contains a satchel of Companion Gifts. These usually scale to your level, but generally fall on the more potent side of things.
Turning in any of the four kinds of "Command Crates" at your base on Odsessen - if you have reached that point in Knights of the Fallen Empire, which requires a subscription - also yields 1-2 of the best quality gifts available in the game. You can gain Command Crates by completing heroic missions, bonus series, Alliance Alerts or Star Fortresses.
Finally, we come to the fastest source - vendors. You will find companion gift vendors on the Fleet, Nar Shaddaa and Odessen, where you can spend your hard earned credits on gifts for your companions. On the Fleet, you can trade in Jawa Junk for gifts, too. If we still operate with the 200 gifts number, then the best place to buy gifts is on Odessen where Silas Fleetfire sells them for 250,000 apiece. This means that to "buy up" a companion from influence level 1 to 50 will cost you 50,000,000 credits.
You also passively gain influence when completing story missions - these are the purple ones - and the amount of influence gained with given characters depends on your actions and choices. This is a nice way to complement your other sources of influence, but won't take you far on its own, especially with companions you acquire later in the story, who thus gain influence from fewer missions.
A more efficient, but still only supplementary, way to gain influence through missions is by sending companions on them. By pressing "B" you can open the Crew Skills window, where you can send companions on gathering missions.
When you do this, the companion will be unavailable for a set amount of time - this increases with the difficulty of their task - after which they return successful with rewards and large influence gains, or in defeat with nothing to show for their efforts other than minimal influence gain.
This is definitely the fastest way to get a companion up to level 50 Influence, but it's also essentially cheating. The Commander's Compendium is a Cartel Market item that instantly boosts a companion to 50, and is consumed in the process. These cost 900 Cartel Coins currently, but can also be found on the Galactic Trade Market. The value fluctuates, but usually goes in between the 40-70 million rang. There's a slim chance you can get a compendium for cheaper than the 50 million it takes to reach influence 50 with gifts, but chances are by the time you have that much cash you're not starting from an influence level of 1, so some of that will be wasted.