In Dragon Age II, the player has little control over what armor Hawke's companions wear. Even though companion armor can be customized with a number of upgrades and may change appearance depending on certain story choices, it cannot be replaced or unequipped. On the upside, it improves with level-up and is among the best armor available in the game.
Aveline's armor changes when she enlists in the guard and when she is promoted. Similarly, Bethany and Carver switch to the uniform of the faction they join. Fenris, Isabela and Merrill change appearance during Act 2 if romanced. Anders replaces his coat if the Act 3 quest Justice is completed. Varric's armor may change its name during the Act 3 quest Haunted, however, the appearance stays the same.
There are four upgrades available for each companion. In the first two acts they are usually sold in stores, while all of the Act 3 upgrades are found during quests. Bethany and Carver receive the last three upgrades automatically with their armor changes after the Deep Roads Expedition.
The achievement "A Friend in Need" can be earned by upgrading any of the companions' armor once. "I Got Your Back" can be earned by completely upgrading the armor of one of the party members, except for Bethany and Carver, who each only have one upgrade that can be applied through Hawke.
- Roughly half of the armor upgrades are rune slots, allowing you to better customize each character's armor with the corresponding armor runes. As the armor improves with level up, the runes installed into them will improve with level up as well.
- One of the most useful applications of a rune slot is with the "Warding" runes; they will confer the numeric value of an elemental resistance such that it equates to resisting 90% of that element's damage at the companion's level. The value of the rune will increase with level up in companion armor, effectively granting them 90% resistance to that element throughout the game. This is particularly useful against the fire, electricity, and spirit elements, all of which are at the core of certain enemies' persistent AoE attacks (namely faction mages and equivalents like Arcane Horrors), and especially so against the spirit element, which chews through 50% of ordinary damage and magic resistance by default.
- ATK(LVL) refers to the attack value required for a character at a given level to have a 60% hit rate against Normal enemies. Upgrades that increase Attack will provide 50% of this value regardless of how high the companion's Attack actually is. As Attack increases are fixed according to the number of attribute points invested in the attribute, but becoming less valuable as the ATK(LVL) scale increases, these upgrades are exceedingly valuable for maintaining high Attack rates (see Combat mechanics (Dragon Age II)#Attack and Defense for more details):
- ex.) Varric at 30 Dexterity has 164 Attack. At Level 14, this amount of Attack provides a hit rate of 64%, but only 62% at Level 15, 60% at Level 16, and diminishes sharply to 45% at Level 17 and 34% at Level 18.
- At each of these levels, the Coat Lining with Concealed Pockets upgrade provides +72, +77, +82, +88, and +95 Attack. These additions into the 164 value grant hit rates of 75%, 73%, 72%, 70%, and 69%. Thus, even as the raw score of 164 depreciates in value with each level up and Varric slips below a 50% hit rate, the upgrade maintains Varric's Attack in the low-to-mid 70s throughout that same window of time.
- DEF(LVL), similarly, refers to the Defense value required to have 20% Defense against Normal-ranked basic attacks. The upgrades that boost this will determine this number and provide 25% of it.
- ex.) Isabela, at Level 14, achieves 20% Defense with a score of 143. The Rigid Boning upgrade provides +25% of this, or 36 Defense. For reference, the new score of 170 provides her 29% Defense, a 9% increase, which becomes a lower percentage as she increases Cunning or unlocks the Sea Legs passive, but it's still nice to have.
- Armor upgrades simply add 10% to the companions' armor value, which in turn improves with level up. It does not improve the armor achieved from regularly upgrading one's shield, so while the upgrade does not provide a great boost to Aveline's armor (once the shield is taken into consideration), it consistently gives Anders an additional 10% on top of armor that scales sufficiently to keep him at 20-21% armor throughout the game, increasing this to 30-31%.