Companions in Pillars of Eternity are basically party members with a story. They provide no combat bonus at all, beyond a premade build out (that you can't modify) and only serve a roleplay purpose. They tell a story, offer a quest, and provide a lot of dialog as the main character makes it way through the story.
This guide goes over locating your companions and a little bit about them. There is a much bigger overarching story with each one that you add to your party and the diversity the companions have all help you internalize the story and world a lot better. There is a big advantage to bringing them along and they, while optional, help flesh the story out.
As far as combat goes, on higher difficulties, you may want to seek hirelings out for your party, however, companions are free and easy to obtain. The first two are right at the beginning, past any risk of death on the lower difficulties. Three more are obtainable shortly thereafter. The last three come to completion around mid-game, although you can get to them a bit sooner if you want to take on the risk of fighting enemies your party isn't prepared to take.
I try to avoid talking about endings - these are personal choices you make and I don't want to spoiler them because my happy ending is your sad ending and a lot of character's are molded by your conversations as you move through the game. I am VERY vague in how to do their quest, giving locations or hints, it's important to understand that in undergoing the quest you're attempting to generate a better ending for each companion and find out more of their backstory.
All companion quests are VERY easy, generally with the expectation of some, and are completed as you move through the game. The dialog you have with each one is important and to guarantee a specific ending you'll need to commit to specific rhetorics with each. Companions are very troubled and are looking to the Watcher for help in their problems. Most companions have a "bad ending" which is done at the completion of the story, but generally speaking, these "bad endings" can be good endings depending on your character's roleplay alignment and your own personal opinions / beliefs / facts you uncovered through the gameplay.
Quest completion affects the ending story for most characters, otherwise it isn't specifically a material reward as a story reward. Most quests are completed in the natural order of playing the game.
Aloth is available at the very start of the game. Speak to him outside of the inn at the Gilded Vale and just be nice to him and let him join when he asks. He's the much needed DPS your party requires, especially early game and if you aren't playing DPS.
His quest is "Two-Sided" which begins after "Never Far from the Queen" in the Copperlane Catacombs. Speak to him.
Spoiler: To finish his quest, head to Brackenbury and go into the sanitarium and speak to Bellasege. If you've had the talk with Aloth already, then ask about the awakening followed by offering Aloth up as a volunteer.
In the Gilded Vale, go to the inn and rest, then speak to the dwarf hanging on the tree. Now speak with Eder, who will join your party and begin his quest. He's a fighter and will probably be your tank for the better part of the start of the game, assuming the main character isn't a tank, which isn't that bad of a thing because two tanks can make a lot of encounters take longer but a lot safer.
His quest is "Fragments of a Scattered Faith" and starts as soon as you get him.
Spoiler: Go to Defiance Bay's record office. Once there, you'll need some reputation to get inside. From there, he'll ask to go to the battlefield where his brother died and you'll find only some looters in the area. Recover the artifact, then have a Cipher decode it (PC, NPC, companion, etc. will work).
Kana Rua (Chanter)
He is outside of Caed Nua (just go through Black Meadow) waiting to join your party. As a Chanter, he provides the support your party needs and is rather easy to get early game.
His quest is "The Endless Paths of Od Nua" and starts as soon as he is recruited.
Spoiler: Go to the Endless Paths (in your stronghold) and descend to the sixth level, probably later in the game, and then return to the surface. The rest of his quest is done through the game, by speaking to him.
At the Wooded Planes, (south of where Kana Rua is), just follow the road. There shouldn't be any enemies. Then speak to her.
Her quest is The Long Hunt and begins as soon as she joins your party.
Spoiler: Sagani needs to be in your party. She will give clues on where to go to find Persoq. There are three locations. The first is where you meet her. The second is Pearlwood Bluff (on the cliff). The third is Elmshore (the arches).
Grieving Mother (Cipher)
Located in Dyrford Village, in the south east corner. Talk to her to recruit her. She's a strong DPS character and can help with any Cipher related tasks.
Her quest is "Dream and Memory" and begins as soon as you recruit her.
Spoiler: Her quest completes along with the story. When you first speak with her, follow her conversation prompts and poke her about your dream, the Birthing Bell, and talk to her about her fear of Watchers. Later on, you'll have another dream. Talk to her about it. Finally, in act III, you'll have one final dream and be given a choice between two endings.
You can find him in Stormwall Gorge, southeast of the ruines, just barely off the road.
His quest is "True to Form" and starts when he joins you.
Spoiler: His quest involves going to Elm's Reach and talking to the druids there. They send you to Blood Sands then Burial Isle where you find Scathden. Depending on the outcome there is how his ending will be affected.
Pallegina Mes Rei (Paladin)
Go to Defiance Bay (Ondra's Gift) and travel to the Vailian Trading Company. There, you'll do a short quest (to Copperland which you will have passed earlier), and when you return Pallegina will be awaiting you.
Her quest is "The Child of Five Suns" and requires you to mostly talk with her.
Spoiler: When you reach Twin Elms, she'll work on a trade agreement with Dyrwood. Depending on the outcome is her ending.
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