You still can receive planet/pve/pvp commendations. It may be limited in cap size, but commendations are more than enough to gear a toon.
Honestly, I sucked at this game at first and had no idea what was good and what not. I want to say I hit 50 with level 45 green gear on my first toon. The Story is not hard and because of the way the end game is designed, any gear you get before 50 is practically worthless at 50 (unless it is an orange moddable piece).
The game is free, the only thing you sacrifice is 25 GB on your HDD and the time it takes to download it.