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Does anyone know if the game - after beating the final boss - continues at the next higher difficulty setting, or is it restarting at the current one (meaning if I want to play at a higher diff., I need to make a new character).

Thanks for any input on this :-)
Yes, once you clear the Outer Regions you'll be restarted in Bravo Sector at the next difficulty level (assuming you didn't start the game at Elite).
Sweet! Thanks for the info!!