Many a groan have escaped the lips of disgruntled gamers when they are strapped with an annoying NPC that cannot take care of themselves. We are asked to protect them as watch their health bar dwindle, like a flame devouring a wick, as hordes of enemies surround them. While escort missions and quests used to seem like filler, giving players something more to do than fetch quests or other boring tasks, they have essentially evolved into the premise for entire games, and blockbusters at that.
A famously annoying and frustrating NPC in distress was Resident Evil 4’s Ashley Graham. The Presidents daughter who we sought to rescue while surviving hordes of zombies, an NPC who literally could not do anything to defend herself. She even hands herself over to your enemy willingly at one point in the game.
But in more recent years we have seen entire games based off of the premise of protecting an NPC, and they have been vastly successful. Bioshock Infinite, a critically acclaimed multi platform title, is essentially one huge escort mission. The Last of Us, another blockbuster title follows it’s protagonist as he escorts young Ellie, humankind’s last hope after an infectious viral outbreak. What has evolved?
In titles of years past, players were simply given an NPC to care for, in a “here now they’re your problem” fashion. They were presented as burdens, and even worse, given no context whatsoever. Elizabeth and Ellie became my favorite NPC’s to protect, so much so that they felt more like sidekicks than someone I was supposed to protect. If it weren’t for the narrative casting them in that role, they would be the protagonists equal or in cases like Elizabeth’s they would even surpass the game’s main character, I mean I didn’t see Booker opening tears into new dimensions. The characters were useful, providing us with supplies, cover fire, and a host of other helpful actions. They were not dead weight cast upon us.
Aside from being helpful in high pressure situations, these characters had real depth, hopes, fears, and real personality. We grew to care for them and genuinely wanted to keep them safe. They were not a health bar anymore like in games past, or a challenge to keep alive. I found myself even fearing for the character’s well-being or anger at not being able to protect them in a given situation.
Who are your favorite gaming sidekicks or companions?