Independence, Usefulness, and Control Characterize Ideal Video Game Companions
Everything is better with friends, including gaming. Video game companions make a story even more worth exploring, complicating and expanding upon even the most straightforward narrative to keep us locked in. But not all companions are created equally; in fact, NPC involvement is one of the trickiest things to get right in gaming, as it’s easy to fall too far into extremes.
When games get companions right, it’s a memorable experience. These video game companions are some of the best, not just because they’re intriguing characters in their own right, but because they work so well as assistants and squadmates in the chaotic game worlds they inhabit.
Handing Over Player Control Ensures Functional Companions
One of the simplest ways to ensure that companions are a help and not a hindrance is to let players control them both. That may sound like it could easily get overwhelming—and it can, if done poorly—but when expertly executed, the ability to control multiple characters can create a thrilling, brain-teasing puzzle unlike any other.
The upcoming Troll and I does exactly this, giving you the ability to control the eponymous Troll, a hulking, magical being with numerous unique abilities, or Otto, a young boy with his own set of skills. Playing as both characters lets you develop a fondness for each, using whichever one is appropriate for each encounter. The ability to choose means that you can decide what approach you want to take, rather than there being one optimal solution. Some paths may be easier with certain playstyles, such as Otto’s stealth or Troll’s brute force, but it’s something you can experiment with and try out on your own.
Never Alone is similar—you control both the girl and her fox companion, using both of their abilities to solve puzzles and escape enemies. Because it’s a relatively simple platformer, AI picks up the slack and both characters work together, even with only one player. That simplicity also means that each puzzle usually has only one solution; while the mechanic works just as well as it does in Troll and I, Never Alone is less about using two characters to craft your ideal approach and more about solving puzzles with limited abilities.
Invincible Video Game Companions Help Without Hurting
A weak, useless companion is an incredible source of frustration. If they’re not dying on you, they’re running in front and blocking your view for no reason, leaving you to wish you could dispatch them as easily as your enemies. But some tweaks to that formula can make video game companions a huge asset rather than an annoyance.
BioShock: Infinite’s Elizabeth is a popular example of this. For one, she’s invincible—while you might be escorting her through Columbia, she doesn’t react like the typical target of a World of Warcraft-esque escort quest. She can’t die, but she can toss you valuable items, such as additional ammo or health, when you need them. And the programmed AI is sophisticated enough that, left alone, Elizabeth will inspect and interact with different objects, making her feel more like a living companion than a computerized tool.
Uncharted, and in particular Uncharted 4, takes a similar approach. Your companions are invisible to enemies, preventing them from breaking your carefully crafted stealth approach. While they don’t typically fetch you items, they will help you shoot down the occasional foe, attack them from stealth, or even clue you in on where an enemy might be sneaking up on you. Their hints are not so obvious as to break immersion—Sam will often say, “To your left,” or something similar, sometimes marking the enemy with an indicator—but they go a long way towards helping you fight off the seemingly endless hordes of mercenaries out for your blood. That they’re all fully-fledged, intriguing characters makes it even better; the witty quips and barbs these characters exchange makes playing with them a delight rather than a bore.
Player-Chosen Behaviors Ensure Companions are Useful Without Requiring Supervision
An in-between path also exists, letting players indirectly control their companions rather than, or in addition to, performing each action themselves. This approach, which often involves using programmed behaviors, lets the player do their thing while the party supports them.
The best example of this is in the Dragon Age series. While the mechanic has evolved over the game’s three core entries, the idea has remained the same: You can program your companions to fulfill certain roles by prioritizing the spells and abilities they use in response to certain stimuli. Following the traditional tank/heal/damage structure, you can use these systems to make your AI companions behave according to each role.
By Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare introduced the tactical view, which gives an overhead picture of the battlefield and lets you choose which targets to focus on for each companion and how to respond. While not all players take advantage of it, for those that like to micromanage their companion behavior, it’s a godsend—rather than having everybody attacking different targets, you can be sure that everybody attacks the boss, additional enemies, or other targets for maximum effectiveness without stepping away from the player character.
Well-Designed Companions Aid and Improve Story
Video game companions can add an incredible amount of depth to a story—in each of these examples, the NPC is just as crucial to the plot as the player character themselves. And when done right, they can also make the gameplay an even more thrilling experience. Strategy and diversified skills make games with companions more fun, and giving those companions something to do beyond getting in the way makes them memorable in their own right.
Troll and I is a single-player adventure game currently in production. To learn more and keep tabs on its development, subscribe to our newsletter!