In video game parlance, escort missions refer to the levels or side quests that require players to safeguard specific NPCs and successfully guide them to a new location without getting harmed or killed. Often dreaded due to the difficulty level and uncontrollable AI, most ardent gamers loathe escort missions and will do almost anything to avoid performing them.
Yet, from RPGs, survival horror, first-person shooters, puzzle games, and more, there has been a slew of convention-bucking escort missions in video games that are not only fun to engage in, but also advance the plot of the game in substantial ways.
Super Mario 2: Yoshi’s Island
In one of the earliest examples of an escort mission done right, Yoshi’s Island essentially functions as one large, colorful, and immersively significant road trip almost everyone enjoys playing. The objective is for Yoshi and his prehistoric brethren to help baby Mario find his twin brother by way of a huge relay race through a kaleidoscopic Oz-like magical land.
Beyond the wicked witches, hot lava, bizarre psychedelics, and unforeseen pitfalls, what makes the mission so enthralling is the racing aspect of the mission. Also, a player has to concern themself with two NPCs, which doubles the dramatic stakes in reuniting Mario and his twin.
Dead Rising 2 – Compound Mission
Marking a major improvement from the annoying escort missions in Dead Rising, the sequel’s second episode has a lot going for it. The mission entails escorting a group of armed guards through a harrowing compound strewn with rabid zombies.
Firstly, the AI engine is stunningly competent compared to the original, allowing the guards to diligently follow behind without running off and compromising the mission. Secondly, the guards are helpful and at times can escort the player rather than being a completely ineffectual annoyance that no player wants to be responsible for.
God Of War – Kratos Vs. Atreus
Much like Yoshi’s Island, the Kratos/Atreus narrative in God of War has been hailed as one elaborate and surprisingly visceral escort mission. However, what makes it stand out for the better is that the NPC Atreus also escorts the playable character Kratos in a truly symbiotic relationship.
While Kratos teaches Atreus how to hunt and fight, Atreus in turn develops the skill tree that he uses to guide Kratos. As the game progresses, Atreus will assist Kratos by providing climbing chains, warning when enemies approach, guiding him toward the hidden treasure, etc. The players become the escortees, which subverts the loathsome escort mission convention in the most engaging ways.
Half-Life 2 – Episode 2
Despite some rudimentary AI developed around 2004, the escort mission in the second episode of Half-Life 2 is far more germane to the plot than most unneeded missions of its ilk. The mission involves protecting a badly wounded Alyx Vance as she rides in a player’s car and recovers from injury.
The mission comes after spending a lot of time with Alyx by a player’s side, giving them a real incentive to keep her safe, especially when she moans and groans when taking hard turns. But what makes the mission so much better than others is that Alyx is not a completely feckless NPC at all, she can help players by firing on enemies from the car. This makes Alyx feel like a true partner in crime rather than an ineffectual sidekick unworthy of saving in the first place.
The Last Of Us – Saving Ellie
Most ardent gamers would agree that like Yoshi’s Island and God of War, the action-adventure game The Last of Us functions as one large, exceptional escort mission. The goal is for protagonist Joel to guide teenage Ellie across a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a surprisingly smart and helpful NPC who players would willingly risk their lives to protect.
Made as an antidote to gamers’ hatred of escort missions, Ellie and Joel become co-dependent in their mutual exploration and they assist each other in combat. Moreover, Ellie’s immunity to the virus and research on her DNA became vital to the plot, which is a far cry from most ancillary escort missions.
Bayonetta – Escorting The Child
Hardcore gamers are well aware of how frustrating it is to escort babies and small children in video games. They are vulnerable and helpless as can be, bearing a huge burden on players to deliver them safe from harm. One game that rectifies this trope is the 2009 hack-and-slash game Bayonetta.
When carrying the small child as the witchy Bayonetta, players cannot fight. However, when setting the little girl down, a protective forcefield will form around her and allow the player to fight without distraction. Even better, the game will pause every time the shield is hit, allowing players to know exactly who to counterattack.
Resident Evil 4 – Stand By Me
Another enthralling escort mission beyond reproach by most gamers is Stand By Me from the stellar survival horror game Resident Evil 4. The mission entails safely guiding Ashley through a corridor of mouth-foaming zombie ghouls. Aside from being able to leave Ashley behind, hide her away, and reunite with her at any time, it’s the dramatic stakes of the character’s vulnerable fate that give the mission such heft.
In a rare instance where an NPC can die during an escort mission, protecting Ashley’s life has real consequences. Moreover, Ashley moves wisely, remains out of the line of gunfire, and rarely leads players into enemy territory without warning.
BioShock Infinite – Elizabeth’s Quest
Another deliberately subverted escort mission includes Elizabeth’s quest in BioShock Infinite, the awesome first-person shooter released in 2013. Essentially serving as one long guide-and-protect objective, Elizabeth is an NPC who guides the player rather than the other way around.
During the mission, players take advice from Elizabeth as she gives them key survival tips, opens doors, provides handy items, and allows them to roam freely without the added burden of having to rescue her as a damsel in distress. The inverted escort mission liberates players from having to risk life and limb for a futile character nobody wants to protect.
Ico is a modern 3D platform action-adventure game that has been hailed for having one of the best escort missions of any video game. Remastered in 2011, the entire objective of the game revolves around successfully guiding Yorda. Therefore, no unconnected missions take precedent. The focus from the beginning is to keep Yorda safe at all costs.
What’s great about the mission is how Yorda is semi-autonomous. She can roam freely and independently, allowing Ico to explore on his own without a huge burden. Moreover, the game designers balanced Yorda’s vulnerability by making her impervious to death but susceptible to kidnapping. Moreover, Yorda’s backstory as the Queen’s daughter gives her extra dramatic weight as an NPC escortee.
The Walking Dead: Season 1
Season 1 of the survival-horror game The Walking Dead has one of the most narratively compelling escort missions in recent memory. The goal is to safely chaperone Clementine through a vicious throng of undead ghouls. More interested in storytelling the gameplay mechanics, the escort mission enriches the dramaturgy.
Safely guiding Clem in the game is more about building the relationship between the PC and NPC rather than being at the whim of poorly designed AI that inevitably leads players to certain doom. Moreover, if Clem dies, gamers do not have to go through the minutes-long problem of restarting. By concentrating more on stories about an escort rather than being a game dependent on escorting itself, TWD separates itself from the pack.
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