Updated: Jan 25
Escort quests, don’t you just love them? No? Me neither.
Escort quests are the bane of many gamer’s lives. It is almost universally agreed that Escort Quests are one of the worst elements in FPS and TPS gaming. We have probably all experienced the frustration these cause at least once. The reasons for this are legion, but to my mind, they boil down to the following.
1. They are often mandatory and thus unskippable.
2. Failure in the mission often results in a game over.
3. Escortee NPCs have the self-preservation instincts of a lemming.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it were not for the irritating quirks possessed by the NPC you are escorting. These quirks are generally the result of A.I., which is one element of video games that appears not to have evolved a great deal in the last two decades. Some A.I. characters today are making the same mistakes A.I. characters made back in the last millennium. These mistakes make keeping an escortee alive today just as troublesome as it did back then.
The Unlucky (for the player) Thirteen Quirks of NPC Escortees
Some of the most common - and irritating - A.I. NPC escortee quirks are;
1. Getting lost in broad daylight.
2. Being incapable of going places you can - up ladders for example. This then forces you to take alternate routes which are often longer and more dangerous.
3. Being myopic and blundering into obvious traps, stepping on landmines and falling down cliffs, etc.
4. Giving your position away when you need to be stealthy.
5. Getting stuck in doorways, behind other NPCs or object geometry.
6. Getting in the way or walking into your line of fire.
7. Being incapable of interacting with the environment, picking up objects, etc.
8. Using inappropriate weapons, thus killing you and/or them in the process.
9. Wasting powerful spells and abilities on weak enemies.
10. Running slower than you but walking faster, thus causing infuriating sprint-stop-sprint movement cycles.
11. Being extremely susceptible to damage.
12. Being completely incapable of looking after themselves in a fight…
13. ...Whilst at the same time rushing headlong into fights they can’t possibly survive. UNSC Marines in Halo CE - I’m looking at you!
How many of the above have you experienced? Probably most of them, often in the same game, in the same mission.
It appears that at least some devs are aware of these problems and make attempts to rectify them. Unfortunately, these attempts to overcome these quirks often involve introducing yet more quirks.
A common example involves making the NPC you are escorting nigh-invulnerable. Whilst this will stop the NPC from getting themselves killed, it is a fudge that breaks immersion. (If the NPC is invulnerable, shouldn’t they be escorting you?) Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2 and its episodes is a good example of this.
In stealth games, devs may code it so that enemy NPCs do not react to your escortee, instead reacting only to you. This prevents the frustration that would arise from your charge giving your location away by doing something stupid, like talking or using a flashlight. Although this works, it too is something of a fudge and can wreck immersion by feeling ‘gamey’. The Last of Us Part II has recently been criticised for this.
But do you know what I find the most frustrating thing about these quirks in escort quests? That they do not have to be like this. There are games – or more specifically mods – that already get escort quests right (for the most part.)
These games/mods are the standalone ‘Sandbox’ mods for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., namely Call of Chernobyl, Call of Misery, Dead Air, Anomaly, Road To The North, and Last Day. Since all these mods use Call of Chernobyl as a base, they all use the same system regarding companion NPCs and escort quests. Therefore, what I write next holds true for them all.
Firstly, the vast majority of these escort quests are optional. If you do not wish to engage in an escort quest then you can simply decline the offer. There are no repercussions for turning down the offer - other than the payment you are passing up of course. If after accepting the contract you think better of it - if, for example, the route is currently too dangerous - you also have the option of cancelling the contract, although this will dent your reputation a somewhat.
Sometimes this will be the lesser evil, especially in the permadeath ‘ironman’ mode. Dented reputations and a leaner bank account are survivable, a bullet to the head is not. (Nor is being burnt to death, electrocuted, irradiated, blown up, torn limb from limb or any of the other million-and-one ways to die in The Zone.)
Secondly, the missions are usually fairly generous with their time limits - a few days at least. Therefore, you do not necessarily need to drop everything and complete the mission there and then. This is useful, as it gives you the chance to obtain any extra gear you may need, see to any other outstanding business you may have and allows you to wait until morning - you do not want to be doing escort quests in the dark.
Thirdly, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Chernobyl ‘et al recognize that A.I. is often moronic and that this is unlikely to change any time soon. Their solution to this problem is to give the player considerable control over their A.I. companions. The player’s competence thus compensates for the NPC’s incompetence. Whether your charge survives or not is then largely down to your planning, navigation, command and combat skills, not theirs.
In these mods, you can form a team - if you want to. Escortees for specific missions are simply added to the team for the duration of said mission, and you have as much control over them as you do your regular teammates.
Escortees can be issued both standing orders and specific orders. Standing orders will put them into ‘states’, which in turn will dictate how they move and react. For example, they can be placed in three combat states;
1. Aggressive mode: NPC teammates will attack any hostile they see and advance towards the enemy.
2. Defensive: NPC teammates will shoot any hostile that gets too close or opens fire on them.
3. Passive: NPC teammates will not fire at anything.
Standing orders can also be given for whether or not they loot fallen NPCs. They can also be placed in ‘normal’ and ‘stealth’ movement modes. In stealth mode they put away their weapon and crouch walk, making them more difficult for hostile NPCs to spot. In addition, they can be given standing orders to follow you closely or at a distance.