Video games can be emotionally taxing. You'll play one for dozens of hours, get attached to the characters, and encounter plenty of harrowing situations along your journey. Sometimes it feels like too great a burden to bear alone (cough the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 cough), and that's why it's such a treat when there's an animal that can accompany you.
There's nothing like running back from a stressful mission and seeing your companion dutifully waiting by a signpost. They can act as a sort of anxiety salve, a totem of security and serenity even with enemies nipping at your heels. And if an animal buddy is always by your side, you'll never feel alone - although this kind of companion can actually cause anxiety if they can be injured in any way.
Call me crazy, but I'd much prefer an animal by my side than a human-like Lydia the Housecarl, who I continuously sent away to dust the shelves of my Whiterun manor in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim (opens in new tab) because she irked me. With the "animals are better than people" logic in mind, here's the ten best video game animal companions, in no particular order (because asking me to pick a favorite is just cruel):
Palico - Monster Hunter World
Palicos are fully customizable bipedal cats that follow you on all of your adventures in Monster Hunter World (opens in new tab) and Monster Hunter World: Iceborne (opens in new tab). Yup, you read that right - customizable cats that walk on two legs. Palicos are the names given to Felynes who join monster hunters (Felynes are cats that work in villages who can speak human languages). They're hunters, helpers, and the best damn pals you can have on your monster-hunting journeys. And the customization options are incredible - you can make your Palico look just like your own cat, or give the lil' dude bright pink fur and put 'em in a damn suit of armor if you fancy. Plus, like Pokemon, Palicos only faint when their HP is low, but if the sight of that is still too much for you, you can leave them behind on certain missions to ensure their safety. Bipedal cats in costumes. I rest my case (but if you're not convinced, please watch this free ASMR of a Felyne making bread (opens in new tab)).
Dogmeat - Fallout series
Arguably one of the most efficient, loyal, good boys you could ever have as a video game companion, Dogmeat (or some version of him) is in every Fallout game except for Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 76 (opens in new tab). In the first Fallout, Dogmeat's original owner is a man whose likeness greatly resembles Mad Max's Max Rockantansky. When he's killed by thugs, it seems Dogmeat will be left to his own devices. But, in what is clearly a testament to the quality of Dogmeat's character, he'll begin following you if you feed him or if you're wearing a leather jacket - we stan a fashionable, hungry queen. While Dogmeat's breed has varied throughout the franchise, in every game in which he's an actual companion (not an Easter egg, like in Fallout 2), he is incredibly loyal and helpful - fighting the bad guys, fetching items for you, and loving you even when you make questionable decisions. Fallout 4 (opens in new tab) features the latest - and the best - version of Dogmeat: a German Shepherd who cannot die. This was an immense relief for those riddled with anxiety over his safety in Fallout 3, when he could die and be lost forever (unless you had a special perk enabled). Dogmeat is loyal. Dogmeat is good. Dogmeat is life.
Mr. Chew- Borderlands 3
When FL4K the vault hunter was first announced for Borderlands 3 (opens in new tab), the fact that they could utilize their animal companions to help them take down Psychos and Tinks was incredibly enticing. When you actually start playing Borderlands 3 and chose a Skag as your loyal companion, you can quickly become obsessed with the concept. Your Skag's original name is Mr. Chew, but you can change it if you'd like (I personally found it and him perfect, and wouldn't change a thing). You can pet him and call him a good boy and enjoy the items he'll randomly dig up for you. You can send him into battle as an Irradiated Skag and watch him projectile vomit radioactive waste on people. He's basically perfect. But just like my parents' dog who barks at anyone who dares walk in front of the window, Mr. Chew will pick fights with every creature in his vicinity. This will consistently give you anxiety, as the little guy will run off and attack every last spiderant in an area, even when you're trying to leave it, forcing you to double back and lay waste to an entire species because you can't bear the idea that he'll get temporarily downed.
Trico - The Last Guardian
Sure, The Last Guardian (opens in new tab)'s Trico may be a bit buggy, but you have to marvel at the AI feat that is this big ol' bird dog. Trico can reach places you can't and can prevent guards from capturing you, but like any animal, he can get spooked (mostly by shiny things) and it's your job to remove the things that scare him. Trico is probably the most cat-like out of any of these companions - he can stubbornly do the exact opposite of what you need him to, but he can also help you immensely (cats don't really help you do anything except learn how to reinforce curtain rods, but you get the idea). Trico is also an abuse survivor, a sad testament to the way we treat animals in modern society. Let Trico be a lesson for us all - animals are our companions, not our slaves or our punching bags. Treat them with respect and they can enrich your world. Don't, and I'll kick your ass.
Epona - The Legend of Zelda series
Epona is such a special companion, she has her own song...find another companion that has its own theme! The aptly-titled 'Epona's Song' is first heard in Ocarina of Time - when Link first meets Epona, she is wild and untamed, but after he learns her song, she becomes a big fan. Years later, she's almost given away to Ganondorf (a fate too painful to even consider) but Link frees her. It's clear that bond between animal and Hylian is unbreakable, as Epona remains Link's faithful steed in Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess, and Breath of the Wild - although you frequently have to find her after she's gotten lost or stolen (which is always a harrowing experience). It's complete BS that Link can't get injured while riding Epona, but Epona can fall off a cliff in Breath of the Wild (opens in new tab) and die, but whatever, we're not salty about it.
Pikachu - Pokemon series
Pikachu is an icon, we all know this. Sure, the electrifying cutie is just a walking buddy you occasionally fight with in Pokemon Yellow, trudging alongside you like a 50-something housewife in New York City determined to get her steps in. But Pikachu's attitude is the stuff of legend: the little 'mon won't let you put him inside a Pokeball, he literally has electric outbursts of anger, and if you're a monster and yank his tail in Pokemon Yellow, he'll try and bite you because you deserve it. Pikachu is the stuff of legend, with appearances in every Pokemon game (you can transfer him into Pokemon Black and White), his own spin-off games, a permanent Smash Bros. fighter slot, and his own damn movie. He may really only be a stand-out 'mon in Pokemon Yellow, but you can't question the yellow dude's legacy.
Roach - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
You can't fault an animal companion that comes at the sound of your whistle, ya know? It's often far too easy to lose track of a faithful furry friend in video games, but Roach will always show up and show up on time, like a Lyft driver with hundreds of five-star reviews. Roach is what Geralt of Rivia calls every single one of his horses (he prefers mares, because he would), so this horse transcends the boundaries of time and the laws of mortality. Roach isn't a single horse, she's an idea. Sure, sometimes Roach can buck you off unexpectedly or pitch a fit when traversing rocks, but she can carry all of your cool trophies, and there's really nothing cooler than traversing an open field with a griffin head bobbing along on her saddle. Plus, she's punctual as hell. Oh, and in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (opens in new tab) Blood and Wine DLC, she talks and has an erm, interesting voice.
Cheeseburger - Far Cry 5
There's not a lot of representation for the insulin-deficient in the world of video games. That's why Far Cry 5's Cheeseburger the Grizzly Bear is such an incredible animal companion. Poor Cheeseburger was found as a young, unhealthy cub after his mother was shot by poachers. Thankfully, he's taken in by an animal sanctuary, but unfortunately, his diet of burgers and fries gives the poor Grizzly Bear Type 2 diabetes. When cultists want to experiment on the sugary boy, his rescuers let him loose in the wild. But an insulin-dependent bear with a penchant for people food does not a wild animal make, so you have the option to find him in the wild and recruit him to your cause. Cheeseburger is a heavy-type companion, which means he'll draw aggression and fire from enemies. But as his ability suggests, Cheeseburger will also Bear Arms, and will exercise his right to attack - and likely enjoy a burger combo afterward.
Shadow - Dead to Rights series
There are cute and cuddly animal companions who trot and prance and chase their tails...and then there's Shadow. Shadow is a massive Husky mix and the K-9 partner to police officer Jack Slate, and he likes to bite testicles. Oh yeah, you read that right, one of Shadow's unique abilities is a full-on scrotal attack: if you direct him to attack an enemy, he'll bite their junk before ripping out their throats. You absolutely hate to see it (but can't deny its usefulness). According to Dead to Rights lore, Shadow was found chained up in an alley as a puppy and was nursed back to health and adopted into the Slate family. As far as companions go, Shadow is one of the most lethal - he can sense an enemy's heartbeat, silently kill them from behind, shake enemies to death, and fetch weapons, in addition to his signature ball-busting move. And don't get me wrong, Shadow is still incredibly cute, but also terrifying.
Yoshi - Super Mario series
Another companion that has achieved a level of fame virtually untouched by video game animal sidekicks, Yoshi is that dude. You first meet him in Super Mario World as a dinosaur who Mario or Luigi can ride and punch in the back of the head to eat enemies (I do not condone this in any manner, and gladly that mechanic was scrapped in later games). He was a big hit with players, spawning a prequel: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, where he must protect Baby Mario throughout the game. Yoshi's Island led to a vast array of Yoshi spin-offs, because this dinosaur has got the goods. He's certainly an incredibly helpful companion - he can triple jump, eat enemies, lay enemies as eggs, and absorb the power of shells. His abilities vary between games, but the core Yoshi-ness remains. Plus, Yoshi is steadfastly loyal and clearly doesn't hold a grudge - how many times have you dropped that poor dino down a pit just to climb on his back again later?
If you prefer to play with a friend, why not check out our list of the 25 best co-op games to play right now (opens in new tab)?