Dialogue Options: What makes a good video game companion?

(Image credit: BioWare)

Hello and welcome to Dialogue Options, our weekly show where we take our gaming theories and opinions and we put them to you. Today I'll be talking about what makes a good game companion, why some of them are so darn loveable, and how they make your adventuring so much better. 

As overused as the famous line in the Legend of Zelda is, it really is dangerous to go alone. When you're gallivanting about in a radioactive wasteland or a fictional world where giant spiders can attack you at any second, having someone by your side is just plain sensible. From making witty remarks as you set off to explore a new region, to having your back in the depths of a creepy cave, the company you keep can really take the edge off some pretty hairy situations and enhance your adventuring experience in the best way possible. 

I mean, let's be honest here, shouldering the responsibility of saving the entire universe is a lot more bearable when you have friends who are there to help you through it. BioWare's games have always nailed it when it comes to companions. The Mass Effect series would be nothing without its cast of supporting characters who fight alongside you every step of the way. I, for one, don't want to know what Mass Effect would be like without Garrus doing all those calibrations. There's no Shepard without Vakarian, after all. 

Mass Effect 2 is one of the quintessential examples of just how good companions can make the overall experience of a game's story. Through a sequence of unfortunate events, you have to set out on a suicide mission to save the galaxies from the clutches of the Collectors. You can only get so far on your own, though, so you're going to need some help. That's where your crew comes in. Everyone knows the risks involved in your quest to save the day, but they stay by your side anyway. It's quite literally you and them against the universe. In close quarters with high stakes at play, the bonds you form with your Normandy 2 crew mates is unlike any other in gaming. By the end of your adventure, you'll find yourself desperately hoping everyone makes it out alive. 

Getting to know you

In much the same way, BioWare's Dragon Age series puts you in the shoes of someone who has a duty or power forced upon them in some way or other. Take Dragon Age: Inquisition, for example. Just imagine waking up one day to find that your hand suddenly wields the power to close rifts in the sky and therefore save the world. You're basically honour bound to forget your own wants and needs and put Thedas first to save everyone, right? That's pretty heavy stuff. Well, thank the Maker you have a group of followers who can help lighten the load; especially if they come in the shape of a handsome, witty mage called Dorian Pavus who I couldn't possibly adore anymore than I already do. 

Part of why I become so attached to the characters in BioWare's series like Mass Effect and Dragon Age is down to the writing. Every character is fleshed out, with their own backstories, personalities and motivations. Getting invested in their storylines helps you relate to them on a personal level, and having the opportunity to take the relationship to the next level by bringing love and romance into the fold it just intensifies the attachments you form to certain characters. 

Some companions also have some practical uses that actually help you along in your adventures. Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite throws coins she finds throughout the game to Booker. These coins, known as Silver Eagles, are the currency you use to revive yourself every time you meet your untimely demise. Similarly, Dogmeat in Fallout 4 can be commanded to search an area for any points of interest or loot. Not to mention he can also alert you when baddies are nearby and grab a raider by the leg so you can get a good shot in. He's a very good boy; yes he is. Thankfully Dogmeat can't actually die, which is a blessing. As much I adore the idea of having a doggo companion in Skyrim, the stress of making sure my poochy pal stayed alive was almost too much to bear. Some series also have skills that are specific to particular classes. So, for example, if you didn't decide to play as a rogue, but you need to unlock a door, your other party members can do it for you.

The company you keep

An image of Dogmeat from Fallout 4

(Image credit: Bethesda)

But don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all game companions make everything better. Sometimes they can be pretty annoying. Take Navi from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Now that's one example of how a game would have been a whole lot better without its fairy companion continually demanding you listen to their guidance. "Hey, listen!".. please stop. And by Azura! There's the Adoring Fan in Oblivion. Okay, look, admittedly I do have a soft spot for your very own personal super-fan, but let's just say he might not last very long in combat, or really do all that much to help you. At least he carries a torch for you, though – both literally and figuratively. 

Lots of games these days are set in big open-worlds, and chances are you'll be wondering about the expansive landscapes for quite some time. So, keeping some good company can make the whole experience feel a bit less lonely. Now, I'm not saying that it's not enjoyable to explore all the world has to offer solo. Link certainly doesn't need company to make Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the magical experience it is, but having a horse friend to travel across Hyrule certainly makes the exploration side of things a breeze. 

A lot can be said about camaraderie. You form a special kind of bond with those you go through something with. You're not likely to forget the party members that helped you take down a particularly nasty creature or gave you their support when the very universe came under threat. Companions can fill the fictional worlds you explore with a lot of humour, heart and personality. And in my opinion, without them, the journey you go on would be a lot less memorable.

Do you think having companions makes your overall experience in a game's world better or do you prefer to go it alone? Who's your favourite companion? And on the flip side, is there a party member you just can't stand? 

Let us know what you think in the comments below. 

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.