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Gaming’s Invincible Companions: No, You Can’t Kill the Ewoks in Star Wars: Battlefront

Ewok

Regardless of how you feel about Ewoks, know that you won’t need to worry about inflicting friendly (or unfriendly) fire upon them during Star Wars: Battlefront matches. This isn’t just a case of storm troopers’ notorious bad aim, either — these pesky little furballs don’t seem to have a death animation on file, or so Eurogamer has discovered after numerous grisly tests. Throw your grenades, fire your blasters, hurl your cannons — it won’t matter. The Ewoks will be immune to your advances.

Of course, the Ewoks weren’t immune to any of that stuff in Battlefront 2 — you could play as or against an Ewok back then. And I’m sure that the Battlefront mod community will create killable (and playable) Ewoks in this game, given the fans’ demand. The game-makers’ decision to make the Ewoks invincible in Star Wars: Battlefront probably had more to do with resources rather than any reluctance to let the space-teddies die. Still, though, it’s not so unusual to see characters in games who seem uniquely unable to shuffle off that mortal coil — and usually, they’re the warm and fuzzy types.

For example, Fallout 4‘s dog companion is just as invincible as the Ewoks, except in his case, the designers made no secret about their choice. Your doggy pal can get hurt, sure — but that’s as far as it goes, since the developers figured that any time the dog died, a player would just reload the game. Why not save everybody some time and make the pup invincible?

This makes sense from a design standpoint, perhaps, but from a storytelling standpoint, it’s a little odd. In the case of Star Wars: Battlefront, the invincible Ewoks feel like a funny fourth wall-breaking moment, which arguably ruins any immersive feeling the player might have about the stakes of the battle — but within the larger context of the game’s tone, maybe that’s fine. In a game with more of a narrative — like Fallout 4 — the decision to make another in-game creature immune to death feels way weirder, especially since it goes beyond just the dog. Your human companions in Fallout 4 can’t die, either — and the comments on this Cinema Blend article about that decision show that some players feel a little disappointed about the lost storytelling opportunities.

This problem comes up a lot in games about companions, whether it’s a handful of background allies in battle who seem immune to friendly fire, or a BFF who follows you around the entire game. Then again, a companion who can actually die might feel like more of a burden on the player than an example of emotional storytelling. In Resident Evil 4, Leon’s quest to save the president’s daughter, Ashley, would fail if she dies — and so if she does, the game reloads automatically. Of course, the whole narrative in the game wouldn’t make any sense if Ashley died — so it makes sense that her death is a fail-state. As a result, though, players ended up hating Ashley for being a burden. To get around this, games like BioShock: Infinite and The Last of Us made the protagonists’ female companion characters much harder to kill. This way, the player wouldn’t become annoyed at them — or so the design logic went. As for why gaming’s “companions” are so often dogs and/or hot ladies, well … perhaps that’s a conversation for another time.

The aptitude and survivability of a companion character is a pretty complicated problem, and depending on the solution chosen by game designers, the approach to these characters totally change the way a game feels. What are some games that you think did a good job solving this problem?

(via Eurogamer, image via Gifmania)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).