Escort mode review — A missed opportunity

It's been two weeks since Escort mode's release and . . . it has quickly become the gamemode that I dread to play. Now, I don't want to diss all the work they did. I see the good intent in it; they wanted to try something different. Perhaps they thought it as an opportunity to spice up the basic gameplay that's growing increasingly stale for so many fans.

But it's not fun. It's confusing, frustrating and most of the time feels like a massive waste of time. There's no thrill, no sense of excitement. I've seen many incredibly close and intense "Push the cart" matches in TF2 but "Escort" which seems to be influenced by it, fails to deliver anything like that.

The Premise

The idea is simple; there's a very important person in a 'Mech that needs to be kept alive until it reaches the randomly selected extraction zone. Players on one side spawn beside the VIP 'Mech (defenders) and the attackers on the other side. Attackers must kill the VIP before it reaches the extraction zone. Killing all the defenders is not sufficient, the VIP needs to be taken down as well.

The defenders begin the game in posession of beacon towers that provide ECM coverage and spotting over a large radius. They also have very weak 2xML turrets scattered around the map near the beacons. These beacons cover a large portion of the map and essentially give information about the whereabouts of the attackers and prevent NARC'ing the VIP early on. Also it puts the burden of communicating well on attackers, since there won't be any red doritos attracting the pugs.

The Good

  • It's . . . different. Finally some long overdue solo/group queue love from PGI. They've been neglected for so long.
  • It has a game mode with some kind of narrative and feels something out of the FW mode. A welcome change to the solo queue.
  • It demands more communication and teamwork than the other game modes. There's significantly more VOIP traffic in these matches. The position and the route of the VIP 'Mech must be scouted first. Then the team should decide whether to focus down the VIP quickly or deal with the defenders first.
  • Fighting for beacons is fun.
  • There's some kind of role warfare emphasis. Just a tiny little bit. Lights and fast 'Mechs matter a lot in the opening stages of the match. The possession of ECM beacons in certain parts of the map is a significant advantage to the teams.

The Bad

It just doesn't play as it was intended at all. For the following reasons (fun tip: take a shot every time you read the word "frustrating"):
  • VIP 'Mech is not very visible on the HUD. Even if it is, it usually drowns under a sea of red/blue doritos clutter on the screen. Most of the time attackers/defenders have no idea where it is, unless warned in VOIP. It should be clearly marked (perhaps with a different color) on HUD and the minimap.
  • There's no incentive to stick with the VIP. See, "push the cart" game modes that clearly influenced Escort work because it forces all attention on the cart. No players near it, no progression. This Atlas pushes itself. Nobody cares where it goes.
  • Most of the time people just want to shoot other 'Mech as quickly as possible, so they rush ahead of the VIP to meet the enemy team. When this happens the battle is decided long before VIP is relevant at all. The attackers can't ignore the defenders coming at them and vice versa. At this point the match becomes another deathmatch.
  • Sometimes the team sticks with the VIP, but as soon as the VIP shows up on the field it usually dies before the defenders can do anything about it. Right when you're in the thick of the action and . . . the VIP dies. Final score 3-3, 4 minutes into a match. Time well wasted. Your average pug is timid and won't put himself in front of the VIP Atlas. They want to live and shoot. Not get murdered in seconds by focus fire just to save an AI Atlas. That's not fun.
  • PGI can apparently easily change the tankiness of the VIP, but it's a double edged sword. Make it too tanky and it detracts from the gameplay (attackers ignoring it/derps wasting damage on it while they get melted by defenders), make it too fragile and it detracts from the gameplay again (it dies before the fight is concluded). And honestly the degree of the VIP's "tankiness" changes from match to match, since the attacker 'Mech and build composition is completely random. Two UAC KDK-3s can absolutely melt the VIP in seconds but two lurm Stalkers will barely touch it. It's just impossible to balance properly. 
  • VIP taking random routes, which can't be known even from the defender site. Why not mark the extraction zones/VIP path from the beginning so the defenders can secure the route and prepare their plans according to it? Plus, you don't know if you're an attacker or defender until the match starts.
  • HUD clutter. They fixed this partly, but it's still a thing. Why do we need a huge Atlas health indicator taking a quarter of the screen at the top? 99% of the time that's useless info for the defenders. It should only be visible when pressing Q.
  • Turrets are very frustrating the deal with in lights and lighter mediums. They have perfect aim and pop up when you're near 500 meters of them. Having 10-20 damage applied to your light in the beginning of the match is very frustrating. It discourages lights from rushing far ahead to battle for the beacons.
  • Beacons blanketing the whole map with ECM . . . is frustrating. I know PGI doesn't want the VIP to be lurmed to death early on, but this going a bit too far.
  • Beacons spotting for LRM boats is one of  the worst design decisions in this game mode IMO. LRM boats lock you while you approach the beacon and then you have to sit on it, capping, while you get showered with LRMs. It's incredibly frustrating. It also discourages bigger 'Mechs from approaching beacons because they get lurmed endlessly.

The Ugly

  • I'm not a hardcore lore fan, but I enjoy stuff being grounded and believable. There are serious issues with the immersion in this game mode. Why is the VIP in a slow, weaponless 'Mech? What's the importance of this 'Mech? How could the defenders lay turrets and ECM beacons along the escort route beforehand? Why doesn't the dropship just come and pick up the VIP from spawn? What kind of alien technology makes VIP 'Mech so incredibly armored that it can absorb concentrated fire from 12 'Mechs for a minute? I can go on. I mean, I know it's supposed to be a game and all, but making it believable and somewhat immersive would go a long way towards making the game mode awesome. This is a MechWarrior game, people want to be immersed! Use your freaking imagination. Create a unique experimental assault 'Mech model (heck even modify an existing model) and say you just salvaged it from an ancient battlefield and need to extract it before the evil mercenaries come grab it. It's not hard.


The Escort mode has interesting ideas such as the fluid fight for beacons in the initial stages, but the I think the game mode is fundamentally flawed. "Escorting" an ultimately fragile 'Mech in a crowded 12v12 environment and making it fun is asking for trouble. The gameplay doesn't flow well, it needs more cooperation and sacrifices than your average pug can handle. In the end, it ends up having exactly the same flaw people have been criticising conquest/assault for; you can ignore the objectives until the enemy is dead and have more fun that way.

To be honest I'd just take away the VIP from the game mode and leave the beacons in. Call it "Territory" game mode. Now we're getting somewhere.
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About Rak

I'm an engineer who likes to write extremely long articles about games that border simulation and mainstream.
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