Level Design in MGSV: Blood Runs Deep

A critical look at Mission 18 of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and how it makes an escort mission fun and engaging.


I can't believe I am about to do this, but I am getting ready to praise the scourge of level design: an escort mission. Escort missions have been dreaded by players for many years, and rightfully so. They attach a ball and chain to the player's ankle, restricting their freedom and often their mechanics and abilities as well. After playing "Blood Runs Deep", however, I'm a believer that proper escort missions can be made.

Disclaimer: MGSV allows for a wide variety of play styles, and I am an obsessive stealth player. You know those people that get detected then decide to go postal? Yeah, not me. I'll restart a checkpoint 100 times to ensure things are done right. Keep that in mind when reading below.


Snake is told prior to the mission that this one involves some wet work, as the Diamond Dogs have been hired by their client to infiltrate an enemy camp and eliminate some prisoners being held there. As with most missions, Snake is dropped near the mission location by helicopter and the level begins.

The Level

As mentioned in the introduction, this is an escort mission. However, you wouldn't know it from the level's beginning. In addition to the mission objective of killing prisoners held by one of the local "PFs" (private forces), the first area of the mission is par for the course. The player approaches the enemy outpost as they see fit, then infiltrate. As with the other outposts within the game, there's a lot of great stealth gameplay here. Enemies are scattered throughout, with little cover and long sight lines providing tough challenges. After the player makes it through the camp, there is a gold door that appears to be an entrance to some mines. The gold is rather subtle, but it looks different enough to clearly indicate to players that it is related to the objective. Once players bypass the lock (and hopefully aren't discovered by passing guards while doing so), they'll come to the prison and a cutscene ensues.

It's here that players discover that the their targets are not your average prisoners, and are instead child soldiers. Snake obviously has none of it, and fakes the murder of the children to satisfy the Diamond Dogs' client. From there, the mission objective is updated: escort the children out of the camp and evacuate them via helicopter. And so the escort mission begins. But this isn't an escort mission in a traditional sense. Rather than having to escort NPCs that just barrel forward with little regard to their own safety, players can dictate when the children can or cannot move by giving them orders. They'll continue to do whatever they're told unless players say otherwise. This allows for opportunities to deal with enemies that could potentially spot the kids during the escape. 

Two mechanics make this more difficult, however. One, players cannot issue orders to the kids if they are farther than around 20 yards. That means if the kids are running and players are busy sneaking up behind enemies, they better take out those enemies quickly because the kids will soon be running into their vision path. The second mechanic is a wounded child that players must carry with them. If players want to take out enemies with something other than their sidearm, or if they need to crawl, they must set the child down and come back for him once they're done. This creates a problem when the child is left too far behind and players goes to retrieve him, since this will also mean that players are no longer in range of the other kids. If the last order they were given was to run, then the children will be in risk of being spotted. The wounded child is an added layer of difficulty, but since players have performed several missions that involve carrying NPCs in the past, players are not learning about this hindrance for the first time. As a result, this feels like a natural layering of mechanics rather than a dumping of a bunch of new ones.

All of these rules and mechanics are quickly taught to the player in a series of brief and simple encounters that involve small groups of enemies. Just as the player becomes comfortable, however, the PF discovers the empty cell of the prisoners. This puts the base on high alert, and guards everywhere begin to search of the children. This not only causes enemies to start spreading out, but guards will begin to pour in from behind the player. With only two directions to go, players are caught between the enemies blocking their exit and the ones pursuing from the rear. This creates a huge amount of excitement as players must make quick decisions to take out the guards in front before the ones in pursuit can catch up. If either the group of kids or the wounded child is left behind for too long, or if they are sent ahead to hastily, the guards will spot them. This juggling effect of maintaining the stealth of Snake, the group of children, and the wounded child is exhilarating, and once the forward guards are dispatched, a mad dash to the evac helicopter provides an immensely satisfying release to the built up tension and anxiety created by the encounter.


"Mission 18: Blood Runs Deep" is an excellent level that succeeds by subverting player expectations and providing a unique take on the escort mission concept.  Having the objective change mid-mission keeps players on their toes, and the escort portion works by keeping it brief, using the game's strong stealth gameplay to its benefit, and by giving players relative control over the NPCs movement. Tension is expertly built up by forcing urgency upon the player, but knows to not hold that note too long so that it becomes stressful. Instead, the tension is relieved and players are rewarded with a final "get to the choppa" moment, that serves as their victory lap at the mission's conclusion.


Thanks for reading! Please comment below and tell me what you think.

I can be found on Twitter or at my web site

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