Story telling in video games has gotten vastly better over the course of the last decade. With more and more accomplished writers coming to tell stories that we’ve never seen before. Now, with games like The Last of Us II coming soon, we wanted to look back at some of the BEST video game stories.
Video Games have slowly surpassed even a lot of movies in their ability to craft emotional responses from players. Interaction with the world and longer investment times usually guarantee a higher level of emotional connection.
So we compiled our 10 favorite games that have done a phenomenal job with storytelling! Should be obvious but just in case…
Still here? Excellent, let’s get started!
Red Dead Redemption
Very few games have managed to create a tragic protagonist as effectively as Rockstar did with John Marston.
The story of a former outlaw trying to make amends for his past wrongs is extremely moving. You can’t shake the feeling that somewhere along the road, something is going to go horribly wrong.
But, the game is an action RPG, certainly the main protagonist is safe from any permanent consequences. Then, Rockstar rips the carpet from underneath you. The finale hits, John Marston is gunned down in a hail of bullets, his son takes on the role.
This was really the first time in a game like this that ended as tragically as it did. Honestly, our hearts still break every time we rewatch it.
Assassins Creed: Brotherhood
These games are definitely very subjective. Most people you ask will say either AC II or Black Flag or even Odyssey is the series at it’s best. I won’t deny, I’m very partial to Black Flag as my favorite, but Brotherhood is the best story.
Taking place right after the events of Assassin’s Creed II, we once again take up the mantle of Ezio Auditore Da Firenze. When the game opens with your entire family being slaughtered and Cesare Borgia storming your home.
Vengeance is the only thing on your mind as you begin to dismantle the legend of the Borgia family. Along the way you learn maturity and your place in the world, you create the Brotherhood of Assassins.
Brotherhood was different because of how mature it treated the subject matter. Ezio was not as boyish and headstrong as before and the story was chock full of amazing acting and convincing portrayals. Cesare was heartless and emotional, Leonardo was charismatic and distant. This was AC storytelling at its very finest.
The Last of Us
When talking about storytelling in video games, this game will always become a centerpiece in one way or another. And for very good reason, because it is one of the finest pieces of emotional storytelling in gaming.
Right from the beginning, The Last of Us is a story about tragedy and the inevitable breaking point of all humans. When the protagonist’s daughter is killed in the opening minutes of the game, you know it’s going somewhere.
Along the way we witness Joel’s slow descent into emotional despair and inner turmoil. He’s falling apart at the seams and Ellie is his lifeline. When he sees that his lifeline is slipping away in the final moments of the game, players get one of the most shocking endings in game history.
The Last of Us is how gaming stories can transcend the boundaries of traditionalism.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Much like The Last of Us, you really cannot have a list like this and not mention this game somewhere within it. This was one of the first times that gamers got a game that actually pulled off a game changing story twist.
When games booted up KOTOR and began the story of a force sensitive rogue, they did not see the reveal coming. As evidence mounted over the course of the game, you’d notice certain characters treating you differently. Then, BioWare reveals the reason behind it all, and jaws hit the floor across all gaming platforms.
We don’t want to spoil the plot twist for this game, even if it’s over a decade old, it still holds up remarkably well. Go experience it for yourself!
Batman: Arkham Trilogy
Yes, we’re sort of cheating with this entry. However, much like the Christopher Nolan films, these games are meant to be experienced as one complete story. Certainly, they stand together on their own, but as a complete whole is where they shine.
Arkham Asylum sets the stage with a gritty gothic atmosphere that forebodes a sense of terror to come. City is the stage finally being set as the details become more clear and the stakes are raised. Knight is where the finale hits and the consequences all come full circle.
Storytelling and Batman have gone together like peanut butter and jelly for the last decade. And these games are some of the best examples of how to deliver an emotional comic book story in any medium.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
If you’ve read any of our other best gaming lists, then you were just waiting for this entry to scroll by. Hell, if you even have a casual interest in gaming then you knew this one was coming.
Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones with a dash of Joe Abercrombie thrown in for good measure. Witcher games are some of the darkest, most sinister and most depressing subject materials in Fantasy. None of the characters in the stories are great people, just various forms of power hungry.
But, two exceptions to the rule (depending on how you play) is Geralt and his adopted daughter Ciri. So when you learn that Ciri is in trouble, you set out to find her, at whatever cost is necessary. As the story unfolds, gamers are subjected to increasingly difficult decisions.
Culminating in either one of the most satisfying or one of the most depressing endings in gaming history.
Mass Effect Trilogy
You can definitely skip the first game and Andromeda on this one boys. That being said, Mass Effect 2 and 3 are the best SciFi stories in gaming, period.
Commander Sheppard and his ragtag team of operatives have to stop the Reaper threat from tearing apart the universe. As the threat grows, so do the difficulty of choices and consequences ahead of you.
Inevitability is what’s at the core of the Mass Effect games. There is no changing the course of what’s to come, you can just adjust how you choose to meet it: Head on, guns blazing, holding your friends close etc.
Mass Effect is about the journey, and the end result, no matter how uplifting or sad, is well worth the journey.
There will always be a man, and there will always be a lighthouse. These words are not immediately present in the first game, but if you played Bioshock Infinite, these words mean so much.
It all began with Bioshock 1, an FPS set in a dystopian steampunk future. Humanity at the bottom of the sea, no gods, no kings, only men. Gamers would soon learn the tragic truth of what happened to Rapture, but they wouldn’t know to what extent.
All of the exploration and jump scares led to one inevitable conclusion. Now, would you kindly go boot up your console of choice, and play Bioshock?
The Halo games are either one of the best SciFi stories or one of the most overrated depending on who you ask. Most Sony fans would probably either say ‘garbage’ or ‘never played it, but it seems solid’. Halo 4, is an exception to the rule for most people.
Utilizing groundbreaking motion capture technology, phenomenal scoring by Neil Davidge and amazing performances. This game showed that Halo was a contender for storytelling, and that it could be just as emotional as any other game.
Master Chief and Cortana went through a lot throughout the Halo games. Seeing them at the end of their ropes and trying to adapt to dying, is heartbreaking and moving. When the finale and the credits hit, there was not a dry eye in the room.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
A semi-sequel to the groundbreaking original Deus Ex, this is one of the most underplayed and well told SciFi stories in gaming history.
When a protection mission goes horribly wrong, Adam Jensen finds himself transformed into something he hates. Augmentations, machines and AI that can turn anyone into a ruthless killing machine. They’re rampant, and Jensen sees no future for himself now that he is one.
The deeper story at play is what holds this game together. The underlying threat of public unrest, violence always underneath the surface and corporate manipulation. Equal part conspiracy theory and intense psychological scrutiny of humanities bigotry and desire for strength.
Human Revolution is a masterpiece in game design, storytelling and deserves to be played by anyone who hasn’t yet.
That’s our list folks! There’s definitely some safe entries on this list, but there’s a reason that games like Mass Effect and TLOU are universally considered amazing stories.
We would say that most video games nowadays place a stronger emphasis on stories now that other games have raised the bar. And, as developers give larger budgets, and more interest parties join, gaming will do nothing but improve.
With games like The Last of Us II and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla coming soon, it’s a great time to love good stories.
Which of these games were your favorite? How many of them have you played or watched? Let us know in the comments below and let us know what your favorite video game stories are!