We often see long discussions of gameplay mechanics, critiquing how something works, or how balanced it is. While those things are certainly important in evaluating a game, sometimes I want to sit back and enjoy a great story. Luckily, there are many great stories in video games, and the medium lends itself to presenting them in a way that helps you engage yourself fully. These eight games are some of my favorite story experiences.
Got a favorite of your own? Tell us what it is in the comments!
Red Dead Redemption
John Marston was a bad man. Now, he’s gone straight, but the government is forcing him to dive back into his former world to bring one of his former associates to justice. As you ride across the southwest United States and Mexico, you’ll encounter some great characters who are struggling to come to terms with the new government presence and the end of the ways of the Old West. You’ll find plot twists, betrayals, and more in Red Dead Redemption.
Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic
As soon as you awake on the Republic ship Endar Spire, you know that something is wrong. As you gather your companions and investigate their pasts, you also prepare to find the captured Jedi Bastila Shan on the planet of Taris. One you arrive, you end travelling all over the galaxy and visiting iconic locations like Tatooine, Kashyyyk, Korriban, and more. KOTOR pulls you into its world, showers you with twisting plots, and then forces you to choose whether you’ll embrace the light, or give in to the dark side.
The Last of Us
When The Last of Us was announced, my first thought was, “Well, it’s another zombie game.” How wrong I was. Instead of good guys and bad guys, The Last of Us presents us with a world where good guys are few and far between. Protagonist Joel and his friends aren’t particularly likeable; in factr, they’re exactly what you’d expect a group trying to survive in a world gone mad to be: Opportunistic and ruthless. But that’s not the whole story. What makes TLOU so powerful is how the characters evolve along the way. By the end, Joel and Ellie have both become very different people than we saw at the outset, and they’ve learned that there are no happy endings. The small scale of the tale is what makes The Last of Us so powerful.
The Legacy Of Kain Series
Few videogame series have engaged my imagination like The Legacy Of Kain did. It was a story without clear cut heroes and villains, and even the major players like Kain and Raziel were not always sure of where they stood, or what the consequences of their actions might be. At first glance, they might just look like some solid action games with a little story tossed in, but as play and pay attention to the themes, you find they’re much deeper than that. The series addresses good and evil, and how your perspective can change your definition of them. It also touches on fate, its machinations, and how fate can be averted or redirected. Above it all stands Kain, still waiting for that mythical coin to land on its edge.
Mass Effect Franchise
No matter what you thought of the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, you can’t deny the amazing story that ran through all three games. While the concept of assembling a crew of random species and heading off to save the galaxy isn’t new to sci-fi, Mass Effect managed to make it feel much deeper than you’d expect. Helping your crew members through their personal troubles, and sometimes angering other crew members because it, your Commander Shepard did things in his own way. The consequences of your choices would linger even into the next installment, and sometimes the people you sent out weren’t coming back. It was a deep, meaningful experience.
Planescape: Torment is a rare thing: A role-playing game that focuses more on story than combat. You’re a nameless immortal who can’t seem to piece together your past. You’ll travel throughout the planes, and confront your past and yourself along the way. Beyond that, what makes Torment so great is that it’s not about the loot or dungeon crawling. It’s about character interaction. Every conversation can branch out, and every choice you make can have some serious, far-reaching consequences. It’s a must-play for fans of great game stories.
Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 is dark and foreboding. It’s the story of James Sunderland, a man whose wife has been dead for three years when he receives a letter purporting to be from her asking him to come to the small town of Silent Hill. Once he arrives, he doesn’t find his wife. Instead, he finds a town that’s filled with disturbing imagery, frightening monsters, and lots of symbolism. Embodiments of James’ psyche abound, none more complicated and terrifying than the iconic Pyramid Head. The game’s four endings are equally satisfying, and you may even find yourself playing through again to see how else it could have turned out.
*NOTE: This page has been corrected to reflect that Mary was dead for three years, not one. Thanks to Escapist community member Ebola_chan for catching the error.
The Walking Dead
Telltale Games’ graphic adventure always comes to mind when I’m talking about game stories. It’s a tightly written, well-conceived, and strongly characterized story. Difficult choices are found throughout the first five episodes, culminating in the player having to make one last powerful decision. Along the way, you’ll find all sorts of survivors who will join, leave, or follow along depending on the action you take and the choices you make. While it certainly doesn’t have the action of most zombie games, it offers up a great story that you simply can’t pass up.