Games are more than just games. It’s odd phrasing but it’s the truth. They are meant to enrapture, encapture, pull in a player and audience through three methods: visuals, gameplay, and narrative.
The narrative is what drives most games. Games can have stories of heroes, tales of villains, and personable narratives that hit deep. There are plenty of amazing narratives out there, and this list only scratches the surface of some of the best video game stories.
Updated July 21st, 2021 by George Chrysostomou: The video game world is continuing to evolve with next-gen consoles, and those all-important narrative campaigns are continuing to grab the attention of audiences. There are a number of well-known and niche titles that certainly can’t be left out of the discussion surrounding the best video game stories of all time. Especially when these projects manage to marry that story into the gameplay so well.
15 Portal 2
Portal 2 continues to build off of the ingenious gameplay mechanics built up in the original game but combines it with a solo campaign which really takes the narrative to new levels. The most intriguing part of this narrative is the introduction of the robot, Wheatley.
Voiced by British comedian and actor Stephen Merchant, the player and Wheatley work hard to dismantle the evil GLaDOS. When the moment finally comes for Wheatley to take control of the facility though, a brilliant twist occurs where the ridiculed robot finally gets his revenge. It’s a turn in the video game story that’s perfectly built to throughout the game.
14 Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor
Although Shadow Of War continues the narrative in a stellar way, Shadow Of Mordor was a brilliant introduction to the Middle-Earth series for fans of Lord Of The Rings and new audiences. Telling a completely unique story, players were introduced to Talion and the ghostly Celebrimbor.
The immortal warrior boasts the incredible ability to bend the minds of Orcs, completely changing the playing field. The narrative combines effectively with Warner Bros. Nemesis System, resulting in a story-driven gameplay experience that is personalized to every player. The writers were wary to honor both the canon and introduce new story beats as well.
13 The Witcher III
The Witcher franchise may be continuing to capture hearts and minds with its original novels and Netflix adaptation, but the third installment of the video game series is perhaps the most heart-wrenching, exciting, and well-developed narrative of the franchise.
Tracking the infamous Witcher on a brand new mission, the story is succinct and emotional, yet plays into the incredible world-building which takes place throughout this detailed fantasy expanse. With an immersive landscape and deep, three-dimensional characters, it’s easy to get lost in this world quickly which is why it’s one of the best video game stories.
12 Knights Of The Old Republic
Knights Of The Old Republic completely changed the genre thanks to its inventive storytelling. Giving fans control of the narrative, each of the player’s choices made a difference in the overall story. Games have used this technique before and since but not quite in this way.
Combining such customization with the Star Wars lore meant that an incredible amount of believable detail could be etched into this story. Knights Of The Old Republic created a brand new era in the galaxy far far away and introduced audiences to iconic characters like Bastila Shan and Darth Malak.
11 Ghost Of Tsushima
Very few video games have managed to successfully portray Samurai culture and weave it perfectly into an open-world narrative, but this detailed and expansive story is actually very personal at its heart. Ghost Of Tsushima’s story was so compelling that it has led to an even more intriguing Director’s Cut.
Playing as the Samurai Jin Sakai, players must protect Japan against the invading Mongol army, in a bitter and brutal fight that tests the character’s strength and will. While the gameplay mechanics assist in the storytelling, the strengths are absolutely the writing, dialogue, and action beats.
10 Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
Franchises, especially game ones, can get tiresome and repetitive as the years wear on. Call Of Duty is such a series, continuing onward and not changing very much. Yet, Modern Warefare 2 stands out as one of the best in the series.
Following soldiers Price and Soap on a mission to take on terrorist Makarov and rogue General Shepherd, Modern Warefare 2 is chock full of explosive beats that are complemented by the tight narrative–full of twists and turns–that leaves players in awe of the gameplay experience.
9 Arkham City (2011)
For years, studios were trying to crack the code on making the perfect Batman game. They thought they did it with Arkham Asylum. In reality, the code was truly changed with its sequel: Arkham City, one of the best stories in video games.
Dropping Batman into the mysterious open world of Arkham City, trying to uncover the plot of Hugo Strange all the while attempting to cure himself of the Joker’s blood made for one heck of a story that the combat elevated. The ever-changing story Arkham City presented culminated in an ending that no one saw coming.
8 The Wolf Among Us (2013)
Set in a world where fairy tale creatures like Snow White existed in the modern world, the game saw players taking control of Bigby Wolf, the Big Bad Wolf swept up in a murder investigation. Interacting with classic characters, choosing their own adventure, and deciding how people saw the Big Bad Wolf made for an intriguing tale.
7 Undertale (2015)
There are moments when indie games can be better than high-profile games. Undertale was developed by one person, Toby Fox, and shines through as one of the best games out there.
Undertale follows a human named Frisk who falls into the underground world of monsters, locked away after a war between humans and monsters. Throughout the game, players work as Frisk to escape from the Underground, encountering one monster after the other and choosing whether they will save the land or destroy it all in either pacifist or genocide runs.
6 Heavy Rain (2010)
Many players view a game as being good on the gameplay or graphics. Time again, they overlook the stories that can be told. The personal, in-depth, and far-reaching tales that can come out of games like Heavy Rain.
Intersecting the lives of four different people in search of a serial killer nicknamed “The Origami Killer,” Heavy Rain gives insight into each person’s life, allowing for the player to be so immersed in the story. Despite some so-so voice acting, the narrative shines through.
5 Spider-Man (2018)
Like with Batman, studios have time and time again tried to make a good Spider-Man game. While a number came close, none hit as hard as the 2018 game that combined beautiful visuals with a spectacular video game story.
Set eight years into Spider-Man’s journey, the story builds upon the web-slinger everyone knows and gives updates to comic characters like Doctor Octopus, Mr. Negative, and Norman Osborn all while Peter Parker deals with emotional turmoil and strife throughout the high action story that paved the way for a sequel and spin-off.
4 The Last Of Us (2013)
In today’s world, post-apocalyptic and zombies stories fall into a trap of tropes and are tough to pull off in a unique format. Yet, The Last Of Us had no problem telling a unique and immersive story.
Twenty years after a zombie-like plague sweeps across the world, survivor and former father Joel sets off on an adventure with Ellie, one of video games’ most powerful characters who can serve as a cure for the plague. Intertwining the lives of Joel and Ellie, watching them grow closer, and seeing the pair battle the apocalypse’s dangerous and scary threats, and struggle with their morality right up until the end is perfection.
3 Uncharted: A Thief’s End (2016)
Every journey must come to an end. Uncharted: A Thief’s End does just that, bringing a close to the story of Nathan Drake, famed thief, and treasure hunter as he sets off on one last job alongside his long-lost brother in search of pirate gold.
It sounds basic but in reality, the game delves into deep themes of moving on and giving up the past. The personal story of the Drake brothers’ journey and the ideas that the game presents alongside mind-blowing action serve as a worthy conclusion to the series before it’s adapted into a movie.
2 God Of War (2018)
Up until 2018, gamers saw Kratos, the God Of War and one of gaming’s most violent characters as a bloodthirsty God hellbent on revenge who slaughtered the Greek Pantheon of Gods. No one imagined him being a dad.
The premise of God Of War is simple: A father and son traveling the nine realms of Norse mythology trying to lay their mother to rest. It’s a grounded, sobering take on Kratos, putting him into a new role that has plenty of bloody moments right next to emotional beats.
1 Red Dead Redemption II (2018)
As this list has showcased, a game’s sequel can always raise the bar. The long-awaited Red Dead Redemption II obliterated the bar.
In the final years of the Wild West, players take control of Outlaw Arthur Morgan as he and the Van der Linde gang struggle to make it in the dwindling West. Over the course of the game, players felt the emotions that Arthur went through. His struggles. His joy. His anger. And the betrayal he met. By the end, gamers felt like they were a frontiersman and a part of the story.
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