I like computer games, I like a good story and over the years I’ve come across a variety of games that have epic stories. As a growing medium, it’s been fascinating to see how clever the writing can be. Unlike a film which is usually a couple of hours long most games have a story campaign which is a lot longer, and that’s without getting into sequels. So how do the developers ensure that they hold your attention for the span of this? Hopefully with a well-written story, expansive world and lore, interesting characters and the occasional intelligent plot twist. With this in mind I’m going to chat about a few characters, plot twists and games in general that I consider to be particularly well written, there’s likely to be some spoilers though so bear that in mind.
Garrus Vakarian (Mass Effect)
To be fair this could be a list sole of Bioware characters but Garrus gets the nod on the basis that he starts off as basically a space cop but in the second game he’s become almost a space Batman. Tired of the red tape preventing justice he’s taken to dishing it out himself along with his trusty sniper rifle. It also helps that he basically gets all the best lines and has a good grasp of self-deprecation.
Watch this, it’s ok I’ll wait. Done? Good, and this is just a small portion of the brilliance of Glados over two games, genuinely one of the funniest characters in a game ever. Also a special mention to Cave Johnson who is also very funny.
In Halo you control an indoctrinated, genetically modified super-soldier who doesn’t speak much known as the Master Chief. Therefore Cortana has a key role to proceedings as she provides exposition and also something of an emotional core to the game. She’s an AI based off a living brain, she’s smart but she’s also funny and full of personality. This creates an interesting dynamic as she’s far more human than the player character despite her being an AI.
Leon Kennedy (Resident Evil)
Leon has been in a few Resident Evil games but it’s the second where he’s at his best. He arrives in Raccoon City for his first day on the police force but it turns out to be in the middle of a city-wide zombie outbreak. He’s just a regular guy doing his best to keep it all together, help people where he can and try and get the hell of Raccoon City, he knows he’s out of his depth but he soldiers on regardless.
Nathan Drake (Uncharted)
Drake is a loveable rogue with a penchant for getting himself into situations that look like they’re going to end badly. It’s his interplay with the supporting cast coupled with the fact that no matter how ridiculous the situation he finds himself in, he’s always a compelling character. Plus he always seems to have a quip for anything thrown at him.
Metal Gear Solid
Hideo Kojima loves a convoluted plotline (the use of nanomachines to explain pretty much everything in MGS4) however the basic story of the series is a very strong one. It’s essentially something of a tragedy as you follow Big Boss changing from a hero to villain due to a series of incidents where he is used by people in power. You witness his legacy via his three clones: Solid, Liquid and Solidus Snake. The latter two being villains and the former attempting to save everything. It’s all a bit overblown at times but it’s made by how well realised Big Boss and Solid Snake are.
Assassins Creed (Brotherhood & Revelations)
The key plotlines to each of these games are all compelling however there is much more to them. Over the course of three games you get to witness Ezio (easily the most likeable character of any Assassins Creed) deal with loss, revenge, finding a cause in the assassins, accepting leadership, and ultimately coming to terms with it all. The games span Ezio’s life from about the age of 17 into his 60’s, which is fascinating to live out.
Shenmue is frustrating in that the story may never actually be finished, but in the meantime, it’s a tale of revenge. Ryo Hazuki witnesses his father’s murder and vows to avenge him. This takes Ryo on a journey that leads from Japan to Hong Kong, where he makes new friends and adversaries alike. As the game progresses it becomes clear that there’s more going on than initially seems to be the case, though this is pretty much the point where the second game ends. Do yourself a favour though and play subtitled versions if you can as with most cases it’s better than the dubbed version.
The oldest game mentioned on the list and based on a Chinese novel, it charts the course of a young man who is driven from his home by a corrupt empire and inadvertently becomes the leader of a rebel army trying to overthrow said empire. Over the course of the game, he meets a whole host of people and must contend with numerous tragedies, including battling and ultimately killing his own father who is a general for the empire. It follows the RPG trope of a silent protagonist and yet this never gets in the way of the narrative which is gripping from start to finish.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
The main story is fairly generic save the world type stuff, however, Dragon Age makes the list on the basis of how well realised the world is. Bioware know how to build a world and provide backstory to it while also moving it along and opening up possibilities for future instalments. It also benefits from having a truly diverse and interesting group of characters, each with their own quirks and personalities, to provide a foil of sorts to the player character. I spent 120 hours playing it and the only reason it wasn’t more is that I wanted to finish the main story.
Final Fantasy VII
You spend a portion of the game believing that Cloud was a member of an elite military group and that events up to the start of the game happened in a certain way. As the game progresses there are hints that Cloud may not actually be the most reliable narrator. When the truth emerges it’s actually quite tragic as he’s injured in an attack on his hometown, experimented on, rescued by his best friend who dies saving him and due to the trauma of all of this assumes aspects of his friend’s identity. It’s a massive oversimplification but it was one of the first instances of a game having complex characters and definitely got me into RPGs.
Mass Effect 2
So you’ve spent the first game killing various alien species and a giant sentient killer spaceship, so how does Bioware reset your character to serve the narrative? Simple, they kill you off in the opening ten minutes of the sequel and then resurrect you after a time jump of two years. Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of gimmicky plot devices however in this instance it works really well and was genuinely shocking to boot.
Red Dead Redemption
A game with an unconventional ending. You spend the game controlling John Marston as he tracks down members of his former gang and kills them at the insistence of government officials blackmailing him by threatening his family. He does this and returns to his farm with his family where he thinks he will get to finally live in peace, only to find this isn’t the case when said government officials arrive at his home and shoot him dead. It’s emotional and made more powerful by the epilogue where John’s now grown-up son tracks down the man responsible and kills him, meaning that John’s attempts to keep his son from the life of an outlaw have been in vain.
You’ve spent the early parts of Bioshock following the direction of a cheery Irishman called Atlas as he helps you find your way through the underwater city of Rapture. Using the phrase “would you kindly” as a prefix to most of his utterances it’s only when you meet Andrew Ryan and he asks – would you kindly kill Andrew Ryan – it’s revealed that Atlas is, in fact, a trick. A man called Frankie Fontaine is using you to try and seize power via this mind-control trigger phrase. It’s brilliantly executed and adds so much context to the early parts of the game.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
One of the greatest twists ever, throughout the game characters talk about Revan and how he was a Sith Lord to be feared. He nearly brought the galaxy to heel, only to be seemingly killed by a Jedi strike team and his apprentice, Malak, turning on him. This continues until about three-quarters of the way in when you confront Malak who reveals that you’re actually Revan. It was totally unexpected and added a layer of context to proceedings, and if you played the game through again then you would notice lots of little nods and comments that hinted at the reveal that now made perfect sense.
Obviously all of the above is entirely subjective and is entirely my opinion. If you happen to read this and have your own opinions feel free to comment and offer your own favourites as I would be genuinely interested to know.