National Video Games Day is upon us once more to grace gamers to celebrate their favorite titles from all over. It’s been many decades since the medium evolved from bit to pixel to polygon to state-of-the-art motion capture to bring the world of gaming from the likes of Pong to the likes of something from a Hollywood film. The storytelling of the games has caught up with the graphics respectively allowing for not only photo-realistic games but photorealistic plots in a manner of speaking. The quality has risen so high that video games have become a definitive art form after earning their place alongside books, film, and television after decades of debate. Recently, video games have been increasingly lauded for their complex and unique plots that almost outdo their non-digital counterparts, and for good reason.
Video games have a special place amongst the titans of storytelling that not only puts the art form on par with the narratives of the literary world but offers a unique point of view exclusive to the medium. In a novel, for example, a reader is strung along in the setting the enthralling characters inhabit in an effective albeit passive manner; whereas games allow the players to take an active role in the actions of the playable characters throughout the story. The player gets a first-hand experience of the story granting for an easier connection to the people they’re following as well as making the catharsis of key scenes to be that much more impactful. With the ever-expanding world of game-related storylines in mind, let’s take a look at seven of some of the most novel quality plot-driven games in recent memory that deserve a spot on your bookshelf as well as your game collection.
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) by CDProjekt Red
Fans of the show and book series should be at home here. The Witcher games are as lauded for their tough but airtight gameplay as well as the sprawling adventures the titular witcher Geralt of Rivia can embark on. The plot of the game follows Geralt and Yennefer’s attempt to find Ciri across the continent after going into hiding from the Wild Hunt, ghost-like warriors led by a dark elf lord from a different dimension Eredin. While the game plot allows for player choices to decide the fates of kings and the people of the vast continent this mode of narrative navigation also appears in the game’s many side quests. Fans of the choose your own adventure, as well as the fantasy genres, will love the incredible attention to detail in the dialogue choices allowing for multiple playthroughs being very separate and distinct from the last.
2. God of War (2018) by Santa Monica Studio
Based on the long-running game series of the same name, God of War follows Kratos and his young son Atreus’s journey through the fantastical world of Norse Mythology to scatter his wife’s ashes across the nine realms. Unbeknownst to Atreus, Kratos is the demigod son of Zeus that wiped out the Greek pantheon of gods for revenge making him of divine blood. As they battle their way through the waves of gods and monsters the duo must come to terms with their strained relationship as Kratos attempts to ready Atreus for the great challenges on their mysterious journey. Helping mold the brilliant writing is Christopher Judge’s and Sunny Suljic’s performances in voice-over and motion capture as this iconic duo breathed new life into the franchise. Lovers of fantasy will definitely find solace in the beautiful imagery as well as this touching yet brutal tale of a father and son learning to care for each other in an unforgiving world. Recently, a sequel was announced which is pegged for a 2022 release.
3. The Last of Us Series (2o13 & 2020) by Naughty Dog
This flagship title swept audiences confusing it for just another zombie apocalypse game by storm, by being one of the most gruesome yet touching tales of rediscovering love and compassion in a world that won’t allow for it. This survival horror masterpiece follows traumatized survivor Joel Miller being tasked by a group of researchers called the Fireflies to escort a teenager named Ellie across America to study her ability to resist infection from the flesh-eating “Clickers”. Initially distant, as the trip across what’s left of the United States, Joel and Ellie grow closer becoming more of a father-daughter duo leading Joel to contemplate the difficult decision of where they end up. The Last of Us has been compared to AMC’s The Walking Dead just from premise alone but the divide couldn’t be starker between the two. The Last of Us never holds back from the disturbing reality of the last bastions of humans degrading into madness as the characters as well as the world around them decays as time passes. Book lovers of classics like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road will understand exactly what kind of vibe the game will give of which allows for those bitter and bittersweet moments in the story to be that much more cathartic. A sequel was released in June of last year that won multiple ‘game of the year’ awards to boot and a live-action adaptation for HBO was announced with Pedro Pascal to star as Joel.
4. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) by Rockstar Studios
I’m sure everyone has, at the very least, played this uber-popular prequel to the 2010 classic open-world western shooter; however, the narrative qualities of the game are the most celebrated storylines in gaming history. Red Dead 2 takes place in 1899 toward the end of the era of the traditional cowboy in the wild west. You play as Arthur Morgan, a gunslinger belonging to a group of bandits, conmen, and runaways trying to make a decent living in a world that’s slowly leaving their kind behind in the wake of the industrial age. While most players, myself included, get lost in the vast open world of Red Dead 2 the game plot is a poignant tale of a lifelong dishonorable man attempting to go out his own way with dignity and respect in favor of his friends. Obviously, fans of the western genre will feel right at home with Arthur and his gung ho antics across this dynamic and sweeping southern states between the Texas and Mexican borders.
5. Uncharted Series (2008-2017) by Naughty Dog
Naughty really does have a penchant for cinematic storytelling in the world of games and Uncharted is no exception to the rule. Multiple gaming outlets and fans have described the series as playing through a summer blockbuster. The games follow the adventures of expert treasure hunter and thief Nathan Drake in his many exploits across the globe as he tries to manage his relationships as well as his survival in this nonstop action-packed series of cover-based combat. Beyond the guns and explosions is the humanity of the characters as they make their way toward lands of legend in these sprawling epics. Adventure novel enthusiasts will love the intricately designed environments from all over but will stay for the charming and at times tragic musings of Nathan Drake.
6. The Wolf Among Us (2013) by Telltale Games
Not to be confused with the popular sociopath simulator Among Us, The Wolf Among Us is a fantasy detective thriller of a point-and-click adventure title. The Wolf Among Us stars Bigby Wolf (short for Big Bad Wolf) as a humanoid sheriff investigating crimes against the creatures of the world’s many different folklore tales in ‘Fabletown’ in the 1980s. After a string of murders in the fable community, Bigby is tasked by the mayor Ichabod Crane to find the killer. The game much like The Witcher has multiple dialogue trees that not only shape the plot as it progresses but also change the character of Bigby Wolf from an antiheroic PI to an absolute animal that alienates anyone close to him. The possibilities for different endings and character fates are almost too large to count as each time-based decision can permanently change the course of one playthrough. Fans of noir-style detective novellas will love the crime scene investigating aspects, and folklore aficionados will be intrigued nonetheless if not completely disturbed by the characterizations/outcomes of each member of ‘Fabletown’.
7. Bloodborne (2015) By FromSoftware
This Lovecraftian hack and slash horror game terrified as much as it did frustrate fans of the genre of punishing yet rewarding games FromSoftware is known for. The game takes place Victorian-inspired fictional city of Yharnam where a blood-related mutant has taken the area by storm turning anything and everything into pure nightmare fuel for nights on end. The player assumes the role of a nameless hunter of the enigmatic Healing Church tasked with ending the scourge of beasts by hunting the malevolent ‘Great Ones’, extradimensional beings of extraordinary godlike powers that scholars of the Healing Church are obsessed with. This game has a special place amongst the list as its method of storytelling is giving the player little to almost no context for why this world is the way it is. The player, should they be interested, must dive through item descriptions, conversing with the few sane Yharnamites left, and really just taking educated guesses as to why the scourge started in the first place. This is also where the horrors really begin to amplify as the more the player levels up the more disturbing and difficult enemies become. Fans of Lovecraftian/cosmic horror and Bram Stoker’s horror classics will absolutely love the gothic architecture that crudely pieces together the abstract plot together. The game will also equally anger the audience as well as scare them for many a sleepless night. Happy hunting!