Great writing isn’t restricted to web content and books, sometimes some of the best stories ever told reside within the video games that are enjoyed by millions of people the world over. Video games can tell stories like no other medium, drawing people into the narrative and unfolding the twists and turns as the player makes decisions and progresses through the game world.
As players we have stood in the shoes of wizards, warriors, racing car drivers and even astronauts. Slaying dragons and fighting alien hordes to a thumping soundtrack and we keep coming back for more. Great games are backed by great stories that cross continents and even galaxies, but the writing teams behind these epic tales are often left unrecognised.
What follows is 5 of the very best video game stories ever told, with their writers, in no particular order.
Chief writer – Sam Lake
A video game staring an author almost demands a strong story and Alan Wake is not disappointing. Suffering chronic writer’s block, Alan heads to the Pacific Northwest with his wife on a vacation to try and relax and get his mojo back. Taking inspiration from the likes of Stephen King, the story of Alan Wake makes great use of atmosphere and symbolism.
Wandering into a waking nightmare, Wake is never certain of what is real and what isn’t as he begins to unravel the mystery surrounding the cabin he and his wife have rented. When his wife mysteriously disappears, Alan’s focus turns to the darkness and the posessed townfolk that live within it.
Easily one of the very best horror games ever made, Alan Wake takes a stunningly realistic world and twists it into something completely alien when the sun goes down.
Mass Effect 2
Widely regarded as one of the best games ever made, Mass Effect 2 sees the player assume the identity of Commander Sheppard – humanities last hope. The story behind Mass Effect is something of a classic tale; a group of allies overcome their differences to band together to fight evil and overcome the odds that are stacked against them.
Each character, background noise in almost any other game, have deep and rich back stories that really draw you in and make you feel as though you actually know them. Few games have a story engaging enough to make stars of the supporting cast, and what a cast!
Every decision you make regarding a character has a tangible effect and can even sour the relationships of team mates. A truly engaging story that begs to be revisted time and again.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 story is, for me, the second best in gaming history (the very best being, of course, Halo). A sprawling world awaits the player, backed by a story so rich and satisfying it’s impossible not to feel genuinely moved in certain areas. Stories within stories abound, each as wonderfully written as the next.
One of the best, and most emotional, stories within the world of The Witcher involves the Bloody Baron. His tale is genuinely moving and is easily one of the best written quest stories of any game, anywhere, ever made. Keep in mind, this is just one brilliant piece of writing, surrounded by dozens more examples.
The Witcher 3 has one of those deep and heartfelt back stories that we have heard countless times before – dad searches for his missing daughter, fighting all manner of enemies that stand in his way. Set against the backdrop of a war, follow Geralt as he battles witches and monsters on his quest to find the love of his life and the girl he all but adopted.
The Last of Us
Writer – Neil Druckman
The Last of Us is a gritty, ‘real world’ story in which lies no heroes or even recognisable villains. Much like The Walking Dead, the story here focuses on the relationship between the characters rather than the world in which they are struggling to survive in. The two main characters here are Joel and Ellie, the latter is a teenage girl being escorted across the United States by the smuggler, Joel.
Set in a post apocalyptic world, The Last of Us follows the two central characters as they struggle to survive in an unforgiving world, battling hostile human survivors and nightmare creatures infected by a fungal virus. The relationship between Ellie and Joel is pretty much as you would expect between a guy working for a paycheck and his ‘package’, at least it is at the start.
Gradually, Joel’s attitude toward Ellie begins to change as they overcome one obstacle after another. The story doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow either, and that’s what helps make it work. It makes you care about the characters and what happens to them. It’s a powerful and moving piece of storytelling that will stay with you for a long time.
Lead writer – Joseph Staten
Probably the single most influential videogame since the original Doom, Halo is an iconic masterpiece and not just for the technical aspects that the original title showcased. The story behind Halo is one of the most indepth, awe inspiring stories ever written and it literally spans whole galaxies.
Spawning fan stories, novels, comic books, a mini series and even fan created ‘movies’ the Halo universe is rich, diverse and just simply huge. Set against a backdrop of interstellar war between humans and an alien alliance known as the Covenant, Halo takes us on a journey from the perspective of super soldier, John – otherwise know as the Masterchief, Spartan 117.
His story starts off as you would expect, shooting the bad guys and generally saving the day. As the story unfolds however we see his relationship with those around him begin to shift, especially with his AI companion, Cortana. What follows is a story of loyalty, betrayal, heartbreak and, dare we say it, love.
There are some genuine moments where we feel for the Chief, both in sadness and in anger. There are not too many video games out there with a story strong enough to elicit that kind of reaction.
In the world of video games, there are some truly astounding stories and it can be all too easy to forget that there is some seriously talented writers behind the scenes, but isn’t that what makes some of the great stories so great, the fact that you almost don’t notice? The next time you are playing a game, whatever the platform, take a moment to appreciate just how well crafted that story really is… Or isn’t.