Recognizing the best storytelling achievements of video games this year.
The value of a good story in a video game cannot be overestimated. The genre has the unique capability to tell stories in a way that the audience can actively engage with them, rather than just being passive observers, and when a game does that well, it’s the sort of experience that sticks with you for years. Each year, this medium continues to grow and mature as a medium for telling gripping stories, and 2018 was similarly progressive. This was a year in which we played games with some truly incredible narratives, which were also propped up by either strong writing, convincing performances, unique and compelling storytelling methods, or a combination of some or all of the above.
Here, we’re going to recognize the games that came out this year that did those things better than all the others. Without further ado, these are the video game stories of the year that stood out to us more than all the rest.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
THE NOMINEES ARE…
DETROIT: BECOME HUMAN
Interactive stories have long been the strong suit of Quantic Dreams, but with Detroit: Become Human, the studio truly honed its art to perfection. Detroit: Become Human transports players to an imaginative and gripping setting, where high science fiction is used to tell very human stories. A cast of three equally compelling characters, all of which are excellent acted, is brought to the forefront to tell stories that weave in and out of each other, and change dramatically based on the player’s choices. The end result is a game that is constantly and utterly engaging.
YAKUZA KIWAMI 2
Yakuza 2 is often called the best story in the entire Yakuza series, so expectations from its remake’s narrative were already pretty high. These were expectations that Yakuza Kiwami 2 delivered on confidently. On top of having a story that is defined by extreme escalation and a harrowind sequence of dark turns and events, like all Yakuza titles, Kiwami 2 has a strong and excellently developed cast of characters, some of the best cutscenes you will ever see in any game, and a strong dramatic flair that is simply unmatched.
“Climb the mountain.” It’s a simple premise, and on the face of it, coupled with the game’s aestheitc and deceptively straightforward mechanics, doesn’t seem to suggest that there’s much more to it than that. But there is- Celeste is a marvellous, touching story, about the triumph of human spirit, and overcoming your own uncertainties. It’s a beautiful metaphor for surmounting your own demons and the challenges life throws at you. “Climb the mountain”. It’s three simple words- but there’s a world of a meaning hidden in them.
Being a classic point and click adventure title made by an indie studio, Unavowed is yet another game this year that deserved way more attention that what it got, because as those who did play it would tell you, it is absolutely brilliant. It’s got a fascinating setting that’s tinged with supernatural elements and gripping mysteries, and it uses that setting to tell a riveting story, one that is brought to life by a memorable and excellently written cast of characters.
RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2
It’s very hard to tell a strong story in an open world title, and though games that manage to do that have become a little more common in recent years, Red Dead Redemption 2 will probably be held as the benchmark for story-focussed open world games for years to come. The slow unravelling of Dutch van der Linde and the depressing crumbling of the family dynamic of the gang is a captivating experience, one that is confidently and deliberately paced, and delivered with mature and deft writing. Red Dead Redemption 2 knows exactly what story it wants to tell, and it is completely comfortable with slowly putting the pieces in place and setting things in motion in order to tell that story in the most convincing manner possible.
BATMAN: THE ENEMY WITHIN
Batman: The Enemy Within kicked off the second season of Telltale’s take on the Caped Crusader halfway through last year, and this year, we got to see the culmination. Batman: The Enemy Within was a story that you could appreciate no matter who you are and how much you care about the property. But for Batman fans especially, it was a treat, with the focus being on the one thing that we all know makes the series tick more than anything else- the weird, fascinating dynamic between Batman and The Joker. Telltale Games may sadly have left the stage, but they have at least done so with one of the very best stories they ever put out.
NI NO KUNI 2: REVENANT KINGDOM
The story in Ni no Kuni 2 isn’t the most ambitious or bold you’ll ever see, and many would argue that its predecessor outdoes it in this area, but given the heavy doses of charm and personality it is overflowing with, it’s hard not to thoroughly enjoy every second of it. Following the journey of Evan and Roland is a pleasant, magical experience, one that makes sure that you’ve constantly got a smile plastered across your face. It’s a perfect example of the argument that being consistently solid can be just as effective as being occasionally brilliant.
Spider-Man was a game that millions were looking forward to for several reasons- the combat, web swinging, the fact that you get to be Spider-Man. But no one could have expected that it would actually turn out to be an excellent story as well- maybe even the among the very best Spider-Man stories we’ve ever seen across all media. This was very much Insomniac’s own take on the famous wallcrawler, but it was all so faithful, so authentic. The characters were brilliantly acted, their relationships were sold through excellent writing, and though the turns that the story took in its final act were extremely bold, they were very, very well-earned.
Moss takes you by surprise with just how good it is in every aspect, and really, it’s a bit unfair how little recognition the game has received for its strengths since its launch. Among its many strengths, perhaps the most impressive is just how effectively it tells its story. Its charming fairytale aesthetic is brought to life with immaculate world building that sucks you right in, while an endearing protagonist helps in keeping you constantly invested. It’s also a fairly short experience, which is something that works in its favour- it’s short, concise, but not at all forgettable.
GOD OF WAR
God of War has always been a narrative-driven franchise, but each of its first six games had a very summer blockbuster pulp quality to them. They were excellent for what they were, but fell apart under closer scrutiny. God of War (2018) came along and completely changed that. It transported Kratos to a new setting, where everything was different and mysterious- where previous God of War titles had been all about bombastic pomp and flash, God of War (2018) was understated and gradually paced. It built its characters honestly and maturely, it developed relationships properly, and it did it all in the backdrop of a larger, grander tale that is dripping with potential. Most of all, it did all of that while respecting past events, where many other franchises would have chosen to take the easy way out and just start fresh.
AND THE WINNER IS…
RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2
You can’t help but marvel at the masterful way in which Red Dead Redemption 2 sets up its story, progresses it, escalates it, and then brings it to a close. Rockstar’s magnum opus has a stunning clarity of vision, and it is a vision that the game never wavers from- everything is in service to the story and the rich, dense world it takes place in, and if the game has to sacrifice even something that would otherwise be very crucial for the benefit of that story, so be it. Red Dead Redemption 2 is very deliberately placed- some might call it slow, and while they wouldn’t be entirely wrong, seeing the game take its sweet time with everything ultimately pays off in spades. Watching the fabric of the van der Linde gang crumble is an intoxicating experience, one that is enriched infinitely by the complex nature of Arthur Morgan, one of the greatest video game protagonists ever. It’s a story that respects itself unabashedly, and knows that a culmination of everything only ever feels like a proper payoff if everything that precedes it was done with honesty and maturity. That is the kind of story one cannot help but respect.