I’ve spent all of my life with an over active imagination. I like stories and honestly I think we all do. Whether it be a novel, comic, movie, or my favorite: a video game. . . stories provide much of our entertainment. The elements of a complete story are plot, characters, conflict, theme, and setting. These things are key to good entertainment and as much as I love game play and graphics so good it makes my eyes bleed; a good story will win me over every time. I predict seven storytelling giants and a few runners up will captivate us all and keep us tuned in for year to come. In no particular order, I give you these seven game studios that are champions of storytelling.
[alert type=white ]Spoilers for Halo 4 follow![/alert]
Bioware: This Canadian developer created Knights of the old Republic, the Mass Effect trilogy, as well as Dragon Age. They’ve hit some bumps in the road sure, but who hasn’t? Dragon Age Inquisition, due out sometime this fall, looks to wrap up all the stories that started with the Warden Commander and Hawke in previous installments. Bioware has a tendency to make gamers make choices that pull us in and really make the story feel like our own. A possible return to origin stories for multiple races of our very own inquisitor offers us greater insight into our own character in the world of Thedas. With returning favorite Morrigan driving the plot and Varric tagging along to provide witty commentary, Bioware has rich characters on lock. We experienced so much of the world in the last two games I think we can all appreciate the setting and dark theme the series has always offered. The conflict seems to come from several sources this time around: Fade demons, Darkspawn, and bouncing baby godlings. Who could ask for more? Bioware also saw fit to make sure the last generation of systems as well as next generation can enjoy the end of this epic tale. Bioware also set a trend with MMORPGs. Old Republic gives each class individual side quests furthering the story of the player and still has gamers and creators alike reevaluating how quests in MMORPG’s should work.
Telltale Games: Telltale is a rising star among American developers. The Walking Dead game created with the Telltale Tool is what I think really put them on the map. The episodic game style is mostly unique to them and feels much like a comic book. Comic books are one of my favorite mediums for story. Being able to play a new chapter every month is very exciting and it feels like new comic day with all the new stories I can read. It’s no surprise that its take on Bill Willingham’s long-running Fables comic series in the form of The Wolf Among Us was adapted so well to their style.
They’ve got ambition in spades with Tales from the Borderlands and a story based on Game of Thrones to be released later this year. Telltale games is one of my favorite developers and if they can keep up the pace likely will be a favorite for years to come. I do wish the episodes would come out a little faster, but I suppose nothing stops me from waiting and binging on them all at once. One shouldn’t rush greatness.
Rocksteady: Speaking of comic books; one of the most well known superheroes is Batman. Rocksteady, a British developer, changed the way we look at super hero games. For a long time a game based on a super hero or comic would be mediocre at best. Rocksteady changed that with one game. Putting the control of The Dark Knight and all of his gadgets in our hands was a dream come true to many gamers and comic enthusiasts alike. Each installment since Batman: Arkham Asylum (Yes, I know Batman: Arkham Origins was not made by Rocksteady, but it was done with their blessing and tried it’s best to mimic their style) brought new puzzles, criminals, and gadgets. Each game has been executed in a fashion that makes us feel vulnerable; yet powerful as we step into the cape and cowl of The Batman, by stressing stealth and clever combat over brute force and making us feel like we are all Batman the story feels more our own. Every game feels like the developer team truly read the comics and this is reflected in the rather rich plotting throughout the games.
It appears as though Batman: Arkham Knight will be no different. The larger open world will have even more villains to foil and characters to interact with. Rocksteady is even introducing a brand new character to rival Batman. My spine quivers with anticipation when I am reminded that Harley Quinn didn’t exist prior to Batman: The Animated series in the ’90’s only to become a staple to DC comics. This could create a brand new character for all of us to read about for years to come. Imagine the story that will accompany a brand new character and possibly an origin story as well. Any company that has the potential to do that is huge in my book. If I needed more incentive to get a Next Gen system, Rocksteady provided it.
343 Industries: Microsoft created this company to make Halo games after Bungie sold them the rights to their beloved series in 2007. They even named it after 343 Guilty Spark. Fans of the franchise were skeptical until Halo 4 was released. We all wondered if the new lords and masters could live up to what we had come to love about Halo, yet Halo 4 exceeded most expectations in terms of story. Bungie had created a vast universe and history for that universe and created John 117, the Master Chief, and a popular supporting cast. Bungie, and later 343 Industries, proved a FPS can be more than game play and flashy graphics. Halo has been an epic tale from the beginning. Halo 4 picked up where Halo 3 left off and we were told a heartbreaking tale about Cortana. Chief vowed to save her from literally thinking herself to death. We were all crushed at the end when Chief, for the first time. . . failed. “Don’t make a girl a promise if you can’t keep it.”
Now we look forward to Halo 5. We’ve seen naught but teasers of Chief in a cloak roaming through a wasteland and a massive vessel rising up before him. Will Chief try to save Cortana? Is his wandering a form of penance? What do you do when your long time AI companion is gone? This new chapter will put us in the shoes of Master Chief as never before. This time he isn’t just a soldier, but a man who lost a dear friend and is going to have to make choices rather than just take orders. As a long time fan of the series, I am tempted to buy an X-Box One for this title alone.
CD Projekt Red: Role Playing Games are usually founded in a good story. The Witcher series is no different. Polish publisher and developer, CD Projekt Red, created this game series based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s books. Now, I haven’t read them yet, but I assume the games at the very least loosely follow the plot and use characters from the novels. Authors of novels have nothing but description and words to convey their story. Games have interaction and stunning visuals to help tell the tale. When a game is based on a book, I think one can safely assume the story is going to be phenomenal. The characters will be “three dimensional” and have pasts and motivations all their own. This tends to make a game go from great to awe inspiring.
So far, the Witcher series hasn’t let me down. I adore both games that are currently available and soon I’ll be able to play the Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt! This game promises everything the last games had but more of all of it. The game boasts a world that is 35 times larger than the Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings with 100 hours of content. That tells me there are lots of side plots to the main plot.
What is the main plot about you ask? The title suggests that Geralt will finally be facing off with the Wraiths that hunted him for years and took one of his lovers from him. I love a good revenge tale and a good love story. This seems to be providing both, hopefully with some good old fashioned tragedy thrown in for good measure.
Choice is a big part of modern RPG’s. Witcher games tend to offer plenty of ways to make Geralt of Rivia’s story our own. Next gen systems seem to be offering plenty of RPG’s to eat days of our life and have us come back for more. Sadly CD Projekt Red claims this will be the last of the Witcher games, but I’ve no doubt with quality like this, the future of storytelling is safe in their hands.
Ubisoft: Do you like deep semi-convoluted stories that constantly reveal new threats and delve into the past? I do. Ubisoft likely unintentionally mirrors how comic books reveal past events that effect the future. This is often referred to as a “retcon” — retroactive continuity. This allows things to be added to or taken from fictional existence as is required for a good story. The Assassin’s Creed series is one of the best examples of this in video games today. By using Desmond and later other characters; memories of past assassins can be accessed via a device called the Animus. We are introduced to fictional characters with motivations and interests as varied a our own. Some of these characters have families or deep dark secrets later to be revealed. The game even contains an apocalyptic plot. Each new installment offers new insights into existing characters or awesome new ones to get to know and explore. Many historical figures have further had vast amounts of poetic license taken with them to adapt them to the world Assassin’s Creed takes place in. With over a dozen installments across various gaming devices in one franchise alone, Ubisoft seems to really know it’s storytelling.
That brings me to Watch Dogs available May 27 of this year. Set in an alternate and possibly future Chicago, we have an old city in the United States that has a personality all it’s own. It has special significance to me as a native of Illinois and of it’s suburbs. We play the role of Aiden Pearce; gifted hacker and street thug. Gameplay aside, which sounds amazing by the way, Ubisoft seems to have created a game that looks like Grand Theft Auto had a beautiful baby with Assassin’s Creed. I look forward to the sort of plot a game like that has to offer. What characters and motivations will we have to complete this game? I aim to find out come May.
Irrational: I have been greatly impressed by the thought process it takes to create a game like Bioshock and the plot twists that franchise brought and Ken Levine deserves a large portion of that credit. With Irrational Games closing and his new vision coming into being I look forward to the sort of games he and his smaller team will create. If his past games are any indication, the story will be something meaty for me to chew on as I play.
Epic Games: Epic Games’ franchise Gears of War has been acquired by Microsoft. This is old news, I know. Rod Fergusson joined Black Tusk to develop more Gears for us to grind. That’s exciting to me. It feels like how 343 Industries started. I have high hopes for that franchise and all the characters and story it still has to offer.
Square Enix: Even a casual glance at this article will leave fans of this company’s games upset. I know Tomb Raider was a smashing success as was Bravely Default. However, the Final Fantasy franchise has left me with a sour taste in my mouth after the XIII trilogy. Hopefully after seeing that JRPG’s are still a thing and quite successful, a return to form can happen. Right now however, I’ve been burned too badly to predict good things. I remain hopeful, however, that Square Enix can climb back onto my list and make any of my fears feel foolish in retrospect.
Tell Me a Story. . .
No prediction could be complete if it left out Microsoft or Sony as storytellers to watch. Industry titans have great opportunities to create great stories simply by the volume of games they help make. What often escapes notice however, is the little guy. No prediction can be complete without giving indy games their due either. Indy games often times have to rely on story. Due to lower budgets the graphics are often, but not always less than stellar. Gameplay can be addicting but is often uncomplicated. This leaves story to be the selling point for many games. I think some great things are going to come from independent game devs coming soon.
What do you say, dear reader? What are some of your favorite video game stories and their storytellers?
Tell us in the comments below!