Watching video games mature as an art form has been a true gift for those who have been gaming throughout the last twenty years. We don't mean to denigrate the legacies of the games and franchises that were around in the 1980's and early 1990's, but the leaps and bounds that have happened since then have been astounding; bringing gaming to an entirely new level.
We could go on about the graphics for days obviously. Gaming has evolved to the point where graphics seen on our screens may be comparably beautiful to real life. Ever look up at the starry night sky in Skyrim? Yeah, that's what we're talking about. Not an Elder Scrolls fan? How about Uncharted 4 or The Witcher 3 for something a bit more recent?
But forget graphics, because while important, these days, the storyline is what sells a game. We've come a long way from saving a princess from a legion of mutant turtles. Again, not to take away from Nintendo's Mario franchise, but stories have become far more addictive and immersive.
One of the most popular game franchises with an incredible story is Bioshock. The alternative history presented in the game made for an incredible adventure in a futuristic but also old fashioned dystopia. We love all three Bioshock games, but consider the first to have the best plot. Often praised for having one of the greatest stories ever told through the medium of video gaming, we respectfully disagree. Here are fifteen games that have more intriguing, entertaining and overall superior stories than Bioshock. We eagerly await the death threats and questions about our sanity, sexual orientation, and intellect with regard to what games we left off the list, so please, let us know with as much aggression and fury as your keyboard will allow.
15 Red Dead Redemption
One can't compile a list of amazing stories told in video games without at least one title from Rockstar. Most of the games from this publisher have been entertaining, offensive, and action packed. While the most popular Rockstar series is Grand Theft Auto, and there have been some great stories in that series (GTA V and San Andreas, in particular, have incredible plots), but nothing Rockstar has done matches up to 2010's Red Dead Redemption. Other Rockstar games have also told outstanding narratives, including Max Payne and LA Noire, but these still don't stack up. This will earn us some hate from Max Payne fans for sure.
Red Dead Redemption features a compelling protagonist, John Marston, as he battles his way through the early 1900's West. Watching Marston try to find and bring his former gang-mates to justice so that he can be reunited with his family, is remarkable. The overarching plot is fairly simple, but the characters, adventure and, of course, that ending makes it a true classic.
14 Assassin's Creed
While there have been some very notable stinkers in this series, to be specific: the first game, Assassin's Creed III, and 2014's Unity, the storyline of the entire series is phenomenal. We should note that even with the less-entertaining games throughout the franchise, the stories each games told were still excellent, but marred by poor gameplay; either fixing what wasn't broken, or introducing a completely unnecessary aspect of the game.
As historical fiction goes, the revision of all of human civilization as an ongoing conflict between two secretive factions is incredibly well done and creates a magical ride through every game.
13 Spec Ops: The Line
As military-themed, third-person over-the-shoulder shooters go, a decent plot can be very hard to come by. Often, however, if a plot is present, the shooter's mechanics will be atrocious. 2012's over-the-shoulder thriller by Yager and 2K managed to blend decent gameplay with an incredible story. For those shouting about how it was a knockoff of Apocalypse Now and the novel Heart of Darkness, there were enough changes in the game's story to make it stand on its own while paying homage to these great tales.
The game drops the player in Dubai after a series of sandstorms have turned it into a wasteland. Captain Walker leads his team of American special operators through this mangled city, encountering armed foes at every turn. His goal is to finding the man responsible for the state of Dubai after the storms, Colonel Konrad (a reference to the writer of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad). Throughout this game, the player is forced to consider their options constantly, and will feel the effects of every choice. Without giving too much away for those who haven't played this gem, The Line presents itself as a gritty war game but gets far deeper, with a psychological edge that other shooters haven't achieved.
12 Knights Of The Old Republic II
On the surface, the 2003 and 2005 Bioware Star Wars RPGs were nothing new in the Star Wars universe. The Sith are up to no good on a galactic scale, and it is up to one force wielder and his or her rag-tag group of misfit teammates to save everything. The first of these games blew everyone away in 2003, and it was a difficult decision to choose one over the other. While the original was incredible and is considered one of the best RPGs of the 2000's, the sequel came up with a better story. Overall, the first game is far more polished, and was an unbelievable experience, but the KOTOR II brought a darker, more troubling, and far more thoughtful story.
Like most other Star Wars media, Knights of the Old Republic's moral compass was black and white. You knew who was bad, and who was good, and the storyline was clear. The second game was far more sinister, with a story that was often puzzling and downright terrifying. Shades of gray eclipsed black/white; as a certain old woman following you around throws your conceptions of right and wrong into question. KOTOR II's constant moral ambiguity and themes of betrayal and redemption made this a truly unique Star Wars tale. It isn't high-level existential philosophy by any means, but this game threw a wrench into the normally very well defined morality in the Star Wars universe.
While we can't say enough good things about the Fallout franchise, it does disappoint that subsequent titles have not told stories that entertain like the first game. Don't get us wrong, it was not a snap decision to choose which game has the best story — 2, 3, and New Vegas were all considered. Ultimately, for a variety of different reasons, when considering the narrative alone, 1997's Fallout reigns supreme over any successors.
The search for the water chip and the early encounters with Super Mutants, along with the fact that there was a time limit, which kept your "eyes on the prize" to some extent, are reasons we couldn't help but list the first game here. Our second place choice out of the franchise was Fallout 3.
10 The Walking Dead: Season One
If there ever was a game with a story so compelling it made you grit your teeth at nearly every turn, with gruesome death waiting around the corner at all times, that game may have been Telltale's Walking Dead. While we're fans of the entire series, they hit the nail on the head with season one.
This game would have been great if it was just Lee Everett trying to survive in post-apocalyptic Georgia, but having young Clementine along for the ride added a level of emotion that is rare among even the most polished dramatic games. The story itself is outstanding, and the character development is beyond superb, and regardless of your personality, there are plenty of characters to love and hate in this game.
9 Deus Ex
This ambitious Ion Storm production released in 2000 took us over a half century into the future, and what a future it was. This first game was followed by a sequel and three prequels, all of which have been absolutely excellent — but none of them that have captured our imaginations and excitement quite like the original. Somewhat like what we said about Fallout, while the graphics and gameplay have improved, the storytelling was perfected with the first installment of the series. This game, widely considered one of the greatest ever made at the time, is an undeniable pioneer in video game storytelling.
While this story is probably best experienced while wearing a tinfoil hat, given the heavy narrative reliance on conspiracy theories, we can't argue with the result: a story that gets deeper and deeper the more you play. This remains one of the most thoughtful shooters ever made.
8 Heavy Rain
Quantic Dream's 2010 instant classic Heavy Rain is one of those games that a player can spend literal months playing, and still discover new scenes and options with every plaYthrough. The game follows four playable protagonists: a father trying to find his son, a private investigator, an FBI profiler, and a journalist, all searching for the Origami Killer, a serial killer who uses rainfall to kill people.
The subject matter, and the fact that one character's son has been taken by the killer, create a sense of urgency for the player. In gameplay turns, this manifests as an almost measured, frantic panic as the player progresses. The player is in control of everything and must guide the characters through the game, keeping their wits about them (as each of the characters can be killed, ending their arc). Heavy Rain's numerous endings, along with an unbelievable plot twist, make this game an incredibly dark, adrenaline pumping experience. Don't get us wrong the start of the game is downright boring, but it quickly becomes the kind of gaming experience that is both exciting and terrifying.
7 Final Fantasy VI
We're more than open to hearing all the reasons why we were wrong to choose the sixth entry in the series to represent the Final Fantasy franchise on our list. While it was absurdly difficult to choose one game from the main series of undeniably solid titles, VI is here for a few reasons.
The first of these is the characters. Much like how not all Final Fantasy games are created equal, not all sets of characters are created equal. The cast of this game features a wide array of characters, and all have a different and interesting reason for being a part of the story. The main villain, Kefka, is about as nasty and sinister as bad guys come, and the adventure that the playable characters take in hopes of stopping the Empire is a grand and inspiring one.
6 Mass Effect Trilogy
While the most recent installment of the Mass Effect franchise, Andromeda, is a solid game, we're including the original trilogy for the best story. While the best of the three is without any shadow of a doubt ME2, the trilogy's story is an invigorating wild ride through our galaxy, punctuated by epic battles and terrifying monsters.
The story of Commander Shepard leading his crew aboard the Normandy against all the odds in his crusade against the Reapers is full of interesting dialogue, exciting missions, and the constant reminder that everything hangs in the balance. This franchise made gamers fall in love with a new group of eclectic characters with each new title. The Mass Effect Trilogy is an immersive trip through the galaxy.
5 Alan Wake
The tale goes something like this: Alan and his wife take a trip. Alan, as a writer, has been suffering from writer's block for some time and she hopes a vacation by a lake will help get his brain back on track. He and Alice (the wife) have a fight, and he heads out to get some fresh air, only to have her dragged off into the water by some other-worldly entity.
He wakes up several days later after almost drowning, and things get exponentially more messed up from there. We won't offer up too much in detail but suffice to say: the plot twists are numerous, the characters are enigmatic, the enemies are elusive and difficult. As a narrative, Alan Wake is intense, scary, disturbing, and profoundly well put together.
A large part of why this game was so phenomenal is that the story was inspired by some of the most brilliant horror storytellers ever, including Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock. Alan Wake can be hard to keep playing at some points, but it is far harder to look away from.
4 Half-Life (Both Games)
Despite having been released almost twenty years ago, Half-Life still stacks up against games that cost more to produce, with better engines, and with vastly more polished graphics. This 1998 game was a massive leap forward for the industry; it is the game that put Valve on the map, providing players with one of the most immersive gaming experiences the genre has ever seen. Guiding Gordon Freeman through the New Mexico desert and fighting off Xen aliens is as entertaining today as it was back in '98.
The sequel brilliantly honors, and build upon, the narrative legacy of the first game. Moreover, Half-Life 2 improves on it in a number of ways, with a newer and more versatile engine that allowed new aspects to be brought into the game, in addition to the improved graphics. Fighting the Combine was as awesome as the Xen, and of course, not being interrupted by too many cinematics and cutscenes is something that elated fans. As first-person shooters go, these two are hard to beat in terms of story.
If we have one problem with these games, it is that we're still being denied the third installment. This one hurts even more than having been teased and taunted with Knights of the Old Republic III, only to have a Star Wars MMO; The Old Republic pathetically vomited at our feet. But we digress, the list must go on.
To hear it described, the story of this game sounds like it would suck. It sounds like (while not physically possible) this game both sucks and blows at the same time. Here goes: you play as a fire lookout in Shoshone National Forest in the late 1980's. There, doesn't that sound like a great premise for a game?
We were being sarcastic, because yes, while the basic premise sounds a bit dull, this is one of the greatest stories in video game history. Released in 2016, this game is one of the newer ones on the list, and if we have anything negative to say about the game: the graphics are nothing special.
While the premise sounds dull, small things happen continuously throughout this game that make it nearly impossible to stop playing. Some games have action, others have gripping visuals, Firewatch has suspense, and there are few games so eerily exciting and magnificently lonely as this one.
2 Silent Hill 2
The Silent Hill franchise peaked at number two. This isn't to say that the games that came after 2001's Silent Hill 2 weren't highly entertaining, but in terms of story, that release remains one of the finest games ever made. Primarily, Silent Hill 2 works so well because of its difficult, terrifying, and of course, periodically angering story.
The "protagonist" James Sunderland, seems like a decent enough guy at the start of the game and we definitely started out rooting for him. That didn't last long. The narrative is incredible and features frequent sudden twists and turns. All that in addition to all the violence and unpleasantness you might expect from a horror game (without overdoing anything). Silent Hill 2 can be an incredibly frustrating experience, however, but in spite of this, the story is so compelling and exciting that no matter how aggravated a player gets, it can be a hard game to stop playing.
1 The Last Of Us
If you're upset or displeased, that the top two choices on our list of greatest video game plots are both survival horror games, we don't know what to tell you. Silent Hill 2 and The Last of Us both featured mind-blowing stories that overshadowed other very laudable aspects of both games, including solid graphics and relatively seamless gameplay.
If there is one thing that really puts The Last of Us above Silent Hill 2 —and of course all the rest— it is the sheer reality that the game throws the player into. Joel isn't really anybody all that impressive when the game starts out. The same can be said about Ellie. Of course, the rest of the human characters in the game run the gamut between bad people and okay people, all of whom are just trying to live through the post-apocalyptic nightmare. There is nothing over-the-top about any of the experience. Plain and simple, The Last of Us is an honest, true-to-life, gritty game. While many may consider the game to be a zombie-survival-shooter, this is only the surface. The real story is the friendship that develops between Joel and Ellie over the course of the plot
The story has the capacity to make a player stand up and toss a controller in a fit of rage and then tear up minutes later. This is rare — even for the games even on this list. The emotional roller coaster, in conjunction with the unique take on a popular, and long-standing, zombie/post-apocalyptic genre, makes for a truly magical gaming experience.