I was reading elsewhere about somebody’s recent forays into Skyrim years after everybody else and while they liked it they said the writing sucks. That’s something you get in almost any longer thread about any game that has dialogue or other writing in it. No matter what else eventually somebody will pipe up and say that the writing sucks and usually nobody tries to defend the game. I don’t really get it since I don’t usually play games for the writing and usually I feel most games have more or less good enough writing for a game, though there are some rare exceptions like the MMO Skyforge where I honestly thought the dialogue was written by a bored intern.
Is the video game writing really that bad? And what are the rare and elusive paragons of video game writing? Planescape: Torment, maybe? Some of the modern Telltale games? The new Shadowrun RPGs?
I second “Sunless Sea” - it’s got gorgeous writing. The gameplay is lackluster in my book, though it’s blessedly easy to tweak variables like ship speed by tinkering with the .ini file.
I notice you mostly reference RPG and adventure style games, but the three games that have impressed me the most with their writing have actually been first person shooters - Bioshock (the first installment only), Spec Ops: The Line, and the Half-Life series (including Portal, but not Portal 2).
Bioware RPGs are very hit and miss but they have had some really fabulous writing for major NPC side quests in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. The main plot, however…
Taken all together, The Witcher 3 has some of the best writing, characterization, and world building that I can remember. Sure you can find ridiculous mcguffins and plot holes, but they aren’t as immersion breaking because they’re overshadowed by something more compelling. (Why are we wandering around in these boring caves again? To find a disenfrangewhatsit? That’s… oh look witty dialogue and a new tricky monster).
Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater (Kojima had to have brought on an editor or something for this one. It was streamlined, coherent, and, touching. Of course, with IV he did a complete flip and made it even more overwrought than II was.)
Final Fantasy VI (VII was also pretty good, but VI still wins, and has one of the greatest villain stories ever)
Trinity (probably the best writing of any Infocom game; named after the Trinity project)
Braid (one good game about nuclear holocaust deserves another)
Assassin’s Creed 2
I don’t think this one is commonly agreed on, quite a lot of people find the writing in the game to be superfluous, and a bit pretentious.
The writing was generally okay, but it won one reviewer’s Goldun Riter Aw[del]w[/del]ard. I can’t say I disagree with a lot of his analysis. In general, AC has much better character writing than plot writing.
They go on sale a lot, so keep your eyes open, even though Gog’s big Winter sale is over.
They really are just astonishingly good.
Another one I love a lot is Jeff Vogel’s Spiderweb Games series, Avernum & Geneforge. Jeff is a one man show who’s been making deep, well written games, mostly as a one-man band, for almost thirty years now. They’re not pretty games, although he’s updated the interface some, but they’re easily the best written indie rpgs I’ve yet encountered.
Vogel’s naming scheme is a little complicated.
Here’s is the latest and most up-to-date version of Avernum 1
Here is Avadon 1, his newest series
And here is Geneforge, his third series, -ooo! - which is on sale right now for $4 until Dec 21. There’s easily 500 hours of really excellent writing and game in that $4 dollar package, even though the 1st game is seriously ugly. I mean, really, it’s bone-deep ugly, but such a great game.
ETA: Grim Fandango is really special. I would also add the first Gabriel Knight game, Sins of the fathers, and the Monkey Island games, too. Some of my all time gaming moments in those games.
A lot of people really go gaga for Bioshock. And while I’ll admit that a certain part of the story made it harder for me to finish the game, the very fact that it could even have an impact like that means it’s pretty good.
And, yeah, Grim Fandango is the shit. I may actually wind up buying on Mobile, even though I’ve already bought it on PC. And I never do that.
It is, kind of. But it’s different, and it’s original, and it’s thematically interesting. I found it fascinating. Maybe it’s pretentious but the guy who made the game set out to do something and did it originally and with a skill for the written word.
To use a totally different example, “Knights of the Old Republic,” which is still Bioware’s best game, is very well written in the sense that the narration and dialogue do a wonderful job of telling a Star Wars story. Totally different concept than Braid, but it’s very, very well done.
I agree, but it also highlights just how amazing, and way beyond The Last of Us some of the other games mentioned here are, because unlike TLOU, they aren’t on rails games with movie-like storytelling, but rather take full advantage of the medium, by implementing various levels of narrative agency. The story is fantastically written, AND you can affect it in various ways.
That’s the real strength of narrative in a video game, IMHO. Unfortunately, so many games are not only moving away from that, but are actually promoting, static story lines that always play out the same. No, that the kind of storytelling that is done best on film and books, games empower you to act in collaboration with the artists - we should celebrate when this is done well.