Video games haven’t always been known for their storytelling prowess, but these days, a game’s narrative can be one of the most important pieces of its success. While often it’s the gameplay that will capture a player’s interest, the story, characters, writing, and acting have become increasingly important in recent years.
The best gaming stories are the ones that run cohesively alongside the gameplay. When the two work together, they can bring a feeling of immersion like no other, gripping the player to see the game all the way through.
Here are the best narratives in video games from 2019, including our pick for Best Video Game Narrative of the year.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
A Plague Tale: Innocence is the excellent story of a girl named Amicia who must protect both herself and her little brother, Hugo, during a rat plague. It would be too easy if it were only the rats you had to worry about, though, so an Inquisition is constantly chasing the two characters due to the sickness Hugo carries with him.
Amicia and Hugo’s relationship is constantly evolving throughout the story. Hugo was their parents’ main focus for most of his life, and this created a fit of jealousy in Amicia that is apparent at the beginning. As they grow closer, though, you fall in love with them as they fight for their lives.
Hugo and Amicia are young children, and their portrayals are brilliantly performed. The story of their fight for survival is emotional, interesting, and worth your time.
Gears of War 4 saw a return to the Gears franchise that surprisingly moved so far forward we played as main character Marcus’s son J.D. The end of that game left us with more questions than answers, though, particularly about a new character, Kait, and her connection to the Swarm.
Gears 5 focuses much more on Kait and her family’s past. The story takes place months following the events of Gears of War 4. The relationship between J.D., Kait, and Del is strained, and the Swarm are becoming more organized in their attacks.
To avoid spoilers, that’s all we can really say on the story. But know that it’s a great narrative that hits the emotional strings that the Gears franchise is famous for, with solid writing and acting that left us only wanting more.
The Outer Worlds
On the outside, The Outer Worlds looks like a Fallout game in space. But when you get to play, you find out just how much unique personality is dripping from the game, setting itself apart and standing on its own two feet.
The Outer Worlds takes place in Halcyon, a space colony made up of a few inhabited planets, moons, and space stations. The player character is awakened on a transport pod that has been lost for 70 years by a mad scientist named Phineas Wells. Wells recruits you to help take control of the colony away from the Board, a group of businesses that have made life for the colonists a living, soul-sucking hell.
The Outer Worlds features six different companions that can join you on your journey. The first of which is Parvati, who is voiced by Ashly Burch, and who quickly steals the show. Each companion has a defined background and will offer opinions and thoughts in each situation you get yourself into. Companions make the world so much better to live in, and the entire game benefits from their inclusion.
The companions are not the only characters who are written well. The side missions, and the citizens who give them, are interesting and feel believable in this world Obsidian created. Everything from robbing a family of their insurance fraud checks to getting a girl out of a locked closet has multiple ways to be completed, depending on your character’s skills and abilities. Thanks to strong characters and writing, the worlds of The Outer Worlds take on a life of their own.
Mortal Kombat 11
We bet you’re surprised to see a fighting game on this list. Frankly, so are we.
Mortal Kombat 11 continues Netherrealm Studio’s excellent storytelling with callbacks to the series legendary cast’s starting days. Following the events of Mortal Kombat X, Raiden is corrupted and torturing MKX‘s antagonist, Shinnok. Raiden decapitates him to send a message to any Earthrealm attackers that they will be coming for them.
Kronika, the goddess of time and Shinnok’s mother, brings past versions of the Mortal Kombat cast to the present to erase corrupted Raiden from history. Raiden, Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Johnny Cage, and other classic characters make their original version returns.
Mortal Kombat 11 is yet another example that Ed Boon’s team at Netherrealm Studios has figured out how to tell a good story in a fighting game, one that, alongside legendary, tight fighting mechanics the series is known for, is interesting enough to continue bringing excitement to the people and places of the Mortal Kombat universe.
Finally, our pick for Best Video Game Narrative of 2019 is Control.
Remedy Games, the developer behind popular titles like Max Payne and Alan Wake, makes its brilliant return with one of the best games of the year, a true sleeper hit that has continued to surprise the industry with its success.
In Control, you play as Jesse Faden as she enters the Federal Bureau of Control, a mysterious government building hidden in plain sight in Manhattan. When she was young, an odd event happened in her hometown. The events of that night led to her brother being taken by the Bureau, and Jesse left with a guiding voice in her head.
As Jesse enters the Bureau of Control, she quickly finds that things are not right. Other-dimensional beings called the Hiss have taken over the place, and the remaining staff is struggling for survival. Jesse finds a transforming pistol called the Service Weapon and, somehow, becomes Director of the Bureau. She also gets special powers from Objects of Power that allow her to fly, throw objects with a force-like thrust, and even take control of the Hiss.
Control is one of the best games of 2019, partly because of its interesting, otherworldly story. Exploring the Bureau, known as the Oldest House, and seeing all of the ins and outs of the place is a truly unique and unpredictable experience.
But the best thing about Control is its lack of inhibition. It’s not afraid to go there—wherever and whenever that is—to take the player somewhere they’ve never quite been before. If Control is any indication of the types of narratives we can expect in 2020 and beyond, count us in.
For more of our Year in Review 2019 series, head to our hub page.