Undertale is a great one too. Also another example of how gameplay and dialogue can be intertwined in only the way games can do.
Alpha Centauri - I’m a bit surprised that it’s not been mentioned so far. It’s one of the few sci-fi games that succeed in creating and sustaining a compelling atmosphere where the norm is lots of techno-mumbo-jumbo from the onset.
FTL - its encounter vignettes convey a sense of this being a hostile universe that is nevertheless full of opportunities for the bold.
Anyone remember Betrayal at Krondor? That game was written by the author of Krondor novels, and fond memories flood back to me to this day.
I remember that game. Mostly I remember being more or less constantly poisoned, for some reason.
This is not accurate. He licensed it, and reviewed the materials to ensure they were not breaking canon, and consulted on various aspects of the story. He did not write it. He later adapted it into a novel, however. But the actual writing was all done by the dev writers.
I remember starving to death on my way to Kondor. I was later told that I was supposed to have solved the riddles on all the chests I found along the way, but I’ve always been terrible at word puzzles like that.
The first chapter is hard, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing yet. The story keeps telling you to hurry toward Krondor, but the gameplay actually favors you taking your time and making a long detour out to the east. Once you can get through that first chapter, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the rest of the game.
You should be able to get by without the riddle boxes once you get the hang of the combat system.
My memory of Betrayal of Krondor is that it wouldn’t load on the computer I had at the time. So I owned it but never played it.
Yeah, that was written by Tom Jubert who also worked on Driver: San Francisco, Penumbra and Subnautica, which had some surprisingly good writing too.
I know Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines has been mentioned several times, but after playing it again a couple months ago and finally finishing it this time it is at the absolute forefront when I think about well written games. All the characters in the game are just a delight to interact with and they all feel like living people with their own motivations and ideologies. I think I had gotten so used to mediocre writing in games, because I was floored when I ran into Jeanette in the game. She has her own way of talking that made me think the writer had an absolute blast writing for her:
The other characters are fantastic as well. A character like Jack might come off as seemingly edgy in another writers hands, but in this game he is just immediately cool. The game is just filled to the brim with memorable characters, some of which only have a few lines and yet you get an understanding of who they are and they leave a lasting impression.
I’d have a hard time choosing another RPG that gets you as interested in its world as quickly as this game does. Often when I start an RPG, I try to have several hours set aside so I can get properly invested into the game since sometimes the beginning can be a chore. With this game you go straight into a trial, see most of the major characters in the game, Jack gives you a quick rundown of being a vampire, there’s a Sabbat raid with a bit of tutorial and when you come out of it, the game and its universe will have already gotten their hooks into you. Due to the writing you just soak up the terminology and information about the clans and sects effortlessly while you play.
One last thing I really appreciated was how the game took into account the gender of my character. I played a female character and I loved how the dialogue would be a bit different to account for that. Even in the above video, you can see the bartender call her ‘beautiful’ and ‘sweetheart’. During my playthrough I was called everything from babygirl to fucking bitch. I think at one point I was called sugartits. I tend to play as female characters often in games and I think other games take the easy way out so they won’t have to record a separate line.
Oh, and I can’t forget to mention The Deb of Night radio program and its commercials. Every time I advanced in the game enough to where a new segment popped up, I had to stop what I was doing and listen to it in its entirety. Sooo good!
Would you kindly let me add one more game to the list? I don’t have a very “high brow” description of “well written.” For me, I consider a game well written if it conveyed a feeling or emotion that moved me in some form more than the average adrenaline video game rush. And there is one game that fell flat in the 3rd act, but up until then had a really good setting and plot that was integral to the entire experience of the game, including most of the game play. And the gotcha moment got me. Hook, line, sinker. I’m usually pretty good at reading twists in video games because they are typically so horribly telegraphed but this one surprised me.
Smacking Andrew Ryan in the head during the revelation in Bioshock is still a vivid memory for me today, 11 years later. That to me is good writing. Video games are often a long and drawn out affair, and telling a story in this medium can be challenging. A good video game story teller uses the graphics, game play, sound and text in unison to make striking, moving centerpiece moments happen for players. And I thought this was a great example of that.
Having since played through The Swapper, I can confirm that even though the story is not the focus of the game, it really does a great job of melding a great atmosphere with the excellent gameplay, and it creates a cohesive whole that’s sublime.
Also, I just started Quantum Break yesterday, and so far I absolutely love it. Not many games setup such a compelling start to the story.
Would it be weird to suggest that Dominions 5 is well written? I love all the descriptions nearly ever unit, spell an summons have.
Spider-Man is very well written, at least the half I have seen so far. Complex character interactions, re-envisioning of a half century of characters.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say Bioshock Infinite is well-written. Other than some text heavy old rpgs there just isn’t a lot of well-writteness around. Pillars of eternity 2 was well edited…
My favorite so far is Mass Effect, for the choices you have to make, the choice of who you have to sacrifice is not unique of course, in that Telltale Games does that linear choice all the time in their games, but what I appreciated was the ‘do you protect the council’ choice, and if you don’t …what does that say about you? Were you being petty? Did you care more about saving human lives, over the flawed judgement of the council? What was your calculus for making that decision?
More that once the writers would spend a fair amount of time building up to a moment where the players would be annoyed with X and then give them the choice of how to deal with X, and where the good isn’t obvious. Or finally getting to confront Saren, and try to convince him he is wrong, knowing its likely to be fruitless. They also melded in pure cinematic moments that felt you could see it as if it were a moment in a movie. This just had moments that had long lasting consequences, or revealed something about your character (if you chose to reflect on it).
My question…any other games of similar caliber like that out there? That test your moral fiber, and take the time to invest you in the story by you having to face the shortcomings you later have to make the call on, or the complicated motives of the bad guy where you can almost see how he got to where he thought action X was a good idea… telltale games does it a little bit, but its often binary and they don’t often build up to these choices, just a do you save the kid or the cute girl in a arbitrary event trigger.
All the games I have played over the years, thousands of hours, and I never once felt that I was playing a well written one.
For me, “The Wire” of the video game world has not yet been done… But then quite a few of the titles listed in this thread I never tried, so maybe it is there and I missed it.
If you played Vampire Bloodlines, Witcher 2/3, Fallout New Vegas, Planescape Torment…and didn’t find them well written, then you gotta have some mighty high standards :)
They were good games, and well written, but deeper than I’m talking about them providing choices and consequences that felt impactful to both the game and potentially revealing of you as a person (if you choose to reflect that deeply).
David2 I am in complete agreement. But I come at it from a technical writer’s point of view (attorney) so I dunno. Maybe some of this stuff is good as “art”. But rarely have I been impressed by any writing in a game.