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The 30 best video game stories ever

20. Gone Home

Gone Home

Developer: The Fullbright Company
Released: 2013
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC, Linux and Mac

For a game with no other characters in it aside from through the thing they left behind in the house, it’s quite astonishing just how good the storyline of Gone Home is. You play as a young girl who’s returning home after a long semester abroad. She’s expecting to return to her parents and sister, Sam, but no-one’s home and everything has changed since she was last home. Through reading letters, notes and interacting with other objects in your family home, you’ve got to figure out where everyone’s gone. It’s an emotional tale, and even a bit terrifying in places - and that’s not only the part where you arrive at the creepy, empty house in the thunderstorm at the beginning. 

19. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Developer: BioWare and LucasArts
Released: 2003
Platform(s): Xbox, PC, Mac, iOS and Android.

With power hungry Sith Lords, a rag-tag group of heroes, and a bucket-of-bolts spacecraft, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has all of the elements to build an immersive Star Wars experience. But what bumps the game's story to one of the best in video games is its ability to suck you into the new environment, allow you to explore rewarding backstories of the fascinating side characters, and surprise you with twists that rival the "I am your father" moments of the movie trilogy. As an average crewman in the Republic Fleet, you're tasked with finding the captured Jedi VIP, Bastila Shan, on the city-planet of Taris, which launches you on a quest that spans the galaxy. You'll visit Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine, the Wookie planet Kashyyyk, the Sith planet Korriban, and other locales that take you deeper into the Star Wars lore than any movie or game has ever done before. BioWare's classic definitely deserves a spot as one of the best video game stories of all time.

18. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain

Developer: Kojima Productions
Released: 2015
Platform(s):
PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

Love it or hate it, Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series sets the bar for wackadoodle behavior. The most recent instalment, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, takes up the mantle of bizarre narrative that has made Kojima such an icon of the gaming world. This time around, while Boss is out for vengeance, he uncovers a twisted plan to achieve world peace through a combination of annihilating all English speakers and creating a nuclear stalemate among the remaining cultures. The most impressive thing about the story in MSG5 is how much its story is told through the play experience rather than with interspersed cut-scenes. It’s the game world’s equivalent of the epic novel, where systems replace syntax and checkpoints are your chapters.

17. Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2

Developer: BioWare
Released:
2011
Platform(s):
PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

Assemble a crew of sidekicks, achieve the impossible, save the galaxy. It’s hardly ground-breaking material for sci-fi, but Mass Effect 2 taps into one of the all time classic adventure stories: uneasy allies versus overwhelming odds. And it all plays out in space, with the role of overwhelming odds being played by ancient, titanic machines. It’s still punch-the-air satisfying when Shepard and friends smash through the games suicide mission climax. Few other games make you feel so close to the supporting cast, either. Each crew member has a deep back-story, and most ask you to make complex decisions to help them out, potentially souring your friendship with another character. When/if you lose one of them during the suicide mission you feel genuine remorse, a great indicator that Mass Effect 2’s story has left a lasting impression on you.

16. To The Moon

To The Moon

Developer: Freebird Games
Released: 2011
Platform(s): PC, Linux, iOS and Android. 

To the Moon proves that a game doesn't need convincing voice acting, fancy polygons, and an orchestral score to make the stoniest players cry. The score did help though, ands the sad notes are a heartbreaking reminder of the tale about a dying man with one last wish: to go to the moon. The story follows two doctors who are trying to fulfil Johnny's wish using technology that creates artificial permanent memories. In order to do so, they need to hop through his memories and implant the desire to go to the moon in his childhood so that he creates a new life in his mind. Along the way we learn about River, his now deceased wife, and it's hard not to get teary-eyed when the doctors go through their happy memories together. Or, if you want to be sadder sooner, just listen to this.

15. Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn

Developer: Guerrilla Games
Released: 2017
Platform(s): PS4 exclusive

The story of Horizon Zero Dawn is fantastic on a number of levels. Firstly, its the creation of the team over at Guerrilla Games, which is famous for the Killzone series, games that have never been heralded for their storylines. It’s also fantastic because it has a female protagonist in Aloy, with strong themes of femininity and matriarchal societies. Thirdly, it actually creates a vision of an end of the world that isn’t terrible. Quite the mean feat eh? But at its heart, this a story of sci-fi robot dinosaurs, tribal humanity and a kick-ass heroine. 

14. Life is Strange/Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Developer: Dontnod Entertainment/Deck Nine
Released: 2015/2017
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS

It seems almost mean to bundle both these brilliant episodic titles into one entry for the best storylines in games, but they’re best experienced as one package. The original Life is Strange tells the story of Max Caulfield and her friend Chloe Price facing the perils of adolescence, love and an impending supernatural, town-destroying, storm. Across three episodes you uncover a terrible secret about what happened to a missing girl, Rachel Amber, who happened to be incredibly important to Chloe. It’s very much focused on how you want to tell the story, and the branching narratives mean that it merits a few playthroughs just so you can see just how far the ripples of your actions and words stretch. 

And when you’ve done that, go play Before the Storm. The prequel focuses on the relationship between Chloe and Rachel before the events of Life is Strange. It’s a powerful narrative on growing up, loss and emotions. It feels more grounded because of its lack of the supernatural, helping make the story options connect and more importantly, resonate. And like the original, every decision you make changes the flow of the story. Play it over and over again, you deserve it. 

13. Firewatch

Firewatch

Developer: Campo Santo
Released:
2016
Platform(s):
PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac and Linux.

Walking simulator games that tug at your heartstrings have been seeing a surge of late, but few have dug into the deeper levels found in Campo Santo’s Firewatch. The game partially works so well because of the premise: Henry, your character, is spending the summer working as a ranger in Wyoming. Although he wanted the gig to get away from his own thoughts and life, he winds up building a chatty relationship with his boss through their radio conversations.
That isolation, tucked away in a natural setting that’s equal parts pretty and perilous, makes a perfect backdrop for this suspenseful tale. Each strange discovery Henry makes drives the story forward until it has the unstoppable momentum of an avalanche. Once you start playing, it’s damn near impossible to put down until the final credits roll.

12. Portal 2

Portal 2

Developer: Valve
Released:
2011
Platform(s):
PC, Mac, Linux, PS3 and Xbox 360.

After Portal's brilliant, minimalist narrative introduced gamers to the silent Chell and the decidedly less silent GLaDOS, Valve faced a tall order. How could a stunning short story be followed up with a full retail release? Could new characters really stand toe-to-toe with GLaDOS? The answer, astoundingly, was yes. All of the new characters added character to the world, from the curious Wheatley to the amazingly charismatic Cave Johnson. Yes, there was still plenty more to see and take away from Aperture. Exploring the depths of the derelict business introduced us to new bits of lore, fleshing out the most important character in the series: the facility itself. Learning Aperture's backstory and finding out about GLaDOS's history was surprisingly touching. Chell's story, too, ended up concluding well, turning the relatively quaint story of the original into a saga as epic as nearly any other.

11. NieR: Automata

NieR: Automata

Developer: PlatinumGames
Released: 2017
Platform(s): PS4 and PC

It’s not often that you can say any piece of media has 26 different endings - the majority of which can potentially be unlocked in a single playthrough. But that’s exactly what NieR: Automata achieves. The first time the credits roll on your adventures with 2B, it’s just the beginning. No longer is your death a mere “Game Over” or respawn, it’s subverting the traditional constructs of video game endings, deaths and rebirth since the dawn of gaming time. Feed into that all the themes of automatons, the fourth-wall breaking and the narrative slights of hands and NieR: Automata becomes one of the greatest gaming storylines ever.

Click 'next page' to see what we picked as our top 10 video game stories.