Not every game has a traditional narrative or even makes the actual plot its focus. But the games on this list either set out to do something unique or tell a meaningful story. Some even do both. You’ll see some carry-over from the Best Characters list, because great characters help tell an engrossing story.
5. Titanfall 2
I was pleasantly surprised by the story in Titanfall 2. It straddles the line between “Pilot” and BT-7274’s heartfelt robo-friendship and the over the top, almost anime-inspired fights with the bad guys. Having not played the first Titanfall, I was afraid I’d be a bit lost in the over-arching plot, but not only does that not matter so much as the character interactions and crazy moments, but there wasn’t a ton of story in Titanfall to begin with. If I had a “Best Moment” category, Titanfall 2 would probably show up a few times.
Here’s another case where the story is way better than it has any right to be. Part of what makes this year’s DOOM so awesome is the huge amount of backstory and flavor text you can check out in the menus. The slow descent of UAC from corporate overlord to full-on hellscape cult overlord is hilarious and actually kind of poignant as we consider how much trust we put into brands and corporations in our daily lives. There’s also plenty of humor to be found in how the Doom Slayer abandons the plot at every chance to just punch shit and kill demons.
3. The Banner Saga 2
The Banner Saga 2 is the dark middle chapter in a very dark trilogy, which should give you some context for how depressing the story can be at times. Things are very dire as the heroes continue to stave off the coming apocalypse. Bolverk is an excellent addition to the story, as his group of travelers takes the more magical, mysterious route to overcoming the onslaught of the Dredge, while Rook (or Alette, if you saved her in the first game) takes the more traditional route of trying to keep everyone together — and alive — on the way to the last human city. I’m terrified but also excited to see how this all wraps up in the third game.
Firewatch is a perfect example of how a game like this cannot work without the characters being compelling and real. A lot of the plot is actually little things you discover over time that lead to this general feeling like something bigger is going on in the woods. The game absolutely falters in its third act, as the revelation of the sci fi set up is underwhelming, poorly explained, and involves characters you’ve basically forgotten about through the course of the game. But overall, it’s impossible to ignore the character story between Henry and Delilah, which is worth the price of admission alone.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
There are plenty of people that look at the story in Uncharted 4 and say, “This didn’t really need to exist.” I think those people are crazy. Sure, Uncharted 3 left a nice enough bow on the series, but A Thief’s End wraps up Nate’s journey in a compelling way and adds a ton of background to his character that’s both interesting and compelling. It’s a bit weird to discover that Nate has a brother after he’s never been mentioned, but I think the history of their relationship and events of their separation justify that decision. And the ride is — as always — incredibly fun with some unexpected emotional moments. I totally teared up during the epilogue.
Sadly click to the next page to see what 2016 games disappointed me the most.