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.
Gris is worth mentioning primarily because of the ambiguity of how you can interpret the story and ending. It was clearly conceived from a personal experience, and spoke to me from a very artistic point of view.
As I mentioned, Octopath Traveler doesn’t really nail how it combines the individual stories into a larger narrative. But those individual stories are all compelling. You really feel the backstory of each character.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit
While on the shorter end of stories this year, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit does a fantastic job building its father/son relationship. I’m excited to see how this crosses over with Life is Strange season two.
A hardcore platformer has one of the best stories of the year? You bet your ass it does. I was completely taken aback by how the story in Celeste touched me. It’s about self doubt and sins of the past and overcoming that internal adversity, and it’s quite a powerful message.
I loved whenever Badeline reared her purple head because it meant learning more about Madeline and why she’s climbing the mountain. It’s also worth mentioning the levels in the haunted hotel with Mr. Oshiro. What a brilliant character and smaller side story.
4. The Banner Saga 3
Full disclosure, I haven’t finished The Banner Sag 3 yet, but I couldn’t wait any longer to post this. There’s a chance the ending of the game completely falls on its face or is so amazing that I’d need to move it up on this list, but I feel good about its ranking given what I’ve sen so far and having played the previous two games.
This is truly the culmination of a vast, dark, complicated story and I’m 100 percent invested so far. Every conversation has additional weight because you know if might be the last time you’re able to talk to this person. The sheer number of character names and places pulls me out at times, but I’m still so happy that I finally get to see this epic story through to its conclusion.
3. Marvel’s Spider-Man
As I mentioned in the Best Characters category, Marvel’s Spider-Man deserves a spot here just for how it handles the character relationships and how they grow, mature, and change over time. The surface level Sinister Six story is a bit average, but that isn’t the draw for me. That stuff is on par with Marvel superhero movies, but it’s the interpersonal storylines that were far more compelling.
The ending of the game is like a gut punch that I really did not expect. This version of Peter Parker has a true optimism that sort of spreads to the rest of the world, and to have things go so dark at the end almost feels a bit incongruous. But damn was it surprising — and effective.
Florence is the “smallest” game on this list, but it packs a punch from a story perspective. The game is both a complete bummer and also full of hope, which is an exceptionally hard line to walk. The relationship between the two characters feels true to life, while also being slightly heightened in a way you’d expect from fiction.
This is a rare example where the story wouldn’t work without the gameplay. It’s a simple story with simple gameplay, but the two go hand in hand to really hit the more emotional moments. You can play through the whole thing in about 30 minutes, so there’s really no reason not to give it a try.
1. God of War
God of War is a hell of a ride, man. There were multiple occasions where I thought things were wrapping up, and I was always happy when they weren’t. To be fair, the game doesn’t really stick the landing in the final confrontation and has some questionable motivations for Freya, but everything leading up to that point is engrossing as hell.
Learning more about the history of the world from Mimir as you row around the Lake of Nine is a nice touch, and really speaks to the care spent in creating this world. But really this category is about Kratos and Atreus’ simple quest to lay the ashes of their wife/mother to rest. While they both become embroiled in a grander tale, the resolution for this father and son is really what made me want to see things through.
Hit up the next page to see my most disappointing games of 2018…