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 with their stories or created an emotional impact for me. Some even did both. You’ll see some carry-over from the Best Characters list, because great characters help tell an engrossing story.
It’s a real bummer that Afterparty kept breaking on me, because I wanted to see this one through.
The story is mostly background for making stuff explode, but I at least thought some of the writing was funny.
5. Metro Exodus
It’s a radioactive post-apocalypse. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. To be honest, I assumed that Metro Last Light would be the last game in the series because it put such a nice bow on the “Dark Ones” storyline. But Exodus definitely earns its existence with a far greater-reaching plot that finally takes you out into the wide world and illuminates some of what’s been going on with other groups. The cast of characters are all pretty archetypal, but I think that fits the genre.
4. The Outer Worlds
As with most Western RPGs of this type, the main story is not the main draw of The Outer Worlds. Phineas is a good character and helps keep things interesting in your fight against The Board — particularly in the third act when you engage with him more. But the best stories are the ones you discover yourself on each world. As I mentioned in the Best Characters category, not all of your party members are super memorable, but in true Mass Effect fashion, some of the best writing comes out in their personal side quests.
3. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
Hey guess what, it’s a Star Wars story and I like Star Wars. But in all seriousness, I was kind of disappointed when this game was first announced, knowing it would be yet another good vs evil, Jedi vs Sith story regarding The Force. But Respawn makes the most of a good lead character and really personifies The Force in an understandable way (without using midichlorians!). Adding in lesser known (and new) Star Wars characters and factions helps makes this feel fresh, as well. The Night Sisters are awesome and I’m glad they’re getting more play in the broader Star Wars universe.
2. Life is Strange 2
Life is Strange 2 suffers from an underwhelming first episode and some inconsistent pacing, but the overall journey is (thankfully) worth the initial investment. As I mentioned in Best Characters, some of the side characters had me rolling my eyes, but dontnod gets far more mileage from Sean and Daniel’s relationship than I would have initially expected. The game does a smart thing in referencing the events of the first game without this story feeling tightly connected, which let the new characters and emotional journey stand on their own. The climax and denouement were absolutely gut-wrenching and somehow still full of hope.
Most of the points to make here have already been made in Best Setting and Best Characters, but I cannot overstate just how awesome all of the little journal entries and ambient storytelling are in Control. There is a fair amount of exposition dumping in the third act — and some of the climax feels rushed from a storytelling perspective and overly drawn out from a gameplay perspective — but the resolution to the story is somehow both completely flummoxing and satisfying at the same time. Things are still left open enough for DLC and an inevitable sequel, but you do get resolution to Jesse’s search for her brother and the broader breadcrumbs left about this world have me very impatiently waiting for more.
Be warned, the next page contains 2019’s most disappointing games…