For many games, writing is the important x factor to elevate it to the next level. That cool move you just pulled off or scraping by that boss fight are made all the better with the context provided by the writing. This year, we have a great crop of games, so let's get to the nominees and the winner of our Best Writing Award for outstanding storytelling, worldbuilding, and character creation.
Our nominees (all other award categories can be found here):
- Deathloop (Our Review)
- The Forgotten City (Our Review)
- The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (Our Review)
- Life is Strange: True Colors (Our Review)
- Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (Our Review)
Readers' Choice Winner - The Forgotten City
Developer: Modern Storyteller | Release Date: July 28, 2021
Considering its amazing popularity first as a Skyrim mod, it's awesome to see The Forgotten City resonating with a wider audience now that it is its own game. The Forgotten City does an incredible job of mixing story and gameplay together seamlessly, all the while educating you with you even know it.
Third Place - The Forgotten City
Developer: Modern Storyteller | Release Date: July 28, 2021
Written By Lee Mehr
As your character navigates through the decrepit halls of an ancient Roman city nestled deep within a cavern, he/she will run into golden statues depicting people in distress, as though the sudden realization of death has come upon them and there's no avoiding the inevitable. The stakes are grave: should anyone within these walls sin, all of its inhabitants shall be punished. But what constitutes a "sin" to this unknown deity capable of such power? How is it right to suffer such consequences for an act you didn't commit?
These are just a couple of the burning questions writer/director Nick Pearce presents in The Forgotten City. What makes these ideas all the more potent is the game's effective narrative framing. The trope of a modern-day person interacting with people in the distant past is well-handled in both its comedy and its pensive philosophy. As you converse with these people, from the regal magistrate to the conniving merchant, so too do you develop a greater understanding of their cultural & moral worldviews.
That type of authentic window wouldn't have been accomplished without Nick Pearce's seemingly insatiable appetite to learn more about ancient history and religions. Whether it's the average viewpoint of the nascent monotheistic cult (early Christianity in their time) or the inherent value someone holds in their culture's myths, even one-off characters are still lodged in my memory because of how believable they felt. That takes more than a thorough reading of history; that takes talent.
I could drone on about other interesting themes explored or great comedic bits sprinkled in the dialogue, but that's best left for you to discover. If you're hankering for a game with an exceptional narrative, you owe it to yourself to play The Forgotten City.
Second Place - Life is Strange: True Colors
Developer: Deck Nine | Release Date: September 10, 2021
Written By Robert Scarpinito
Life is Strange: True Colors simply radiates humanity. As the central mystery unravels, dark secrets come to light, drastically altering the way certain characters are seen. Alex Chen's empathic superpowers, which allow her to peek into people's minds, gives players the perfect platform to explore the complex spectrum of feelings we can all feel. Whenever a new secret comes to light, her powers light the way for a richer understanding, giving us further insight into the narrative.
Most of the major characters are flawed, just like anyone else, creating a sense of depth in its cast where everyone feels neither "good" nor "bad." Everyone simply feels human. Even the unnamed miscellaneous characters, like the couple that owns the ice cream shop, have a small story arc you can follow across the episodes, making Haven Springs feel like a truly lived-in place. By turning all these characters' inner monolog into a game mechanic, the emotional richness in Life is Strange: True Colors comes to life, basking in all of its beauty -- and despair.
Winner - Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
Developer: Eidos-Montreal | Release Date: October 26th, 2021
Written By Tyler Chancey
Ever since James Gunn's 2014 film turned them into household names, the Guardians of the Galaxy have been characterized by their dysfunctional family dynamic and their acidic humor hiding deep-seated trauma. Alongside these thorny personalities, their adventures are larger than life space operas, featuring some of the most bizarre and strange creations that Jack Kirby and Jim Starlin have ever made for the Marvel Universe.
It's that heady mix of disarming emotional complexity and pulpy sci-fi schlock that makes this property so difficult to get right. And in the aftermath of the narratively trite Marvel's Avengers, Eidos-Montreal had a lot of high expectations.
But despite Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy containing all of the tropes and cliches of a big budget, AAA action game, it manages to tell a deeply compelling story packed with heart and soul. It combines the best elements from both the cinematic and comic source material into a distinct, original interpretation. The worldbuilding is full of tangible history that doesn't rely on prior knowledge while still slipping in fan service shout outs. It tells a grand story that spans the entire galaxy filled with humor and suspense. But above all, its central narrative and emotional journey of the titular Guardians is filled with some of the biggest cathartic highs you will experience this year.
While the theme of grief and mourning isn't exactly new with narrative-centered games, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy goes deeper than set dressing. Depression, self-destruction, survivor's guilt, all of these aren't just mentioned, they form the basis of story chapters and set pieces. These beats are handled with genuine warmth and kindness, bolstered by fantastic performances across the board, culminating in a finale that goes from quiet and intimate to grand and triumphant.