2015 had a strong showing of excellent writing. We all met plenty of new, memorable characters and explored many wonderfully realized open worlds in games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt—so much so that each set a new standard for greatness in open world games. While the following games surely do have the gameplay to back up the writing, one of the standout features—for some THE standout feature—was the writing. It’s quite a gamble to risk it all on the writing, especially if there isn’t the gameplay to make up for what that may be lacking. In any case, none of the following games ran into that problem this year.
This category had an overwhelming winner, taking 50% of the votes from staff. Here’s a reminder of what our nominees were (find out how we chose our nominees here):
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Pillars of Eternity
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
- Until Dawn
3rd Place – Undertale
By Alex Santa Maria
When it comes to storytelling, some games have a hard time achieving the tone they set out for. We’ve all played funny games that fall flat and horror games that elicit nothing but laughs. Undertale achieves both horror and humor, crafting a tale that molds itself seamlessly depending on the player’s reaction to its world. It presents characters who are easy to sympathize with, from a lackadaisical skeleton to a clumsy fanboy to a reluctant tyrant. These are the types of characters that can make a dozen hours fly by, not unlike reading a great book over the course of a weekend.
The way that the game reacts to the player’s interactions is revolutionary, but subtle enough to be more than just a gimmick. The more you dig, the more rewarding the game becomes, but the game also works that into its message. Undertale finds a way to end on such a high note that going back in for another run just feels wrong. It leaves players satisfied, with a sense of accomplishment and narrative clarity that is unheard of in our medium. Especially considering that a Marcus Fenix taking off his signature do-rag was previously considered an amazing gaming finale. There is a deep craftsmanship here, and developers will be looking to this game’s narrative structure for years to come as a source of inspiration.
Runner Up – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
By Wyatt Hnatiw
Hideo Kojima’s games have always been long, verbose, and convoluted, but they’ve also been compelling, irreverent, and unique. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain continues that legacy and does it with one hand tied behind its back. The narrative of Metal Gear Solid V is broken by the saga that is Konami’s protracted departure from the AAA gaming scene. The second act of the story is disjointed, with the conclusion coming unceremoniously out of nowhere, but in the shattered pieces that make up MGSV, there is something great.
For me, Quiet was the emotional heart of the game. Hideo and his team had to convey a woman with great internal conflict, her hatred battling admiration, duty battling potential love and did it with a character who doesn’t talk. Her outfit is dumb and we all know that, but I grew attached to Quiet the character, (not Quiet the bikini) and I was genuinely sad at the end of her story. It also had the unique effect of getting me really excited for a tiny patch that came out later.
Similarly, Hal Emmerich’s arc had me thinking about good, evil, and the mechanics of games themselves as I tried to figure out what side he was on. Often in a video game you can see the “good choice” and the “bad choice”; I was waiting for my decisive opportunity to forgive and believe Emmerich’s story or punish him for his treachery, but it never came. His story ends in a less “video gamey” fashion, and leaves you in doubt.
And that brings us to the big plot thread and the game’s big twist. I’d hope you’ve played MGSV by now (seriously its great), but I’ll avoid spoilers. Whether you love or hate the twist, it’s incredibly unique. Kojima uses this revelation not only to close gaps in the Metal Gear continuity but to retroactively acknowledge the gamer’s role in crafting it. It’s a handshake reaching through the screen from Hideo to you in the form of a cheesy 80’s movie plot twist that is just so thoroughly Metal Gear.
As a complete game, or a complete story, Metal Gear Solid V is broken but what is there is satisfying, dramatic, and nuts, just the way we like our Metal Gear.
Winner – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
By Don Parsons
The modern trend towards Open World games tends to devalue writing in many aspects as putting in a ton of filler quests and “things to do” even if they don’t fit terribly well takes precedent. World Creation, which works hand in hand with the writing, also tends to fall behind the need to stuff every 3 steps with content focusing on quantity instead of quality of content.
There’s no denying Witcher 3 has a lot going on, but I think its also safe to say few games have ever matched the amount of care put into things like side quests that are written. Instead of your generic “kill 10 bandits” quest, you delve into the history of a monster in a region, myths and legends of it, and interact with people with concerns and an actual life of sorts.
The key to Witcher 3‘s writing and world design is verisimilitude. It knows its not reality, but understands that and attempts to create a grounded, real-feeling world by having relatable characters and problems. While we may never have a Noon Wraith drive us from our home, one can empathize with the story told there of love, ostracization, and loss. It doesn’t try to be too grimy or grim dark, but remains elements of a more cynical world that bears a closer reflection to the ugly bits of our world.
A focus on building from the world out, with, for a lack of a better word, “real people” and real problems helped a skilled writing team realize what they were working with. While a few moments fall flat, in general The Witcher 3‘s writing rises to the occasion and is a key part of what sets it apart and keeps it entertaining even when you’re tired of being told in other open world games to collect that herb that is just outside the building.
Readers’ Choice – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was one of the juggernauts of the year due in no small part to the writing quality of CD Projekt RED. RPGs in well-designed worlds and quests that are infinitely more interesting than “go fetch that” seemed to have resonated with our readers a great deal. There’s a reason that both we here at TechRaptor and our readers agree The Witcher 3 showed off some excellent writing in 2015. The Witcher 3 also had nearly 50% of the votes for both staff and readers.
How did we do? What game would you say did the best job at writing this year? Which had the most interesting character(s)?