As a counter to the silly list of laughable writing lauded by the Writer’s Guild, I suppose I should provide my own list of games. I’m not going to limit my list to members of a particular union, but instead I’ll simply look for stuff that’s actually good.
In no particular order:
Not the best work BioWare has ever done, but it was a decent yarn with some fun characters.
Secret of Monkey Island
Hey, a re-release is still a release. Aside: Oh delight and rapture, the re-release was wonderful.
Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled
Okay, I worked on this one so I should disqualify it. Still, if you’re into Final Fantasy 4 style jRPG games, this one should do nicely.
Lord of the Rings Online
Not a 2009 release, but as an MMO it’s always under development. I saw it for the first time in 2009, so it’s new as far as I’m concerned.
I could rip the game to bits for all of the crazy compromises it makes to shoehorn MMO gameplay into a setting that was almost completely at odds with such a concept. I still get a little crazy if I think about it too much.
But they were careful to honor the language, the lands, and the tone of the original work. Considering the origin of the books as a linguistics project, this is quite fitting. They were faithful where possible, and made compromises when they had to. In the end they managed to adapt Middle Earth to the often absurd world of MMO gameplay while preserving its dignity. This is a great accomplishment and there are precious few developers who could hope to do as well.
Okay, I’m clearly cheating now. Dear Esther came out in 2008. I played it for the first time a few months ago, and it haunted me for days. It’s a free mod for Valve’s Source Engine.
The game doesn’t fit into any existing genre. I guess I’d call it an exploration narrative.
Whoops. Need to take my inhaler. Just laughed myself into an asthma attack.
While I’m doing that, go ahead and nominate games you thought were well written. The rules:
1) The game must be from 2009
2) Or not.
The Loot Lottery
What makes the gameplay of Borderlands so addictive for some, and what does that have to do with slot machines?
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.
Black Desert Online
This Korean title would be the greatest MMO ever made if not for the horrendous monetization system. And the embarrassing translation. And the terrible progression. And the developer's general apathy towards its western audience.
The Best of 2014
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2014.
A Lack of Vision and Leadership
People fault EA for being greedy, but their real sin is just how terrible they are at it.
85 thoughts on “Best Writing of 2009”
Um . . . Tales of Monkey Island wasn’t a re-release. Are you complimenting the re-release of The Secret of Monkey Island or Telltales revival of the franchise in Tales of Monkey Island? They both have good writing, so it could go either way.
That said, I really liked the writing in Dragon Age. It was a bit generic in the over-arching plot, but the fine details were spectacular. Some really memorable side characters (Enchantment? Enchantment!), and great side dialog between characters.
Whoops. “Secret of” vs. “Tales of” fixed.
I agree with Dragon Age. I don’t play consoles though, so I can only vouch for PC games. That being said, i’m not aware of any game coming close to the depth of Dragon Age. If it had come out 27 days ago though; i’d go with Mass Effect 2.
Am I the only one that hasn’t been snared by dragon age? Admittedly I’m not a huge fantasy genre guy, but even though the writing seems OK and the voice acting is good I haven’t had the motivation to play since I got to that first little town you run into after the big battle goes awry in the beginning.
So far I’ve found the combat to be pretty not-fun. I felt the same way about combat in KOTOR at first, though…but I was able to push through because of my love for star wars.
Does Dragon Age’s gameplay grow on you as you play?
I can’t imagine spending ANY more time on it until after I’ve played through Mass Effect 2.
Im not sure when it came out, But Iji. A free game from http://www.remar.se/daniel/iji.php
its sort of in the vein of Metroid/castlevania. The story is told through Logbooks and a few cutscenes and for a game developed by one guy alone in game maker for 2 years it has one of the best stories in any game i have ever seen.
Hmmm … wow game writing was pretty crappy last year. I loved Risen and Drakensang, but neither of those are ‘best writing’ material. So my choice would be Dragon Age as well. Also like Avernum 6.
What about the PS3 game ‘Uncharted 2’? Heard good things about that.
I loved both Secret of and Tales of Monkey Island. Now if Nintendo would just get their act together and relase the final chapter…
And while this may seem like unabashed, ingratiating, butt-kissing praise, I really liked The Quaking of WarCrysis 3: Resistance of Black Doom. I sent it to my gamer friends, who either hate me because it took up their homework time, or love me because they’re bored stupid at work.
Since the Kotor 2 mod came out in late 2009 that actually restores the cut content, I suppose I could nominate Kotor 2. But that’s a way huge stretch.
I’m going to invoke Rule #2 and say that Baldur’s Gate 2 had the most compelling characters and villains, dialogue, plot, and sub plots of any game I can think of. I must say though, also a big big KOTOR, KOTOR2, and Secret of Monkey Island fan.
Well…if we can nominate games in ANY time period, then i’d say Planescape, Fallout, and the Baldur’s Gate series. Right now though, Mass Effect 2 is ruling my life, and it’s also on par with the above games, imo.
Portal. …What? I played it for the first time in 2009.
I’ll also jump on the KOTOR bandwagon. That was a good game. Where does one find this patch for the sequel? I’d love to play it but I’m afraid to be annoyed at the ending.
I’m kinda the same way, actually. It’s a decent story, and in my first playthrough I enjoyed it immensely. Then, I took a month’s break to play other games and decided to come back last week; couldn’t bring myself to keep playing. I dunno if it’s the combat or what, but it’s just boring to me now.
Although it probably doesn’t help that I forgot to back up all my save games when I installed win7.
Best Writing of
The thrilling plot, the dramatic characterization, the riveting dialogue, the world-shattering plot twists, the alternate endings…
I sometimes go back to play that game just to enjoy the story again.
Pacman is a close second.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but since everyone here seems to love Dragon Age, I’d like to put in my two cents. I’ll even ignore the broken combat system, the uselessness of rogues, etc., and focus on the writing.
The truth is, the whole time I was playing I felt like I was playing a game I’ve played before, i.e. every Bioware game since Neverwinter Nights! And the characters are always the same: you’ve got the Lancer, the Proud Warrior Race Guy, the Grumpy Bear, the Chick… their names might be different, but their personalities are always the same. Yes, I realize that all forms of literature have tropes, and that you couldn’t possibly write something without them. My problem is that the personalities of these characters begin and end with these tropes.
Next was the railroading. There was more railroading than Microsoft Train Simulator! There were countless sections where it was embarrassingly obvious it didn’t matter what I said or did, the same plot-mandated event would still occur. It got the point where wherever I got to a dialogue, I just hammered the escape key and picked whatever option I thought would get the game to shut up the fastest.
I couldn’t even finish the game. I got 1/4 the way through and realized that playing the game had become a chore. Yes, I realize DA is an OK game, but it bothers me for two reasons. The first is that I know Bioware can do better than this. I mean, they made Baldur’s Gate! The second is I’ve really changed over the years. OK games no longer cut it, and are a waste of my time. I have better things to do than play games that are merely OK. I want to play games that are great, or none at all.
EDIT: @factoid: Does this answer your question?
I’m going to invoke rule 2 and go with Thief: The Dark Project. I still play that game today, and the story is still good.
+1 for Iji.
Also, Shamus, talk a bit about LOTRO’s “shoehorning”. Now I’m intrigued.
I’m sure if I mentioned any other game I’d have to give reasons and all that rot, but not for the above game. Just as the word “Daikatana” invoke fits of laugher in us old gamer folk, the above two words invoke a mood of healthy respect and gratitude.
Speaking of LotR, Shamus, will you be posting the links of your Let’s Play Lord of the Rings on your blog, or we have to check up at The Escapist?
oh, and I nominate Dwarf Fortress…
all right, all right. I was joking. I heard the writing of Warhammer : Age of Reckoning wasn’t bad at all. Somebody care to give their insight on the matter?
+1 for Dragon Age. Yes, its like all other bioware games, but it’s a BioWare Game!
+1 Tales of Monkey Island, and Secret of Monkey Island too. Most of TellTale’s stuff is gold IMHO, and Monkey Island is no exception
The rest were pretty bad in general. The award for “worst writing” would have far more competition.
Event Programmer, eh Shamus?
OT: Pretty much anything Bioware has done is a contender, I just finished ME2, and loved it. Despite the fact that Tali died, though it’s slightly offset by the fact Miranda died (Hated her).
Defense Grid: The Awakening.
Not the kind of thing you’d normally see for good writing but it’s pretty solid. On a Comedic level.
I agree. I bought it, expecting the gameplay to be drastically different. I also gave up around the same point (human noble), when I realized how the game was made (a Baldur’s Gate kind of game).
I prefer my RPG’s a bit different. Like Divinity 2, Oblivion, etc. One character, with controls that feel like you’re the character, not like in BG which is RTS-like.
No Brutal Legend?
Dragon age had really good writing even if it had problems (let’s be honest though even Planescape: Torment had problems). Mostly it was just too god damn long. That’s an odd complaint I know like saying I have too much money, but at some places it felt artificially lengthened and somewhat dilluted. The optimal closed RPG (I.E not a Bethesda game) is about KOTOR in length IMO.
But Dragon age wasn’t the best written game I played this year no that award goes to russian developed “The Void” a great game with lot of subtext (I don’t understand the subtext but it’s interesting trying to figure out what it all means). Too bad that the game itself is somewhat too hard and for some reason it’s exhausting to play which is why I haven’t played it in like a week.
Also I’m quite surprised by the number of KOTOR II fans, personally I found that game to be absolutely dreadful.
I would suggest Starcraft for best story within a RTS.
I thought Fallout 3 was actually pretty good if you take the individual quest lines as totally separate and ignore the “main plot” quest series.
The release of “Monkey Island” on the iPhone was really horrible. Not the writing, but the interface design. Worth an article from you, assuming you’ve an interest in iPhone game design. As with other instances of bad design, this one says a lot about the differences between the computer and the iPhone as a game interface””and about what has to change when you don’t have a mouse or a keyboard, but in their place you have screen gestures.
I believe 2009 was the year I finally finished Planescape: Torment, so I can nominate it, right?
I also nominate Brutal Legend, because while the plot was trite and abruptly ended, the writing was pretty fricking awesome. The characters bustled with personality and I still enjoyed it all on my third play through.
I’m surprised to see you didn’t add The Path to this list, as I’d thought you’d really liked its storyline and structure.
First, I’ll get Planescape: Torment out of the way.
There – done.
Then, I’ll add Silent Hill 2, completely ignoring the 2009-stipulation once again, just because I feel like it.
And while I’m add it, I’m going to throw in Metal Gear Solid 3, as well. The story is pretty basic for the most part, but the final couple of hours (starting with escaping the fortress) are simply brilliant.
I’m going to add my voice to the chorus of Planescape: Torment. That, along with Baldur’s Gate II, is probably the pinnacle of videogaming. I’d seriously be surprised if there’ll ever again be a videogame that is at least as good as either. (If anyone has any suggestions for games that might qualify, I’d seriously be interested in listening. I’m desperate!)
In fact, the reason I bought Dragon Age was because I was trying to relive the glory of those days! I shouldn’t have listened to the “spiritual successor to BG” hype. (It’s nothing like BG.) If you had told me it was KOTOR, but in a generic fantasy world, that pretty much would’ve told me everything I needed to know.
Also, what’s up with the site? It get dugg again?
First I’d like to enthusiastically second Uncharted 2: Among Thieves as a game with exceptionally well written story and stellar acting.
I nominate Assassin’s Creed 2 for great story in the same way that I think Lost is a great show: because it confuses me in such a way that I desire to learn more about it. The more mysterious and weird it gets, the more I want to make sense of it.
I also give +1 to the recommendation for Starcraft as best story in a RTS. Anyone who disagrees should be added to the biomass of the Zerg swarm.
I’d love to preemptively nominate Heavy Rain, but I’m still terrified that it’ll transform into suck at the 11th hour somehow. *crosses fingers*
Wow, I can’t believe someone else mentioned “The Void”. It certainly isn’t as high profile as some of the other games mentioned here, but it is my choice for best writing last year also.
DONT HURT CHAMPIONS FEELINGS! IT IS SAD NOW!
Assassin’s Creed 2:
I love the time spent early on for you to get to know the main character. But I didn’t like the redaction of the last three Memory Modules.
Very funny, and epic during “Legends” sequences. Tim and Doubefine are still on my “Buy now, ask questions later” list.
The World Ends with You
I just got around to playing it last summer so I’m counting it. This was one of those games that I enjoyed the story and the gameplay enough to 100% it, which includes getting even more story related bits.
King of the Dragon Pass. ‘Nuff said.
Has anyone tried ‘Research & Development’, the Source mod? That was an amazing game, so full for action and puzzles, and you never fire a single weapon!
That’s on my top 5 for 2009.
Along with Borderlands (i actually enjoy the singleplayer!), Time Gentlemen Please, World in Conflict Soviet Assault, and Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (which will receive alot of critisism i know, but instead of comparing it with the old Bohemia Interactive version, try judging it on it’s own merits. It really does stand out, especially against the likes of Modern Warfare 2).
Well, since you asked, here’s my five, in no real order:
Excellent writing, not so excellent game, this gem really shows that Tim Schafer should be a lead writer rather than lead producer, as while his character and world building skills are top of the line, his game making skills are average at best.
Indie game made by one guy with some help from friends, this game’s got great level design, great music, great gameplay, and great writing; hell, this is one of the few “moral choice systems” that affects the plot and characters in meaningful and surprising ways, and while the end point will always be the same, there’s so many branching paths in the narrative that it never “feels” the same.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
Another game where the choices you make affects the narrative in surprising ways; this isn’t Silent Hill as you remember it, but it’s a refreshing take on the concept with a well thought out story that you NEED to play at least twice to appriciate all the subtle differences.
So the main game’s story is only above average, way better than you’d expect when the game’s aimed at the Gears of War crowd, but still only interesting enough to not be boring; the in-game commentary, on the other hand, is pure gold, funny as hell and doesn’t get repetative at all; it’s written by the guys who do Happy Tree Friends, which is a series that doesn’t have any voices, just visuals… so now they’re doing just voices, no visuals… I await the day they get to do both, I’m sure it’ll be great.
Dead Space: Extraction.
The original Dead Space on 360 was okay, but the story was lame, with everything really important happening before you even arrived, and having a small cast with a silent protagonist to help not react to everything you discovered didn’t help draw you in at all; Extraction, on the other hand, takes place when the s*** hits the fan, switching between protagonists as the story progresses, letting you see what happens from several different character’s prospectives, which helps keep things far more interesting since they all react differently to the same events; since it’s a light gun game, the game is unremarkable, but the camera work help makes it feel like a first person movie, and if you think of it as such it proves to have a pretty strong story with believible writing.
So, yeah, those are my top five games with good writing for 2009; I’d also like to mention Muramasa, which was interesting writing wise, but I haven’t finished it yet, so it doesn’t count.
Still working my way through Drawn: the Painted Tower, but it seems pretty awesome. And gorgeous.
Brutal Legend was hilarious, if not my cup of tea on the RTS portions. I kept plugging away just for the characters.
Sims 3 was good at sucking my life away for awhile, there.
Still haven’t played Uncharted 2 myself, but I’m pretty surprised it hasn’t been mentioned yet; people seem ready to build shrines to that game.
NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer. I know you hate this game, Shamus, but the expansion is incredibly far removed from the original. The setting’s more fun than vanilla D&D, the story is largely open-ended, and your actions in-game determine whose side you’re on and what happens in the endgame. The whole thing was fantastic.
Regarding the KOTOR discussion: it’s not the typical opinion, but I honestly enjoyed KOTOR 2’s story more. The whole influence thing made the protagonists arguably deeper (personal preference), and the antagonists definitely had at least a little more nuance than Malak. The ending kind of tried to give you an epilogue while leaving the future open for your character, and that didn’t work entirely, but I liked it regardless.
For those who have access to it, a thread on RPG.net started talking about the award nominations and had someone who at least purports to be a rep of the WGA show up. Among other things, he claims that if a company submits a nomination for the award, the writers are given an automatic membership in the WGA for a year.
Sungazer: TWEWY is an interesting nomination. That game had one of the strangest stories I can remember. And yet, it all kind of worked in the end, and I always wanted to read more. Extra credit for making what was really a small game world (15ish screens it seemed like) feel pretty darn big.
I don’t play enough new games to enjoy the writing. :(
I mean, I generally play them 1 or 2 years later, when I finally feel like it. I bought Braid recently, for example… though that wasn’t so much a “story” as a “whaaaaa?” narrative. Symbolic but weird, a bit disjointed, metaphorical, etc.
Me, I nominate the newest Prince of Persia, which everyone has taken to calling PoP 2008. I only got it in March, so that’s still 2009 for me. I loved the story, which was like a traditional fairytale with good and evil, love, a princess and a noble sacrifice… and then the whole thing got spun on its head with the addition of the Prince, assuming he even is a prince. He’s snarky, independent, and above all irreverent in more ways than one. By the end I couldn’t even decide whether the Sealed Evil in a Can was actually all that evil, or was twisted that way by its worshipers (a nasty bunch with one partial exception), or was just ticked at its also-not-nice brother, or just wanted what was originally its half of the world back… Complex and insightful, masquerading as something far simpler.
It’s a shame the DLC wasn’t for PC, I would’ve liked to see it.
Edit: Turns out Braid was released in April 2009. Huh. Thought it as older than that.
Can I nominate the movie adaptation of Minesweeper, or is that straying too far? ;)
My vote goes to Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. It was a late 2008 release, but I spent most of 2009 playing it, so it qualifies in my book. Great writing in that game, other than a few weak spots here and there in side events…
I will also back the nomination for The World Ends With You. That game has some great writing indeed, with even the pop-up messages for erasing save data having a lot of charm and wit. I try to forget about the Secret Report that ruins the game’s plot by needlessly trying to fill in plot holes that don’t exist, though.
I’m also oddly tempted to nominate Super Robot Wars OG Saga: Endless Frontier, simply because they managed to fit that much sexual innuendo into a single DS game (seriously, every other line is a boob joke or something like it, and a lot of it is more extreme) and still managed to keep it a T rating. That takes some amount of skill…
Watch the $%^&$%#$ spoilers! ME2’s been out for what, a day?
About the only game that came out last year that I played was Dragon Age, so that’s the best-written game I played by default. Not that I didn’t think it was good anyway.
And yeah, Mass Effect 2 is really good, as far as I’ve played, but it came out yesterday instead of last month. So, I’ll have to remember it next year.
Re-release counts Eh?
Then I cast my vote for Fallout Trilogy.
Some of the best writing ever! and it came back out in ’09.
I feel the best story writing I have ever witnessed came with Myst IV
Dead Space: Extraction (Wii) was really good. Believable and likeable characters, great buildup of mood and tension, and even decent gameplay! I bought it for the lightgun gameplay and was positively surprised about how rounded it was.
Ookami (Wii) was outrageously good, especially the writing. I would say that thing is everything Z:TP is, but it has surprising plot twists and manages to tell a very compelling story. But it was not released in 2009 I fear, even though I played it in summer.
Not 2009: Planescape Torment, Phoenix Wright.
Kaneohe: Obsidian sort of dropped the ball with NWN2 (I see where they were going with it and suspect they just didn’t get time to get it right, honestly), but I will always pick Obsidian over any other company in regards to writing, as both Mask of the Betrayer and KOTOR2 have proven.
It helps that the folks behind Obsidian are the same folks behind Black Isle that are responsible for much of the greatness of the late 90s/early 00s – Baldur’s Gate (and 2), Planescape and Fallout.
They are also Troika, who, while not making many games, made very high quality ones – Arcanum and VtM: Bloodlines (as well as Temple of Elemental Evil, though that one isn’t so much a story game).
This cannot be coincidence. These men are the current geniuses in the video game industry.
You worked on Black Sigil Shamus? That game was very well written, but why is the encounter rate so damn high?
B.J. I can’t take credit for the quality writing. My part in the game was small. I basically scripted the cutscenes for Air Magera and a couple of other spots.
I really did like what they did with the story.
OK that means I have to pick between DoW2 and Dragon Age…let me think…
Well, obvisouly dragon age wins, though the story of DoW2 wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t that good.
Where to start? I’ll stick to games not already mentioned.
I haven’t seen Tie fighter mentioned yet, so I’ll do that. Homeworld was brilliant. I also liked Airfix Dogfighters, though probably more the premise than the actual story (as far as there was one). Jagged alliance 2 (aka saving atrocious accent land). That’ll do for now.
KotOR 2, which should be winning every year since 2004.
I don’t know about 2009, but I know the Best Writing of 2010 will be awarded to a titanic sci-fi war drama. An epic tale of sacrifice and redemption that explores how war will erode–and destroy–the foundations of society.
That’s right. War for Cybertron in 2010.
I’ve no great input except to say Holy Crap was “Dear Esther” good! Thanks for pointing me that direction, Shamus!
Since someone mentioned Shamus’ IF project, I’d like to point out that 2009 was a great year for IF writing all around. (And IF lives and dies on it’s writing, for obvious reasons.) “Rover’s Day Out,” “Make it Good,” “Blue Lacuna” and “Shadow of the Cathedral” all deserve special mention this year.
I’ve pondered about Black Sigil and was going to ask for more info on that, but you already answered. Then again, how’d you get involved?
I haven’t played it, but have thought about giving it a whirl since I miss the old SNES era RPG’s of yore. There was some level of experimentation, and even Square’s games looked different from each other as opposed to…today. It also happened to release on my birthday!
On topic, I’d also go with Dragon Age, and I think I stated why pretty well in the WGA entry.
However, another contender would be Brutal Legend. Sad to admit it’s my first Tim Schafer game I’ve played (well, I’ve played a bit of Full Throttle when I was a kid, but only the first fifteen minutes or so), so when people say other games of his were better I really can’t comment. Still, I was surprised at how much I cared about the characters. The humor and the heart make the story one of the biggest draws. In fact, I’ve been feeling the itch to replay it not for the gameplay, but for the story.
I forgot about TIE fighter…that has a fantastic story. Ah, happy memories. That game ate many hours of my twenties…
Yo Shamus, I’m happy for you, and Ima let you finish, but GTAIV had the best writing of all time.
OF ALL TIME.
When it comes to the best computer game writing, three games stand apart from the rest. Planescape Torment, Planescape Torment, and Planescape Torment.
Where’s the love for original Fallout? Am I just blinded by my love for the setting?
Also, I’ve never played it, but have been told that fallout mod Arcanum is just a hoot and a holler and a half.
Also I second Phillip’s call for Starcraft. And add Homeworld as a challenger… clearly a lot of writing work and talent went into both.
DA’s plot was good. not thrilling, but good.
Characters were well built and acted (except for the main character) and the subplots writing ranged from OK to great. However, the main plot could (and should) have been something much better than the simple “Bad things are coming. Lets kill them!!”.
Another game that was not mwntioned here is the “sabotour”. I played only a few hours of it, but I think they were very intriguinr, well written and wel presented. Unfortunately I didn’t have much fun with game itsef.
Bottom line – I think that , regarding writing, 2009 was not a good year for PC games (maube for consoles it was better).
I’m reserving judgment on the writing of ME2 until I’ve finished it. SO FAR, I have had a lot of fun with it. Particularly the small details written in. For example (no spoilers here):
A fruit-machine has something like fifteen different little pieces of ads, including shouting “Nine out of ten people recommend [the drink] to friends. The last one is on my list.”
There’s an advertisement (actually a number of them) for the “All Elcor” (sp) version of Hamlet. That include the Elcor saying famous lines from the play like “Sadly: Alas poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio….” in their flat monotone.
It’s not strictly writing, but great casting, and some SUPERB voice-acting make the writing seem even better.
Little tiny, insignificant pieces from the first game making their way back in the second game in little tiny, insignificant ways. (I love little tiny, insignificant details. They make the universe feel real to me.)
The written-in interrupt possibilities are amusing. Sometimes hilarious. And one time, I went “OH MY GOD!” at an interrupt. It was not what I was expecting.
I’ll leave it at that.
Oh, and Dragon Age…. I really enjoyed it, but mostly I was just fighting through the combat to get to the next bit of story. The writing was good, the voice acting was pretty good (though it pales in comparison to ME2 voice acting thus far). In ME2, for the first time since KOTOR, the fighting is fun.
Unreal. Yes, the original. Though the “writing” as such is more “what to put into the translator messages”, it still works better than a lot of more recent stuff. :-)
Though I don’t think I’ve actually played anything from 2009, so it’s a bit hard to compare directly…
Tales of Monkey Island.
Actually the Elcor Hamlet is also a callback to ME1. (I haven’t played ME2 yet and I’ve definitely heard that ad in one of the Citadel elevators.)
My vote is for Dragon Age. Sure, it’s got the troped characters (as you’ve written about before), but it all just works. I’m not sure what my runner up would be… maybe Twin Sector. There’s not a lot of writing in that, and the gameplay is aggravating sometimes, but I always wanted to know what happened next. Can’t think of any other 2009 games with good writing. (I would like to say AC2, but that’s a 2010 game, and so I haven’t played it yet.)
Games that provided a good story (and not just from 2009):
1. Dragon Age: Origin –
The gameplay itself is debatable, but the amount of work done to set all the environment, the “Make it your world” atmosphere (I can almost take the settings to my D&D campaign) and the amount of information you uncover on events and stuff make this game comparable to Elder Scroll games (Oblivion & Morrowind).
2. +1 for Dead Space: Extraction –
Excellent game, building up towards the suspense and covering more grounds on the background of the original game
3. Thief II: The metal age –
Characters, Story, Voice acting, I can only hope for another game in the series
4. Ultima 6 – This oldie features a decent writing but a great story told by Lord/General British
5. System shock II –
The email dialogs are well written and have good voice acting, I believe that without it, the game atmosphere would have been severely impaired.
(I’ve got to say Planescape and Baldur’s Gate as well, but) what I really wanted to mention was the Avernum (formely Exile) series of indy games from Spiderweb Software. Standard fantasy RPGs, perhaps, but huge, and where their writing especially stands out is in the dozens of different personalities you meet.
Also — a bit of a quibble — but can I nominate the Civ series as The Greatest Story Ever Told? 8^D
I agree with Planescape. Personally I’ve always been a fan of Xenogears, Kotor, Drakengard, and Disgaea. Hmmm interesting how my “best writing” list is the same as my “favorite games” list.
not specifically the best game I ever played, definitely not from 2009, but the best writing I ever encountered was in Betrayal at Krondor. Most of it made an astonishing amount of sense, even if you started behaving not quite like the game expected.
Also, the game is from 1993 (written for MS-DOS), and I discovered it not before 2007 (it’s freeware by now) and played it through. The graphics look a bit odd for today’s eyes, but this thing is proof that “we don’t have the technology” is not an excuse for a weak story. They hired an actual fantasy book author to do the job and it was waaayyy worth it. The book for the game is a bit weak compared to other fantasy literature, but for a game this is epic.
Oh,, and then, as my nickname might suggest, there are other Lucas Arts adventures with *ahem* remarkable stories to tell…
I haven’t played Betrayal, but if it was anything like its sequel, Return to Krondor, I’ll stay away. Yes, it had great writing, but it was also the most railroaded crpg I’ve ever played; no freedom whatsoever. If I want a story that strict, I’ll just read the book.
Kotor 2’s writing had some really good moments. The Disciple could kiss my ass (and did so with alarming regularity), but the writing and backstory on Atton, Kreia, Bao-Dur and even Visas were really pretty great.
Is the mod you guys are talking about the Sith Lords Restoration Project I’ve heard about?
I go the indie route:
Today I die
That game is writing.
And Canabalt. Only one line of text, and it instantly taps into our collective subconscious to create an entire world.
There were no games with great stories/characters the previous year. Not for me at least, anyway. Perhaps something like Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume or Black Sigil, but I haven’t played those games to completion to make a final judgement on this matter.
By the way, Shamus, you have been tight-lipped concerning Black Sigil. Why not mention it some day? I mean, it’s already been 8 months since the release of the game.
@Factoid: No, you are not. It’s funny that I personally became disenchanted with the game right after I finished one of the Origins and then after a bit of dialog, the game told me: “OK. I put you here in the middle of a big city. You have the option to do sidequests, follow on the main quest, etc.” At that point, after having played Baldur’s Gate 1+2, Neverwinter Nights, KotOR, Jade Empire and Mass Effect, I thought that no matter how hard the game tried, it wouldn’t surprise me and thus, I gave up.
My vote goes to Assassin’s Creed 2 which is basically how The Da Vinci Code would have turned out if Dan Brown wasn’t a talentless hack. I loved the hidden files giving extra information on the conspiracies, and the ending is one of the best I have ever seen in a game.
I vote for Portal, which I first played through last year.
Sarcastic, funny, twisted. A very good story.
And Shamus, thanks for the pointer to Dear Esther – that was beautiful.
Planescape Torment must be mentioned in any discussion of video game writing, to not do so would be a deep affront to the very essence of quality, it is however not from 2009.
I vote The Void. Only 2009 game that made me want to know what happened next and that had characters that I found interesting(yes I played Dragon Age).
I’d like to give a “thank you” to all you mentioning games I’ve never heard of. I’m mining these comments for games to play.
Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Psychonauts.
Arcanum wasn’t a fallout mod, it was a game released by Troika. An excellent game, which coincidentally has finally been released on Good Old Games for $5 after Activision finally stopped being “we’re too good for your money” jackasses and signed a deal to sell their old games.
I just saw the email announcing its availability, and bought it, an hour or so ago.
@Guile: Yes, yes it is.
@Sungazer: Just so you know, the aforementioned games (Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume and Black Sigil) are DS games. And by the way, Black Sigil is only available on America. But do take my recommendations with a grain of salt. While interesting, I haven’t completed the games yet to say with any certainty that, yes, they are great. Keep in mind that many reviewers say that they actually suck.
Hmmm. Writing? I haven’t played many games released in 2009. In fact, only one . . . Kindgom Hearts: 358/2 Days. I don’t know if I should nominate it; while I enjoyed it, the plot of it hangs a lot upon the other three games in the series. However, I thought the characterization was rather good.
If I’m entitled to pick only one game from any time period for writing . . . it’s likely to be King’s Quest 6. I’m terribly sorry but the pick was going to be out of a Sierra adventure game, and this one managed to keep the answers to many of the puzzles intuitive. Why that particular subsection of games? Because they were the ones which I played the most without the purpose of grinding levels/equipment/timesinks like RPGs, I played these games simply for the story and writing in them.
While I loved me some Planescape: Torment, really, after all these years, all I can remember about it is the backstory and ending and how sad it was.
I also loved the log books in System Shock II, but can’t really remember any of them.
But I remember many personalities from Star Control II, and can even still quote some bits nearly verbatim. And I remember the entire story of the Ur-Quan and how terribly sad their story was. I used to be able to talk like the Orz, but now all I can say is that it makes be very *frumple* that no one mentions SC2.
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