Video games these days need to operate on more than just a single level. Escapism through action is but one aspect of why we’re drawn to them, but you could sum up the appeal with a more simple answer: We love a good story. The beauty of this medium though, is that such stories can be told through so many different methods that it’s mind-boggling. From linear adventures to character development that you have a guiding hand in, 2019 had a lot to say and several games with which to do so. Here’s a look then, at the storytelling highlights of the year.
If you had to sum Disco Elysium up in a single word…it’d be deep. Here is a role-playing game that knows its role: A finely-crafted mystery that gives you all the tools that you want to be the kind of detective that you want to be. Like your gumshoes as strategic masterminds who can enter a room and sniff out a culprit in seconds? Done! Prefer to be a washed up hardboiled cynic powered by alcohol and pure luck as you stumble through cases? Done!
It’s the staggering level of this character development, that gives Disco Elysium its edge, which is made even deadlier by some of the sharpest writing to ever grace a console or PC platform. It is original in its execution to a fault, a lengthy novel of choices and consequences to read through and absorb before it barrels down the street and reaches its satisfying conclusion.
Disco Elysium is an absolute masterclass not only in storytelling, but also in the freedom that it affords to players as its central mystery unfolds.
Say what you like about Death Stranding: It may just be the most insane story ever devised or it could be a work of genius that normal people just don’t get maaaaaaaan. Here’s something about it that everyone can agree on: It’s never boring. It is instead Hideo Kojima’s thoughts and ideas firing on all cylinders, a madcap journey through life and the mystery that awaits us beyond the veil of death.
It is also both intimate and touching, a celebratory reminder that the ties that bind us are what makes us truly human. Ably told not just through Kojima and his development gang’s talented script, Death Stranding unfolds through the digital talent of Hollywood heavyweights and expert cinematography, all combining to form a Voltron of storytelling that may be divisive but is still one of the most impressive experiences of 2019.
The Outer Wilds
There may be a story serving as the foundation for The Outer Wilds, but it’s less of an overall direction and more of a nudge to really dig into the mystery that lies at the center of this impressive game about exploration. It’s up to you to really dig into the enigma that binds everything in The Outer Wilds, discovering a thrill for the journey and the answers that await you. That sheer joy of working through a story with a time-bending nature and memorable moments, that is both epic in scale and poignant during its most intimate moments.
One of the biggest surprises of the year, The Outer Wilds will leave its mark on you long after the end credits have rolled.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is as Star Wars a game as can be, from design through to execution. And you know what? That shows just how strong the Force still is in this sci-fi property. Fallen Order doesn’t stray too far from the formula of good vs evil, and it’s all the better for it. Inside one of the best action games of the year is a tale that is told in grand fashion.
It unfolds with the grand explosion of science fiction that defines Star Wars, using that momentum to craft its own adventure in a galaxy far, far away. Like any great story worth its salt, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order hooks you in and never lets you go, and by the time you’re done pushing back against the darkness you’ll find yourself hungry for more exploits in the outer rim of the galaxy, a universe of potential with so many more stories left to tell.
And the winner is…Control
This might be a controversial choice, but we’re sticking with it. Like the best stories on this list, Control is all about mystery. Of teasing the player with breadcrumbs and then watching which route you take as you navigate the many riddles and conspiracies hidden within each floor of the Oldest House. Where Control is a triumph, is in how it makes that search for answers irresistible.
There’s no definitive answer to what lies inside, as much like the location that Jesse Faden finds herself trapped inside of, those stories are forever shifting and changing with the flow of time. It’s this encouragement to find more story threads to explore, more backstory to consume in short does, that highlights the biggest treat that Control’s narrative has to offer: Curiosity is a virtue which rewards players the more that they indulge it.
There are payoffs a’plenty, secrets yet to be discovered and a fanbase that is rabidly charting every corner of Control as they work to make sense of its many mysteries. An achievement in storytelling, Control is 2019’s best narrative experience.
Last Updated: December 4, 2019